Ptarmigan Traverse: 20 years apart

North to South (2003)

& Northern Half (2023)

w/ Parents & Sister

Other trip reports for Ptarmigan Traverse (or sections of it):
North to South 2003 w/ parents & sister    •   Northern half 2023 w/ parents & sister    •    South to North 2009    •    Mt. Formidable (South Route, 3rd/4th)
Category: Washington (HWY 20)  High Point: 8,260 ft (Spire Point); 7,762 ft (Le Conte Mountain)Rock Type: Granodiorite & Gneiss
This page contains two complete trip reports (plus some photos from other dates):


Dates: July 29 - August 3, 2003 (Tue-Sun)Trip Report #: 4Partners: Marty Abegg, Sue Abegg, and Jenny Abegg


Dates: August 3-7, 2023 (Thu-Mon)Trip Report #: 637Partners: Marty Abegg, Sue Abegg, and Jenny Abegg

Ptarmigan Traverse 2003 and Northern Half 2023:

Route (2003): North to South, ~35 miles (+SPIRE POINT East Face 4th to low 5th)

Route (2023): Northern Half In-and-Out, ~30 miles (+LE CONTE MTN North side 3rd/4th)

Two family trips on the Ptarmigan Traverse, 20 years apart. My all-time favorite and memorable family backpacking adventures.


The Ptarmigan Traverse is a 30+ mile, off-trail high route weaving between the glaciated peaks of the North Cascades of Washington, never straying far from the crest. The camp spots are spectacular. Most parties do the Ptarmigan Traverse in 5-7 days, most commonly in July or August, and usually from north to south. 

Peaks that may be climbed along the way include Mix-up Peak, Magic Mountain, "Hurry-up" (S Mountain), Mount Formidable, Spider Mountain, Le Conte Mountain, Sentinel Peak, Old Guard, The Lizard, German Helmet, Spire Point, Gunsight Peak, Dome Peak, and Sinister Peak.

My parents had first done the Ptarmigan Traverse in 1979; they had been married for 4 years and were 29 years old. At the time, there was hardly a path and the traverse required a fair bit of route-finding and cross-country travel. In 1996, they tried to take my sister Jenny and me (11 and 13, respectively) on the Ptarmigan Traverse (the initial plan had been Sahale Arm but we got busted by a ranger for not having permits and sent back to Cascade Pass; so the Ptarmigan Traverse with a fall-back because no permits were needed). But it proved to be too much for 11-year-old Jenny—the snow step at Cache Col that year was pretty steep, and she was a puddle of tears by the time she was at the col, calling it a "Death Hike" and convinced we would die trying to get back down. We spent the night at the col and hiked out the following day, my dad promising to take us to a Mariners game if we got out alive. In 2003, my sister now 18 and me 20 and my parents 53, we successfully completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 6 days, even climbing the East Face (4th-low 5th) of Spire Point along the way; this was one of the most memorable backpacking trips we did together as a family. By this time the route had become popular, and there was a path most of the way. In 2009, I did the Ptarmigan Traverse again with a friend from university, bagging few summits along the way; and in August 2020, Jenny ran the Ptarmigan Traverse in a single 16 hour and 4 minute push. Over the years since our 2003 trip, my parents had several times mentioned their desire to return to White Rock Lakes, a spectacular basin of lakes in the heart of the traverse, but they never executed the trip, and each year it seemed less likely it would happen. It was now 2023, and they were 73 years old (and Jenny 38 and me 40). They still yearned to go, but felt that their days of carrying heavy packs with overnight gear were over. So Jenny and I came up wtih an idea: we would do a five-day in and out backpacking trip on the northern half of the Ptarmigan Traverse, going as far as we could go, with Jenny and I carrying the overnight gear and our clients parents hiking with lighweight daypacks. This would be the first time the four of us had been together in five years (since Christmas 2018 in Sedona). So Jenny and I booked a week off work, I booked a plane flight to Seattle, our parents gathered up all of their gear, and the plan was set in action. A hot and dry summer had led to very icy conditions on the glaciers and even more rugged terrain on the Ptarmigan Traverse than usual, slowing us down enough that we had to stop just a couple of miles short of White Rock Lakes (we wished we had planned for one more night, and then we would have made it there!); but despite falling short we travelled through spectacular terrain and had gorgeous campsites. I was so impressed with my parents, and it was our most wonderful and memorable family trip to date. So much better than going to Disneyland.

