Ascent of North Gardner Mountain on 2009-05-31

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Eric Noel
Date:Sunday, May 31, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:North Gardner Mountain
    Elevation:8956 ft / 2729 m

Ascent Trip Report

The standard route to North Gardner is via the long Wolf Creek trail to Gardner Meadows, then up to the west ridge of Mount Gardner, and finally along the connecting ridge to the higher peak of North Gardner. However, we decided to try a shorter and theoretically more direct route via Cedar Creek. We saw a detailed trip report on the internet, complete with photos, from a party that did a ski descent of the Northwest Couloir of North Gardner just two weeks earlier. This party had crossed Cedar Creek on a convenient log, encountered snow at 4000 feet, and had an easy time getting to the summit with the snow covering the brush and talus. It seemed like a good route that avoided the notorious long slog of the Wolf Creek route. I decided to bring skis, while Ken and Eric would snowshoe and glissade.

We did the long drive from the Seattle area on Saturday morning and started hiking up the Cedar Creek Trail 1:20 PM. It was easy going, and we stopped at the scenic Cedar Falls, worried a bit about the volume in the stream. A mile or so beyond that we left the trail and quickly bushwhacked to the creek, and after a bit located the log in the internet trip report--we recalled the photo. Unfortunately, the log was pretty much underwater--the recent hot weather of the past couple weeks had obviously increased the snowmelt quite a bit, and there was no way we could cross that log. We explored the shores a bit, difficult in the trackless forest, and didn't see any other places that looked even remotely safe.

So we returned to the trail and decided to hike up a couple more miles and try to cross where perhaps the stream was wider and had less flow. We came to a meadow area were a side path led to campsite area on the banks of Cedar Creek--here the creek was a bit wider and shallower, but still pretty powerful. We dithered a bit, and finally decided to try a crossing. I was wearing approach sneakers, and I waded across first. It was a tough crossing, with the water up to my thighs and the current almost pushing me over. Eric came next, and he had a hard time, too--he lost a trekking pole that floated away, and I had to grab him once he got near my side to keep him from being pulled under. His pack almost came off into the water. It was a pretty harrowing scene, actually.

Ken was partway across, watching us almost get swept away, and then he retreated--at least of one us had a brain. Now we were separated, and Ken yelled to us that there was no way he was going across. Eric and I were reluctant to return, since we had done the crux of the route already and didn't want to cross back without anything to show for our two crossings. So Ken decided to go back to the car and find something else to do, and meet us at the trailhead on Sunday evening. Eric and I had a tent and all the supplies we needed, so we yelled our good-byes to Ken and started uphill, towards Shelokum Lake.

Since our crossing of Cedar Creek was upstream from the Shelokum Creek, we bushwhacked and backtracked a bit in relatively flat forest and then started ascending uphill when we could hear the Shelokum Creek ahead. The idea was to follow the creek valley uphill, with no trail, until we hit open meadows and could camp. The forest was pretty open, but there was no sign of any snow, which we were hoping would cover some of the brush. I had skis on my back, which made for miserable bushwhacking as they got snagged in trees all the time.

The rest of the afternoon turned into a bit of a slog. The forest gave way eventually to open areas, but they were covered with nasty loose talus and intermittent snow we postholed through. I changed out of my approach sneakers and into my AT ski boots, but that didn't help me much. We were going uphill with heavy packs after a long day, and were behind schedule due to our stream crossing problems. I had hoped to be skiing uphill with skins by now, based on the trip report photos we had seen, but that was not possible any more.

By 8 PM we found a snowy meadow area at about 5600 feet where a few dry spots offered a place to pitch our tent. I hiked downhill a bit to collect some water dripping off of a cliff face--we were still well above the roaring Shelokum Creek below--and then we cooked our dinner, relaxed a bit, and hit the hay. I had left my normal eyeglasses in the car, so I couldn't not see well at night with just my prescription sunglasses once the sun set.

Sunday morning we got up early, left our tent behind at 5:45 AM, and continued hiking uphill towards Shelokum Lake. We could see the broad Northwest Couloir of North Gardner ahead through the trees, and it seemed to offer a pretty easy and direct route to the summit (3000 feet above us) with maximum snow cover, so we decided to avoid the lake and head for the couloir at the first chance we could. We came to the actual creek after a short while, filled up on water, crossed it pretty easily, and then hiked a flat forest area to a steep hillside. After laboring up this for a bit we crested the hill and broke out to the broad snowy slopes below the couloir. Here I was finally able to put on my skis and start skinning uphill--Eric gamely postholed or kicked steps, keeping up remarkably well.

