Where to start..
This peak was supposed to be straightforward, a quick couple thousand feet in the first 2 miles from the trailhead then a long ridge walk down to the peak rising above a small alpine lake called Little Storm Lake. Why is it when something is to be straightforward it always turns out to be the opposite.
I started working on this peak last summer when I tried to drive my passenger car up to the trailhead at which time I put a hole in my oil pan and had to have my car carried back home on a trailer (Thanks Dad for the tow). My second attempt was this last February when I start my ascent from the Lostine River Road. On that attempt I managed to climb up a sub-ridge all the way up to just below the 8000′ level but still had over 5 miles to get to the summit, I turned around due to my slow pace due to conditions and my climbing window. So yes, this was my 3rd attempt on a “straightforward and easy” peak.
The weather forecast was for mostly cloudy skies with a 30% chance of rain for the two days I had for the climb. On the second day there was a chance of thunderstorms in the evening so my goal was to be back in the truck after a successful climb before noon. I left Walla Walla at 5am for the 2 hour drive to the trail and was extremely happy to find myself at the trail without any car issues by 7am. The trailhead actually resembles more of a forest campsite instead of an actual trailhead. The trail begins by following a closed road behind a locked gate for about 3/4 of a mile before turning off the road and heading west uphill. I unfortunately missed the point where the trail heads away from the road and continued up the road to its end ( A three mile mistake). I spent over an hour and a half looking for the trail which I finally found unmarked and hidden behind a fallen tree at a spot which looks like a dispersed campsite. I should’ve known at that point that my day wasn’t destined to be a smooth one.
About a quarter mile up the trail I came across an unmarked trail junction (not on the map), it appeared to me that the “main” trail headed off to the south while the “secondary” trail headed straight uphill. The uphill trail had a small log across it so I figured it was an old trail that was no longer used, I chose the trail to the “main” trail to the south. Again I was off in the wrong direction, at least this time I was so weary about making the wrong decision that after 10 minutes I stopped and looked at the map and realized I had made a mistake. Once on the uphill trail I started making good time and gained a lot of elevation quickly. It wasn’t long before that I was standing on top of the main ridge-line that I would be following for approx 8 miles to the summit of the peak.
The trail up to Little Storm Lake follows the ridge-line, I could actually see sections melted out of the snow. For the most part I used my map and hiked a direct line along the ridge. While hiking I kept looking at the dark grey sky to the west. Around 10am the wind started to build and the snow began to fall. At first the weather wasn’t too bad, I could still see about a mile of the ridge ahead of me so I could navigate using the map and topography. By 11:00 the wind started to pick up building to a steady 30 mph with gusts exceeding 50 with a moderate snowfall. My visibility diminished to around 200′ and it was at that point I stopped for a break and pulled out my cell phone to get an update on the weather. Nine out of ten times when I try to use my cell phone in the Wallowas I’m unsuccessful, for some reason that day I was able to connect (something had to go right!). After a quick call home, a look at the forecast (which still showed 30% chance of showers), and some thoughtful deliberation I decided to continue on. I pulled out my gps and after it had acquired satellite lock I climbed on.
The weather let up for a few minutes allowing me to get a little footage of the ridge leading to the peak.
On the exposed sections of the ridge the wind would blow my ski poles off to the east as I would lift and move them forward. There were a couple of rocky sections where I had to remove my snowshoes to climb up and over. At one of the rocky sections I slowly pulled my snowshoe off my left foot and as I went to slide it into the snow a strong gust blew it out of my hand and off down the hill. I quickly lunged and caught the snowshoe before it slid too far down the slope. I always find climbing in whiteout conditions to be eerie and I typically lose track of time. All the sudden my gps alarm sounded, I was arriving at the summit, to my left and noticed a small rock cairn, finally I had made it! I pulled out my video camera and ate a Cliff Bar and within 10 minutes I was heading back down. The temperature was dropping so I kept moving at a steady pace. I wanted to get as far as I could back down the ridge before setting up my camp for the evening.
Summit (What a view!)
I found a nice sheltered location about four miles from the summit to camp for the night. My tent was set up in the middle of a patch of small trees which protected me from the wind that blew most of the night. After the tent was pitched I quickly threw my gear inside and filled my plastic bag full of snow to use for water and dinner. Once in the tent I slid down into my down bag (oh did it feel good) and pulled the plastic bag of snow into my vestibule and fired up the stove. As if things couldn’t get worse I realized my bladder bag that I use for water had a hole in it and some of my items in my backpack were wet (one more thing to deal with). I melted pot after pot and filled my bladder bag which I had to invert to keep it from leaking and had a nice hot meal. Having the ability to use the cell phone was a bonus and after a call home I felt ready to call it an end for the day. I dozed off listening to an audiobook and didn’t wake up until midnight. At midnight I woke up to a thick blanket of snow over my small tent and after a couple minutes of clearing, a Cliff Bar, and a few Advil I was back to sleep and didn’t wake up till 5am.
I poked my head out the vestibule to a partly cloudy sky and a nice fresh blanket of snow. To my relief the wind had died down to a light breeze. Breakfast consisted of a Cliff Bar and almonds with a little Gatorade. Within 20 minutes I was packed and ready to move, I wanted to take advantage of the decent conditions for the hike out. 30 minutes after leaving camp it was snowing and the visibility was back down to around 500′. The hike out was slow, I wanted to make sure I stayed on the correct ridge and that when I started down off the ridge I didn’t start too soon. At 9am I was standing at my truck unloading my pack in the rain.
Oh and in the video I say “67 down 33 to go” I don’t think my brain was awake.
68 down, 32 to go!