(Why not just do the entire Ptarmigan Traverse in 5 days, rather than and in-and-out on the northern end? Well, here are a few reasons: (1) avoid the time-consuming car shuttle in a schedule already compromised by work commitments and flights, (2) avoid the Downy Creek exit, which was reportedly quite 'schwacky in 2023, and (3) we weren't sure what our pace would be. We played it safe. In retrospect it would have worked out just fine to commit to the through hike.... July 2024 anyone?)

The following page gives a map of the Ptarmigan Traverse and photos from my parents 1979 Ptarmigan Traverse, our 1996 Death Hike, our 2003 Ptarmigan Traverse as a family, and our 2023 family trip on the northern half of the Ptarmigan Traverse. The 2023 trip is quite the photo bomb, since all of us had cameras (me an actual camera and the rest iPhones) and as a team we took over 1200 photos.

Map of Ptarmigan Traverse

Click to enlarge. I created this map in August 2023. This map includes the "traditional" camps along the way (i.e. Kool-Aid Lake, Yang-Yang Lakes, White Rock Lakes, Itswoot Ridge), as well as other camp options, three of which we camped at on our 2023 family adventure.

Some scanned photos from family photo album

Ptarmigan Traverse     •     July 25-31, 1979

(Marty: 29; Sue: 29; Steph: nonexistent for 4 more years; Jenny: nonexistent for 6 more years)

Cache Glacier from Mixup Arm. Objective: Cache Col.
Camp 1 at Kool-Aid Lake.
Spider-Formidable Col, after ascending upper Middle Cascade Glacier.
Camp 2 at Yang-Yang Lakes, Le Conte Glacier in background.
Day 3: Traversing beneath LeConte.
On LeConte Glacier, Marty and Joanne.
On the LeConte Glacier, Barb and Scott; LeConte on left, Formidable on right.
Marty and Sue on summit of LeConte Mtn.
Taken from Lizard Pass.
Panoramic View. Perhaps from the summit of Old Guard or Sentinel.
Camp 3 at White Rock Lakes (2 nights).
Traversing Dana Glacier from White Rock Lakes to Spire Col (7760').
Bachelor Meadows.
Downey Creek, exit from Ptarmigan Traverse.

Some scanned photos from family photo album

"Death Hike"     •    August 6&7, 1996

(Marty: 46; Sue: 46; Steph: 13; Jenny: 11)

At Cascade Pass, getting ready for x-country.
Approaching Cache Col.
Steph on the steep snow near the top of Cache Col.
Camp at Kool-Aid Lake below Mt. Formidable.
Breakfast at camp before deciding to hike back out and try the Ptarmigan Traverse again when we were older.

Trip Report #1

Ptarmigan Traverse     •    July 29-August 3, 2003

(Marty: 53; Sue: 53; Steph: 20; Jenny: 18)


(written in 2006 when I put this trip on my website)

My Favoite Backpacking Trip.

I have done so many hikes I can't remember nearly half of them, but one I will never forget is the Ptarmigan Traverse of the North Cascades. This is a high alpine traverse involving daily glacier travel through rugged North Cascades majesty. In 2003, my family (dad, mom, sister, and I) did this beautiful 6-day hike. Below are some of my photos from our 2003 family adventure.

Above: Click on the photo to enlarge. This is a photo of the peaks of the Ptarmigan Traverse, from the summit of Forbidden Peak. Visible in the foreground is Mixup Peak and two important saddles to the left: Cache Col and Gunsight Notch. Next behind is Spider Mountain on the left, then the Middle Cascade Glacier and Mount Formidable. Finally on the distant left is Dome Peak with Glacier Peak far behind.


