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Ascent of Mount Logan on 2021-03-13

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, March 13, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Logan
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:9087 ft / 2769 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Logan (9,087ft)

Probable Second Winter Ascent

March 12-14, 2021

42 miles, 9,500ft gain

Eric and Ryan

For the first time in the past month a weekend weather window lined up with stable snow conditions in the north cascades and we decided to go for a big peak. Mount Logan checks all the boxes for a classic cascades ski mountaineering ascent – long approach through old-growth forest, glacier travel, rock climbing in ski boots, and many thousand feet of ski descent. It’s also a nine thousand footer, and the thirteenth tallest peak in Washington.

As far as I’d researched Mt Logan has been climbed just once before in winter, and that was via the Freemont Glacier route in December 1981 (Crofoot, Hill, Ness). Ryan and I had previously climbed the Freemont Glacier route in the summer and I was skeptical that it was the best winter route, especially in a La Nina winter. On the upper mountain the route involves traversing on narrow exposed ledges that I feared would get filled in with snow and become sketchy in the winter.

I found records of several April ascents via Thunder Creek and the Banded Glacier route, but that route has long stretches of slopes greater than 35 degrees and is very cracked up, so also not great for a winter ascent. One early May ascent approached from Easy Pass and climbed the Douglas Glacier route. The Douglas Glacier route generally sticks to low-angle slopes and seemed like the best choice for the winter. I’ve read groups climbing this route in the summer have recently encountered difficult bushwhacking in slide alder in the upper Douglas Creek, but based on recent satellite images that looked to be all covered in snow now.

The two options for approaching the Douglas in winter are to snowmobile to the Easy Pass trailhead and then do a ~30 mile round trip ski, or drive to the Thunder Creek trailhead and do a ~42 mile round trip hike and ski. The Easy Pass route has the disadvantage that it has more elevation gain going up and over Easy Pass, and requires crossing a steep open slope >35 degrees on the south side of Easy Pass. The Thunder Creek approach is longer, but many of the miles are on flat low-elevation trail that appeared to be below snowline so would go quickly. It also sticks to low angle slopes, with no intermediate passes to go over.

We decided on the Douglas Glacier route from Thunder Creek, and planned to summit Saturday before some bad weather came in Sunday morning. We would bring standard glacier gear plus a light rock rack for the summit block. The final 30m to the summit is 4th class in the summer and a bit exposed, and we expected if it was covered in rime, snow, and ice we would appreciate a rope.

Friday evening we met up at the Colonial campground and were heading up the trail by 4pm. The lower sections of trail were melted to ground and we hiked in trail runners and boots carrying skis and ski boots on our back. Progress was fast for the first three miles, and then intermittent snow started slowing us down. By mile 4.7 we ditched the trail runners and optimistically put the skis on. There were long stretches where skiing made sense, but still many melted-out sections where we had to take off skis. Also, after about mile six we encountered very frequent and long sections of massive blowdowns. After about twenty transitions we finally strapped the skis back on our packs to make it easier to crawl under, over, around, and through the blowdowns.

The blowdowns ended after Tricouni camp and we started skinning up steeper switchbacks to Junction Camp. By 12:30am we reached Logan Creek and called it quits for the night. That was close enough to the summit that we could reasonably do a camp-to-camp summit push, so didn’t need to push any farther. We threw out bivy sacks and were soon asleep.

The rest was short, though, and after three hours of napping we packed back up and continued up the trail. As usual it was a bit difficult finding a winter trail in the dark, and I tried to use my GPS watch to help. I started out following some fresh bear tracks, but ended up going high and sidehilling. I think we lost some time but we eventually dropped back down to the creek and regained the trail.

As dawn began we crossed over Fisher Creek on a good snow bridge next to a destroyed hiker bridge. We continued up the north side of the creek through mostly-open forest until we reached the confluence with Douglas Creek around 7:30am. I’ve read about some groups having difficulty crossing Fisher Creek here, but we had no problem in winter with plenty of snowbridge options.

The forest on the south side remained open and we soon found ourselves out in the open looking up at the Douglas Glacier. Stoke increased dramatically and I quickly forgot about my sleep deprivation. We skinned up icy snow to the pillbox and then zig zagged around it to the right. There was evidence of old avy debris, but it was well-covered and smoothed over with more recent snow.

Past the pillbox we came to a routefinding decision. Our planned route was to hook way to the east and ascend gradual slopes wrapping around to the Douglas Glacier. We had also read reports of a more direct snow ramp bisecting the headwall. With the very stable snow conditions we opted to take the more direct and hopefully quicker snow ramp variation. The ramp was hidden behind a rock outcrop at first but became obvious as we got closer.

