Ascent of Spectacle Buttes-North Peak on 2020-05-10

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, May 10, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Spectacle Buttes-North Peak
    Elevation:8080 ft / 2462 m

Ascent Trip Report

Chilly Peak (7,960ft), Carne Mountain (7,080 ft), Ice Box (8,112 ft), North Spectacle Butte (8,080ft)

May 8-10, 2020
51 miles, Eric (solo)

Friday night – Bike and ski up Chiwawa River Road a few miles
Saturday – Carne, Chilly, Ice Box, camp at upper Ice Lake
Sunday – North Spectacle Butte, ski and bike out

Friday night I drove up the Chiwawa River Road with my skis and mountain bike packed. This time of year there’s a lot of uncertainty in how far roads will be melted out from snow and whether they will be gated. There exist high-quality daily satellite images, but it’s not always possible to tell if a road is covered in deep or shallow snow from the image, and tree cover makes things difficult. Also, it’s not possible to tell whether gates are closed or not.

I found out this time the Chiwawa River Road is currently gated at the end of the pavement, about 14 miles before the Phelps Creek trailhead. I parked near the gate, packed up my skis, and started biking around 8pm. The road was melted out the first few miles, and I actually saw a mountain lion dart away from the river up into the woods as I was biking. This is the first one I’ve seen, though I’ve seen their tracks before in the snow. I think I was able to sneak up on it because I was moving quickly and quietly on the bike.

Pretty soon I hit patchy snow, and truck tracks that soon stopped and turned into fresh snowmobile tracks. I suspect this was from the previous weekend, perhaps before the road was gated, and was probably the last snowmobiler of the season. I was able to bike through some of the icy snow and bare patches, but then pushed the bike to near the Schaffer Creek Campground. I locked it up there and continued skiing a bit farther until 9:30pm when I stopped for the night. I layed out my bivy sack near the road and went to sleep with my whippet unsheathed within arms length just in case the mountain lion was nearby.

The next morning I got up with the sun around 4:30am and continued skiing. The road was a majority snow with occasional melted out sections. I skied for 3 hours to the Phelps Creek turnoff, and the snowmobile tracks continued to Trinity. Within an hour I was finally at the trailhead and took a food break. I had great views of Buck Mountain to the west and Seven Fingered Jack up above.

I skied up the trail then turned up towards Carne Mountain. I booted for a while before changing to skis up higher when the snow got deeper. Unfortunately the glue on my skis got messed up somehow and I had to improvise a connection at the tail, and dry out the wet skins in the sun a bit. I eventually reached the summit of Carne Mountain around noon, then skied directly off the east face to the east ridge. I was careful to stay in the trees on low-angle slopes to avoid loose wet slides in the hot direct sun.

I dropped down to the west side of the ridge to avoid some cliffs, then crossed back over to the east and traversed to just below Chilly Peak. I was roughly following a GPS track from Luke Helgeson from peakbagger. Here I ditched my skis and pack and cramponed up the easy southwest face. I then scrambled a short 3rd class section to reach the snowy summit. Somehow I found the summit register and was able to sign in. There was a huge cliff to the east, and great views towards Choral and Gopher, which I’d climbed a few weeks earlier.

I plunge-stepped back to my pack, then had a fun ski back to the ridge. The slope from the ridge was steep and icy, since the sun hadn’t hit it yet, so I plunge stepped down with skis on my back until I could traverse around a ridge where it got less steep. There I skied down into a basin, then skinned up to another basin just below Ice Box. I ditched my overnight gear there and skinned up higher, then cramponed up to the summit carrying skis.

The sun was getting low and made for colorful pictures of Glacier Peak to the west. Unfortunately I couldn’t find the summit register under all the snow on the summit. I scrambled down some melted out rocks to continuous snow then made fun turns back to my bivy gear. It was getting dark but I still wanted to get to my intended bivy site of Ice Lakes before the snow all iced over for the night. I quickly skied down traversing the west face of Ice Box, then skinned up and over a few passes until I was just below Freezer Peak. From there I booted directly and steeply up to the ridge, then dropped down to the Freezer-Maude col. The sun had just set and there were amazing red and orange fireball colors over Glacier Peak to the west.

I put the skis on and carefully skied the icy crust down to Ice Lakes in the dark, arriving by 9:30pm. Interestingly I found a small melted-out spot just above the lake and laid out my bivy sack there. I spent a half hour melting snow and cooking some ramen before turning in for the night.

I had brought my skimpy 32F summer sleeping bag to save weight, and wore all my layers inside. I also boiled a liter of water in a hot nalgene at my feet. I think this was just barely enough insulation to get by. I woke up a few times at night from the cold but did some forced shivering and warmed up enough.

By 4:30am the sky was bright enough to wake me up, but I put a hood over my eyes and slept in til 6:30am. I kind of wanted to give the sun a bit of time to soften the snow so I could ski. I started up soon toward my next objective, North Spectacle Butte. The snow was still icy so I cramponed down to the lower Ice Lake, then skinned across the lake. I then cramponed up the easy west ridge to the summit by 9:00am. It felt very remote up there, looking across to Fernow and Buckskin peaks. I actually hung out for 30 minutes, much longer than usual, enjoying the view. I had contemplated continuing over to tag Buckskin, but it didn’t seem like enough time given my extra 14 miles from the trailhead back to the car, and some uncertainty in travel time to bushwhack over to Buckskin. So after enjoying the view some more I cramponed back to Lower Ice Lake, then skinned back up to my bivy site.

There I melted a liter of water, then skinned back up to the Freezer-Maude col around 11:30am. I was hoping to ski down to Leroy basin to make a big loop, but unfortunately the west-facing slope was still icy in the shade. I reluctantly donned the crampons and started booting down. Interestingly I saw two sets of ski tracks descending. They looked perhaps a few days to a week old, and perhaps they had come in on the snowmobile whose tracks I’d seen. Or maybe they just made the really long approach like I did. Though I was kind of surprised they just turned around at the col and didn’t continue up Maude or another peak.

When the angle eased I put on my skis and skied down following the tracks. I dropped steeply down into Leroy Basin, then skied down fun open glades directly down Leroy Creek. As I got lower the trees got denser, and eventually the steep west slope was completely melted out. I booted down the trail a bit, then put the skis back on and skied down to Phelps Creek. From there I skinned back along the trail, reaching the trailhead around 2:30pm.

A lot of melting had happened in the heat and sunshine of the past few days, and I had to do much more booting than before. I’d say a majority of the approach was skiing, but a majority of the return along the road was booting. By 6:30pm I finally reached my bike, and was able to bike much of the way back that I had skied in pushing the bike. Interestingly near the end of the snow I saw another set of mountain bike tracks, but they didn’t go too far in before turning around.

I biked back to the car by 7:30pm and quickly packed up. A few pesky mosquitos buzzed around and I got my first mosquito bite of the year. But the one that bit me won’t be biting anyone else. I was soon packed and made it back to Seattle a few hours later.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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