WY-Gannett Peak

Summit Date

August 3, 2019


Ryan Cragun and Tom Triplett (with logistical support from Mark Woolley, who almost made it)

Trip Report

Eighteen years after completing my first state highpoint (Utah’s King’s Peak), Wyoming is likely my last state highpoint – #49. While not the highest state highpoint, Wyoming is the longest hike as state highpoints go and is in very rugged terrain. As a result, we had to put a fair amount of planning into this hike.


The three of us met on July 31st to do a final gear check after having communicated for months about the equipment we would need. We were generally well-prepared for the hike with the relevant technical gear (e.g., harnesses, rope, helmets, ice axes, crampons, gaiters, crevasse rescue equipment, etc.). Tom had not picked up a few food items, but we were otherwise ready.

We also had a plan for the hike. Based on various trip reports, it looked like the “easiest” route (no route for Gannett Peak is easy) was the Glacier Trail from the east, entering through the Shoshone National Forest. Those trip reports also suggested that the hike was about 25 miles one way; 50 miles round trip. Thus, we had planned to hike about 10 miles per day, give or take a mile or two, to make for 5 good days of hiking.

Day 1 – August 1st

After a little debate about what time we were going to leave from Northern Utah for the trailhead, we eventually headed out around 5:30 am. The trailhead is just outside of Dubois, WY, which was about 5 hours away (see map below).

We stopped at the Wal-Mart in Evanston to pick up a few supplies along the way. We also had to make an emergency gas stop in Farson. We thought we’d have enough gas to make it to Lander but it seemed unlikely. Luckily, a gas station had just opened in Farson, otherwise, we probably would have run out of gas about 10 miles outside of Lander, which would have been a rough start to the hike.

We arrived in Lander around 10:30 where we topped off the gas. Mark picked up a fishing license. Tom stopped by an outfitter to pick up some crampons (the ones he had ordered hadn’t arrived). We then grabbed some lunch before heading to the trailhead, which was about an hour and a half outside of Lander. The turn off is about 4 miles outside of Dubois, WY and then roughly 9 miles on unpaved but well-groomed trails.

There were about a dozen cars at the Glacier Trail trailhead when we arrived. The weather looked great while we finished getting our packs ready. A family from France showed up just as we were getting ready to leave. They kindly snapped a photo of us before we hit the trail:

(left to right: Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett, Ryan Cragun)

Per my Garmin watch, the starting elevation was 7,598 feet. We left the trailhead around 12:50. The trail starts by working its way up and over a ridge, crosses a river, then continues along some fairly rocky terrain for about 2 miles. Miles 3 and 4 are in Bomber Basin, which is pretty level and has several wide, beautiful meadows. We got caught in a brief rainstorm here that forced Tom and me to pull out our raingear for about 30 minutes. Miles 5 and 6 are some pretty serious switchbacks that increase the elevation quickly. At the top of the switchbacks, things level out for a little bit and you actually have a little downhill to a stream crossing where we stopped to pump/purify some water. After crossing the stream, it’s a slow steady uphill across a meadow and plateau that just keeps going and going. It’s a solid couple of miles on that plateau (at least 1 1/2 until you reach Arrow Pass). You cross a pass that my watch said was at 10,850 feet and is above the treeline. After that, you start a slow descent back into another valley.

The plateau to Arrow Pass that never ends!

Mark goes to the Wind Rivers (the mountain range that Gannett Peak is part of) every year with family, so he had warned us about the bugs. They weren’t horrible, but they were bad enough in the lower valleys that Tom and I had already put on our bug head nets and gloves to keep them off us. We were also wearing long pants and long shirts. Above the treeline, the bugs were not as bad. That fact gave us an idea – why not camp right at the treeline on the other side of Arrow Pass to minimize the bugs? We could see from the pass that the trail dropped down into the trees just before dropping steeply in elevation. We could see some spots that looked like they would work.

Just before we got to the pass, we also ran into two other hikers – Jason and Joe – who were busy flying a drone. Jason was carrying a 75 to 80-pound pack with tons of camera gear. We stopped to talk to them for a bit then continued toward our desired campsite.

Sure enough, as we approached the treeline, the bugs started back up. We worked our way to the left of the trail and eventually found a spot that was nestled at the top of the treeline and was nice and flat to set up camp. We quickly set up the tent, got a fire going, and cooked dinner, which was dehydrated meals in bags. Mark also informed us that he wasn’t feeling very well. He had a dry mouth and felt like he was going to throw up. That wasn’t a good sign.

After dinner, Tom prepared his bear cannister while Mark and I set up our bear hangs before turning in for the night. A light rain started just as we were climbing into the tent.

Per my watch, we started at 12:49 and did 10.22 miles over 6 hours and 40 minutes. Here’s a chart of the elevation gain:

Elevation chart on Day 1.

Day 2 – August 2nd

Thinking we only had to cover 10 miles on day 2, we didn’t rush to get ready in the morning. We got up around 7:00 to 7:30, made breakfast, and slowly broke camp. We didn’t head out until 8:54.

From where we camped, the trail drops pretty steeply into a valley filled with mountain lakes. Mile 2 put us at Double Lake. Star Lake was at mile 3. Just after mile 4 we could see Honeymoon Lake, which you can see from the trail, but the trail doesn’t get very close to it. Just after you see Honeymoon Lake, there is a series of switchbacks going down. This drops a lot of elevation quickly.

Tom and Ryan with Honeymoon Lake in the background.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, we were running short on water (we hadn’t pumped since the day before). We found a small stream and decided to pump there and then have lunch. It was around mile 5 for the day and wasn’t a great spot. The mosquitos were really bad. Had we continued for another mile, we would have hit a great spot on the side of Dinwoody Creek (marked on the map below) that has beautiful views of the river and nice places to sit, plus fewer mosquitos and plenty of places to filter water.

Stop here for a break. It’s beautiful and the bugs aren’t as bad!

After lunch, we continued on, eventually crossing a river at Down’s Fork.

The trail was pretty flooded at this point, which meant some creativity in trying to avoid the water, but it was generally doable. From then on, the trail largely follows Dinwoody Creek, which is a beautiful, glacial river.

Just before mile 10, we found a spot where the creek widens and flattens out. It was late in the afternoon at this point and we were hot. Right at that spot (marked on the map on day 4 below), there is a nice, sandy beach on the side of the river. When Tom saw it, he immediately decided he was getting in. He stripped down and walked through the river. The side closest to the trail is only ankle deep, but on the far side it gets deep enough to dunk yourself under (maybe 3 1/2 feet). It’s freezing cold, but a good break on a hot day. (NOTE: There is a trail here that stays close to the river. Don’t follow it. Stay close to the mountain. The one that stays close to the river eventually goes into the river. The actual trail skirts the side of the canyon and avoids all the marshes.)

Stop here for a swim or a bath. It’s cold, but refreshing!

When we hit the 10-mile mark, we began to wonder how good the descriptions of the trail really were. We should have been about 5 miles from the summit of Gannett Peak at that point (we had gone 20 miles), but we couldn’t see the peak or the boulder field where we were supposed to spend the night. We had marked key indicators on our maps and Mark was using All Trails on his phone and could see that we still had miles to go. Given how Mark was feeling (and I was getting tired), we were getting a little worried. At 11 1/2 miles, we saw a camp across the river. We paused there and Tom went to see what it was. It’s an outfitter camp called “Camp Cowboy.” They take people up the mountain on horses. We found out from them that they had clients who had summitted that day. They camped at the boulder field, got up at 5:00 am, and made the summit by 10:00 am. But they didn’t tell us how far the boulder field was.

With the weight of the packs bearing down on us, we continued on. We crossed mile 12, then mile 13. By that point, it was close to 5:30 and both Mark and I were getting tired. Tom was willing to keep going, but it didn’t seem likely that we were going to make it to the boulder field that day.

As luck would have it, around mile 13, we took a bit of a wrong turn that walked us right through a beautiful campground. It was on a rise that had great views of the canyon. On the top was a ring of pine trees in a circle about 30 feet in diameter with a very nice, level spot for a tent. We eventually decided to make camp there for the night and came up with a plan for the next day.

Given how Mark was feeling (still quite sick), he had decided he was not going to try for the summit. Tom and I would leave most of our gear at the campsite with Mark and take just our technical gear, food, and water, and try to summit as fast as we could, returning to the camp hopefully in time to break camp and do a few miles back out on day 3. We couldn’t tell for sure at that point, but we thought the base of Gannett was only a couple miles away, which would go quickly with light packs.

So, we set up camp quickly. While Mark cooked dinner, Tom and I emptied our packs and repacked them for our summit attempt. We enjoyed a nice dinner, got everything situated, then hit the sack.

We covered 13.67 miles in about 9 hours. Below is the elevation chart for the day and the map:

Elevation chart for day 2.

Day 3 – August 3rd

The plan for our summit attempt was to get up early (5:00 am), head out by around 5:30, and move quickly. Thinking we only had a couple of miles to get to the base of the mountain, we figured we could be on our way up by 7:00 or 8:00 at the latest. We figured we could make it to the top in 2 to 3 hours, then get back off the mountain and ideally be back to our camp by early afternoon, late afternoon at the latest. We laid all of this out to Mark, who had our Garmin satellite communicator. He could start worrying if we weren’t back by 6:00 pm. We didn’t think it would take us that long to get back to our camp.

We were wrong.

We got up at 5:00 and headed out at 5:36. We made good time. We did our first mile in 26 minutes (just 229 feet of elevation gain), the second was just 24 minutes (150 feet of elevation gain). But we still were not to the boulder field. The third mile took us another 26 minutes (341 feet of elevation gain). At that point, we had crossed a couple of rivers and were climbing.

The fourth mile was 30 minutes with 417 feet of elevation gain. By the end of the fourth mile, we could finally see the boulder field.

We were way off in our estimate. The base of the mountain was about 5 miles from where we camped.

After 4 miles or so at the base of the boulder field.
The boulder field from above it.