Photos from our 2003 family adventure on the Ptarmigan Traverse

On this trip I used a Canon PowerShot S30 that I had bought in 2002 with a $1000 scholarship I got for academic excellence upon my high school graduation. It was a high-end digital camera at the time and took some pretty nice photos, but it had only 3 MP and as of 2023 you can find one on ebay for $20.

The year 2003 was pre-website days (I started my website in 2006) so I had created a physical scrapbook for this trip. I put this trip on my website in 2006.

Cover page. The year 2003 was pre-website days, so I had created a scrapbook of this trip. 
Red columbine.
Sue at Cache Col.
Mountain goats in evening sun.
Marty and Sue silouette.
Looking back at Cascade Pass.
Camp at Kool-Aid Lake.
Deer in evening sun.
Big Dipper over tent.
Jenny ascending Cache Glacier,
Jenny at Kool-Aid Lake.
Mountain goats on hillside.
Marty ascending snow step to Cache Col.
Lots of mountain goats here.
Setting sun.
Filtering water at Kool-Aid Lake.
Marty and Jenny hiking.
Steph and crevasse.
Pink monkey flower.
Jenny approaching Middle Cascade Glacier.
Camp above Yang-Yang Lakes.
Sue traversing Red Ledge.
Putting on the crampons (probably the same pair from 1979!).
Traversing Red Ledge.
Middle Cascade Glacier.
South Cascade Glacier panorama.
Yellow monkey flowers.
Sky pilot.
Camp at White Rock Lakes.
On ridge.
Silky Phacelia and South Cascade Glacier.
Jenny and Le Conte Glacier.
Jenny at Lizard Pass.
Crux on Le Conte Glacier.
Marty sliding down snow below Lizard Pass.
White Rock Lakes.
Indian paintbrush.
Jenny suntanning.
Jenny driking a Squirt.
Sue brushing teeth.
Marty in tent.
Steph and Jenny sliding down a snowfield into the lake.
Jenny climbing on a cliff near camp.
Stream and glacier.
Lupine and view.
Dead marmot in the stream.
Steph climbing on a cliff near camp.
Shadow fun.
White Rock Lakes from the top of Lizard Mountain.
River beauty.
Marty belaying.
Shadow fun.
The spectacular view from White Rock Lakes. My mom, sisiter, and dad are all in this panorama.
Pink monkey flower.
The family napping at Spire Col.
Sunset at Itswoot Ridge.
River beauty.
My dad, Jenny, and I climbed the East Face (4th to low 5th) of Spire Point.
Sunset at Itswoot Ridge.
Traversing Dana Glacier.
Marty belaying on the East Face of Spire Point.
Sunset at Itswoot Ridge.
Jenny at Spire Col.
From inside tent on Itswoot Ridge.
A misty morning coffee.
Fireweed and 'schwacking out Bachelor Meadows.
Bird's beak lousewort.
'Schwacking out Bachelor Meadows.
Tiger lily.
Tiger lily.
Jennny ready to be donw with the long hike out through the trees.

Trip Report #2

Northern Half In-and-Out    •    August 3-7, 2023

(Marty: 73; Sue: 73; Steph: 40; Jenny: 38)


Photos from our 2023 family adventure ON THE NORTHERN HALF OF THE PTARMIGAN TRAVERSE

Day 0: Fly from Denver to Seattle, drive to Cascade Pass Trailhead, pack in morning

