Enji Cooper is one of my newer climbing partners since being connected via Mel Ferndanes on our Sloan Peak climbing trip, our one and only favorite Dirt Baguette, http://www.thedirtbaguette.com/, another new and favorite climbing partner and Jamie Wise who just summited Mount Whitney on her 250+ mile JMT trip). It’s been such a great year of climbing for myself and I have met many new and wonderful new friends with whom to climb. I also learned that Enji not only went to the University of Washington like me and Benson Miller, my other favorite climbing partner, (next to Unkle, aka Joe Erickson who has been sidelined since Baring Mountain with a bum knee), but also has a BSEE like me – can’t spell geek without a EE! Ohhh the Fast Fourier Transform. Now back to climbing talk…
Enji and Jamie and others have been climbing some Bulgers, the common name for Washington’s 100 tallest peaks defined by a 400-foot prominence. For my many readers not familiar with what this means and why this matters, I offer the following links and request that you read them to be more informed and in the “inner circle” of Washington climbing and mountaineering and where I will be spending a bit of my future energy and efforts on.
I have been following Enji’s and Jamie’s climbing exploits the past couple of weeks with great affection from afar, secretly envious that I have been missing these great adventures with two great climbing partners. A couple of weeks entertaining some out-of-town guests, a week of holiday in Hawaii, and 4 days too many of celebrating my 53rd revolution around the sun took its toll. I had about an hour of sleep, a stale raison cinnamon bagel slathered in ghee (who needs butter?), coffee in a thermos, and a three-hour drive to the Eightmile Lake trailhead in the Enchantments to begin this outing! Oh dear, as my mother would say and admonish me within the same expression of motherly concern. I felt like shit and upon encountering rain at Stevens pass secretly hoped the weather would thwart our planned climb – serendipitously I did not have Enjis’ cell phone number to cancel so I had to drive on to the trailhead and proceed with the scheduled plan, under-caffeinated, under caloried, and under rested. Bailing was not an option. Skies were clear in Leavenworth.
So here we begin….
Enji and I rendezvoused at the Eightmile parking lot trailhead at O Dark 30 – 5am to be exact. Now in my book, I declared an Alpine Start as the sun was not up – headlamps needed to get the gear together from the cars, but upon setting out on foot, there was sufficient light to see without external illumination. Now as I may have alluded to, I was not feeling 100% #thehad. A little tired, a bit unconditioned, sour stomach, and lack of proper pre-hike fueling – Dammit, where was my cherry PopTart?
The trail was steep out of the gate – little to no warm-up. No gentle incline. Just what felt like a gauntlet of a staircase. What, no morning wake up kiss Cashmere Mountain? I am like, what, are we at Snoqualmie Mountain? We ascended very quickly up the steep trail and soon entered a thick forest of Fireweed, a plant/flower that typically grows on more open and arid, exposed slopes, often in areas of recent fire damage. A plant that help stabilize post-fire soil at risk of erosion. We literally were hiking through a Fireweed forest, nothing like I have experienced on previous outings. The plants were a harbinger of the terrain to come in the next couple of miles. No pictures of plants as I felt like crap and wanted to get to the junction of the 8 Mile Trail and Windy pass so I could prepare for the forthcoming sufferfest.
Enji and I continued to make our way up the trail to Eightmile Lake – hmmm I wonder how it got its’ name? I felt sluggish and was rather apologetic to my lack of sleep, proper AM nourishment, and general neglect of my fitness the past couple of weeks hampering our pace. Blessedly in retrospect, Enji had taken fellow hikers/climbers on outings and nearly broken them, so they had some empathy for me. TLDR – at the end of the climb, I looked at our pace data and we maintained a 30-minute mile uphill for most of the climb up – it felt much slower and I was relieved I was not a burden. Perhaps most amusing, as we climbed up the burned ridge, a “Mountain Runner” passed us by muttering “Hills for Jesus”. Now, this person had massive Will Najar like thighs, and literally ran up the trail past us. In my state of duress, sweating, and panting, and vacillating on the skeletal/muscle groups that needed more hurt pushing my body uphill – “Ass or Calves” (our new mantra of uphill agony), I wondered if Jesus for Hills could truly help me up the mountain. Enji and I wondered if the Mountain Runner was a Seventh Day Adventist, but quickly in my weakened and tired state quipped that if he were, their religion prevented activity on Sunday. We were perplexed and amused as we made our way up the 35+ blowdowns across the trail of the burned zone. Mr. Mountain Runner Hills for Jesus Man, please let me know if you made it to the summit of Cashmere as Enji saw you running back down past us at Lake Caroline as I was taking an emergency, blessed bivy nap. You must have run a 6-minute mile pace uphill and are a scrambler and climber in the ilk of M. Dubios and B. Brunjesus – Bobby, perhaps it was you? Did you frolick in my water source?