Hopping across the boulder field took us close to 40 minutes. We paused to figure out a route up the mountain as well. Luckily, we spotted four climbers on the mountain working their way up a chute, which showed us where we needed to go. But we had no idea how they got there. We studied the mountain for a while and figured out a route that seemed to align with trails we could see, but it was definitely not the standard route up the mountain.

Tom on the glacier just as we were headed up to make our switchback. The summit is behind him.

Below is a photo of the summit from the top of the boulder field. I drew in two routes. In green is what we think is the standard route up the mountain. It heads to the left, cuts around a jut of rock, then works its way up to a ridge before getting on the glacier and working its way up the chute and over the bergschrund (snow bridge), then following the ridge to the summit. In red is our route. We cut up the face, crossed a snow patch, then ended up on the glacier. We roped up and put on our technical gear and did a switchback up the glacier. Just as we were finishing our switchback, two guys came up the ridge on the standard route and passed us. It’s much faster to climb the rocks on the ridge.

Follow the green line up. You could follow the red line down if you want to glissade on the glacier.

Where the red and green lines meet, it’s time to get on the snow. You cut below the sharp, jagged peak there and then work your way up the first chute which is where the bergschrund is. Basically, there is a crevasse at the bottom of the chute that is often covered with a snow bridge. When we crossed it, the snow bridge was really soft and had almost melted all the way through. If it melts all the way through, getting over this spot would be quite challenging.

Me by the bergschrund. Tom shot this while standing on the snow bridge.

The chute is also quite steep, probably a 70 to 80-degree grade in spots. We short-roped our way up it. After we made it to the top of the chute, we followed a fairly clear trail that tracks to the top of the snow just below the ridgeline. You have to cross a couple of vertical ridges running down the mountain, but from the top of the chute, it’s pretty much a long, slow hike about another half mile to the summit, which you can’t actually see in the photo above (it’s hidden behind the snow-capped part of the mountain).

While we made good time before the boulder field, after the boulder field, our time slowed dramatically. The rough terrain and elevation really slowed us down (plus, we didn’t bring enough food – a few packs of gummies, some M&Ms, and a few granola bars). We finally arrived at the summit around 1:00 pm.

From our camp to the summit was 7.5 miles, 4,410 feet of elevation gain, and it took us 7 hours and 20 minutes. Here’s the elevation chart:

My obligatory panorama on the summit:

And Tom’s traditional handstand:

We chatted with some folks on the summit for a bit, ate a little food, and took a break for about 30 minutes. We snapped photos and I even got a signal on my phone, so I texted Mark that we’d be late and texted my wife that we had made it.

Summit photo with me (left) and Tom (right).

Then we headed back down. My watch was almost dead and I didn’t have anything to charge it, so I didn’t track our time back down, but we did pretty well considering how technical it was.

Tom just above the bergschrund on the way down. We short-roped this section.

We did take advantage of the fact that we had been on the glacier already and slid down a few spots:

That helped. But I was moving pretty slow on the boulder field on the way out. My reconstructed knee (ACL) was hurting and I didn’t want to aggravate it. We made it to the end of the boulders around 5:00 and had 5 miles to go to get back to our camp. It didn’t help that the upper valley is so beautiful that I stopped a few times to take pictures and videos:

We made pretty good time, but still missed our 6:00 pm deadline for when Mark could start worrying. We got back to our camp around 7:20. Mark had a fire going and quickly cooked us dinner as we described the adventure.

Our campsite was great. Occasionally, however, our fire decided to do its own thing.

Meanwhile, Mark had a nice, relaxing day exploring the area. By the end of it, he was feeling much better:

Mark at the campsite enjoying the scenic views.

Day 3 total distance traveled was 15 miles – 7.5 to the summit and 7.5 back to our base camp.

Day 4 – August 4th

Having a better sense of the route, we knew about how much hiking we had to do the last two days. We figured we didn’t have to get up super early and had to do about 11 miles on day 4 to get to Double Lake, where we wanted to camp. We ended up getting up around 6:30 and broke camp around 9:00 am.

The upper canyon is definitely the most beautiful part of the hike:

A couple of miles down the trail from our camp we returned to that beautiful spot in the river and took a bath – our first in nearly 4 days.

It’s too small to tell (on purpose), but that’s me, all the way across Dinwoody Creek, naked, slathered in soap, taking a bath. It was freezing cold but felt amazing to get clean.

We made pretty good time on the way down, stopping just a couple of times to pump water. We even made good time up the switchbacks by Honeymoon Lake. We made it to Double Lake by about 3:30, which was the goal.

Mark brought fishing gear and wanted to try his luck fishing. By 4:00, Tom had taken refuge in the tent (the bugs were really getting to him at this point).

Mark and I went out to see if the fish were biting. I actually followed Mark out without him knowing. I figured it would be a nice view while I read a little on my phone and shot some photos of Mark fishing.

Mark fishing on Double Lake

But that all changed on Mark’s second cast. I heard him grunt on the second cast and asked him if he’d caught something. That’s when he told me he caught a fish on his first one but had already let it go. He caught a fish on his second cast, and third, and fourth. Basically, the first 20 times he cast his line, he caught a fish about 16 of those.

Then, for the next two hours, it was about every third cast we caught a fish. Mark got tired of casting and asked me to cast. I was enjoying the view:

Panoramic view of Mark fishing on Double Lake

But I eventually agreed and ended up catching two of the three fish we kept and ate for dinner.

Our catch!

While we were excited to have something other than dehydrated food for dinner, we didn’t fully think this through. We had a way to cook the fish (on a flat rock on the coals of our fire), but we didn’t have a plate. Enter flat rock number two. Also, Mark broke out his fish seasoning, which he hadn’t told us he brought with him. The mountain trout was amazing!

Tom enjoying his fish.

Just as we were finishing up dinner, the temperature dropped a good 20 degrees and we realized a storm was blowing in. We quickly cleaned up our camp, doused the fire, set up our bear hang with the remaining food, and got into the tent. Sure enough, a good storm blew in. The rain wasn’t too heavy, but the heaviest on the whole trip and the wind was pretty strong. My super light, 3 man tent held up well. It was only about 7:30 when we got in the tent, so we ended up playing Risk on Mark’s phone for about an hour (Tom won) before going to bed.

Total mileage for the day: 10.38 miles in 6 hours. Here’s the elevation chart:

Elevation chart for day 4. The sharp incline is the switchbacks by Honeymoon Lake.

Day 5 – August 5th

We also didn’t plan to rush to break camp this day knowing that we had to do about 11 miles or so to get to the trailhead with most of it being down hill. But none of us were sleeping that well on the mountain, so we ended up waking up around 6:00 am (Mark and I are usually up before that at home as well). We broke camp at 7:30 and made pretty good time. It took us just 5 hours to cover the 11.26 miles from Double Lake to the trailhead. Here’s the elevation chart:

Elevation chart for Day 5. The peak is Arrow Pass.

We were off the mountain around 1:30. We drove straight to Lander and stopped at Gannett Grill for lunch. Here’s our route on Day 5:

Concluding Thoughts:

First and foremost, people need to realize that this route to Gannett Peak isn’t 50 miles round trip. If you add up all the miles, it was 31.39 miles from the trailhead to the summit (that probably includes about 1 extra mile of me pumping water and such while my watch was tracking distance). The distance on the way out is probably a more accurate approximation of the exact distance since we didn’t stop as much: 29.14 miles. In other words, the eastern approach to Gannett Peak via the Glacier Trail is really 60 miles round trip, not 50 miles. To do this in 5 days, comfortably, you should plan to hike at least 11 to 12 miles the first day (to Double Lake) and the same distance the second day (to the boulder field). The boulder field is a nasty place to camp. Unless your into rock falls and no vegetation, it’s not particularly beautiful, though it is surrounded by imposing mountains. I’d suggest camping at the boulder field on the second night, summiting the morning of the third day, then hiking down about 5 miles to our campsite to enjoy the views there. Then the hike out is about 11 miles each of the last two days.

If you’re into fishing, definitely take your fishing gear. Double Lake was incredible. Most of the fish were really small (maybe 8 inches), but we managed to catch two 12 inch fish and a 10-inch fish that we enjoyed for dinner. It still wasn’t a meal, but two fish probably would have been for me.

I hope my description of the route up the summit is helpful. We screwed that up and it would have probably saved us 30 to 45 minutes or more and probably cut some distance off our ascent.

Obviously, the lighter you can pack, the better. I was carrying a 55-pound pack for all but the summit day. That’s too much for me. If you can get your pack to 40 pounds, you’ll be much happier. We ended up hiking out food, but we probably should have eaten it.

That leads to my next point. I was running a calorie deficit the whole hike. While I snacked and ate three times a day, I was burning a lot more calories than I was consuming. I started the hike weighing about 165 (usually closer to 164). I ended the hike at 155. I lost almost 10 pounds. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I should have eaten more.

Finally, visiting all of these states to hike state highpoints has been quite the adventure. I’ve spent weeks of my life on this and thousands of dollars. But it has been worth it. I have amazing memories and crazy stories. I’ve secured friendships and made new friends. It’s been a remarkable journey.

 5,814 total views

WA-Mt. Rainier

Summit Date

July 31st, around 6:30 am


Ryan Cragun & Tom Triplett

(plus our guides – Travis and Matt – and two other clients – Drew Herdener and Olivier Colle)

Trip Report

While I do a fair amount of hiking, mountains like Mt. Rainier are really at the upper end of the types of hikes that interest me. Given that it is snow-capped and covered with glaciers and I have only climbed one such mountain before (Mt. Hood in 2016), the most logical approach to climbing this mountain was to hire guides.