Airport office (my flight was delayed 2 hours so I got some computer work done).
Airport dinner. Actually quite tasty. But I would hope it would be for $19!
On I-5 in Jenny's van, driving towards the Cascade Pass Trailhead.
Morning packing fiesta at the Cascade Pass Trailhead.
Jenny and my packs weighed about 30-35 lbs and our parents packs weighed 15-20 lbs. Not bad for five days, considering we also all brought books, cameras, and good food! We have pretty lightweight gear (Hyperlight packs, ZPacks and Nemo tents, lighweight down sleeping bags, ultralight harnesses and glacier rope), which adds up to shave off the pounds.
A video I took as we drove to the Cascade Pass Trailhead late at night. The washboarding defintely kept us awake!
I have always been fascinated by the physics of washboarding. So I took the opportunity to do some Google research. Vehicle speed greatly contributes to washboarding; according to Stephen Morris, lead physicist for the University of Toronto study, “The hopping of the wheel over the ripples turns out to be mathematically similar to skipping a stone over water.” He explains that just as “a skipping stone needs to go above a specific speed in order to develop enough force to be thrown off the surface of the water,” vehicles need to be moving at a certain speed in order for washboarding to occur. Places where drivers routinely accelerate rapidly or break hard are also particularly prone to corrugation — so one way to reduce washboarding is to simply lower the speed limit. Protracted periods of dry weather can also lead to washboarding, as arid conditions cause the crust that forms on the surface of gravel roads to loosen and become more susceptible to reshaping by passing tires. Conversely, if a gravel road doesn’t have the appropriate crowned road profile, water won’t be able to drain properly. Water will then accumulate in depressions and ripples in the road, which will in turn be deepened by passing traffic. Reference:,to%20reshaping%20by%20passing%20tires.

Day 1: Cascade Pass Trailhead to Cache Glacier, hike past Kool-Aid Lake, hike past Red Ledges, camp just past Red Ledges

The four of us looking clean and bright eyed and bushy tailed at the start of our adventure.
Trail up to Cascade Pass. It is a pleasant 3.7 miles up to the pass.
Red columbine.
Cascade Pass. It was a Thursday, and pretty crowded.
The trail up to Cascade Pass is the only mellow stretch of the hike and the only stretch where one of us did not stay hiking with our parents. While we waited at the Pass, we started our 5-day logic puzzle fiesta. My logic puzzle was from a book of "impossible" cross sums, and I worked on this same one the entire trip!
Together again, hiking on a path leading above the Pass. This path would quickly get more rugged.
Evidence of mountain goats.
Marty crossing a snow patch.
Approaching the Cache Glacier. The route heads through Cache Col, the obvious col in the photo.
Cache Glacier. On previous trips there was no bare glacier ice.
It was like walknig on another planet.
The first of many crampon times of the trip.
Ascending the Cache Glacier.
Some cool ice crystals lining a crevasse.
Ascending the Cache Glacier.
Jenny at the top of the Cache Glacier (repeating her pose in the Lizard Pass photo from 2003).Photo credit: Sue.
Dirt between the top of the glacier and the col. This used to be a steep snow step (see the 1996 and 2003 photos).
A break at Cache Col.
Hiking on the south side of the col.
The monkey flowers were out en mass.
A black bear spotting.
Kool Aid Lake. This is a standard camp spot on the Ptarmigan Traverse (we had camped here in 2003), but we decided to go another hour to a camp with an even better view.
Red Ledges.
Red Ledges.
Hiking after Red Ledges.
Our camp spot. Spectacular.
Jenny relaxing at camp, surrounded by things to munch on.Photo credit: Marty.
Steph reading a book at camp.Photo credit: Marty.
A melange of flavors for dinner.
This rock looks very much like a partially squashed peanut butter and honey sandwich.
Collecting water near camp. Even on a dry year, there is no shortage of water in the North Cascades.
There are lots of pretty rocks in this area.
Evening sun.Photo credit: Jenny.
Saxifrage glowing in the evening light.
Heather glowing in the evening light.
Enjoying a spectacular sunset.
Enjoying a spectacular sunset.
Inside the tent, ready for bed after a good day of hiking.

