2688ft gain 5.63 miles. The night gone, we wake up to clear skies! Awesome! Our wishes granted, we set around waiting for the sun to peak over the ridge line behind us, and watch as the sun begins to bathe the western ridge line with the morning rays, gradually creeping down slope to reach the shores of Opal Lake. As we’re sitting here, having our cup of joe, and whatever morsels we brought for breakfast, suddenly, we hear “CRAA-AA-AACK! CRAA-AAACK! CRAA-A-AACK!!!” As if a monstrous creature was making its way across the snowfields behind us. We both stand up, and start scanning the shoreline for what could possibly be making all that noise, certain it was something huge and fur covered…”CRAACK! CRAA-AACK!” Is it getting closer? I can’t see it, and Greg and I look at each other, puzzled, because we can’t see what is making the noise, until it dawns on us.
As the sun finally reaches the frozen shoreline of the lake, it’s the ice, cracking under the intensity of the morning sun. Relieved to know that nothing was coming to thrash us about, we set back down and finish our coffee and breakfast to the sound of splitting snow and ice. We pack light, carrying only what we will need to peak bag Mt. Hinman, and set our course for the gully between La Bohn Peak, and the eastern granite face. The ground to cover between our lakeshore camp and the gap is completely covered in snow, which covers the huge boulders that form the talus field that has tumbled from the granite cliffs above. The sun has not reached this part of the valley yet, so the snow is consolidated, but we still are cautious around the broken granite boulders that poke up above the snow, littered with the broken remains of trees blown down, and we can hear water rushing under the snow in places, as it courses everywhere here at the end of the valley.
Within .6 miles, we’ve reached the bottom of the gulley, and the snow that fills the gap. “Whattya think, should we continue up? It doesn’t look too bad…” We decide to go, and begin kick stepping our way up the snow wall. The further up we go, the steeper it gets, and as we reach the bottom edge of an outcropping of granite here in the upper middle of the snow field, like a rock island, we decide to pause for a rest, and take pictures of the ever expanding horizon.
Large waterfalls with many threads wind their way around the granite outcroppings on the cliffs around us, as if the mountains here were a giant ice cream cone, melting in the sun, creating rivulets that cannot find their way fast enough to the ground below. In the distance, to the north, away from our perch here, we can see the prominent peaks of Silver Eagle, Screeching Eagle, and Bald Eagle, the last being the most interesting, as it forms an almost perfect triangular peak piercing the sky.
Rested, and ready to tackle the kick stepping again, we venture out onto the snow once more, and it’s not long before we really realize just how steep this is. I get out my inclinometer, and measure the slope here, where I still dared to take a hand off my trekking pole, and find that I’m on a 43 degree slope. Ahead, I can see it’s steeper still, and as we get closer to the fracture that runs across the entire top portion of the field ahead of us, we decide to angle across from the east side, below the granite cliffs across to the west side, to reach the crack. I notice it’s getting harder and harder to kick steps in, as the snow is firmer, not getting much sun, closer to ice now than snow, and it takes quite a bit of work to get to “the crack”…
“Can’t let the thought of, “What if we slip?” enter my already doubt riddled mind…”
I reach it, and look into it, and it appears to be filled in with snow, but a test step reveals that it gives easily, causing me a bit of consternation. Will it hold my weight? Not really wanting to chance it, I decide instead to kick in a step/platform to stand on in the downward edge of the fracture. With this platform, I can now step up and across the 2 foot gap. I notice my heart is racing now from the exertion, and from being a little nervous. Can’t let the thought of, “What if we slip?” enter my already doubt riddled mind.
Once across “Le Crack” (since we couldn’t remember the proper terminology for what a large fracture in a snow field is called, we came up with “Le Crack” it seemed good enough at the time), I was able to breathe easier, until I finally looked back to see Greg safely across the gap, and I took a picture, hoping to convey just how steep it is here. Once home, I measured the distance as best I could with our GPS and map contour lines.
“…it’s like a mountain cathedral up here!!!”
It seems this ravine is about 500ft tall, and the distance covered is .13 miles, or 686 feet, if I did the math right…That should help give you an idea of just how steep it was, being steeper towards the top near the fissure, as that is what in French “crack” means…I looked it up…Finally reaching the end of the gulley, it starts to flatten out and we are treated to breath taking views, it’s like a mountain cathedral up here!!! Jagged peaks fill the horizon in 3 directions, and the way north, towards our little camp on the lakeshore, is the only wide open view of skyline, and the clear blue skies allow you to see into the far distance. It’s breathtaking to be here, so beautiful.
Looking south from this vantage point on the flats above La Bohn lakes, we can see a ridgeline that follows from the Hinman glacier above us to the shoulder of Bears Breast Mountain, steepled in granite spires too vertical to hold much snow or ice, instead it lies in large bunches at the run outs of the spires. Allowing your gaze to wander from the impressive peaks of Bears Breast, you turn southwest, and see the many named peaks that make up Summit Chief, another massive collection of chimneys, spires and broken granite that juts into the sky with all the pride of an ancient warriors jaw line.
