Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mount Thompson and Kendall Peak

Back in August I had made an attempt to climb Mount Thompson [link] with a few of my coworkers, and while we were unsuccessful, we did gain a good lay of the land by trying out a number of short cuts which resulted in a lot of bushwhacking. I didn’t want to let all that good knowledge go to waste, so I wanted to go back and make another attempt at getting the shortcuts right and hopefully reach the summit of Mount Thompson in the process. Roanne and I had taken vacation for the first week in September, and after our plans to go further afield disintegrated due to her having to be in Seattle midweek, I decided that a sunny Tuesday morning would be a perfect time to head to the mountains.

I parked at the PCT trailhead near Alpental and started hiking around 7:30am, taking the immediate left onto the first shortcut. This one worked out well, as I successfully rejoined the PCT at the intended point (we had missed that last time and thus ended up at Red Mountain). The second short cut was to exit the PCT at the first big switchback, and I was a little leery of this one since it looked like it would involve substantial bushwhacking. This suspicion was confirmed, but after much fighting my way through brush I was finally back in the basin were we had ended up on our last attempt (mental note: next time don’t wear shorts), looking up at the sun starting to hit the alpine meadows above me.

From here I was able to scramble up the same talus field that we had ascended last time to re-gain the PCT trail. From looking at the GPS track this certainly shaved a lot of distance off, though at times it was pretty slow going through the dense brush so I’m not sure that I would do it again. Soon after rejoining the PCT I was crossing the Kendall Catwalk which was completely free of snow, in contrast to our last outing:

I made good time along the trail without any snow, and before long I was passing Ridge Lake where we had turned around on our last attempt. I stopped briefly to chat with a PCT through-hiker who was basking in the sun by the lake, then continued on toward Bumblebee Pass where I needed to leave the trail and drop into the basin below Mount Thompson. This section of the trail was really nice, being on a hillside that descended steeply to the sparkling waters of Alaska Lake:

I continued on to what I thought was the pass, though I was a little surprised that there wasn’t much of a trail established. I had a good view of Mount Thompson from the ridge crest:

 I was even more surprised when I looked over the other side of what I thought was the pass and saw that it was a several hundred foot cliff. At this point I knew that I was off route, and after sussing out a few short cut options for regaining the correct route I finally gave in to the inevitable and retraced my steps back along the PCT to the real Bumblebee Pass. I headed up and over the pass and then dropped into the basin below Mount Thompson.  The basin was really nice with some snow remaining on the northern aspects, and a mix of heather and meadows filling in the gaps between the talus fields.

 After a short pause to eat a delicious sandwich I headed up a gully towards the East Ridge, which is the 4th class route that I planned to ascend. The gully was a little loose, but a short while later I was on the shoulder where the East Ridge began. I continued up without much difficulty, mostly just steep hiking with a few scrambly sections mixed in. After one final short steep section I was finally standing on the summit at 11:30am, not bad considering my route finding difficulties on Bumblebee Pass. Here I am on top clad in my bright white PNW-issue undergarments:

And here is the full panoramic view from the summit, with not a cloud in sight and Mount Rainier visible on the right end of the picture:

After lazing on the summit for a while I decided to head back down, and with one short rappel down one loose looking section where I couldn’t quite find the easier way I had come up, I resumed scrambling back down the East Ridge and soon found myself back in the basin. I headed up and over Bumblebee Pass and back onto the PCT, and started making my way back toward the Kendall Catwalk. After crossing the Kendall Catwalk I came to the point where we had went part way to Kendall Peak the last time, I decided to head up again and finish the job this time. I passed the intermediate summit that we had stopped on and continued along the North Ridge to the true summit which wasn’t all that much higher than the one we had stopped on. Here is the view from the summit of Kendall Peak looking back toward Mount Thompson, with Mount Thompson visible as the prominent bell-shaped summit in the middle of the frame.

From here I headed straight down the east slopes of Kendall to regain the PCT without any backtracking, and then continued back toward the car. I was remotely tempted to take the bushwhacking shortcut that I had taken on the way up, but my scraped and battered shins screamed in protest so I stayed on the trail until the first of the two short cuts which I had taken that morning which I did take again and at just before 4pm I found myself back at the car. Great success! Here is a topo of my route, the loop in the middle is due to me taking the shortcut on the way there and the trail on the way back, and the fork at the end is due to my routefinding difficulties  near Bumblebee Pass.

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