On weekends when Kyle and I had commitments (see work camping trips and fundraising events) we tried to find scrambles that we could accomplish in a day. They don’t quite deserve a blog post all on their own so I am going to squish two of them together into one.
We went out to do Hibox Mountain the week after summiting Glacier Peak. We had wanted to get a little bit more comfortable with class three and four scrambling and Hibox was a great distance from Seattle and unaffected by fires in the area. We got up early to drive out there and start hiking. The hike starts from the Rachel Lake trailhead, which was crowded with backpackers when we got there. We pulled into the ditch and tightened up our shoes. I was trying out my approach shoes for the climb instead of wearing trail runners and bringing rock shoes for the scramble. Packs on we headed off down the trail.
The route stays on the defined trail for only a short while before veering up a climbers trail. And what a steep climbers trail it is! We were transported back to our climb up to Snowfield Peak as we pulled on roots and shimmied up sheer dirt hills. Eventually we popped out of the trees and onto the grassy slopes below the rocky summit block. The grass slope was so steep it was practically a cliff that plants were clinging too. Stepping from hummock to tuft was the only way to move upwards. Looking down – not advised. With our thighs burning we pushed upwards until we were sinking into scree with every step. The scree slope took us around to the back of the peak.
After traversing for a while we finally found a place where it looked manageable to start scrambling up. Part way up we were both cursing a little bit at the unstable rock and dead plants. Our scramble book had described the route itself as on solid rock. Thus we were embarrassed to find a perfectly good walk off further around the back when we got up to our first ledge. Embarrassed but very pleased that we wouldn’t have to down-climb what we had just come up. We continued upwards.
The route was, in fact, on great rock. Everything was pretty solid and although there were definitely some fourth class moves they weren’t paired with bad exposure. The exposure came with the totally normal walking moves but it still made me feel crouch-y. You know, crouch-y, the innate desire to move ones body as close to the ground as possible, thus flooring ones center of mass by not moving ever again. Despite feeling crouch-y and wanting to sit down and stop moving I kept putting one foot in front of the other, grabbing onto the rock next to me.
The summit itself was a jumble of giant rocks and a mysterious assortment of bugs. Wasps, lady bugs and flying ants swarmed through the air directly above the summit cutting our time up there very short. A few quick pics and we were back to crouching our way back down to the scree below. Well not Kyle, he doesn’t get crouch-y. I later discovered this is because I am constantly imagining the worst case scenario and my body ricocheting off the rocks below. Turns out Kyle doesn’t think about falling at all, ever. I feel like I should think about it less and he should think about it at least a little. Something for both of us to work on I guess.
Nothing left to do but head down, which would have been a lot more enjoyable if I had been wearing my trail runners. Having never hiked anything in my approach shoes, much less a very steep climbers trail, I didn’t know how BADLY my feet were going to hurt. My toes jammed up again the stiff toe box with every step and the stiff shank in the sole made my feel bruised and sore. When we got back to the regular trail I was limping in pain. Never again approach shoes, never again. But you best believe it felt amazing to take them off back at the car.
Verdict on Hibox Mountain: it’s fine. The views were pretty good, the scramble itself was solid but short. Getting there is incredibly steep and fairly miserable. I bet there are better options out there…
We just climbed Vesper at the beginning of September and unlike Hibox it was a total joy. Vesper is located off of the Mountain Loop Highway and is actually a very short drive from Seattle. The day we went was right after our first rain of the fall and everything felt fresh and dewy. Water droplets fell from the trees above as we hiked through the forest, still dark with nights shadows. Clouds swirled through the sky and the air finally nipped at our noses like a crisp fall day.
One word of warning, the trail is NOT in good shape. It is riddled with roots and rocks and often times social trails have sprung up around downed trees. When it crosses large creeks there are many different places to pick it back up on the other side, which can be confusing. Shortly after we had started hiking we ran into a guy with an unleashed dog and a proudly displayed GPS on his chest strap. He asked if we were headed to the lake and we said no- the peak. He told us he had been coming out here for years and had just looked for the lake for three hours and had been unable to find it. We were a little shocked, we had a map or two and some WTA pages saved to our phone but we weren’t exactly prepared for a route finding adventure. His words, “Only a lucky few make it,” ringing in our ears we continued down the trail… and then just stayed on the trail and kept hiking and hiked all the way to the lake. Guess we were some of the lucky few, along with lots of other people who were either camped at the lake or hiking up there with us.
At the lake we crossed the outlet and followed a rough climbers trail to where the mountain changes from alpine plants and grasses to smooth, white granite. It was gorgeous, bringing back memories of the Sierra Nevada. Granite sloped this way and that, creating what felt like a granite playground. It filled us with energy and we sprinted up it, parkouring off jutting white spikes and ramping off slopes. I was almost disappointed when we reached the summit. On the other side we were greeted with views of a gorgeous aquamarine lake cradled between two rusty red mountains. Glacier Peak was surprisingly close to us to the north. Clouds obscured the peaks to the east and poured over Vespers southern ridge. We threw on windbreakers and snacked, staring into the misty clouds. And then we ran down, overjoyed with the way our shoes stuck to the granite. Is it any wonder goats play and frolic?
Verdict on Vesper Peak: Loved this peak and want to go back and do it over and over again. Not to mention there is a lake and it isn’t hard to find and it would make for a really great dip at the end of a hot hike. In the end don’t you don’t need luck to find this peak, just stay on the trail and you will be fine.