“…Could one of these set of mystery prints be the guy we saw last night?”
And, further southwest of Summit Chief, we can make out Chimney Rock, and it’s attendant peaks, also with massive snow fields at their bases, making us think that perhaps we have wandered into some higher reaches of the Himalayas…Wow and Wow…Seem to be all the words that Greg and I can muster as we take in the sights to the south of us. Time to move on, if we want to reach Mt. Hinman, so we continue towards La Bohn lakes, and happen across two sets of footprints in the snow. Could one of these set of mystery prints be the guy we saw last night? They still seem pretty fresh, you can actually make out treads in the snow, the sun has not yet melted them out, blending them into the sun cups that dot the snowy landscape here.
We notice that they are coming from the direction that we have chosen to go, to reach the summit, so we follow them, and are now above the incredible ice blue waters of La Bohn Lakes. The first one we come to, we cannot believe the color of blue, it’s like looking at the deep ice of a massive glacier, the blue that only thick glacial ice can have, yet it’s in liquid form. Very eye catching. The biggest of the lakes, is still covered in ice, except for a narrow band of this same ice blue waters around its edges delineating its borders from the white snow that still covers everything here.
“…as the footprints in the snow urge us on, leading us across massive snow fields…”
The footprints continue upward, and we climb another steep section to gain another ridge line, this one runs north to a peak that sits atop the sheer granite walls that lead to Cloudy Lake below, called Moonstone Mt. However, we still have a ways to go, as the footprints in the snow urge us on, leading us across massive snow fields. At some point we realize that we must be on the upper reaches of the Hinman Glacier, yet it’s impossible to tell, for there is no break in the snow to give us clues as to our whereabouts, only the peaks of false summits are bare, more piled granite boulders than anything, the dark colors helping to melt out the snow that once covered them.
“…but here they are one step away from getting really scuffed up on the ride down…”
Finally, we see a ridge line of stacked and shattered granite, piled high above us. Surely, this must be the summit! We clamber up onto it, only to see that once more, it’s not. But, from here, it appears that it is in reach, as the highpoint is now easy to see. We clamber back down off of this teetering pile of loose rock, carefully, for it seems as if every step dislodges a flat boulder. In one’s yard back home, these flat rocks would be great stepping stones, but here they are one step away from getting really scuffed up on the ride down…Back on the glacier, we make the summit, and put our rock in the cairn at the top. We look for the register that we thought was here, but could not find it to sign our names to.
A bit of a disappointment, but all the same we feel the sense of accomplishment. Mt. Hinman is more a ridge line with these heaps of broken granite shards piled up to a point, than a real pinnacle. In fact, it seems that there might be two summits; it’s hard to look at the GPS or maps to really see which is the tallest. To us, it seems we are on the highpoint, but it’s hard to tell… North, the ice covered Glacier Peak glints in the sun, and further west is Mt. Baker, and miles and miles of distant peaks and mountains still covered in snow. Looking south again, we can see beyond Bears Breast to iconic Mt. Rainier, and further still, Mt. Adams is visible.
“…it reminds me of crossing the desert, your feet sink in with every step, no water in sight, and the hot sun overhead beating down…”
It seems that we are on the highest point from here to distant volcanoes, and it is truly an inspiring view. We bask in the sun here while we take a quick lunch break before retracing our steps. As we sit here, we wonder at all the names of the valleys, lakes, peaks and mountains that stretch out as far as the eye can see, in any direction, almost as if we were passengers on an airplane. It’s 2:30, time to head for camp, so we retrace our steps without incident across the large rolling and sometimes steep snow fields back to La Bohn Lakes, baking in the full on sun, it reminds me of crossing the desert, your feet sink in with every step, no water in sight, and the hot sun overhead beating down.
The only reminder of course, is the ice cold slap of snow as it’s turned up by our trudging…A few steep sections later, we’re at the La Bohn lakes flats, where we take a quick breather, then head down the depression towards the way down through the gap. During our trudge back to the lakes, especially as we were heading down some of the steeper sections, I was thinking about this return trip down, and hoping that the afternoon sun would have softened the snow some, making it easier to plunge step down, as it had for the return trip so far.
“…No sooner had the words left his mouth, when I hear him yell, “Dave! Look out!” then a sound like a cheese grater being drug over a solid block of ice, “Shrrrrrch!”
Now we stand on the edge looking down, and as the slope disappears over the edge below us, we’re struck as to just how steep this is…I nervously go first, plunging my heels as hard as possible into the snows crust, and as I approach “Le Crack”, I’m not seeing that the snow is getting any softer…It’s just about as hard as this morning, and that does not allay my fears any. In fact, by the time I reach the fissure, and step down onto it, I turn to Greg, and say, “Boy, that’s pretty scary”, to which he replies, “Yeah, and it’s not over yet”, then…It happens. No sooner had the words left his mouth, when I hear him yell, “Dave! Look out!” then a sound like a cheese grater being drug over a solid block of ice, “Shrrrrrch!” and I see Greg go hurtling downhill, skip right over the crack, and continue headlong in a flurry of snow!