Photos of Little Eightmile Lake and the burned hillside and ridge
As we switchbacked our way up the tragically burned and barren ridge, we encountered a hillside which opened up with less burned forest remnants, and suddenly became much more verdant – the subalpine hills were carpeted with alpine wildflowers, and suddenly thick patches of evergreen trees – mostly Douglass Firs, but many trees and greenery to suggest that a fire that scorched the slopes below never occurred. It was an odd and interesting dichotomy of flora differential to encounter in such a short segment of mileage and vertical gain.
Site of the famous emergency bivy nap below where Mr. Hills for Jesus lapped us, descending from his purported summit. The lapping sound of the lake waves lulled me into a gentle slumber where I made an emergency, unplanned bivy, hoping to retain this climb for my contiguous c2c summit smash while Enji refueled and wondered how we would ever summit. Blessedly, with sleep, some calories provided by a sliced NY steak, Energy Jelly Belly, freshly filtered water, and a visit to the toilet in the sky, I was a new man, energized and reinvigorated for the journey ahead.
Mr. Hills for Jesus may have had the muscular thighs of Will Najar, the fitness and endurance of Michael DuBois, or the bulking yet sinuous physique of Bobby Brunjesus, yet he lacked their spirit and energy of comradery of the PNW PeakBaggers! Then I recalled media of some of the persons mentioned above jumping into pristine pools of fresh glacial melt streams, tarns, lakes, and rivers, and PTL that I always filter my water. Or was it observing our new mountain pet below frolicking into the last viable water source at 6700 feet. Regardless, no giardia today!
Upon leaving Caroline Lake, and passing Little Caroline Lake further up the trail – I was thankful for filtering water at the former due to massive algae and a dark iron-stained water of the latter, we pushed onward and upward into beautiful alpine meadows, climbing a trail carved into rocky ridge, winding its way upward to Windy Pass, skirting the massive basin anchoring Cashmere Mountain and its siblings to the west. The basin was a carpet of verdant, green wildflowers. (yes I know redundant). Erratic boulders the size of houses dotted the green carpet in the basin. The trail skirted the red ridge to the left while providing airy views of the basin below. All the while, the yellow-brown ridge of Cashmere revealed the horseshow arc of a path we needed to ascend to the base of Cashmere, miles away, while the stone fortress either beckoned or bemoaned our forthcoming ascent.
We finally made our way through the serpentine trail, carved through the vegetative alpine terrain of heathers, to reach Windy Pass, and begin the ridge walk to the base of West Cashmere, the gauntlet of granite boulders, and eventually the base of the massive Cashmere Mountain.
Views of and from the ridge – beautiful country and a super fun trail to ridge run!
Enji and I made our way up the spine of the rocky ridge to Cashmere, encountering many towering obelisks. One in particular appeared to be a perfect Egyptian Obelisk, capped with a stone of crystal. I wondered if I was on the set of a Sci-Fi movie, or transported to a time and land of the past.
Views of rock formations and towers as we make our way to the summit block.
As we passed some amazing rock towers, we were then presented with the “Gauntlet of Granite” – a narrow channel of rock, forcing us to navigate several hundred yards of large granite boulders, a rock hoppers paradise – the final challenge to the saddle of the summit block – and our soon to experience choose your own adventure path.
Enji and I made our way to the summit, navigating a rabbit’s warren of trails, multiple cairn paths, scramble options ranging from Class 2 to Class 4, to finally declare a successful summit at 8504 feet! My 7th Bulger obtained and an under-rated Enchantment Peak successfully summited.
Due to our slow ascent and desire to get some food in Leavenworth on a Sunday night, we opted not to linger on the summit – we found the benchmark, took a few photos, and assessed our options for the descent. There are multiple paths up and down the summit with varying degree of difficulty – given we did not know the routes, and lacked the energy and enthusiasm to explore more – we opted to descend the way we came up to expedite a retreat from the mountain, and fast pass our way to calories sourced from a greasy drive-through or late-night bar – wings and jalapeno poppers spoke to us like a horse whisperer. Post climb food stoke!
As we made our way down the mountain, the winds began to really whip on the ridge. We donned our shells to aid with wind abatement, and jogged our way down, hoping to avoid the perceived incoming storm.
Views from our fast descent…
Enji and I cruised down the trail, gauging our pace, realizing many places in Leavenworth would close by 9 PM. We were starving and I was jonesing for a pizza, a burger, wings, oh anything an open restaurant would serve.
We did our best, jogging down the mountain, but we had about 8+ miles to cover in about 2 hours. The 35+ blowdowns and agonizing 200 feet of gain up the ridge from Caroline Lake did not help our pace – Ass or Calves!?!
Blessedly we got to the cars at about 9:15 PM – the waning daylight hours of summer necessitated headlamps for an official Alpine Finish! The Ducks and Drakes is open until 11 PM on Sunday – FYI – Wings, and Burgers, and Poppers – Oh my!
Thank for reading. Cheers #thehad