For anyone interested in hiring guides, there are three main companies that guide on the mountain: RMI, IMG, and Alpine Ascents. Since I used Alpine Ascents on my previous climb like this and had a good experience, I decided to use Alpine Ascents again. I think that was the right call as will be made clear in this trip report. I’ll note one other thing for others considering climbing Mt. Rainier with guides. Most of these companies list their hikes almost a year in advance and the hikes sell out quickly. If you’re interested in climbing Mt. Rainier, I’d strongly encourage you to sign up for the newsletter for the company you want to go with almost two years before you plan to hike Mt. Rainier. You’ll then get a notification when the hikes are listed on their website so you can book your hike. If you wait until even 6 months before the hike date, it’s likely the hikes will all be sold out.

Pre-Hike Day

My trip began with a flight to Seattle on July 28th. With flight delays and such, I ended up arriving the same time as my hiking buddy, Tom. We then hopped on the train from the airport into Seattle and finally caught a bus to get us to our hotel, the Marqueen Hotel, which is just a block or so from the headquarters of Alpine Ascents. Our hotel room wasn’t ready so we grabbed a bite to eat then headed to the Alpine Ascents office with all our gear.

We had a gear check at 2:00 pm. The gear check involved going through all the equipment we brought based on their gear list and then renting any remaining equipment we needed. Given the technical aspects of the climb, crampons, harnesses, ice axes, helmets, and avalanche beacons were all required gear (along with standard cold weather clothing and such). The gear check included some instructional videos about climbing on Mt. Rainier. By the time we had our packs largely ready, the gear check took us at least 2 hours.

We still needed to pick up some food for the next few days – mostly snacks, but also some more substantial food as Alpine Ascents provided breakfasts and dinners but not lunches on the mountain. (As one of the guides said at one point, “There are no lunches on the mountain, just constant snacking between breakfast and dinner.”) We found a nearby grocery store, stocked up, then headed back to the Marqueen Hotel where we had dinner and finished getting everything ready.

Day One

We met back at the Alpine Ascents office the next day at 4:45 am. We left our suitcases with anything we didn’t need to take on the hike at the office, put our packs into a trailer, then hopped on a van. We had 8 clients to begin with, two of whom drove themselves from Seattle to the trailhead. The rest of us rode in the van. We stopped at a bakery on the way to grab breakfast. Then, just outside of the Mount Rainier National Park we stopped to pick up our three main guides – Robin, Matt, and Travis. (Our fourth guide, Towner, was already on the mountain at Camp Muir.) For this climb, Alpine Ascents likes a 2 to 1 ratio of clients to guides.

The Paradise parking area was where our hike began and our car ride ended. Here, our guides took over (previously, other staff from Alpine Ascents had been providing us with instructions). They went over our plan for the day. We then geared up, splitting up the food from Alpine Ascents among our packs. We had one issue with a backpack (a missing buckle) that the guides were able to solve with a buckle hack. Otherwise, we seemed to be ready to go.

Ryan and Tom before the hike started at Paradise.
Ryan and Tom before the hike started at Paradise.

I will note at this point that I had some issues with the big backpack. I do a lot of hiking, but most of my hiking is day hikes with, at most, a 20 to 30-pound pack (if I’m with others, I usually carry their water as that amount of weight doesn’t affect me). The big backpack I have is a 65+10 liter pack. It’s a bit on the small end for hikes like this. I also have a sleeping bag that is a bit older and therefore a bit bigger than most and didn’t have a compression bag for it. Finally, I probably over-packed slightly on gear and food. All told, I’m guessing my pack weighed closer to 50 to 60 pounds. I had not trained with a pack that heavy and it was a bit of an issue for me.

The hike started on the paved trails at Paradise and followed those trails up until the paving disappeared.

some of our team on the lower trail
some of our team on the lower trail

It then continued on unpaved trails until we hit the Muir snowfield. Just before we hit the Muir snowfield, we lost our first hiker. One of the people on our hike had broken his ankle a couple of years before and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to be able to do the hike but wanted to try. Turns out, he hadn’t completely healed. The pain was too much given the weight of our packs and the pace at which we were hiking. He pulled off to the side and told a guide. He was led back down to the trailhead where he waited for the Alpine Ascents group that was coming down the mountain so he could get a ride back to Seattle. (Sidenote: When he called his wife to let her know, she reportedly – according to one of the guides – said, “I told you so. You’re a pussy.”)

Once we reached the Muir snowfield, we stopped and switched from our hiking boots or shoes into our mountaineering boots with a hard shell (that we’d be using with crampons) since we’d be hiking the rest of the way to Camp Muir in snow. The views of the glaciers at this point were pretty cool.

We could see this waterfall from the Muir Snowfield.

Returning to my pack issue… I was doing fine on the paved and dirt trails with the heavier pack. It was a bit uncomfortable, but not a serious issue. However, once we switched to hiking on snow, the weight really started to get to me.

We hiked for several hours up the snowfield, which, once you are on it, really doesn’t seem like it is ever going to end. We started hiking around 10:30, covered just under 5 miles (4.79 per my watch), and it took about 5 hours and 15 minutes.

With my heavy pack and the trudging in soft snow, I struggled. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a pretty strong hiker and I was one of the first to make it to Camp Muir right behind the guides. But, when I arrived, I was exhausted and, mentally, was wondering whether I was going to be able to complete this hike. Without the very heavy pack, I would have been fine. But those extra 20 or so pounds really got to me.

We arrived at Camp Muir around 4:00. We had a couple of hours to get settled into the shelter that would be our home for the night. Camp Muir is an interesting place. It’s clear that it is an established camp that serves as the launching point for most attempts to summit Mt. Rainier (in fact, RMI makes their summit attempts from Camp Muir, not the Ingraham Flats, adding an extra mile to the summit attempt). The camp sits largely on a rock outcropping that separates the Muir snowfield from a glacier, though a number of people actually camp on the glacier. There were a number of wood and rock buildings used by the forest service and the professional guide companies. There are also several toilets and a few other buildings. (I use toilets here in the sense that they are actual toilets, but, they are not the most sanitary toilets you’ll ever see or use. There are a lot of people at Camp Muir, toilet paper and wipes are at a premium, and where the human waste goes is, well, a bit of a mystery. Don’t expect 5-star accommodations and toilets at Camp Muir, but be glad you have something to sit on.)

I took a photosphere at Camp Muir that helps illustrate what it is like:

After what I thought was a fairly grueling hike up the Muir snowfield, I was happy to take a couple of hours to organize my gear inside our hut. Alpine Ascents provided some basic air pads and we were able to put our pads on top of those then lay out our sleeping bags. Given our numbers, we all basically had room to spread out a bit. Here’s a look at the inside of the hut:

We stayed in a wooden hut with shelves for bunks the first night at Camp Muir.
We stayed in a wooden hut with shelves for bunks the first night at Camp Muir.

My buddy, Tom, really can’t sit still. He somehow managed to get connected with the forest service people and was helping them install some new solar cells and wiring in a building they were working on by the time we were supposed to go to dinner.

We had really amazing burritos for dinner. At dinner, our guides went over the plan for the next day and rounded out the evening with advice on getting as much sleep as we could and trying not to wake up our fellow climbers by going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. After dinner, we all headed back to the hut and went to bed. Given the challenging hike that day, I slept pretty well.

Day Two

Alpine Ascents’ approach to climbing Mt. Rainier (in this 3-day package) is different from RMI’s approach (but the same as IMG’s, with whom they share the hut and some other equipment). On day two, after a hearty breakfast, we spent the morning in snow school, learning how to walk in crampons, how to walk roped together, how to use ice axes, and how to do self-arrests on glaciers. Tom and I had done all of this before on Hood but it was a good refresher course.

Before snow school, we made sure we had all the stuff we were taking up to our high camp on the Ingraham Flats. If we wanted to leave some stuff at Camp Muir, we could. I had already pulled out the food for the entire group, which dropped my pack weight by 6 to 10 pounds. I also left my hiking shoes and my inflatable pad at Camp Muir in order to cut some more weight from my backpack (about another 5 to 8 pounds). With that weight gone, my backpack was probably closer to 40 pounds and was a much more comfortable weight for me.

After a quick lunch, we geared up and hiked the about one mile to the upper camp at Ingraham Flats. It didn’t take very long – close to an hour. However, it did involve crossing some areas with fairly active rockfall, which was when most of us realized that this hike was pretty serious.

This was also a chance to get a sense – both by Tom and me but also the guides – who the stronger hikers on a rope line were. It turns out, there were several strong hikers in our group, but perhaps the strongest (even stronger than Tom and I), was a Microsoft employee from France, Olivier. He was less experienced than Tom and I but, physically, he was moving well and seemed quite comfortable on the mountain. We didn’t know how many people we’d have on a rope team the next day when we attempted to summit the mountain but we wanted to make sure we’d have a solid team and Olivier seemed like he’d be a strong team member.

We were also dealing with another issue. The previous two teams from Alpine Ascents had made it to Ingraham Flats but had not summitted Mt. Rainier because the route that had been established was too dangerous. Basically, a massive ice fall had collapsed onto the trail up above the Disappointment Cleaver and more ice was hanging over the trail. Teams from RMI had pushed right over the fallen ice, which really wasn’t being held up by anything and could collapse at any time. They were also walking under the ice that was hanging over the trail as well. For Alpine Ascents, that level of risk was unacceptable as it basically put clients and guides into a very dangerous area not for a minute or two (like the rockfall we crossed this day) but for about 20 to 40 minutes. That was too dangerous.

Our guides were constantly talking with other guides about the trail. We didn’t overhear all the conversations but could tell that our odds of making it to the summit were pretty low. In fact, after dinner on the first night, I asked our head guide, Travis, what our odds were of going up to the summit. He didn’t answer at first, but when I gave him some numbers, he finally nodded at around 10% to 20%. That was a bit of a downer for most of our team, but we were still going to get to go up to Ingraham Flats and potentially to the top of Disappointment Cleaver (which is a rock outcropping you climb on the way up). 

Our guides split up in the morning. Two – Robin and Towner – stayed with us for snow school training while the other two – Matt and Travis – headed up the mountain to see how dangerous the current trail was for themselves and to see if there was a way around the dangerous ice fall.