Our route angled across a large snowfield with scattered trees, then headed pretty much straight up the couloir, which was pretty wide and not terribly steep. I switchbacked on my skis, and Eric was able to go up more directly. We took a number of rests--it was early season and we were not yet in our mid-summer climbing shape, I think. After a nice rest on a rocky island at the steepest part of the couloir, we climbed a few hundred more feet to the upper end of the couloir and the end of the snow. Here I had to stash my skis, and we had to rock hop up the dry talus of the north ridge for 800 vertical feet or so. This was not particularly fun wearing ski boots, of course. We were tired, but determined, and by 11:10 AM or so we reached the summit of North Gardner at 8956 feet, high point of Okanogan County.

We were surprised to see a solitary hiker on the summit--he had come in via Wolf Creek. He was the only other person we saw on the mountain all day. We chatted a bit--he was a bit of a trail runner and was bagging the Bulgers in big chunks. We took our pictures, ate our snacks, signed the register, and left after 20 minutes--we had to get down to meet Ken at the trailhead and get home this evening.

The talus hopping down the ridge went without incident, and then I was able to enjoy a 2000-foot ski descent of the Northwest Couloir. The snow was pretty soft in the late May afternoon sun, with giant slushalanches sweeping down with my every turn, but it was still enjoyable to be making fall-line turns down a giant wilderness peak in the North Cascades. Was this one run worth the hassle of hauling my skis and boots all the way up here through streams, brush, and talus? Probably not, but I had already suffered most of the pain so it didn't matter to me.

Eric was able to glissade most of the couloir and then plunge step down the rest of the snow, moving pretty fast--I hardly had to wait very much at all. Once at the forest I put my skis on my pack and we hiked down to the tent as quickly as we could, following our GPS tracks to cross the Shelokum Creek at the same place as the morning. We packed up at our campsite, took a bit of a rest, and at 3 PM wearily began hiking down the trackless forest and talus-field towards the raging waters of Cedar Creek. We realized that our expedition really should have been a three-day trip, but we had to get down, since Ken was expecting us (as were our employers on Monday).

The hike down through the alternating bands of trail-less forest and loose talus was tiring and longer than we remembered, even going dowhill. Eventually we were in plain old open forest, and we followed our GPS tracks through some brushy sections to our ford spot on Cedar Creek. It was already 6 PM, the time we told Ken we'd be at the car, so we were running quite a bit late. And when we saw Cedar Creek, we realized it was running even higher and harder than it had when we crossed it yesterday.

We realized we might have to camp here and wait until morning to cross, but then everyone would worry about us--Ken, my wife--it would be a big mess. So we tried to cross by doing it together, arms linked, but that did not work at all, and Eric almost fell again and lost his second trekking pole. Once, his pack, resting next to the stream, almost toppled in. What a disaster.

Then things started looking up. We looked around a bit and noticed that the creek was a bit wider and easier to cross just a short ways upstream. It was difficult to get to the banks, with slide alder blocking access on both sides, but it looked doable. Eric went first, since he was shorter and more likely than I to have problems, and he was able to get across pretty easily. I followed, and the only real hassle I had was with the slide alder on the other shore, due mainly to the skis on my pack getting caught.

We regrouped on the other side and were soon hiking down actual maintained hiking trail towards the car--what a great feeling! We hiked as quickly as our fatigued state would allow, but even gently-sloping downhill trail was not easy in our state. The last couple miles seemed to be stretched our forever, and once we neared the trailhead we started shouting out for Ken. We arrived at the car at about 8:10 PM or so, still light out, and Ken was there waiting, relieved to see us. If we had not been down by dark he would have called the search and rescue teams, he said. He had been off hiking up Tiffany Mountain near Winthrop while Eric and I had been on North Gardner.

Now all we had was a four-hour drive home, longer for Eric and Ken, who lived further away. I don't think any of us were particularly productive that next day at work.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5916 ft / 1803 m
    Route:NW Couloir
    Trailhead:Cedar Creek TH  3040 ft / 926 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Skis, Ski Poles, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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