Day 2: Hike up Middle Cascade Glacier, past Yang Yang Lakes, up to Camp at Le Conte Pass on north shoulder of Le Conte Mountain

Marty and Sue enjoying morning coffee with a view.
A pleasant morning.
Ice axes make great back-scratchers.
Beginning the approach towards Middle Cascade Glacier.
Toe of the Middle Cascade Glacier. We gained the glacier much higher than the toe.
Partridge Foot.Photo credit: Sue.
River Beauty.
Traversing the slope towards the Middle Cascade Glacier.Photo credit: Jenny.
Crampon time.
Where we gained the glacier.
Traversing Middle Cascade Glacier towards Spider-Formidable Col.Photo credit: Marty.
There are some giant crevasses on the Middle Cascade Glacier. Don't slip!
A view back while traversing the Middle Cascade Glacier.
A goat hanging out at the Spider-Formidable Col.
A goat hanging out at the Spider-Formidable Col.
A goat hanging out at the Spider-Formidable Col.
Spider-Formidable Col.Photo credit: Sue.
Old Guard and Sentinel acorss the valley. Although it is no longer on Le Conte, the glacier is called the Le Conte Glacier.
Descending a finger of snow on the south side of the Spider-Formidable Col.
Descending a finger of snow on the south side of the Spider-Formidable Col.Photo credit: Sue.
Goat poop constellations in the snow.
A nice campsite on the traverse between Spider-Formidable Col and Yang-Yang Lakes. We did not see any water nearby, but on a typical (less dry) year there would probably be flowing water nearby.
Descending towards Yang-Yang Lakes.Photo credit: Jenny.
Yang-Yang Lakes.Photo credit: Sue.
We took a nice midday break at Yang-Yang Lakes before heading upwards to Le Conte Pass.
Monkey flower.
Scrambling up the steep loose dirt slope to Le Conte Pass.Photo credit: Jenny.
Scrambling up the steep loose dirt slope to Le Conte Pass. I took this photo from further along the ridge.
On the ridge above the dirt slope.Photo credit: Sue.
Heading towards Le Conte Pass where we planned to camp for the night.
Heading towards Le Conte Pass where we planned to camp for the night.
Setting up camp at Le Conte Pass. Jenny and I were sleeping in a ZPacks Duplex Zip tent and my parents were sleeping in a Nemo Orient Elite tent. Jenny was reviewing these tents for her job.Photo credit: Sue.
Camp at Le Conte Pass.Photo credit: Sue.
Relaxing at camp.
Handy solar charger. I was enjoying using Jenny's Garmin watch on this trip. I want one!
Jenny filtering water out of a pool near camp. I didn't filter my water on this trip, as I am on a mission to discover giardia in our mountains.Photo credit: Sue.
Another melange of flavors for dinner.
A pretty tarn below camp.
Partridge Foot.
A tiny red bug on my MSR Dromedary.
Evening at camp.
We had accidentally brought only one set of stakes on the trip (despite their high price tag, ZPack tents strangely don't come with the necessary stakes), but ice axes make great tent stakes.
Marty and Sue enjoying sunset.
Enjoying a beautiful sunset from camp.Photo credit: Sue.
Sunset panorama.Photo credit: Jenny.
The colors were quite vibrant, due to some smoke in the air from forest fires to the north. (The smoke—which caused the following day to be quite hazy—was from the Sourdough Fire burning above Diablo Lake, which had started on July 29 and had yet to be contained by the end of our trip.)Photo credit: Jenny.

Day 3: Day hike to "Le Conte Boulder", summit Le Conte Mountain, move camp to Yang Yang Lakes

