Ptarmigan Traverse Aborted Again

It happened again. Just like my attempt five years ago, we had to abort our attempt to cross Dome Peak because a party member rolled an ankle on steep heather.

Five years ago, fog rolled in the night before our big day crossing the Chickamin Glacier, climbing over a shoulder of 8860 foot Dome Peak and descending to join the classic Ptarmigan Traverse route through the North Cascades to Cascade Pass. One member of our party rolled his ankle crossing a steep slope of wet heather, even though he was wearing high-top climbing boots.

This year it was a different group but the same result. The treacherous heather slopes claimed another ankle just before we reached beautiful Hanging Gardens, the delightful ridge close to Dome Peak.

After testing negative for COVID-19 and driving together to Fields Point Landing on Lake Chelan, John Serkowski, Dave Clark, and I took the Lady Express up lake to the landing at Lucerne. We walked eleven miles on the road to the outskirts of Holden Village, which was closed to “outsiders” because of the pandemic. After skirting the village on a detour through a mine-tailing reclamation site, we walked to our rather forgettable first camp at Hart Lake.

Our planned route on road from Lucerne to Holden Village and then trails westward to Image Lake, northward on the Ptarmigan Traverse route to Cascade Pass, and then down trails to High Bridge.

The next day we climbed to lovely Cloudy Pass, which provided fields of wildflowers and expansive views of the Lyman basin.

Lyman Basin from Cloudy Pass

After descending to Suiattle Pass, we followed the Pacific Crest Trail a mile before traversing westward on the Miners Ridge Trail to the heather-covered basin holding famed Image Lake. We left our packs above and descended to the lake to soak our feet and savor the beauty of the setting. Brilliant white Glacier Peak dominated the view across the Suiattle Valley.

Glacier Peak beyond Image Lake

We saw the last people for three days as we left the basin and dropped slightly to our second camp, giving us our first views north to Dome and Sinister Peaks.

This is where travel became challenging. There is a four-mile trail from Image Lake basin to Canyon Lake, but it’s not maintained anymore. Logs across the trail block progress through the forested sections. John and I talked of returning with saws to remove the smaller logs and shears to trim the encroaching limbs and brush. Yet a higher section of the trail that rose above the forest provided splendid views across flowering meadows to both Glacier Peak to the south and Dome and Sinister to the north. It is a trail worth saving!

The trail ends at Canyon Lake, a pristine subalpine pool surrounded by high walls on three sides. This lake must be rarely visited as there was no evidence of established campsites. We hoped to find a boot-beaten path to Totem Pass, 1000 feet above, but mostly had to make our way through dense forest and up steep meadowed slopes. From the pass we glissaded (deliberately slid) down a snow slope and then to get to the Hanging Gardens we had to traverse 1.5 miles across slopes of boulders, rock slabs and heather that were quite steep in places. We made good progress, but it was just as we approached the ridge holding the Hanging Gardens that Dave slipped on some steep heather and rolled his ankle, not once but twice. He was able to continue to our camp in the gardens, but his ankle swelled as we set up camp.

The Hanging Gardens were both enchanting and spectacular. Our camp offered stunning in-your-face views of the south faces of Dome and Sinister. The ridge itself is a complex of modest knolls rising above intimate meadow-draped basins for a quarter mile across the ridge and half a mile along it. Wildflowers were in their brightest phase, driving bumble bees delirious. Marmots rambled everywhere. Within a minute of setting out for water, I spotted three young bucks staring at me with concern, and startled a family of ptarmigans at my feet. John and Dave took exploratory ambles of their own. Each of us savored the magical setting.

Our camp in the Hanging Gardens

At Hanging Gardens, we were 32 miles into our 68 mile trek. Given Dave’s injury, we had three options. We could have continued north on the Ptarmigan Traverse as originally planned. That route presented challenges because the next five miles is seldom traveled, so there is no boot-beaten path that makes traveling safer on the more popular classic route further north. It also involved crossing heavily crevassed Chickamin Glacier and finding a way over the 8500 foot shoulder of Dome Peak. The way is sufficiently dangerous that we carried rope, harnesses, equipment for a rescue should one of us fall into a crevasse hidden by the melting snow on the surface of the glacier. We had no idea how Dave’s ankle would fare on the 20 miles of off-trail travel to the trail leading down from Cascade Pass. The last thing we wanted was to call for a rescue should Dave become unable to walk any further.