After we arrived at Ingraham Flats, we had a couple of hours to just kind of hang out. I had a book on my phone and a backup charger for my phone, so I sat and relaxed, reading and resting. Some of the other clients tried to get some sleep. I also took this photosphere of the camp, which shows just how amazing the views were there.

Around 6:00 or so, Robin and Towner called us to the mess tent for dinner. We enjoyed some turkey burgers (again, we ate pretty well on the mountain) and talked. We could actually hear Matt and Travis coming down Disappointment Cleaver but couldn’t see them. We finished dinner and were all wondering whether we were going to go up the mountain the next day. About 20 minutes after we finished dinner, Matt and Travis returned to camp and we headed out of the mess tent to hear the news.

They actually did a very good job of leading us on. Travis started at the beginning of their adventure that day, explaining that they found the dangerous section of the trail and it really was an accident waiting to happen. He wouldn’t want to cross it himself let alone with clients. He and Matt then tried to find a route around that section. They had several false starts, found an okay route, then ran into an almost vertical wall that they were able to cut some steps into, had to walk along the edge of several crevasses, and did a lot of searching, but… By the end, they had carved out a trail that bypassed the ice fall and would allow us to go the summit. It took Travis a good five minutes to get to the part we all wanted to hear – we had a safe route up the mountain. We all cheered – at least, as much cheering as you can do when you’re standing on a glacier and it’s really cold outside.

Our guides gave us the last advice of the night. Try to sleep and don’t set an alarm. They would wake us up when they thought it was the right time to start up the mountain – somewhere between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am. The idea is to make it up in the dark while the ice is solid so you reduce the risk of ice melting and falling. We all headed to our tents and tried to sleep – most of us to little avail. I know I managed to get in a few hours because the time passed pretty quickly.

Day Three

Our guides ended up waking us up around 1:00 am. We had a quick breakfast of hot drinks and oatmeal. We also found out at breakfast that one member of our group, Ford, had decided he didn’t want to continue. He was feeling okay but was realizing that this kind of hiking was really not for him. He opted, instead, to stay at Ingraham Flats and wait for us to return. One of the guides, Towner, would stay with him.

That left us with three teams – Tom and I with Matt, Olivier and Drew with Travis, and Leli and Thomas with Robin. Leli also noted that she wasn’t feeling all that well and suggested that she may not be able to make it all the way but she was going to try.

After our quick breakfast, we geared up and headed out around 1:45. We made decent time crossing the Ingraham Flats to Disappointment Cleaver then worked our way up the Cleaver. Our first break was at the top of the Cleaver at the spot where our guides had forged a new trail. We stopped there and Leli indicated that she was going to keep going but was feeling worse.

After that first break, we were off the trail all the other hikers were on, forging a new trail. Luckily, Matt and Travis have great mountain sense and had a clear sense of the trail they had blazed the day before. We could tell that there wasn’t much of a trail, so we tried to help make one as we went and Matt dropped flags to help guide us on the way back. Once we reached the very steep section that involved connecting ourselves with a carabiner to a fixed line, Leli indicated she had enough and didn’t think she could make it back down that section. Her team turned around while the rest of us continued.

The new section was a bit rugged but the more exciting aspect was that we could tell we were climbing on some pretty crazy stuff as there were several spots where our headlamps disappeared into darkness and other spots where we knew we were hiking along a knife’s edge or ridge with steep drops on either side. But, in the dark, we really couldn’t tell what we were climbing. That may have been best, since it was pretty crazy terrain, as we realized on the way down. Here’s a photo from the new section showing me on a ridge with a crevasse on the right on a steep drop on the left:

Part of the new section with steep drops on either side.
Part of the new section with steep drops on either side.

The two teams continued through the new section, then reconnected with the standard route and took one more break fairly high on the mountain. After that last break, the guides said we were going to push from there to the crater. Not knowing how far that was, we all agreed.

Just below the crater was a particularly steep section. I was just behind our guide, Matt, on my rope team, with Tom behind me. Our guides had said that we had to be able to push at a certain speed and, if we couldn’t, then they were likely to turn us around as we had to be off the mountain at a certain point. With my much lighter pack, I was able to move pretty fast. However, that last really steep section was brutal. There were three or four times on that section that I was struggling to catch my breath and it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other to keep up with Matt. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one who was struggling to keep the pace – Tom said he did as well. But, I wasn’t going to say anything about a quick break because we were so close to the summit and I didn’t want our guides to turn us around.

It was only about 20 to 30 minutes of the grueling pace on that steep section before Matt called out that he could see the crater. Another 5 minutes or so and we dropped into the southeast side of the crater where we took a solid 10-minute break. From there, all we had to do was walk across the crater, climb up a small section of loose rock, and we’d be at the summit. Here’s a photosphere from inside the crater where we took our break:

After a 10-minute break or so, we left our heavy packs on the far side of the crater and walked to the summit (a 20 minute walk). Given the forest fires in the area, the view wasn’t amazing. And the summit really just looks flat, as you can see in the media below. It was also very windy and very cold. We stayed long enough to snap some photos then headed back to the shelter of the crater. Here’s the summit in a photosphere:

Here’s a video panorama of the summit.
Tom (left) and me (right) on the summit

Just as we dropped into the crater, I started to notice that I felt a little… funny. It was as if about 10% to 20% of my brain had shut down. I was also having a hard time focusing on anything except what was directly in front of me (e.g., tunnel vision). Given what was happening to me, it took me until we got to the summit before I realized that I was actually suffering from altitude sickness. It was very mild and I was still able to function, but not as well as normal. This was the first time I had ever experienced this. I wonder to what extent it was related to the quick rate of our ascent. We had started the day at just over 11,000 feet and had climbed to almost 14,400 feet in 5 hours. Those 3,000 feet made a difference for me. I had been to higher elevations (e.g., Mount Whitney in California) without similar symptoms. I’m not entirely sure if it was the pace or something else, but I did let the guides know that I was feeling some of the symptoms of altitude sickness as we were walking back across the crater. They both agreed with my assessment and smartly said, “Well, there’s only one way to treat that – we’ve got to go down.”

I felt like I was moving a little slower gearing back up, but once we got back on our ropes and started walking, I was able to keep up. About 20 minutes from the summit, my symptoms cleared and I was fine again.

We pushed a good pace down from the summit until we reached the new section of trail. On the new section, our guides asked us to help “kick in” the new trail so the next group from Alpine Ascents would know where to go. We spent a good 45 minutes along the new section with the guides shoveling and the clients kicking in steps and trails with our crampons and cutting what we could with our ice axes.

We stopped one more time just above the cleaver for a quick break. On a typical hike of this distance and this elevation gain (but at a much lower elevation when it less technical), I would probably consume fewer than 500 calories (I don’t need a lot of calories). To this point on our summit attempt, I had consumed 3 Snickers bars, among other snacks, which was over 750 calories (probably over 1,000 with everything else I had eaten). We were moving fast enough that I knew I needed energy. We made one final push down Disappointment Cleaver and then to our camp. Here’s our route from Ingraham Flats to the summit and back:

At the camp, the other two guides had been busy. They had dug out a new location for the mess tent as they have to move it every few weeks. It is on a glacier which is moving down the mountain, which opens a new crevasse regularly. So, they have to move the tent or it will go into the “REI crevasse” with all the other gear people have lost in there. However, we used the new tent location for something else first. Leli and Thomas were engaged and had hoped to get married on the summit. Since they had turned around, they opted, instead, to get married at our high camp. Honestly, the high camp marriage with Mt. Rainier in the background was a better location. The top of the mountain was kind of flat and, because of wildfires, didn’t have a great view. Plus, it was super windy and you couldn’t hear well. At our high camp, there was no wind.

Travis, the lead guide, had gotten registered as a Universal Life Church minister just for this. He performed a really sweet, mountain themed wedding ceremony for Leli and Thomas with the rest of us looking on as the guests. I even got to be the ring-bearer. The wedding was a great way to cap off our time on the mountain.

After the ceremony, we took about 20 minutes to get all of our gear loaded up into our packs again so we could head down. I also wrapped up my toes, which were getting blisters going down the mountain. We moved quickly from Ingraham Flats to Camp Muir where we took another break to eat some snacks, get a drink, and load up the gear we had left at Camp Muir. Most of us also took advantage of having a toilet again (above Camp Muir, you are issued waste bags; you carry your solid waste off the mountain). Here’s our route:

Our stop at Camp Muir was pretty quick. With all of our equipment, we then started the descent on the Muir snowfield. My pack was lighter than on the way up as most of my food was gone, but I was also going down the snow, not up, which was much, much easier. I did my best to boot ski with Robin as much as I could and we made very quick time down the snowfield. There are spots on the snowfield where you can even sit and slide, as Tom did:

Tom sliding down the last section of the Muir Snowfield.

We stopped at the bottom of the snowfield to change out of our mountaineering boots (which was nice, since I developed two blisters under each of my big toes coming off the summit). We then pushed down to the lodge and parking area where Alpine Ascents had a van with a trailer waiting for us. We also had some fresh clothes there (we had largely been wearing the same clothes for the last three days). We changed and then grabbed one of the complimentary drinks Alpine Ascents had waiting for us. Here’s the route from Camp Muir to Paradise:

From there, we stopped at a restaurant just outside of the National Park for a late lunch/early dinner with our crew and the guides. It was nice to celebrate with all of them what we had done. After our meal, Alpine Ascents took us back to Seattle to their headquarters where we returned our rental equipment and said our goodbyes. Tom and I had another hotel lined up for that evening. We checked into the hotel, took much-needed showers, and did our best to clean up before collapsing into our beds for a deep (but short) sleep before our early flights home the next morning.