Morning coffee.
Marty enjoying coffee with a view. As you can tell in the photos from this day, it was a bit hazy due to smoke from the Sourdough Fire burning above Diablo Lake, which had started on July 29 and had yet to be contained by the end of our trip.Photo credit: Sue.
Birds Beak Lousewort.
Getting ready to start hiking. Le Conte Mountain is in the distance.Photo credit: Sue.
Ptarmigan on the Ptarmigan Traverse.
I want this for a granite countertop.
Hiking along.
Hiking along, the Le Conte Glacier looming in the distance. The Le Conte Glacier is actually on Old Guard and Sentinel Peaks, but it used to extend all the way to Le Conte Mountain.
Meltstreams on a piace of glacier under Le Conte Mountain. This piece of glacier was originally part of the Le Conte Glacier in the distance, but melting has separated them.
Meltstreams on a piace of glacier. This piece of glacier was originally part of the Le Conte Glacier in the distance, but melting has separated them.
Descending snow.Photo credit: Jenny.
River beauty in foreground, parents and sister in background.
Hiking along, the Le Conte Glacier looming in the distance.Photo credit: Jenny.
Marty putting on crampons. Again.
Traversing a rocky slope. This used to be covered in the Le Conte Glacier.
On top of our "out" point of our out-and-back trip. We called this the "Le Conte Boulder."
Marty and Sue on top of the Le Conte Boulder, the "out" point of our out and back trip.Photo credit: Jenny.
An ice axe makes for a good coffee stir stick. Who knew.
Steph and Jenny on top of the Le Conte Boulder, the "out" point of our out and back trip.Photo credit: Sue.
Hanging out on top of the Le Conte Boulder.Photo credit: Sue.
Good ol raisins and peanuts. And m&ms, almonds, and cranberries. GORPMAC.
Location of our "out" point of our out-and-back trip.
View of the Le Conte Glacier from Le Conte Boulder. There is a section of steep bare glacier ice we would have had to navigate. I am guessing it would have been pretty grippy due to the warm temperatures.Photo credit: Jenny.
On the way back.Photo credit: Jenny.
Crampons on. Or off. Again.Photo credit: Jenny.
Collecting water out of a meltstream.
I summited Le Conte Mountain on the hike back to camp. I took a shortcut directly up the ice.
Ascending the north side of Le Conte Mountain. The way I went was mostly third class with a few fourth class moves (probably avoidable).
The summit of Le Conte Mountain. I headed directly up the 3rd class ridge in front of me.
There was a swarm of flying ants on the summit cairn.
View from the top of Le Conte Mountain, looking down at the South Cascade Glacier. 
The South Cascade Glacier is one of the four "benchmark glaciers" that is monitored by the USGS and its mass balance has been monitored since 1959. Its area has declined from 2.71 km2 in 1958 to 1.8 km2 in 2015 representing an area loss of 34%. Between 1958 and 2009 South Cascade Glacier lost nearly a half of its volume. Reference.
Yep, I am on top.
View of the north side of Le Conte Mountain from our camp at Le Conte Pass. My line of ascent went left of the snowfield and then up and right to the summit.
Sue collecting water. In the Cascades, water abounds.Photo credit: Jenny.
While I was climbing Le Conte, my parents and sister discovered an old motor. I wonder what this could have been from? (*)Photo credit: Sue.
Zoomed in on the motor. Motor type AG. Braislford & Co, Inc.Photo credit: Sue.
Nearing our camp at Le Conte Pass.Photo credit: Jenny.
When we got back to camp, we had time left in the day, so we decided to move camp down to Yang Yang Lakes. This dirt gully is a shortcut, but it looked pretty heinous, so we opted out of it and took the standard longer way on the ridge and down the dirt ridge.
On the ridge between Le Conte Saddle and the dirt ridge leading down to Yang-Yang Lakes.
(*) My dad had a short chat with ChatGPT about the device we found by Le Conte. Here are some excerpts of its response:Marty: We were hiking through the Cascade Mountains in Washington State and found an old instrument of some sort that was made by Brailsford & Co. in Milton Point, Rye, N.Y.Chat: It sounds like you've stumbled upon a piece of history! Brailsford & Co. was a company that manufactured various instruments, likely including scientific or navigational instruments, based on the information you provided.Marty: The label says it is a Motor Type AG and one of the patent numbers is 2457637. Does that help you identify the purpose of the device?Chat: The patent number you provided, 2457637, is associated with a patent titled "Motor Control Apparatus" granted to Karl S. Smith of Scarsdale, New York, on December 28, 1948. The patent relates to an invention for a motor control apparatus that is used for starting and stopping an electric motor. It provides various control features and mechanisms to ensure smooth operation of the motor. Given that your instrument is labeled as "Motor Type AG" and features this patent number, it is likely that the device is related to motor control in some way. It might have been used to regulate or control the operation of an electric motor, possibly in industrial or scientific applications. However, without more specific information or visual details about the instrument itself, it's challenging to provide a precise identification of its purpose or function. To gain a better understanding, you might want to consult historical documents, engineering references, or experts familiar with vintage instruments and motor control devices.
Another party ascending the steep dirt ridge. They were doing the Ptarmigan Traverse in two days and had plans to camp at White Rock Lakes for the night.
My mom taking a photo of me at the top of the dirt slope. Photo credit: Jenny.
The aforementioned photo.Photo credit: Sue.
Marty descending the steep dirt ridge leading down to Yang-Yang Lakes.Photo credit: Jenny.
Sue descending the steep dirt ridge leading down to Yang-Yang Lakes.
Lush Alpine Lady Fern near the shoreline of Yang-Yang Lakes.
Cute moth.
Yellow monkey flower.
Mud cracks.
Injury count: (1) Jenny scraped herself on a loose boulder in the boulder field just above Le Conte Pass, 
(2) My dad took a face plant when a piece of rock skidded out from beneath his feet, 
(3) My mom developed a crack in her foot, ... (4) Steph ironically made it through the trip unscathed apart from some jaw pain from expired jerkey.
Camp at Yang-Yang Lakes. This was the same location my parents had camped at in 1979. (See comparison photo later on this page.)
Camp at Yang-Yang Lakes.
Camp at Yang-Yang Lakes.
Who or what is that?Photo credit: Jenny.
It's Sue!Photo credit: Jenny.
Oatmeal and raisins for dinner for me. I prefer oatmeal over over-priced and over-whelming freeze-dried meals any day.