The second option was to backtrack 13 miles to Suiattle Pass and then descend 20 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) down Agnes Creek. That route would take a healthy party three days, and would require crossing the same steep heather slopes that had injured Dave’s ankle. It was the option chosen by my party five years ago when faced with the same decision.

The third option was to take a “shortcut” roughly eight miles eastward down the Spruce Creek Valley, meeting the PCT nine miles from the Agnes Creek trailhead. Our maps and the view from camp showed some rather steep terrain, but we would only have to descend it rather than traverse. That was appealing. Yet we knew there were avalanche tracks below that were filled with the dreaded slide alder, which can impede progress dramatically.

With no really good options, we chose the Spruce Creek route. The descent began easily enough and we quickly reached a small meadow that marked the headwaters of the creek. At this point, the slope increased dramatically. The maps and our view from the ridge didn’t show the twenty-foot cliffs that repeatedly forced us to retreat and traverse through brush searching for safer routes down. Following one stream downward led to a fifteen-foot drop that required us to rope up and belay each other down a tricky rock wall. My fingers cramped from repeated grasping at branches to keep me from sliding down the slopes of heather and huckleberry. It took us nine hours to descend 2600 feet in three miles to the valley floor. We set up camp in a small clearing, exhausted.

Preparing for a belayed descent

The second day was not so dangerous, but the avalanche swaths consisted of a nearly impenetrable tangle of slide alder, vine maple, and devil’s club. Through the thickest brush, we traveled only a quarter mile in two hours! Between the avalanche tracks we avoided the slide alder along the creek by traversing through the forest above the valley floor. We tried to walk down the creek itself, but it had too many waterfalls to follow for long. We struggled for eleven hours to cover the five miles to the PCT. Along the way we broke a hiking pole and lost crampon, a water bottle, and a sandal. All of us slipped and fell numerous times, and accumulated numerous gashes in our shins, arms, and heads. Dave sprained his hand in one fall, and both Dave and John were stung by wasps.

We were relieved to find that fording Agnes Creek was much easier than feared. Dave led us to the PCT from there. Never has a trail felt so valued as when we walked the PCT a mile to our final camp and eight more to the trailhead the next day. We didn’t mind that the season’s logs across the trail hadn’t been cleared.

In retrospect, exiting the way we came (the devil we knew) would have been less painful, if not any faster, than our unexplored route (the devil we didn’t know). Even better might have been to do the trip in reverse, hiking first to Cascade Pass and then heading south on the easier established route before venturing over Dome Peak and dropping down to the Hanging Gardens. We’ll try that next time. Third time’s the charm, right?

A New Adventure: the Ptarmigan Traverse

Hello my friends! 

Today I’m going to tell you about a seven-day adventure I’m embarking on with two friends (all of us have recently tested negative for covid-19). Tomorrow we’re driving to Lake Chelan and taking the Lady Express uplake to Lucerne. From there we’ll walk 11 miles of road to Holden Village and then 15 miles on trails to the crest of the North Cascades. We’ll then follow the 30-mile off-trail route of the Ptarmigan Traverse through meadows and on glaciers over six 7000 passes to Cascade Pass. Trails from there lead 15 miles to the road and a shuttle bus to Stehekin, a village on the upper end of Lake Chelan. The Lady Express will return us to our vehicle down lake.

The route

This trip will be challenging, as the terrain will be steep at times, and some of the glaciers have deep crevasses. We will be using crampons and ice axes on the snow and ice of course, and will rope up on some of the glaciers.

I tried to do this trip five years ago but was forced to retreat when one member of our party rolled his ankle on steep heather. That trip left me with hunger to return again. We’ll camp one night at the same place as last time, with a big view of Dome and Sinister Peaks:

A camp in the Hanging Gardens

If all goes well, you’ll hear from me in another week, with a report including some spectacular photos.

