Success can’t always be measured by standing on the summit and the last couple of days I’ve spent climbing in the Wallowas can definitely be considered a success. My goal was the summit of Mt Melissa a peak over 9000’ on the northeast side of the Wallowa Mountain range in eastern Oregon. The peak is listed as the 25th highest in the state and would be my 48th peak from the 100 Highest Peaks in Oregon. I’ve been focusing on climbing 50 peaks this year and it looks like I’m running out of time with only a couple of weeks left in the year.
I had a small weather window to make it up to the summit and back out to the truck, the small weather window proved to be one of the factors for not obtaining the summit. There were many small things that added up to the summit being too far out of reach, but what I learned will be invaluable for future attempts. First of all I used a small sled to carry my gear. I attached webbing to the sled and pulled it behind me which went fairly well until I started up the steep slopes and also when I tried to traverse across the slope.
A lot of energy was expended by just keeping the sled upright and tracking behind me. Even with the hassle of pulling the sled I did like not having a heavy pack on my back while I was snowshoeing. I’m planning on modifying my existing sled so it can to be used as a pulk sled so I will be able to control it in situations I will encounter (work for this coming week). I also packed my camera gear in the sled which made it almost impossible to quickly pull it out for shots along the climb. On future trips I plan on carrying my summit pack on my back with the sled attached to my pack waist belt. By carrying my summit pack I’ll be able to readily be able to access my camera, snacks, and water, lesson learned.
I pulled the gear up approximately 2000’ in over 2 miles toward the top of Wing Ridge where I found a nice deep snow bank to build a shelter for the night. I actually enjoy building snow caves and with each cave I become more efficient, but it still takes around 2 hours to build on my own.
I built a fairly wide cave which provided enough room to pull my sled completely inside to load and unload then used a ground cloth for a door. My sleeping platform was elevated and wide; one thing I don’t like is to roll into the damp wall at night. Winter nights are long in the mountains so I carried a small backpacking lantern which provided light and heat, it kept the temperature in the cave at or above freezing while the temps outside were well below zero with the wind chill. I slept on and off for over 12 hours in a nice warm -25 deg down sleeping bag which was also inside a bivy sack on top of two insul pads.
When I poked my head out of the cave on Friday morning I realized the summit would be out of reach. The temps were very cold with the wind gusting above 25 mph. My cave was in a sheltered location and my route upward would be on an exposed ridgeline where the full force of the winds would be felt (I also didn’t have my balaclava so the thought of frost bite on my face wasn’t too appealing).
In the back of my mind I kept thinking about the winter storm warnings for Saturday and Sunday so I knew I would only have Friday for a summit attempt. I sat in the cave and brewed tea and ate a cliff bar for breakfast all the while knowing I had only one right decision to make, I wouldn’t see the summit of Mount Melissa on this trip.
My focus changed to getting as much beta as possible for my next attempt so I started looking at all of the ridgelines. One conclusion I made is that on my next attempt I plan on heading up the north ridge from the Ferguson Ridge Ski Area. The north facing ridge appears to be the most direct line to the summit and I saw what appear to be a couple areas where I can set up a high camp which would shorten my summit day.
I’m looking forward to my return to Mount Melissa and I know that when I’m standing on the summit it will be partially due to the information I learned from this trip. Yes, still 53 to go.