I’ll end with some brief thoughts on the hike. This was a tough hike. Without those extra 20 to 30 pounds in my backpack, I think I would have been fine on this hike. But hauling a 60 pound pack up the Muir Snowfield did come close to breaking me and I’ll admit that. Better packing and training with a heavier pack would have helped with this. I spent about an hour in the tent the second night meditating and using positive psychology and affirmations to convince myself that I could climb Mt. Rainier with the lighter pack. This is also a pretty technical climb with some really dangerous parts of the mountain. If the route was laid out and not at all dangerous, this would be doable with crampons, axes, and helmets. But, not knowing the condition of the route, the best way to do this hike is with good, reliable, and cautious guides, like those of Alpine Ascents. RMI was willing to take too many risks. I like climbing mountains, but see no reason to take such extreme risks. What’s the point of climbing these mountains if you don’t live to tell about the adventure? 

This is definitely a hike that requires the right gear and solid preparation. It’s a beautiful, invigorating hike, but not for everyone.

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NY-Mount Marcy

Summit Date

August 12, 2017 (around 11:00 am)


Ryan Cragun, Mark Woolley, Tom Triplett

Trip Report

In my big swing across the US that allowed me to complete most of the highpoints in the Northeast in 2013, I didn’t manage to fit in Mount Marcy. It’s a solid day hike, and I just didn’t have the time. I ended up arranging a trip to Lake Placid, NY specifically to hike Mount Marcy, with my two hiking buddies.

We all flew into Newark on Friday, August 11th, picked up a rental car, then headed to Lake Placid, stopping in Albany for dinner and food to take up on our hike the next day. We arrived kind of late (close to 11:00 pm) and planned an early start the next morning (on the mountain at 7:00) in order to hopefully avoid the impending rain storm that was forecast for the next day.

The trip reports we read about the hike varied quite a bit. Some suggested it was really challenging, with a lot of uphill and rugged terrain. Others suggested it wasn’t that challenging and was a pleasant hike. We also got variable times and distances for the hike. Some trip reports suggested it would take as short as 4 hours while others suggested as many as 15 (that’s a pretty big range). Mileage estimates were also varied, though with a smaller range, hovering between 12 and 17 miles. Because of all the varied estimates, we planned for a 10 to 12 hour, 17-mile hike, just to be safe. As it turns out, using my GPS enabled watch, I now have much more accurate information on the hike.

We stayed at a B&B in Lake Placid, got up at 6:00 am, and drove straight to the Adirondack Loj. There is a parking fee there ($5.00), and by the time we arrived just before 7:00 am, the lot was getting pretty full. This is obviously a popular destination for hikers. We got our boots and gear on, did some stretching (a requirement once you hit 40), signed the register, and hit the trail.

We made good time for the first three miles or so, covering them in about an hour. The first three miles of the trail are fairly level and it is mostly a well-maintained dirt trail, with a few roots, rocks, and other small objects in the way. But around the 3-mile mark, there was a noticeable shift in the trail and terrain. Not only was there substantially more uphill terrain, but it became rocky to the point that at times you are literally boulder hopping.

Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.
Me on a nice patch of the more rugged terrain.

I’ve climbed a lot of mountains and was impressed with how rugged this trail got. This is not a trail you’d want to attempt in light tennis shoes (unless you’re an experienced trail runner); sturdy boots are a very good idea for this hike, ideally with good ankle support. We didn’t make as good of time on the remaining 4 miles to the summit but still did fairly well.

We arrived at the summit at just under 4 hours. When we arrived, the summit was completely enshrouded with clouds. We had no view whatsoever. We spent about 40 minutes on the summit, eating a little food and chatting with the forest ranger on the top who was reminding people to avoid the vegetation, which they are trying to get to grow back.

The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.
The three of us at the summit marker just below the actual summit.

Alas, about 20 minutes after we dropped off the summit, the clouds broke and we finally had some nice views. It was at this point I took a photosphere:

We got better photos at this point, but we were still worried about the impending rain storm. The top of the mountain is largely exposed rock that wouldn’t be all that fun to ascend or descend in the rain. As a result, we opted not to return to the summit and instead to continue our descent. We stopped a few times on the way down to take advantage of some of the toilets that are along the trail and took a quick detour to the waterfall that is also fairly close to the trail. With our detours and stops, we returned to the parking lot in just under 8 hours. The distance on my watch indicated exactly 15 miles. So, there you have it – it is a 15-mile hike. Our average moving pace was 26 minutes per mile. If you know how quickly you can move on fairly rugged terrain, you should be able to estimate how long the hike will take you. We were passed by a couple who were clearly trail runners. They were the only ones moving more quickly than we were and they probably did the entire hike in 6 1/2 hours. I can see how this hike would easily take 12 hours if you’re not an avid hiker and in good shape. It is genuinely rugged terrain, particularly after the 3-mile mark, and you should be prepared for it.

Obviously, if you can, try to go on a nice day. The views from the top are supposed to be quite nice. But even hiking in cloudy conditions, the terrain was pretty. We passed through multiple types of forest – pine and maple – and really enjoyed ourselves.



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OR-Mt. Hood

Summit Date

May 25th, 2016, around 7:00 am


Ryan Cragun & Tom Triplett

Trip Report

For the previous 45 highpoints I had done, my wife had expressed some concerns, but had never insisted that I hire a guide.  With Mt. Hood, given that people die on the mountain regularly and that it is snow-covered year round and that I had no prior experience climbing in such conditions, she insisted I hire a guide.  And, frankly, since I climb mountains as a hobby and would rather not die, I found her logic compelling.  My hiking buddy, Tom, and I located the Timberline Mountain Guides online and made a reservation for late May.

The way the guiding service worked was that we paid for a package.  We were supposed to arrive at the Timberline Lodge (which is a ski resort on Mt. Hood) two days before we would try our ascent.  I had a nightmarish experience with Spirit Airlines that almost killed the trip before it started.  Their flight into Tampa that would then take me to Dallas before heading to Oregon was delayed, and the only way they could get me to Portland that day was without my checked bag with all my gear.  I ended up canceling my flight with Spirit and re-booking on Delta last minute (which wasn’t cheap) but was able to get to Portland to meet up with Tom on the night of the 23rd.  We picked up our rental car and some supplies, then headed to the Timberline Lodge where we had booked the cheapest room they had (with bunk beds).

Bright and early on the morning of the 24th we headed to the offices of the Timberline Mountain Guides and met the guides and the other hikers who would be headed up the mountain with us.  There were nine hikers with three guides, for a 3 to 1 ratio.  Of the nine hikers, 8 of us had a fair amount of experience; 1, Terence (not his real name), did not (we’ll come back to him).  We first went through the gear we brought and then were outfitted with any gear we were missing.  I don’t have an ice ax, mountaineering boots, or crampons.  I also didn’t have a puffy jacket at the time (though I do now).  I ended up renting all of those.

After we were all geared up, we headed out of the office and to a nearby slope where we spent about 4 hours going over snow climbing techniques.  We covered all sorts of topics: hiking in the snow without crampons, hiking with crampons, how to use ice axes for balance and for self-arrests, and how to hike short-roped in groups of four.  It was a pretty good crash course on snow and ice mountaineering.  We also got a pretty good sense of which of the 7 other hikers could be trusted, and who was not as skilled on the mountain (ahem, Terence).  Tom and I ended up working with a guy named Jim who was the oldest in our group, but he was a solid hiker, even if he was a little slower than the rest of us.  His reliability on the ropes (we could be tied to him the next day) made us want to have him on our team, but the guides ultimately got to choose the rope teams.

After our morning of training, the guides gave us some final instructions about when we would meet and what we should bring, then let us go.  We had a few things we needed to do.  The guides mentioned the possibility of taking skis or snowboards up on the snowcats to the top of the resort, which is where we’d start our hike the next morning, so we could ski or snowboard down from there after we had summitted.  Tom and I decided to rent snowboards so we could take advantage of that opportunity.  I also realized that my thick gloves I bought in the early 1990s for snowboarding had lost their ability to keep water out.  They were completely waterlogged after the 4 hours of training.  I needed new gloves.  Luckily, we found a ski shop in the nearby town that had some really nice gloves (that cost a small fortune).  I would have been miserable if it were not for those gloves.  We also picked up some last minute supplies and had a big dinner before heading to bed early to try to get some sleep.

We didn’t sleep all that much, maybe three hours, before we got up around 12:45 so we could meet at 1:30 to catch the snowcat to the top of the resort.

boarding the snowcat
boarding the snowcat

The snowcat took about 30 minutes to get to the top of the resort.  We then had to gear up, and Tom and I had to stow our snowboards and boots.  That meant we were a little later getting ready than everyone else, which drew the attention of our third guide who had not helped with the training the day before and we were just now meeting for the first time.  He was probably in his 50s, European, and very professional. He also was completely no nonsense on the mountain.  He started out eyeing Tom and I as we took a little longer than everyone else to get geared up because we had to ditch our snowboards.  As a result, we were at the end of the pack when we started out.

We hiked for about twenty or thirty minutes to get us warmed up, then stopped for about 5 minutes so we could adjust our layers.  At that point, Tom and I snuck up to the front of the pack as we didn’t like being slowed down by the hikers who weren’t moving as fast as we wanted to.  That was a good move.  We stopped a couple more times between that first stop and the Hogsback, which was the staging zone for our final ascent and the place where we would get our harnesses on and be divided into rope teams.  Every time we stopped, it seemed like the group was getting more and more spread out; some of the hikers were much slower than others.  Tom and I were nipping at the heels of the guide who was breaking the trail for us, but only because we do a lot of hiking and are in pretty good shape.

When we finally made it to the Hogsback, it was just beginning to get light (the sun wouldn’t come up for about another hour).

At the Hogsback on the way up
At the Hogsback on the way up

It took almost 20 minutes from when Tom and I arrived at the Hogsback with the lead guide before Terence showed up with the last guide.  The guides told us to get our harnesses on, then snuck off to the side to have a conversation.  They came back a few minutes later and announced to the group that Terence would not be going any further as he was not physically fit or skilled enough to continue.  Unbeknownst to Tom and me, who were at the front of the group, Terence had been struggling since our first stop.  He was asking other people to carry stuff for him, was trying to walk up the mountain backward in crampons because he was tired, and was generally causing problems.  There was no way the guides were going to let him continue up the mountain – it was way too dangerous.