Pacific Crest Trail trip postponed

Hello my friends! It’s been more than a year since I last posted. Time for an update.

Many of you knew I was planning to return to the trail to hike the northern part of the Pacific Crest Trail, taking the train again to Dunsmuir and hiking north to Canada. I was looking forward to writing to you again, as well as hiking with northbounders I meet along the way.

Alas, the covid-19 pandemic makes such an adventure risky to me and to the people living along the trail. I would become a “vector”, transmitting the virus from trail town to trail town once I pick it up. I’m not going to do that. 

I will return to the trail next year or the year after that. 

In the meantime, I’ll continue to lead the Tri-Cities Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby; see our Facebook group and our blog. I’ve also started building homes with Habitat for Humanity(though work was recently suspended until it’s safe for crews to work together again), serving as a moderator for the Tri-Cities Flatten the Curve Facebook page (which attracted 10,000 members in its first week!), and soon will be serving as treasurer for the Three Rivers Folklife Society. I continue to serve as a sawyer and trail steward for the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and now serve as trail crew coordinator the White Pass Chapter. I’ve been pretty active on Twitter too, with more than 1000 followers.

Enough about me! Stay home as much as you can, wash your hands whenever you go out, keep your distance when outside, and stay connected with each other using the many technologies available to us. We’ll get through this without massive suffering if we follow the guidance from the epidemic experts.

Here is some useful information on covid-19 that I’ve collected.

The World Health Organization COVID-19 page provides practical technical guidance and busts various myths about protection. 

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 site.Identifies characteristics of those with higher risk of severe illness, and provides directions on how to protect yourself, including social distance and hygiene.

Worldometers lists COVID-19 number of cases and deaths by country

Covidtracking.com lists the number of tests and confirmed cases for each state for each day.

The Washington State COVID-19 Site includes the state social distancing policy and lists of essential businesses currently allowed to be open.

Washington State Department of Health lists case counts by county and what to do if you think you’ve been exposed to, have symptoms of, or have been confirmed to have COVID-19.

The Benton-Franklin County Health Department provides resources for individualsmedical providersschools and businesses.

An early assessment of COVID-19 mortality by age by the CDC, but is based on only 44 deaths.

A published scientific study found “penetration of cloth masks by particles was almost 97% and medical masks 44%”. Another study concluded “the surgical mask was 3 times more effective in blocking transmission than the homemade mask.” 

CCL Contributions

The latest report on contributions to Citizens Climate Lobby and Citizens Climate Education is 186 contributions totalling $13,674! Wow! 

My list of pledges totals 265, so there must have been many contributions that were not identified with Steve’s PCT Adventure. So the total is likely more than $15,000.

When I decided to use my trail journal as a fundraiser I had hoped to raise $6000.

I am blown away by your generosity. Thank you!

Steve (MECA)

PCT update

Greetings to my loving subscribers!

A few items of interest:
Annette Cary wrote an outstanding article on my adventure for the Trip-City Herald. It made the front page on the hardcopy of the Sunday paper!
I’ve decided to finish hiking the PCT in 2020 rather than 2019. That will allow me to do trail work for the PCT in 2019 and enjoy the summer with Sharon. I have planned a two week hike across the North Cascades for August; let me know if you’d like to join me.
A total of $24,145 has been raised for the Cornwell family, who were displaced by the Paradise fire. Several of you have contributed, for which the Cornwells are grateful. If you haven’t but want to, go here. They have a long recovery ahead of them, but they are strong in their faith.
I’m giving a slide show of my adventure at the Richland Public Library at 6:30 on Monday January 14. It should be a good time, so come join the fun! Please arrive early, as seating is limited.
Steve (MECA)

Supporting the Cornwells in their time of need

As I said in my last post, my relatives Mark and Jeanette Cornwell and most of their extended family lost everything in the Paradise fire except their lives, their cars, and a few suitcases of clothes. Although Mark can still work, some of his children no longer have places to work.