Day 4: Traverse back across Middle Cascade Glacier, past Red Ledges, past Kool Aid Lake, Camp at Cache Col

A muted morning sun. This day was also still hazy due to smoke from the Sourdough Fire burning above Diablo Lake, which had started on July 29 and had yet to be contained by the end of our trip.
Drink up.Photo credit: Jenny.
Traversing between Yang-Yang Lakes and Spider-Formidable Col.Photo credit: Jenny.
Traversing between Yang-Yang Lakes and Spider-Formidable Col.Photo credit: Jenny.
Evidence of an avalanche path.
There are more goats than people out here.
Fringed grass of Parnassus.
Paintbrush of some sort.
I punched through a snowbridge.
A healthy mountain goat.
Ascending snow towards the Spider-Formidable Col.
Snow finger leading towards the Spider-Formidable Col.
Nearing the Spider-Formidable Col.
Nearing the Spider-Formidable Col.
On the Middle Cascade Glacier just north of the Spider-Formidable Col.
Beginning the traverse of the Middle Cascade Glacier.
Once this snowbridge is gone, navigating this section of glacier will be tricky.
Crampons off. Again.
Descending ledgy boulder-strewn granite.Photo credit: Jenny.
A vibrant Indian Paintbrush.
Alpine sorrell.
Toe of the Middle Cascade Glacier.
Glacier striations.
Jenny had forgotten to bring a knife to cut her cheese. No worries, an ice axe is a great multitool.Photo credit: Sue.
My mom still uses her Chouinard ice axe, the same one she had on the 1979 trip.Photo credit: Jenny.
Red Ledges.
Descending Red Ledges.
Last trip for these pants.
Hiking behind the snowpatch after the Red Ledges.
Monkey flower.
The Monkey flowers were out en mass.Photo credit: Sue.
Gentian.Photo credit: Sue.
Approaching Kool-Aid Lake. We decided to continue onward and camp at Cache Col, to shorten the hike out the next day.Photo credit: Jenny.
Cache Col.
Almost there!Photo credit: Jenny.
Our camp at Cache Col. We had camped here on the "Death Hike" of 1996.
Our camp was actually on the shoulder of Magic Mountain just above Cache Col. 
There is no water at the col (besides melting snow), so we filled up at Kool Aid Lake. I hauled 7.5 liters (16.5 lbs) of water up.
It only took me four days to complete this puzzle.