All the hikers in our group had signed forms saying that the guides had final authority on the mountain and that we would do whatever they said.  We had also signed a form saying that we would maintain a 3 to 1 ratio with the guides, and if that meant that one person had to turn around, two others would go with them.  Now, in this situation, the guides gave Terence an option.  He could stay on the Hogsback and wait for us to summit and then come back down, after which we would all descend together.  Or he could hike back down with a guide.  Terence chose option 3: He would pretend to wait at the Hogsback, but as soon as the rest of us left, he said he was going to try to summit without the guides.  Considering the liability issues associated with what Terence was saying, the guides had no choice but to insist that Terence went down the mountain tied to a guide.  And that meant that two of us had to go with him.

No one volunteered.

We were all pissed.  This also delayed us on the Hogsback for about 30 minutes while we tried to work things out.  The guides made a number of calls, to their bosses, to Terence’s emergency contacts, etc.  Nothing would change Terence’s mind about waiting.  Eventually, the guides came up with an alternate plan.  There were a father and son doing a private hike up the mountain with another guide from Timberline Mountain Guides.  When they got to the Hogsback, our guides asked them and their guide if he would take one of our hikers in light of our situation and they agreed.  That meant just one person would have to go down with Terence.  Again, with no one volunteering, we were kind of stuck, until one of our guides decided that, if we didn’t tell anyone, he would take four of us.  He put Tom, Jim, and I together with another hiker (basically, four of the more reliable in our group).  Terence was then short-roped to the new guide who wasn’t putting up with his nonsense at all and pulled off the mountain.

With Terence out of the picture, we then started our ascent.  We skirted around the Bergschrund and the primary chute that most people climb and instead went up the Old Chimney route, which wasn’t as busy.  Even so, there must have been close to 50 or so people climbing the mountain the same time we were.

I should note at this point that we had absolutely perfect weather on our climb.  Once we broke through the clouds, we had an amazing view.  We basically climbed Mt. Hood above the clouds, as you can see in this photo:

The Hogsback
The Hogsback

We made slow and steady progress up our route.  About 100 feet below the ridge, our guide anchored us to the mountain, climbed that last really steep section, set another anchor, then belayed us to the top.  It isn’t quite a 90 degree, vertical slope there, but it’s close.  I’m sure that is the most dangerous spot on the mountain.  Just to be extra cautious, our guides made sure we couldn’t fall there.

We made it to the summit around 7:00 am.  There were a few other people up there, but not many.  Our guides gave us 20 minutes or so to grab a bite to eat and take some pictures before we headed back down.

Tom and Ryan on the summit
Tom and Ryan on the summit

The reason they climb Mt. Hood at night is because the sun can heat up the ice at the top of the mountain.  When the ice warms up, it’s more likely to break and fall on hikers and is generally just less stable.  The idea, then, is to summit as early as possible and then get off the mountain before any ice starts falling.  I did, actually, get hit in the leg with a piece of that very dense ice that was dislodged by a hiker above me and can attest to the fact that it is insanely dense.  It left a good bruise where it hit me on my thigh.  Also, on the way down, we did hear a lot more cracking than we did on the way up.

In the Old Chimney on the way down
In the Old Chimney on the way down

Our descent was much quicker than our ascent.  Once we got back to the Hogsback, we took off our harnesses and stowed our ice axes.  We then made very good time down the mountain.  At the top of the resort, Tom and I had our snowboards waiting for us, and one of the guides had brought up his skis so he could make sure we made it off the mountain alright.  We switched out our boots, packed everything into our packs and then headed down the resort on our snowboards, capping off an amazing hike.

snowboarding off Mt. Hood
snowboarding off Mt. Hood

Panorama (well, full-fledged video this time)

Directions to Timberline Lodge

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ME-Mount Katahdin

Summit Date

June 14, 2013; around 12:30 pm


Ryan Cragun and Rick Eason

Trip Report

The number of people allowed to climb Mount Katahdin is restricted, so you have to get there early.  Plus, it’s a serious hike, so you’ll want all day to do it anyway.  We got up around 4:00 and left by about 4:30 so we could be on the trail by around 6:30 or 7:00 and make sure we got a permit to climb the mount.  Even by the time we arrived, the parking lot was filling up and we certainly were not the first people up the mountain.

My hiking companion had ascended Katahdin over 40 times and was intimately familiar with the various routes.  Basically, from the trailhead, everyone has to hike up the same route until you’ve gone two to three miles.  There is one trail that splits off the main trail (this is the spur to Hamlin Ridge, which we took on the descent), otherwise, the main trail continues to Chimney Pond:

Chimney Pond, where you have to choose your ascent route to the top of Katahdin (click for full size)
Chimney Pond, where you have to choose your ascent route to the top of Katahdin (click for full size)

From here, you can choose one of the several routes up the mountain, depending on what you want in your hike.  There are shorter and easier trails or longer and more adventurous ones.  Rick suggested we take the Dudley Trail, which is largely scrambling over boulders with a fairly steep ascent.  This is the trail you have to take if you want to cross the razorback from Baxter Peak to Mount Katahdin.  It was fairly rugged, but I quite enjoyed it going up the mountain (it would have been pretty tough on my bad knee going down).  Plus, I always like razorbacks, and there were only a few spots on this one that were very harrowing.  The trail is well-marked with blue blazes:

Scrambling up Dudley Trail
Scrambling up Dudley Trail

And you can get a photo like this if you dare climb this boulder jutting out of the mountain:

Enjoying the views near the top of Baxter Peak
Enjoying the views near the top of Baxter Peak

Here’s a photo on the razorback:

hiking the razorback
hiking the razorback

Once you traverse the razorback, it’s a relatively short hike to the summit:


Rick and I on the summit
Rick and I on the summit

We spent about thirty minutes on the summit, then headed out, hoping to beat any afternoon storms.  To mix things up, we took the Hamlin Ridge Trail down, which added some distance but offered different views.

Unfortunately, we didn’t beat the rain and got rained on just as we were headed off the Hamlin Ridge.  It wasn’t a lot of rain, but enough to slow us down a little.  The only other issue I had on the hike was the terrible black flies.  I must have been bitten over 50 times on my legs, arms, neck, and hands.  If it weren’t for the black flies, this would have been a perfect hike.  Even so, it was a very nice hike.  If you’re planning on hiking this, wear pants and take bug spray to keep the flies away.

Directions from Bangor to the trailhead in Baxter State Park

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GPS Track


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NH-Mount Washington

Summit Date

June 13, 2013; around 11:00 am


Ryan, Debi, and Toren Cragun

Trip Report

This is another mountain that I probably would have hiked if it were not for the fact that I was traveling with my wife and son.  Because I was, I opted for the easy route up the mountain – driving.  There are a variety of options for this.  There is the train, which is expensive but seems like it would be cool.  There is the toll road, which you can drive up yourself (most days), or the same company will take you up in a tour van (for about $30.00 per person).  We originally planned to go up to the summit on June 12th, but the weather was nasty and the toll road company wasn’t letting anyone drive to the top.  And since the train only runs a couple of times a day in June and we’d missed those times, we couldn’t get to the summit on the 12th. Instead, we spent the night in Gorham, NH, and hoped for a nice day on the 13th.  Turns out, it was amazingly nice – one of the nicest the guide had ever seen (the summit has some of the nastiest weather in the US).  However, it was also motorcycles only that day, so we couldn’t drive our car to the top and, instead, had to pay to be driven to the top in a tour van.  That was okay, though, we still made it.

There is actually quite a bit to see on the summit.  There are a couple of museums and a restaurant, as well as the highpoint and great views.  We spent about 1 1/2 hours on the top and visited the museums, then got back in the van and headed down.

NH highpoint - 2013-06-13T10:14:38
The three of us on the summit


Directions from Gorham, NH

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VT-Mount Mansfield

Summit Date
June 12, 2013; around 11:00 am

Ryan Cragun

Trip Report

Had the weather been cooperating, Debi and Toren would have done this hike with me.  But with the entire mountain shrouded in clouds and wind gusts making it hard to keep your feet, I opted to go it alone.  I’m sure, on a nice day, the views from the top would be amazing, but this was not a nice day.  And since my wife and son were waiting for me, I didn’t make this a big hike.  We paid the fee to drive to the top of the mountain and parked.  I then followed the Long Trail from the parking area to the summit.  I met one other person on the trail, a highpointer as well.  The trail is well-marked with blazes on rocks.  It was quite pleasant, despite the weather.  I was completely covered in rain gear, so I wasn’t wet, and the cooler temperature kept me from sweating.  It took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes to make it to the summit and back, moving fast, without a pack or water.

Right as I reached the summit, I reached into my coat for my phone and my phone slipped out of the pocket, dropped onto the summit, and into a pool of water.  It was the only camera I had and it was completely submerged!!!  I grabbed it quickly and dried it off, then hoped it wasn’t ruined.  I hit the on switch and it turned on.  I managed to snap a couple pictures of me surrounded by clouds and being pummeled by the wind, then turned off the phone, figuring I should dry it out before I used it anymore.

After that, I cruised back to the parking area and got in my car.  I’d like to do this one again, on a nice day.

Me on the summit in the blustery wind and light, misty rain.
Me on the summit in the blustery wind and light, misty rain.

Various websites indicate there are a variety of ways up the summit.  The Long Trail was the ideal one given the weather, but would be pretty easy on a nice day.

Directions from Stowe, VT

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My hike from the parking area

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MA-Mount Greylock

Summit Date

June 11, 2013; around 5:00 pm


Ryan & Toren Cragun

Trip Report

We hiked Connecticut’s highpoint earlier in the day and drove to this one in the early evening, arriving just before the gates closed.  There really isn’t much to say about this one – we drove up the very nice road and it was raining at the top.  Debi wasn’t really interested in the 2-minute walk to the tower at the top in the rain, so I grabbed Toren and we jogged to the top.  We took a couple of pictures, then headed down.  It was rainy and cloudy, so we didn’t bother to take a panorama.  It was a highpoint, but not a very scenic one.