“…trying to keep the frantic out of my voice, mouth almost too dry to speak, watching my friend hurtle towards certain destruction…”
Time slows down in moments like these, and my heart surely stopped for a few seconds, he was going too fast! He rolled over, to attempt self arrest, but by then his trekking poles were now already littering the slope, and like a cat, he was clawing at the slope with hands and feet trying to slow his rapid descent. It wasn’t working, and then he rolled over onto his butt again, and as he did, he really picked up speed again. I started yelling, helplessly, for it was the only thing I could do…”Self arrest! Self arrest!” trying to keep the frantic out of my voice, mouth almost too dry to speak, watching my friend hurtle towards certain destruction.
I had plenty of time to think a thousand thoughts, about what to do when he lay broken on the rocks below, what we were going to tell our families, and plenty more that I’m thankful I’ve forgotten about by now…Heels dug in, he was now within 20 feet of the jagged granite island that we had stopped to rest at on the way up, and I held my breath. He hit the end of the snow, lurched forward, and for a moment I thought he was going to continue right on over in a head over heels tumble, but he bear hugged the large granite boulder and came to a halt. I’m still holding my breath at this time, waiting for interminable seconds before he stands up, and gives me the all clear wave…Breath rushes from my lungs, and I think, “Thank God!” He’s ok! A feeling of total relief washes over me, until I remember I’ve still got to get down…
“Stop it!” my mind is screaming at me, and I have to talk myself through the first few steps…”
Adrenaline is now pumping through my veins, and I’m having a hard time keeping my knees from knocking, but I know that I’ve got to start moving. I take that first plunge step, too tentatively, and almost lose my footing. “Stop it!” my mind is screaming at me, and I have to talk myself through the first few steps, until I’ve convinced myself once again that I can do this…I head for Greg’s poles and bear spray, another piece of his gear that bailed on his wild ride downhill, and I hear him yell at me, “don’t worry about the poles!”, but I have to get them. All I can think is, “We’re only partially down, we’ve still got a ways to go, and he is going to need those…” “No problem, I’ll get them,” I reply, and make my way carefully down to the first pole, keeping away from his slide mark.
I reach the first pole easily, as it’s not far away, grab it, and toss it down hill towards him, then get to the next one. It’s across his slide area, and I try one step in that direction, and realize that’s not a good idea, the little snow that was soft has been plowed away, leaving ice underneath. I lean over as far as possible, hook its loop in the end of my pole and fling it downhill again towards Greg. I repeat the process with the bear spray, and then, thankfully, reach the rocks, where all I can do is collapse to a boulder, and sit with my head in my hands, shaking.
That was truly the most afraid I’ve ever been in the backcountry. Period. I told Greg so, and we sat there, laughing and exchanging what was going through our minds in those terrifying 20 seconds or so…He assured me he was fine, only missing a little skin on his arm, and his shoulder was a little sore, but other than that, no worse for the wear. Amazing, for surely, it could have been much worse…Much, much, worse. Every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing it, in vivid detail.
“…It was only then, as we were sitting at camp, did we allow ourselves to think about the worst that could have happened…”
Twenty minutes later, we gather ourselves to continue our downward descent. Greg decides to go as far as possible over the rocks, and I tell him, “I got to get back on the horse right now, or I may never be able to,” and climb back onto the slope. Those first few were not fun, and again, I had to talk to myself to get going, but, eventually, Greg and I reached the bottom of the steeps, and made our way safely back to camp, still shaken from what had just happened. And, our tents were still intact! That would have been icing on the cake, if we had returned to nothing but tatters. Seems the bear either wasn’t in the area, or he had no taste for nylon today…It was only then, as we were sitting at camp, did we allow ourselves to think about the worst that could have happened. We were thinking that if Greg had been seriously hurt, I would have had to get help, and then we started imagining how it would have gone…I can see the ranger now, being interviewed by the media, with the sounds of a helicopter in the background, shaking his head with a truly disgusted look on his face, “yeah, we tried to warn these two clowns, and they wouldn’t listen. Now, we’ve got to go rescue them…”Man, I’m soooo glad we dodged that bullet…
“…Other than me yelling, it was the only noise to the whole episode, but one all the same I will never forget…”
We make our dinner, tonight Greg is the camp chef, and he makes an awesome meal, one that we have to add to our list of recipes, for sure. It’s Cheesy Bacospuds, and Alpine Pasta, recipes that he gleaned fromWildBackpacker.com, their dinner recipes, and finely tuned for two. Again, awesome job, Greg-O, truly a backcountry feast! Sleep was fitful at first, as every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing Greg flying downhill, with the noise that every skier hates, that “scruch, scruch!” of snow flying off of ice. Other than me yelling, it was the only noise to the whole episode, but one all the same I will never forget…