The remains of their home, which I stayed in last August:

If you are moved to support them go to https://www.gofundme.com/cornwell-camp-fire-recovery

Steve

Paradise

Some of you might recall that I spent three days with relatives in the town of Paradise this summer. There is a photo of my relatives, Mark and Jeanette Cornwell, in my post Forest Fire. Jeanette picked my up at a trailhead and took me to the Chico hospital because I had blood in my urine.

As you know, Paradise has been devastated by the most destructive fire in California history, with 6700 structures burned. Although an unknown number of residents have died, Mark, Jeanette and their family are all safe. However, their homes are gone and, given how quickly they had to evacuate, they’ve lost everything but their cars and a suitcase of clothes.

I don’t have their temporary address yet, but if you’re moved to send them a check you can send it to me at 300 Columbia Point Drive, H-131, Richland WA 99352. I will forward it to them when I get their address.

Wrapup

Now that I have access to power I can write a proper conclusion to this adventure. Now that I fixed a problem with my photo library I can include photos.

First, for those eager to support CCL and who know how much they pledged, go to citizensclimatelobby.org and click on Donate. Then you’ll have a choice: give to Citizens Climate Lobby to fund one of two registered ( not volunteer) lobbyists supported by CCL, or give to Citizens Climate Education to support the vast majority of the staff who lead the 100,000 volunteers.  Contributions to the latter are tax deductible; to the former are not.

My goal was to hike all of the 1500 miles of trail from Dunsmuir to Mexico, but fires blocked access to a total of 75 miles, about 5% of my goal. I did hike about 50 miles to get to resupply towns and to climb Mt Whitney. So you can choose to multiply your pledged cents per mile by 1500 or 1475.

Regardless, when you donate be sure to enter Steve’s PCT Adventure in the note box at the bottom, because this part of a million dollar fundraising campaign involving donors of $10,000 or more matched by smaller contributions. The pledges for my trail journal add to more than $11,000! Thank you!

If you’ve forgotten how much you’ve pledged I will tell everyone after I get home on Halloween and have access to my spreadsheet.

You likely missed a photo at the finish in my last brief post. I have corrected the problem, so here we are at the border. Note the border wall to the left; it’s a strange juxtaposition of celebration and sober seriousness.

I’ll tell you about what has happened since then in a bit, but I first want to cover a few things I wasn’t able to discuss in my last post for lack of power and time.

First, we started hiking at 5:00 am the last five days because we traversed lower and hence warmer terrain while the full moon provided adequate light to show the trail and even some of the rocks. Unseen rocks in the moonshadows brought Natty down a couple of times, but he suffered nothing more serious than bloody knuckles. No broken ankles, we kept telling ourselves.

During the night hiking we experienced in a tactile way the cold pools of air that my lab colleagues Dave Whiteman and Chris Doran studied for years. The cold pools form at night under clear skies in complex terrain when the air cools and flows down and collects in basins and gullies. We could feel the abrupt boundary between the warmer ridges and colder depressions as we walked along. We found that meadows often coincided with the cold pools, perhaps because bushes and trees don’t tolerate the colder conditions as well. Fascinating.

The warmer air and lighter winds those nights made for more comfortable sleeping. We cowboy  camped most nights, and slept well.

On our last night on the trail Natty and I talked about our friendship. I told Natty I appreciate his breadth of knowledge resulting from his voracious appetite for reading about economics, mathematics and physics as well as medicine (his profession). He told me he appreciates my willingness to act, whether it’s picking up trash (helium balloons, candy wrappers, water bottles and even toilet paper), trailwork (moving logs off trail, breaking off branches, kicking rocks off trail), or advocating action on climate change.

On our last day on the trail I reflected on what the trail means to me, both in terms of what I’ve given to it and what it’s given to me.

I gave three months of my time to pick up trash and improve 1500 miles of the trail, and I wrote a trail journal to educate others about preventing climate  change, trail culture and caring for the trail.

I gained so much more in return! Hiking from Dunsmuir to Mexico was the partial fulfillment of a lifelong dream for me and in a less visceral way my late brother Jim. 

I learned I can hike much farther in a day than I ever thought I could. 

