Dodgy Weather

6-8 Jun 2009 - by Steve Eckert

Daryn is closing in on finishing the SPS list, and the schedule can NOT slip! Well, maybe one day. We fretted over the bad weather forecast. Sonora Pass closed due to snow. We waited one day after our scheduled start and headed up in spite of "dodgy" weather in the forecast.

It wasn't bad for most of the backpack in. We had some trouble following the trail around the eastern end of Agnew Lake, where there are campsites everywhere and use trails that seem better than the "real" trail. Then the endless (but well graded) switchbacks up a talus field, increasingly buried in snow as we climbed toward Spooky Meadow. Didn't look very spooky to us. It looked great, because it was green instead of rock.

Between there and Agnew Pass, the trail basically disappeared under the snow. Some of that snow was FRESH, falling harmlessly and not sticking to anything. But we did wonder if we were walking into a trap. We wandered around just a bit, trying to find the trail just west of the largest Clark Lake, and Daryn got us back onto the trail just as it intersected the PCT northwest of Badger Lakes. Much better. Tall trees and only patchy snow as we climbed toward Thousand Island Lake.

As soon as the trail flattened out, the sun-cupped snow was nearly continuous again. Not a huge problem, but frustrating because the snow had warmed enough to punch through occasionally. We chose a campsite out of the prohibited zone around 1000-Island's outlet, and barely finished an early dinner when the snow got wetter and heavier. In the tent we weren't sure if it was rain or sleet, but we drifted off before dark and in the morning there were frozen droplets covering the tent.

Birds. There were lots of birds. Cheery birds, even when it was raining or snowing. Birds that functioned as Daryn's alarm clock. Birds that got us up before 5am. Birds that made the trip work!

When we got up there were low clouds hanging over the peaks and fog on the lake. Fortunately we had climbed up a bit to stay out of the damp/cold by the lake. By the time we left camp (around 6am) the clouds were gone and it was pure blue sky! The snow was much easier to walk on now that it was frozen hard, but it's still over a mile around 1000-Island. That's a lot of suncups. Then it's another mile up to the pass overlooking Lake Catherine. The slope up to the pass was just like winter, with 4-5 inches of fresh snow over a hard base. Very white, but solid underneath so we were glad we didn't carry snowshoes.

We dropped to Lake Catherine even though there was some open water near the outlet. We managed to cross most of the lake before hitting waterlogged snow (over the ice pack, but still a reason to detour). Climbing over the toe of a ridge we intersected the glacier leading to the Ritter-Banner saddle... and almost entirely on snow we cramponed our way on up to the summit. This part WAS tedious. No talus or boulders like in the summer, but occasional soft spots and thick enough fresh snow to make crampons skid just a bit on the hard layer.

Daryn on the second-highest knob of Banner, with the Minarets and Ritter in the background:

On Banner before noon, we worried about the growing clouds and whether I could keep up with Daryn as he dashed over to Davis. Well, I like going down and a steep glissade (after a lot of plunge-stepping in crampons for the part with dangerous run-out) revived me. We went around the west side of Catherine, crossing the outlet on a snowdrift that was dozens of feet deep. Then it's a long bowl climb to the final ridge-rock-hop on Mt Davis. Only a little over 3 hours from Banner to Davis! But the clouds were now totally obscuring Banner and there were rain squalls to the east. We barely got down before the clouds ate Davis also.

Back at the Catherine saddle a few minutes before 5pm, there was no longer any blue sky. We hustled. We thanked the birds for getting us up early. We broke through the suncups quite a bit, and my Gore-Tex boots gave up the fight to be waterproof. A light drizzle started before we reached the lake, and while it was worth putting on rain gear it wasn't a hard enough rain to bother us. Right as we reached the tent, 12.5 hours from when we left it, the rain picked up seriously and we dove into the tent without dinner. Somewhere around 830pm we noticed it stopped raining and got out to cook. (No cooking in the tent, since we had seen a fresh bear print in the mud and there were candy wrappers wadded together in the shape of bear scat.)

Did I mention there were lots of birds? I wanted to sleep in the next morning, but they didn't let us. Good thing, too. We started off under partly cloudy skies, and reached the cars about 10 minutes before the rain and then thunder started. We got the peaks, we never got soaked, and we owe it all to the birds. Or maybe to Daryn pushing the pace?

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