Oct 10-11, 2009: Big & West Craggies

The weather couldn’t have been better for an October climb up the Craggies.  October!  Damn!  I had hoped to do the climbs with Robert Stegner from my WAC basic climbing class, but he had some personal issues ground him for the weekend.  Good luck with everything my man!

Headed out Friday night and grabbed some pizza at a bar in Sedro Wolley.  They used cheddar cheese… yum??  Kept on trucking and pulled up for the night at a parking lot in Winthrop.  Got to test out my new 0-deg Marmot Never Summer bag in the car.  Gotta say that the thing was plenty warm.  Good buy so far.

Saturday, woke up, changed in the parking lot then headed into town to grab some breakfast.  Had a good meal, nothing special, at Three Fingered Jacks then headed to the grocery store to get a trail snack and some lunch to-go.  I was sadly disappointed after the AWESOME general store in the much smaller Mazama.  In Winthrop, there were more isles of fishing lures than food.  Found some pre-made sandwiches in the back but noticed a price tag dating them to AT LEAST 3 weeks old.  Pass.  I settled on Pop-Tarts which turned out to be the edible highlight of my trip, and a run-of-the-mill bagel.

The road to the trail head (Copper Glance Creek Trail) is just superbly maintained.  Not so much as a pot-hole.  The trail is usually open to horse and motorcycle traffic, but the trail is eroded away and the bridge over the creek is washed out so it’s closed to all but foot-traffic for now.  I’m guessing this is from a flood early in the season, but didn’t ask.  The first half of the trail is pretty boring, but at least it climbs quickly so you don’t have to hike for forever.  You come to an old copper mine (lending its name to the creek) about half way up.  A little farther on you reach a grassy field with some good views.  These are the only highlights on the trail.  About three miles in you break off the trail and do some bush-whacking for a few hundred yards to get to a talus slope that you follow to some nice (if shaded) camp spots just below the Craggies.  I made a quick camp, threw everything into my day pack that I would need and started off for Big Craggy.

Big Craggy is a total slog climb.  The accent starts up a drainage field of ankle-breaking talus debris then continues up the west ridge on slightly larger talus debris.  Great views are the highlight of this climb.  As one of the east-most mountains in the Cascades you get unique views east of the foothills, bluffs, rivers, and lakes that make up Eastern Washington.  A great view of West Craggy is nice, but doesn’t help for planning the next day’s accent as the route is on the far-side of the mountain.  I found the false-summit of Big Craggy to have the better views, and actually thought it looked higher, but the register was on the other peak so I’ll take their word for it.  Overall this was a altitude gain of 4640 feet from the car!  Not as much as the Sahale climb’s 6200 ft, but a solid single day’s worth of climbing for sure.

Back to the campsite and although it was still bright out, my camp was in the shade and as such was FREEZING.  It felt like an immediate 30 degree temperature drop every time you left direct sunlight.  By 5:00pm, the water in my Nalgeene was starting to freeze.  I made a quick run down the slope from my campsite to the creek and filled my bottle and Camelbak.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to get any water through the hose, but at least it was a storage medium.  I made stuffing, mashed potatoes, and turkey gravy for dinner and started a small fire to keep me at least a little warm.  After all that work, I ended up falling asleep in my bivy around 7:30.  That night it got so cold I could watch my breath freeze when it hit the top of the bivy bag.  SOOOO glad I had my Never Summer.  Cozy warm all night.

I slept in til 6:30 the next morning, and it certainly felt like sleeping in after falling asleep at 7:30 the night before.  Made a quick oatmeal breakfast, grabbed my day-pack, and headed west to the West Craggy drainage basin.  I didn’t really have any route plan I was following which made this climb pretty interesting.  I assumed it would be kinda obvious like Big Craggy, but was nothing of the sort.  For one, from the drainage basin you couldn’t even see where the summit was.  I ended up hugging the right (north) slope of the basin and slowly making my way up the intermingling talus slopes, vegetation, and small cliffs.  I ended up taking the east ridge and feeling good about it for about fifteen feet at which point I ran into a 150 foot cliff blocking my way.  LAME.  Some down-climbing and re-up-climbing later I was back on my way towards where the summit should be.  There was a saddle between two small peaks that I made my way towards.  After my first cliff problem I was worried it would be a cliff on the other side of the saddle, but it turned out to be the correct way to go (complete with cairns left by other climbers).  The next pitch was the highlight of the trip: a 80 foot class-4 climb up some entertaining cliffs and ledges.  At the top of that pitch you reach the summit ridge and it’s an easy walk across the back (west) side of the mountain to the true summit.  Sunday turned out to be even clearer than Saturday and from the summit of West Craggy you could see for FOREVER.  The Pasayten peaks I had attempted earlier in the season were all very visible right next door, and plenty of the snowy Western peaks were in view.  Since it was in the sun, and thus at least a little warm, I ended up staying on the summit for a good half-hour before starting the decent.  I tried getting the register open, but either it was frozen shut or the last person to use it was much stronger than I am cause it wouldn’t budge.

To descend, I started back the way I came, down-climbing the class-4 pitch and the next pitch below it.  It opens up to a huge drainage slope that goes all the way down to the floor.  It’s all loose pebble rock, so would be impossible to climb up, but it made a lightning-quick route down.  Just to the right of the slope if you were to climb it (east) is a series of low-exposure, class-4 cliffs.  If I had to do it all over again, this would be the way I’d take up the mountain.  Skip all that talus garbage and route-finding nightmare and just do a thousand feet of easy cliff climbing!  I’m naming this the South-face Cliff Route or the Fun Cliffs :).  On the way back to camp, I tried to follow the edge of the cliffs like I had on the way in (providing a better route because there was light vegetation to hold the talus in place).  I ended up too high on the ridge and had to down-climb a few faces of cliff to get back to camp.  I suppose I could have back-tracked, but this was more fun!

After that it was just a matter of breaking camp, bush-whacking my way back to the trail, and hiking down to the car.  I ended up running into a rottweiler that had gotten away from its owner on the trail and having a “nice” starring and barking contest for a few minutes until it decided to run off.  An easy drive with no stupid drivers nor traffic was the perfect ending to a super solo weekend climb.  I’m glad I was able to get out cause it’s not looking like there will be any more climbing weekends until next year.

Big Craggie Summit Video

West Craggie Summit Video


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