I met many inspiring and upbeat people along the way, and got to hike with three of them for days or even weeks, creating bonds of friendship that will not break.

I saw stunning combinations of polished white granite, majestic ponderosa pines or rugged junipers, and pristine alpine lakes. I swam in lakes as high as 11,000 feet and soaked in hot springs with spectacular views.

Thanks to my hat I had numerous opportunities to try different ways to talk about preventing climate change.

I got to try different writing styles in my trail journal, and I had an audience willing to not only read it but to contribute to CCL in return. The trail provided ample material to write about!

Now for the update since we arrived at the border. After the obligatory photos and champagne, I spoke of my late brother-in-law Jim again and spread his ashes there. I saved some for Canada next year.

Our trail angel Jeff Rule then kindly drove us to the U.S. District Court in San Diego, the site of the rally for Our Children’s Trust. None of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking federal action to save the climate for future generations was at the rally, but there were some impressive statements by children and young adults wise beyond their years.

I had hoped to get a chance to speak but was not expecting to because the schedule was full and they wanted young speakers.  But after all of the children had a chance to speak they asked if others wanted to as well, so I spoke up. This is what I said, as best I can recall.

“Hello! My name is Steve Ghan. I’m a climate scientist. At 2:00 today I finished a 1500 mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail to raise funds for Citizens Climate Lobby. CCL advocates national legislation called carbon fee and dividend. Canada just embraced it for its national climate policy. We don’t know when we can get it passed in the U.S. 

Climate change is too serious an issue to rely on only one solution. That’s why I love what Our Children’s Trust is doing. Thank you all for coming here.”

Our host Susan Flores Higgins was at the rally too, so afterwards she led us to the dock where we boarded the passenger ferry to Coronado. We met Susan’s husband Charlie and CCL founder Marshall Saunders for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, where we told hiking stories from this journal and drank Margaritas to celebrate both our hikes and Canada’s adoption of carbon fee and dividend. 

The interior of Susan and Charlie’s home is beautifully painted with tropical colors.

I woke early to enjoy one last hour with Natty before Susan dropped him off at the airport. Tears welled up for me as we hugged and parted.

After Susan cooked breakfast for me I donned clean clothes and walked to the CCL office. Executive Director Mark Reynolds invited me to join the weekly staff videoconference call. It such a pleasure to watch and listen to Mark playfully tease each participant on the call.

He gave me a minute to describe my adventure. I told them I’d exchange it for carbon fee and dividend in a minute.

Later Mark and I met to get better acquainted and to talk about how I can most effectively serve the CCL mission to save our livable world.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, Susan will take me to the train station for my trip home. I look forward to meeting as many of you as can make it when I arrive at the Pasco Amtrak station on Halloween evening. Prepare for a big hug from me!

Mexico

We arrived at the border at 2:00 today, Sunday October 28, after (for me) 1500 miles on the PCT for 3 months.

From the border our trail angel Jeff Rule is taking us to the U.S. District Court in San Diego for the rally for Our Children’s Trust, the lawsuit holding the U.S. government accountable for future climate change. 

This evening Natty and I will have dinner with CCL founder Marshall Saunders and CCL Director of Administration and Human Resources Susan Higgins (our host) and their spouses.

Tomorrow morning I meet with Marshall and will CCL Director Mark Reynolds, and will prepare another entry in the afternoon. 

I board Amtrak Tuesday morning.

Kindness

Backpacking 1500 miles is not an easy thing to do, so a little kindness from others can make a big difference. Natty and I experienced the difference in the last week.

In Idyllwild Natty and I stayed in the recently purchased home of Lynn Russell and Jeremy Dunworth. In fact, we got to help unload the new propane tank that heats their house. 

I’ve known Lynn for about twenty years. She is a professor at U. C. San Diego. We wrote a proposal together that funded a four year collaboration on computer modeling of the interactions between aerosols and climate. I invited her to serve as an editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research – Atmosphere, a position she still holds.

I knew Lynn skied. I didn’t know about her passion for rock climbing. This came out when I asked the couple how they met: climbing. They then told me charming Idyllwild is known internationally for its rock climbing. They’ve been going there for the last ten years, and finally found a home featuring this view of Lilly (AKA Tacquitz) Rock.