Toren and I on the summit of Mount Greylock
Toren and I on the summit of Mount Greylock

Panorama (not mine)

Directions from Pittsfield, MA

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CT-Mount Frissell (south slope)

Summit Date

June 11, 2013; around 12:00 pm


Ryan, Debi, & Toren Cragun

Trip Report

I originally attempted to climb to the highest point in Connecticut – Mount Frissell (south slope) – in March a few years back and the summit was snowed in.  I should have known better, but learned my lesson.  This was my first chance to attempt the summit again.  Debi was willing to give it a try and Toren would be riding on my back.  My guide book says that it is just a mile or so each way from the trailhead, which is pretty close to accurate, but this is not a particularly easy hike.  That was even more the case since I was carrying my son on my back and the trail was basically a stream since it had been raining pretty much non-stop for the previous week.

We drove in from Poughkeepsie, through Salisbury, CT (see below) and had no problems on the road in our Prius.  We arrived at the MA/CT state marker then backtracked to the spot where you can park (by a gate with a sign in a tree).

Here is where you park. The trailhead is 100-200 feet north.
Here is where you park. The trailhead is 100-200 feet north.

We geared up and then headed to the trailhead to see this:

the lower 1/5 of the trail was a stream, ankle deep in parts
the lower 1/5 of the trail was a stream, ankle deep in parts

I had nice hiking boots that are waterproof up to the laces so I was fine, but Debi’s feet were soaked almost immediately.  Even so, we pressed on, until we got to a really rocky section.  The red blazes in the trees were easy to follow until we got to the top of the rocky section when we lost them.  We searched for about 10 minutes for blazes but couldn’t see any.  For the first time in my hiking career, I got so turned around that I actually mistook one of the blazes we had already passed for the one we were supposed to follow and we ended up going back down the steep, rocky section thinking that was where we were supposed to go.  Eventually, I checked my GPS and realized we were backtracking, so we turned back around, re-ascended the rocks, then found the red blaze.  From there it was another 30 minutes or so from the highpoint.  By the time we finally made it, we were pretty tired since it was wet, muddy, and we’d hiked the worst part twice already!

Here we are at the top:

The three of us at the highest point
The three of us at the highest point

For those hiking this, make sure you know that there are blazes on rocks as well as trees (that’s what we missed).  We didn’t stay long as a storm was blowing in.  We hiked back out pretty quickly and made it back just in time for the storm to hit.

Here’s a record of our GPS on the trip (including our backtracking):


Here’s what you can see from the highpoint:

CT highpoint - 2013-06-11T12:51:41
(click for larger file)

And a video of the trailhead:

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MT-Granite Peak

Summit Date

August 19th, 2012; around 4:00 pm

Summit Party

Ryan Cragun and Tom Triplett

Trip Report

Granite Peak isn’t the tallest highpoint (McKinley in Alaska is; Granite is number 10) nor the most remote (Gannett Peak in Wyoming is more remote), but many people have claimed that it is the most difficult highpoint to climb next to McKinley. Having climbed to the top of 39 other highpoints, including the tallest in the lower 48 (Whitney), I’m inclined to agree.

Prior to our trip, we did a fair amount of research on the hike and what we should expect. We knew that the final ascent of the summit was pretty intense and ropes and harnesses were recommended. We also read up on the routes up to the summit. However, this is where we found some contradictory and unhelpful information. The standard route up Granite Peak starts at the Mystic Lake trailhead, hikes up to the Phantom Creek trail, follows that up the switchbacks to Froze-to-Death Plateau, then continues to the top of Froze-to-Death Plateau (which ends in Tempest Mountain). At that point, the trail drops off the edge of the plateau so you can hike to the saddle between Tempest Mountain and Granite Peak. Summit attempts start at the saddle. This is the standard route and is estimated at about 22 miles, round trip.

There are two alternate routes. One starts at the East Rosebud trailhead and comes up the valley next to the valley in which Mystic Lake lies. This route is substantially longer than the standard route, but the elevation gain is much more gradual. This route meets up with the standard route on Froze-to-Death Plateau. This is often referred to as the Rosebud or East Rosebud Route.

The final route splits from the standard route at the switchbacks.  It is largely off-trail from where it starts at the far end of Mystic Lake. At the end of Mystic Lake you cross a stream then turn off the trail and head towards the lake that feeds that drainage. That lake is called Huckleberry Lake and this route gets it name from that lake as it is called the Huckleberry Route. From Huckleberry Lake you work your way up to Princess Lake, then Cold Lake, and finally Avalanche Lake, which lies in a valley below the saddle and summit of Granite Peak. From Avalanche Lake you have to climb a boulder and scree field up to the saddle, from where you can approach the summit.

I’m detailing all of these routes at the beginning of this trip report because the reports we read online covered primarily two – Huckleberry and the Standard Route – and some of those reports had very inaccurate information. In particular, this trip report said that the Huckleberry Route was a shortcut and that the entire mountain could be climbed in a distance of just 12 miles, round trip. Remember that number.

One of the people I was hiking with, Mark, found the misleading and inaccurate trip report on the Huckleberry Route and, thinking he would make our trip easier, suggested we try following the Huckleberry route. My other hiking buddy, Tom, and I weren’t very keen since the report stated that it involved a lot of bouldering and that there wasn’t a clear trail. We didn’t make a decision before we started the hike and figured we’d make one when we had too.

With the background on routes out of the way, here’s what we did. I met up with Mark and Tom on August 17th in Utah and we drove north to Bozeman Montana where we stopped so Tom could get a haircut. We were running earlier than we expected, so we also stopped for a movie and dinner, then continued on to Columbus, MT, where we spent the night in the Super 8. We got up early, grabbed a bite to eat, then headed to the Mystic Lake trailhead. Our goal was to get close to the summit the first day then camp. We’d summit early the next morning then hike all the way out by the evening of the second day so we could check in with our significant others to let them know we were safe. However, we all had Monday the 20th off, so we could extend the trip slightly if we needed to.

We geared up and were on the trail by 8:00 am.

At the trail head.

Since our hikes are really more about catching up with each other, we weren’t paying all that close of attention to the routes and the distances we had hiked. It takes almost 3 miles to get to Mystic Lake, one way. Add that to the return distance from Mystic Lake and you’d think that Granite Peak was just another 3 miles away based on the erroneous trip report we had read.

I had a GPS unit and had marked some key features on it as waypoints, including the various lakes, Froze-to-Death Plateau, the saddle, the summit, and the bottom of the switchbacks.

When we reached the spot where the Phantom Creek Trail splits off from Mystic Lake, we had to make a decision. Should we follow the trip report that suggested the whole climb was just 12 miles if you take the Huckleberry Route or should we follow the standard route. Just as we began discussing this, a guy heading toward the trailhead who had spent a few days fishing on the lakes stopped to chat with us. He said the lakes on the Huckleberry Route were beautiful and full of fish and since Mark had a fishing line and lure, we ultimately decided we’d take the Huckleberry Route. This would prove to be a very poor decision!

Following the crappy trip report, we hiked to the end of Mystic Lake (which is almost 6 miles from the trailhead), crossed the stream, then turned uphill to follow it toward Huckleberry Lake (you can see our route in the image below or in Google Earth if you download the KML file I created from my GPS unit). We did find a sketchy trail on occasion, but it wasn’t always clear or easy to follow. Even so, the hike up to Huckleberry Lake wasn’t too bad and we made it fairly easily. However, we lost any sense of a trail at Huckleberry Lake when we worked our way around it and began bouldering the best we could. Between Huckleberry Lake and Princess Lake we climbed through a ravine that was ridiculously steep – probably a 60 to 70-degree grade – but eventually made it to Princess Lake. Both of these lakes were very beautiful and a number of people were camping around Princess Lake.  Here’s a shot of me at Princess Lake:

The stream you see in the distance comes from Snowball Lakes, not Cold Lake.  To the left of that stream is the ridge we didn’t think we could climb to get to Cold Lake.

From the north edge of Princess Lake where we arrived, we could only see a trail headed to the right. We also saw a stream coming down into the lake from the far side of the lake but also to the right. Thinking that was the stream coming from Cold Lake (I didn’t check my GPS), we headed that way. About half way across Princess Lake we saw another stream coming into the lake that was east of the first. It was very pretty, but it didn’t even dawn on us that the second stream we saw may actually be where we were supposed to be hiking. We continued across the lake on a small rock bridge then headed up the hill on the far side. There wasn’t a discernible trail, but there were a number of rock cairns, which we followed all the way to the top of the hill. As we broke over the ridge, we saw another beautiful lake and thought we were at Cold Lake. However, I had marked Cold Lake’s location on my GPS and checked it only to find that we were actually at Snowball Lake. Snowball Lake is to the west of Cold and Avalanche Lakes and is still quite far from the scree field below the saddle. This would not have been much of a problem except there is a ridge that runs between the lakes that is several hundred feet tall with mostly vertical sides (see above photo). In short, it was not a ridge we could easily, safely, or quickly cross to get where we were supposed to be.

It was 4:00 pm when we made our way around Snowball Lake and started to consider our options. I took off my heavy pack and told the others I would scout ahead to see if we could go around the ridge and find the lakes on the other side as it seemed to taper off the closer it got to Granite Peak. I scouted ahead maybe a ¼ mile and it seemed like the ridge declined enough to be relatively easy to cross. With that in mind, I returned to Mark and Tom and suggested we spend the night at Snowball Lake then hike around the ridge the next day, head to the saddle, then summit, and camp on Froze-to-Death Plateau the next night, hiking out on Monday. It was at this point that Mark informed me that he had told his wife, Holly, that we would be off the mountain by the next evening – Sunday. That wasn’t good because we probably would not be. However, we had heard some people have cell phone reception on Froze-to-Death Plateau, so we were hoping that would be the case and we could get a hold of Holly so she didn’t call in Search and Rescue (SAR) to find us if we didn’t call her Sunday evening. Exhausted from close to 8 hours of hiking with heavy packs, much of it off trail and over boulder fields, we set up our tent, treated some water from the lake, then crawled into our tent and laid down until we fell asleep around 10:00.