Day 5: Descend Cache Glacier, hike to Cascade Pass Trailhead

Overnight it began to rain. This was the only rain we had the entire trip.
Morning. It had stopped raining and there were some beautiful valley clouds. We were hiking by 6:30am, since I had to catch a flight out of Seattle that evening, and we wanted time to go to a cafe for lunch. 
Cool cloud over Sahale Mountain.
All I had left at this point was expired venison jerkey. A great jaw workout. 
Putting on campons at Cache Col.
Descending the rubble to the top of the Cache Glacier.
Descending the rubble to the top of the Cache Glacier.
Beginning the descent of the Cache Glaceir.Photo credit: Marty.
Descending the Cache Glacier.
The lower half of the glacier was bare glacier ice. The angle is not incredibly steep, and on the way up the ice had been quite grippy, so it had been an easy ascent. But now the rain had frozen into a layer of slick ice. We spent some time wandering aroudn looking for the best/safest way down. A leisurly lunch at the cafe was in jeopardy.
Eventually, we decided the safest tact was to belay our parents down (we had a 30m glacier rope and two lightweight harnesses). We established a body weight anchor in a shallow crevasse.
Sue being lowered down the icy stretch of glacier ice.
Marty being lowered down the icy stretch of glacier ice.
View from inside the crevasse while belaying. (After Jenny belayed my parents down, I took over belaying and belayed her and my pack down, and then I soloed down the ice packless.)
Munter hitch.
The belay location. We were grateful to have this shallow crevasse since it provided a perfect (albeit chilly) location for a body-weight anchor.
The belay location. We were grateful to have this shallow crevasse since it provided a perfect (albeit chilly) location for a body-weight anchor.
Below the section we belayed, on more mellow terrain again.
The rocky moonscape of the lower Cache Glacier.
A moulin (or glacier mill) is a roughly circular, vertical well-like shaft formed where a surface meltstream exploits a weakness in the ice. Photo credit: Sue.
The final snowslope.Photo credit: Jenny.
Glacier travel done!Photo credit: Sue.
Someone dropped a package of chocolate-covered raisins.
Traversing a dirt slope between Cache Glacier and Cascade Pass. I wonder what this slope was like in 1979 before there was a bootpath. It is pretty sketchy even with the path.
Wild huckleberries are starting to appear.
Cascade Pass.
When we got back to the cars, my parents' Subaru wouldn't start. But then we found a friendly hiker with jumper cables and were on our way again.
We had 20 minutes to spare to get me to the airport in Seattle for my flight back to Denver, so we stopped at Birdsview Diner in Concrete for a quick lunch.
Fresh food always tastes great after five days of freeze-dried dinners.

Photo Comparisons 1979 to 2023

Over the years I have enjoyed making photo comapisons of my photos and my parents' photos to observe how the mountains (the glaciers in particular) have changed in the last 30-40+ years. Photo evidence points towards a fair bit of glacier recession and quite a bit less snow in the mountains then there was half a century previous. Even the change within my years of mountaineering has been significant.

1979 and 2023Cache Glacier. The Ptarmigan Traverse is now an early summer route.
1979 and 2007Cache Glacier.
1979 and 2023Kool Aid Lake, Mt. Formidable behind.
1979 and 2009Mt. Formidable.
1979 and 2023Spider-Formidable Col.
1979 and 2007Le Conte Glacier.
1979 and 2023Yang-Yang Lakes. No trail in 1979.
1979 and 2023Le Conte Glcier.
1979 and 2009Le Conte Glacier.
1979 and 2003Le Conte Glacier.
1979, 2003, and 2009.Lizard Pass.
1979, 2003, and 2009Dome Peak.

previous and next adventures

(July/August 2003)
(August 2023)