The ramp trended up and left and looked just about as steep as going directly up the headwall. I believe later season the direct variation is more difficult, but in winter with it covered in deep snow it didn’t look too bad. It was too steep to skin up, though. So we put skis on our packs, got out our ice axes, and Ryan led the way kicking steps up steeply. In my mind the distinction between skiing and ski-mountaineering happened on that headwall. Any time I’m carrying my skis up something while wearing crampons and using an ice axe it automatically turns into ski mountaineering.

The wind picked up on the headwall and it quickly drifted our tracks over. As we crested the top at 5,800ft we put the skis back on and roped up. I took over the lead and went straight up towards the flat bench at 7,000ft. By now we were in the sun and the powdery snow was getting sticky. I had anticipated this and rubbed skin wax on my ski skins the day before. But unfortunately on the approach Friday night I had been a bit careless about walking over short dirt patches in my skis, and I think I rubbed it off. The result was snow was glopping up significantly on my skis. I had to either bang them with my pole each step, kick down my heel each step, or trudge forward with an extra five pounds on each foot.

Ryan eventually took over and I felt like I was really dragging with the glop sapping my energy. But above 8,000ft the snow cooled enough that the glopping ended. We made it to the base of the swale below the Banded-Douglas col around 1pm and ditched skis there. I’d read of groups skiing from the false summit in the spring, but the headwall above us looked too steep and icy for my liking, and I thought the skiing would likely be a bit exposed for my liking up higher.

We decided to climb up the leftmost edge of the swale, which looked the shortest. Ryan kicked steps up the ever-steepening snow and ice slope. It actually got very steep, and as we topped out we both agreed we’d find a better way down. From there we took turns kicking steps up until we did a small rock scramble up to the false summit.

I quickly recognized the true summit as the next maximum along the ridge to the north. It was useful to have already climbed Logan before to know exactly where the summit is. In the summer I had been a bit confused since multiple points are of similar height, but now we definitely agreed which one was the summit.

From the false summit we did a short down-scramble on bare rocks and then a snow traverse to the col below the summit. In the summer I’d easily scrambled up without a rope, but now the face was covered in unconsolidated snow and rime, and I was happy to use a rope. I was already racked up so volunteered to lead. The climbing was easy, but the snow very loose so footholds were not very trustworthy and there was some exposure below. I managed to get a few cams and a nut in after excavating some cracks, and soon pulled myself up over the chockstone below the summit. Then I marched up and slung the summit horn.

I soon belayed Ryan up and we both sat down admiring the views. We could see Goode and Storm King just to the south, the Ragged Ridge to the north, and Buckner, Boston, Forbidden, and Eldorado to the west. I half expected to see skiers on Eldorado with the great weather and snow conditions, but couldn’t make out any tracks. We hung out for a while in the sun, then started our retreat.

Our route wasn’t great for rappelling since it was a diagonal ascent, and our 30m rope wasn’t long enough anyways. But Ryan had left all the gear in place on the climb so I just belayed him down and he clipped gear as he went. Then when he got to the col he belayed me down. It was a bit insecure downclimbing the loose snow and rock but there was plenty of gear in so it was very safe.

Back at the col we packed back up, then scrambled back over the false summit and downclimbed back to the swale. This time we walked over to the low point of the swale a bit farther north and downclimbed there were it wasn’t quite as run out or steep.

By 4pm we were back in our skis and began our 5,000ft descent. The glacier had gone back in the shade and by now the slushy snow had unfortunately developed a breakable sun crust. This made the first 500ft very challenging, requiring either side slipping or jump turning. But as soon as we turned onto slight north aspects the snow turned to fun powder. We shredded turns in a traversing descent, going all the way to the east end of the glacier. Our ascent route had been steep enough that we were worried about descending it if it had iced up. But the east side of the Douglass was all low angle.

We wrapped around back to the 5,000ft basin in great powder, then skied down to the edge of the trees at 3,800ft. What had taken over four hours to ascend we had descended in about 40 minutes. But the terrain flattened out considerably in the trees, so we switched back to skins there. It was easy going following our skin track back, and we eventually made it back to our bivy sacks by 8:30pm for a 16 hour day.

We bivied again that night, then were up and moving by sunrise Sunday. We skinned to a bit past junction camp, then changed to ski mode and skied turns down almost to Tricouni Camp. When we hit blowdowns we just saddled the skis on our packs and started booting out. This went a lot faster than doing all the transitions we’d done on the way in. After a few hours of crawling over and under trees we reached our shoes stashed in the middle of the trail.

It was an easy hike out from there, and we got back to the car around 2:30pm, just 30 minutes before it started raining. I drove up to scout out the Ross Dam staging area for potential future trips, then made it home at a reasonable hour.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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