Lynn knows I’m vegetarian, so she and Jeremy kindly treated Natty and me to three  delicious vegetarian meals. There are some amazing meat imitations available now!

After an early breakfast Lynn and Jeremy drove us to our next trail head and hiked with us the first mile or so.

On the way to the trailhead we passed through the devastating burn that stopped just short of Idyllwild but ravaged ten miles along the highway. Cause: arson. It did not spread to the PCT only because higher elevations had already burned five years ago. That section of the trail remains closed because the soil is unstable.

After thanking Lynn and Jeremy for their kindness we parted and climbed to the crest and followed the PCT for 17 miles until we rendezvoused with my wife Sharon, Richland friends Bruce Napier and Judith Bamburger who had flown to Palm Springs for the weekend, and their daughter Alex and her husband Jayson, all of whom were hiking north on the PCT to meet us.

Alex and Jayson are teachers in Palm Springs, but live  4000 feet higher in a beautiful home once owned by Red Skelton. Even though she hardly knew us, Alex kindly cooked a marvelous vegetarian dinner for us while Jayson described their impressive success as triathletes. 

After two nights there it was time for Natty and I to return to the trail. At the trailhead Sharon dropped some more of her brother Jim’s ashes, and then we headed south again. 

Our first rest stop that day was at Muir Woods. Classic Trail Magic, including a table, shade sail, life size images of and quotes from Whitman, Muir, and Thoreau, a Little Library, a trail register, and of course water. Kindness!


I love surprises, so when Natty and I took the new California Rider and Hiker Trail from the PCT to Warner Springs we were delighted to find it took us right by the old St. Francis of Assisi Church.


I loved its two ft thick walls, and that the door was unlocked so we could go inside and experience the serenity of the cozy chapel. 


It appears to still be in use after all these years.

Natty and I also experienced kindness when we found that a critical water source we relied on was in fact empty. The next source on the trail was 16 miles ahead, and each of us had only one liter of water. That is not enough. We explored our options. A map showed a store 2.2 miles down a road, but with an 800 foot drop. We also saw a house about a mile down the same road, we decided to give it a try. Doubts arose when the driveway entrance had a no trespassing sign, but Natty said we weren’t trespassing we just requesting water. A dozen or so black cows grazed freely in the yard. As we approached we saw the house was under construction. Two guys were working together. Natty explained our situation and requested water. The kind owner said he’s been drinking from his spring for 30 years so we were welcome to the hose. We thanked him profusely and filled our water bottles.

After nearly 1400 miles on the trail I never felt like hiker trash (despite my mangy appearance) until we went to Warner Springs. I was hoping for a tasty dinner at the restaurant at the Warner Springs Resort and to use the Community Resource Center to write and post my next entry.

I accepted the closure of the CRC for electrical work that day, and the closure of the restaurant because the resort is under new management, but I do not accept the unkind way Natty and I were treated at our only alternative for dinner, the convenience store at the Gas Mart.

When I entered the store I was immediately told to put my pack outside, lest I put things in it. I regret that I complied, because Natty lost his entire pack once to theft when he left it outside.

After I purchased my food I was told I could not eat it inside, but there was a picnic table in the parking lot next door. It was completely unprotected from the sun. Lest I consider moving it into the shade of a tree, the words “Do Not Move” were painted on the top.

Fortunately Natty found a table in the shade of a building and trees nearby, so we settled in there to wait out the heat of the day.

At 4:00 a large man walked over and told us we were loitering and had to leave. The store manager had called him because someone had reported us to the manager. She didn’t bother to see who we were. Hiker Trash. 

We went inside and protested. She said we were trespassing private property. She had of course every right to do so, but it was unkind and certainly bad for business to treat customers that way. We told her we did not feel welcome and left.

Today we experienced an unexpected act of kindness. We met some day hikers near Mt Laguna and engaged in a conversation. When they learned we were SOBO thruhikers they gave us their bag of M&Ms to share. Yummy! What a difference some kindness makes.