For a couple it is a very rare and delightful thing to make a friend together, as in a friend that you both meet at the same time and become friends with in unison, thus creating a friend that is not primarily one of yours but both of yours. Kyle and I are lucky to have a couple of friends who fit this description and this last weekend we got to hang out with one of them, our friend Kirsten, in the North Cascades. We met Kirsten at ACE where we were sent on a number of backcountry hitches together, resulting in the tight bond of friendship that only shared hard work, dehydrated meals, bad gas, and riotous games of werewolf can form. Every summer for a while now she makes a trip to the North Cascades in search of rocks because, and you may have just surmised this, she is one of those strange and elusive geologists. This summer we decided to join her (or more likely, were tricked into joining her) on one of her rock collecting forays.
We arrived at her front country campsite Thursday night and immediately settled in to some burritos, Kirsten’s favorite food. Once, on a bike ride across the country, it is fabled that Kirsten ate nothing but burritos for many days straight. We then broke out the Settlers of Catan Board, a game that has defined our friendship and been played by us in bars and campsites across the country. We then headed to our tents, preparing for a fairly early start the next morning.
The next morning we geared up, packing everything we might need for potential rock removal, including all our gear for glacier travel. This decision was two-fold, where we were going there were some pretty cool mountains to climb: Snowfield and Colonial Peak. Kirsten had originally enticed us into joining her by sending us a link to a climbers blog about the two peaks, plus many smaller ones in the area that can be tagged at the same time. The second reason for all the gear was that it was possible Kirsten’s rocks could only be reached via glacier travel. Kirsten had discovered the rocks while browsing the same climbing blog she had sent us, they were in the background of some of the photos. She had emailed the climbers, asking for more information and they had sent her back GPS points of where the rocks were. So that is where we were headed, to find some rocks and climb some mountains.
But between us and the rocks and the mountains was two miles of maintained trail, 4 miles of climbers trail, and some 6,000 feet of elevation gain. We set off around nine with very heavy overnight packs. The first two miles of trail were indeed maintained and quite mellow, meaning most of the elevation gain was packed into the last four miles. The climbers trail begins at Pyramid Lake, a fairly unimpressive tarn that is a popular spot for day hikers in the North Cascades because it is easy to get to. We took a break there and then skirted the lake to the South side and found the climbers trail. From there we headed up. The climbers trail had two speeds: flat and mellow or straight up hands necessary scrambling. We trucked along at a blistering pace because Kirsten kept getting into the front and, I think I forgot to mention, but Kirsten is in the best shape of anyone I know. We only paused if Kirsten saw a cool rock, which she did a couple of time, allowing us a moment of respite while she stopped and stared at it. Finally, after steeper and steeper trail overgrown with blueberry and huckleberry bushes we reached the ridge and our first views.
The North Cascades are stunning. They seem more rugged than their southern sisters and from where we were we kept catching glimpses of the Picket Range, which makes your blood run cold. At the bottom of the valleys bright turquoise water pools where Seattle City Light has built damns and between them the river thunders when it is allowed to and trickles when it is restrained. We were also able to see Colonial high above us, its steep snow fields protecting the summit. We had thought once we made it to the ridge things would be easier but we were wrong. The ridge was more dramatically flat when it was flat and vertical when it was vertical. We had to put the trekking poles up because much of the uphill required the use of hand holds and green belays. The trail was fairly easy to find despite being overgrown until we reached our final hurdle on the ridge, a traverse around a giant granite outcropping to the bottom of Pyramid Peak. A couple of cairns led us into the granite traverse but, when no more appeared, we had to follow along the shelf we were on, praying it didn’t cliff out, sending us back to find another path. There were a couple of steep sections, where Kyle’s trail runners barely had enough traction to keep him stuck to the rocks, but we made it to the other side and were greeted by a huge scree field. A traverse across that took us under Pyramid Peak’s cliffs and up towards a massive waterfall.
I was dying to see where the waterfall was coming from. We finally reached it and after following it upstream we crested a small hill and in front of us was a glacial lake unlike any I have ever seen before. The glacier itself usually covers everything we were standing on, but it has melted back so far that there is now a large lake in its place, murky white with glacial runoff. On the other side of the lake the glacier begins, or I guess, ends. Huge chunks of it cleaved off in the hot sun and floated across the lake towards us, rocks perched on top, passengers without a choice. On both sides of the lake rock rose up, forming a basin for it to rest in. The cliffs on the left hand side were red and dry and the cliffs on the right were dark and covered in waterfalls coming off the peaks above, misting rainbows down into the basin. We set up our tent on the shore of the lake and up above us a little ways a cold clear stream babbled, nourishing moss and wild flowers. Above us the glaciers blanketed the mountains, filthy with dirt and boulders, cracked through with deep blue fissures. There was an incredible contrast between a landscape in which rock and ice seemed to rule and the possibility for life seemed grim and yet, right there next to us was a lush green stream of life, returning every year from a blanket of snow when the marmots sounded their whistling cry.
Kirsten collected rocks and we set up camp using her rock hammer to pound in the stakes, beat after a long day of up under heavy packs. We decided there wasn’t time to climb anything. We chatted with one other group of climbers who decided to camp further up, one of whom had hiked the PCT and recognized Kyle’s tracks as Brooks Cascadia tracks. Kirsten met another geologist and they talked about Skagit Gneiss and said a lot of words ending with -ite. I rolled my eyes at Kyle and mouthed, “Nerds.” After that we were all alone. We ate a dinner of dehydrated meals, during which I ended up with Salmon in my hair. We threw rocks at icebergs and played game after game of Settlers of Catan which I drug up the mountain, but don’t worry I slimmed it down by leaving half the game behind, resulting in confusing new twists, like having to use turned over brick and wood cards to represent ore and wheat… fun, right?). Then we fell asleep under one of the most incredible tapestries of stars I have ever seen and to the music of the glacier cracking and creaking as it slipped into the lake.
The hike out was long, miserable and steep, as it always is. One of the stranger parts of hiking with a geologist is that your packs end up heavier on the way down then they were on the way up, each of our packs having gained a couple of bags of rocks. We tolerated the rocks (anything for science) but we decried our climbing gear, which we had not ended up using, and cursed the last mile which went on forever. At the bottom we jumped in the car, discovered one of Kyle’s crocs had shrunk from being in direct sunlight, and drove straight to the river to run in and cool our boiling brains and bruised bones. A warm wind fluffed our freezing cold skin and all the pain and suffering was forgot, but the amazing camp spot was not. It is currently holding first place in my mind for most epic campsite ever. Hopefully these pictures will help you understand why. So, if you are up for the challenge, check it out, you will not be disappointed.
PS You might be wondering about the title of this post. Kyle’s favorite part of any snack mix, cracker box, chip bag, etc. is the crumbs that you find at the bottom after everything else is gone. During the climb he finally came up with a marketing concept for the all crumbs snack mix he has been dreaming about. It is an ogre, with a beard, named Mr. Krumz who is pouring a bag of crumbs into his mouth and yelling, “Fe, fi, fo, KRUMZ!” In our giddy state at the lake and our deliriously tired state on the way down this slogan was yelled repeatedly while pouring cheese-its all over our faces… And I don’t even know what the traversing twinsies are, Kyle just started mysteriously calling Kirsten and I that after he discovered we had the same helmet. One thing is for certain, the Traversing Twinsies and Mr. Krumz are definitely best friends forever.