We woke up early the next morning, around 6:00 am, and broke camp. We started hiking around 7:00 or 7:30. As we had hoped, the ridge was passable at the far end of the valley, so we crossed over and found Avalanche Lake around 8:00 am. Unfortunately, however, we were on the wrong side of the lake. We had to cross to the other side, then walk all the way to the end of the mile long lake over a massive boulder field with very few indicators of a trail. This part was the most miserable of the hike for me as I really do not like bouldering with my bad knee. It was almost 11:00 before we made it to the end of Avalanche Lake. At the end of the lake, we still had about 1,500 feet of elevation to gain through builder fields and scree to reach the saddle. Mark, towards the end of the lake, decided to stay high up on the wall of the valley and make a gradual ascent toward the saddle while Tom and I opted to work our way up the bottom of the valley on boulder fields, then go straight up the scree toward the saddle. Tom and I made better time than Mark, but it was grueling, especially with our heavy packs on.

It was about 1:30 before I made the saddle. Tom followed me into the saddle about 5 minutes later. Both of us were exhausted at that point from the rough terrain, but we were excited to ditch most of the stuff in our backpacks so we could move faster up toward the summit. However, about 10 minutes after Tom made the saddle, Mark limped in with blood running down his left leg. About 20 minutes earlier, unbeknown to us, he had stepped on a rock that was loose but holding up a much larger boulder. He lost his balance on the loose rock and fell, exposing his leg to the path of the boulder, which promptly rolled over his leg, balanced for just a second, then started to drop back down on his leg. He managed to pull his leg out in time, but the damage had been done. As a foot and ankle surgeon, he was in a good position to know the extent of his injury. He stood on it and, while it hurt, there was no shooting pain, indicating the bones were not broken. He could walk, just not very well. He made his way to the saddle and told us this, then told us that he wasn’t going to summit.

We figured that he wasn’t going to summit given his condition. The only question at this point was whether or not he was going to need help off the mountain. We asked him if he did, and he said no. He told us to summit but said he was going to keep moving so his leg didn’t stiffen up on him. We discussed options and decided that he would try to call his wife, Holly, on the plateau. I gave him my solar phone charger to get his phone working so he could make the call. He would head toward the plateau, call Holly, then hike as far as he could, hopefully getting off the mountain and to his car. Tom and I would summit then follow him.

There was another problem, however. We couldn’t see the trail to the plateau. I saw a trail just below the saddle, but it looked like it went to the right or south of the ridge and I thought it might work its way around Tempest Mountain’s face to the plateau. We didn’t see any other trails. So, we told Mark to go to the right and see if he could find a trail. He did, again staying high on the ridge.

Tom and I emptied our big packs and headed up toward the summit. About half way up the first boulder field toward the summit, we stopped for a breather and looked back down to see if we could see Mark. We couldn’t, but we did finally see a trail to the plateau – heading to the left of the ridge or north! It was the exact opposite of what we had told Mark. We were really bothered by this given his injury. We stopped for 10 minutes or so considering our options. We could head back down and try to find him, but if we did that we would probably be abandoning our attempt to summit entirely. I finally just decided to yell out and see if he would respond. I called for him and he did respond, even though we couldn’t see him. My first question was, “Where are you?” He called back, “To the left.” He had found the trail! I then asked if he needed help, “Do you need help?” I didn’t hear a response the first time, but the second time his response came back clearly, “No.”

We could also see some other people on the trail at this point – two hikers near the plateau and a few hikers in the saddle with a dog. Figuring that Mark was doing okay and that there were others around in case things took a turn for the worse, Tom and I continued up the boulder field toward the ridge. We aimed just to the south of the ridge, which was the wrong route and had to backtrack a bit. As I did, I noticed two guys coming up from the saddle. They were close enough at that point that I could yell to them so I told them to stay to their right toward the ridge. They then yelled up and asked if we needed help as they thought they heard us say that we did. I told them that we didn’t; we were yelling to a friend. They dropped one of their packs and continued up to meet us. They were planning on summitting but thought we had asked for help, so they were going to bring up some supplies but left them on the boulder field after we told them we were fine. We then worked together to get to the summit. They were younger, stronger, faster climbers, but had no ropes and their speed made them miss a couple of routes. From the top of the boulder fall, you have to climb down a bit then cross a snow bridge, which had a rope run across it to help. After the snow bridge, you climb two chimneys, both of which have anchors at the top as they are technical climbs. At the top of that ridge, you drop down one more time, then climb several more chimneys, including a couple of really difficult, exposed areas, but that gets you to the top. Working together, all four of us summitted around 4:00 pm without using ropes and harnesses.

Me on the summit.

We had brought a rope and harnesses and were planning on using them on the way down. The other two guys, Adam and Nathan, didn’t have ropes and decided they could hike down without them. We only stayed about 20 minutes on the summit as we knew we needed to get off to find Mark. Adam and Nathan left before us. Tom and I didn’t use a rope on the first chimney, but we did on the second and third. We then crossed to the last two and used a rope on those as well. This slowed us down a bit, but we felt pretty safe. For those planning on rapelling at the summit, the anchors that are in place are pretty robust and didn’t look particularly worn.

We made it back to the saddle around 6:00. We put our heavy packs back on and started up the trail toward the plateau. We reached the plateau around 7:00 pm and around 7:30 ran into the only other people we saw on the plateau – three individuals in two tents. We stopped to chat with them and they gave us some pretty poor directions to navigate the plateau and find the switchbacks. They also mentioned that they had seen Mark around 4:00pm and that he had told them he was headed to the car. Since the plateau is largely level, though there is no clearly discernible trail – just cairns marking waypoints – we made good time. We hiked until it got dark following cairns, then put on our headlamps – around 8:30 – and continued hiking. Since I had marked the bottom of the switchbacks on my GPS, we were able to target that location and hiked until about 10:00 pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that you actually have to stay more southeast than we did or you run into some cliffs that block the route to the switchbacks. At 10:00 pm we hit the cliffs that blocked our route. We literally saw cliffs on three sides of us – we had hiked out onto a cliff and, without day light, really couldn’t go any further. We hiked back up a couple hundred feet, found a relatively level and grassy spot, threw down the tent, and climbed in for the night. We had a hard time falling asleep, but got a little sleep. We felt bad that we hadn’t made it out all the way out because we figured Mark had and that he would have had to sleep in the car while waiting for us. But it wasn’t safe enough for us to continue.

At first light, around 6:00 am, we woke up, got out of the tent, and got our bearings. We realized that we were on cliffs overlooking the bottom of the switchbacks and we could see them. My GPS was sending us the right direction, we just didn’t realize we had to go around the cliffs in the dark. We packed up and started hiking around 7:00. We made okay time working our way around the cliffs and eventually started seeing cairns again. Around 7:30 we noticed something in the distance on a low ridge along our route. It looked kind of like a person waving a flag, but it wasn’t moving so we weren’t sure what it was. As we got closer, we began to realize that it was a person, and when we were within about 50 feet we realized it was Mark!

He asked us for water, then filled us in on what had happened. He initially made okay time crossing to the plateau and arrived there around 4:00 when he saw the other people on the plateau and got directions. He also got a cell phone signal and called Holly, telling her everything was alright. However, he hadn’t told us he was low on water and he didn’t have any iodine pills to treat water. By 4:00 pm he was so low he ended up stealing some water from a Nalgene bottle he found on the side of the trail. He continued for 2 more hours, but kicked a rock with his bad leg, causing him shooting pains, so he stopped. He was almost entirely out of water at this point and wasn’t sure how much further he could go or which direction since the cairns on Froze-to-Death Plateau aren’t very clear. So he stopped, then called Holly and told her his situation: he was semi-lost on Froze-to-Death Plateau, out of water, didn’t know where Tom and I were, and a boulder had crushed his leg. He needed help. She helped him get in touch with Search and Rescue and they made plans to send people and horses in to find him and bring him off the mountain.  However, given the time, they couldn’t send anyone until the next morning.  So, Mark had to sleep on the mountain in just his sleeping bag.  He was dehydrated, but he didn’t, despite the name of the plateau, freeze to death.

After we met up with him, we all started hiking and, despite his injured leg, we made okay time.  With Tom scouting ahead and me walking with Mark, we found the switchbacks and headed down.  We made it about half way down the switchbacks when we met up with two people from Search and Rescue.  They explained that the horses had gone up the Rosebud route and were on the plateau.  They had also sent two people up the Huckleberry route to find Tom and I.  They got on the radio and told everyone they had found us, then arranged to have the horses come get Mark.  Once Mark was safely with the Search and Rescue people, Tom and I took off, since we figured the horses would catch us.  We made good time and met up with the SAR people who had gone up the Huckleberry route and ended up hiking out from Mystic Lake with them.  They were very nice and told us some fun stories.  We made it to the car at 1:30; Mark arrived a half hour later on a horse.

So, what did we learn on this hike?  First, the Huckleberry route is NOT A SHORTCUT!  It is more scenic, but it is very rough terrain and is much more difficult than the standard route.  It’s also the same distance – roughly 12 miles ONE WAY; 24 miles round trip.  If you’re planning on taking several days to do Granite Peak, want a scenic route, and don’t mind hiking off trail over very rough terrain for hours and hours, try the Huckleberry route.  If you want the fastest, easiest route to the top, take the standard route up the switchbacks and across Froze-to-Death.

The summit can be done without ropes and harnesses.  Going up, ropes don’t actually make a whole lot of sense unless you have a lot of time and a good lead climber followed by amateur climbers.  The lead climber could carry the rope to the anchors and everyone else could be belayed up to the anchor spots.  Really, ropes make a lot of sense coming down.

Finally, Granite Peak, even with the short route, is a very challenging mountain.  We got lucky.

Panorama (not available)

But I have a few other videos.

Our Route (don’t follow it)

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