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the unexpected | mt logan via banded glacier

35 mi . 13000 ft gain . 9090 ft high

A journey. A destination. A will and a way. A yearning for adventure into the unknown and encountering the unexpected.

Day 0

I had just come back from a well spent weekend with well worn down legs. Mesahchie was honestly one of the most fun mountain experiences I’ve had in a while. But also one of the most tiring experiences, having done more vertical gain in a weekend than I’ve ever done. I had clocked in a personal high of 7500 feet gain in a day. I thought for sure I would take a break.

But here we are in a story where you may have foreshadowed a very different reality. While climbing Mesahchie, we got incredible views of the surround North Cascade mountains, including some I’ve done like Black Peak and Eldorado. But one of the massive mountains in front of us was Mt Logan. A giant. I thought very little of it and only enjoyed the views.

Fisher Creek Trail looking at Mesahchie

Well, little did I know my friends Steve and Cameron wanted to climb it pretty soon after my last visit to the North Cascades. I had little intentions of wanting to join, not knowing how difficult it was and being a slower hiker in general too. But I offered my pictures for a recent reconnaissance of the snow pack and was honestly curious to know what the climb entailed, were I to do it in the future. And somehow, my inquisition led to an invitation to join the climb. Indecisive as I was, I petered back and forth, questioning my physical and mental capability to journey what would be an even bigger 2 day trip than the one I just finished. Not only would the mileage and gain be longer, I’d also have to carry more than a day pack.

However, the weather was peach perfect and my desire to be in the mountains was strong enough that I simply could not turn down such offer. And in any case, I could always stay behind at camp to lessen the trip for me. And if I had enough energy, then I’d continue and push my way higher. Logan is known for its incredible and unrivaled views of the North Cascades. It’s uniquely situated for views of the Boston Glacier, Inspiration Glacier, the highly renowned Picket range, and even further mountains like Koma Kulshan and Dakobed. But for such views, the mountain is situated deep into the park, far from any road. That’s probably why most (maybe all) of my other mountaineering friends have not summited it. It’s a long walk to a climb.

Katsuk, Mesahchie and Easy Pass (right saddle) from above camp

Supposedly, the most common way is the Fremont Glacier via Thunder Creek, but we opted to go up the Banded Glacier and over Easy Pass. It’d be a shorter hike but had more elevation gain on the second day. I truly did not mind going to Easy Pass again (it’s also the same approach to Mesahchie) because it is that beautiful. Thunder Creek, on the other hand seemed more like a long forest walk without the wildflower meadows. Nah, we’ll take the scenic route. And again, like on Mesahchie, I tried to not think too much about the mileage and gain. There’s a time to know where you are and a time to just keep moving. Steve claimed that this would be a chill trip, so if it’s chill for him, then probably it wouldn’t be extreme effort for me. I was ready!

Day 1

We had a leisurely late start for the hike to camp. The hike up to Easy Pass was just as I remembered, but with a bit less snow than last time. It felt fairly breezy, although I wouldn’t necessarily say it was easy for the pace we went. But easy enough. Cause then it’d be downhill from there for quite a ways. And to be more efficient, I didn’t have my camera hanging outside and kept it in my pack until the downhill. Anyway, the best views were on the other side, with the gorgeous valley and carpet of wildflowers.

Double photographer on Easy Pass

I was super excited to see the flowers in more daylight too! Last time it was a bit cloudy and rain was starting to roll in. And this time, I played catch up to Cameron, stopping for pictures and then downhill running to keep up. And I was able to take a picture of the Elephant’s Head flower, one I’ve never seen before in person and it was on one small section of a switchback. It’s such an intriguing flower!

I happily skipped downhill, ignoring the fact we’d have to regain some to camp. We crossed the meadow and a couple bands of trees until we were fully in the forest of the valley floor. It was truly a long hike in after the meadows because we kept checking our location and it hardly seemed closer. Finally, we passed Cosho camp to find the river crossing. To our surprise, the log bridge was broken in half. The opposite side was attached to the river bank, but the other was completely missing. Thank goodness for a balancing log further downstream to cross!

Bridge?

Soon after, we found a faint climber’s path that headed south on the ridge to the lower lake. I remembered my first climber’s trail with an overnight pack going up Eldorado, and that was one of the least pleasant experiences. I was glad to be more fit now and the uphill wasn’t quite as strenuous. Even the short scrambles were fun. But most of the time, I was scared to slip on the soil and fallen coniferous needles. I suppose this takes practice to get used to and increase one’s confidence. I was not quite there yet.

Each 500 ft gain felt like 1000 ft. And eventually I started to see the light above the ridge. That meant it would open up to the lake basin! I was getting close! Upon reaching the basin and tugging at shrubs to pull myself up, we realized we still had a solid distance to bushwhack past to get to the other side of the lake for a camp spot. Every step was ow, ow ow my legs! Too hot to wear pants, my legs took the toll of the shrubbery scratches. Some 30 minutes later, we finally reached the end of the marsh and I was free!

Coming from the forest and the deceptively well-looking marsh

5 hours after leaving the car and some 4600 ft of gain and 11-13 miles, we started to find our campsite. The goal was to set up quickly and hide from all the mosquitos and annoying masses of bugs. Whenever the wind blew, we’d get a quick relief before they came to pester us again. Steve and I both lugged cameras up for hopes of taking pictures of the sunset glow, but that wasn’t for another 4 hours or so. So then we wandered around and ate dinner. It was quite relaxing!

Lake by our campsite with waterfalls running down

We found another campsite when we entered the basin and noticed they hung trail runners to dry. But even as the sun started to set, we still hadn’t seen people move. Maybe they were hiding from the bugs, but wouldn’t it get hot with the rain fly on? Or maybe they went to see the sunset. But 7pm rolled around, then 8pm and still no sign. We hoped that we wouldn’t need to call a helicopter. Cameron recollected one time where he once saw an abandoned backpack and the outcome of that situation was fatal. 

Bouldering

Thankfully, as the sun set over the edge, we saw a group of people coming down from the summit route! Hooray, everyone was moving and seemingly uninjured. We talked to the group once they got back down and they told us they’d been going for 18 hours. That sounded fairly unpleasant, but I was thankful for them to share their experience, including all the crazy terrain we’d encounter. They got me a bit worried because we were planning to summit and hike out the next day. I was concerned about my abilities and wondered if I’d take a long time too. Reassured by multiple points of potential turnaround spots, I was determined I’d try to summit. And even if someone carried me, we still wouldn’t take all day. I was relieved to hear that! 

We returned to our camp spot for more evening pictures before bed and slept for some solid hours in summertime heat before waking up to the 4:30am alarm.

Sunset
Day 2

Groggily I woke up, stuffed my face in some of the blueberry bread I had baked for the trip. Shortly after 5am we started our approach to the summit, first scaling the scree field we had seen the other group descend. Although it wasn’t perfect alpenglow, it was refreshing to see the calm reflections on the lake and Mesahchie rising above the basin. Past the scree slope, we started to hit some snow and took a short break where we wisely left my pack. Once I’d offload some of the weight (jackets, food and water), it felt so freeing. Essentially the rest of the climb, I wore my harness (with my crampons attached to the sides when not in use), my helmet, one jacket around the waist and my trusty camera. My efficiency drastically improved! What a difference a few pounds makes. I was very thankful for my friends who were a foot taller and could afford to carry some of my things to make the whole trip faster!

First scree ascent from camp
Morning reflections

We continued moving up a couple snow benches, nothing too scary for me just yet. And finally we got to the top of the ridge, hidden from the lake, but the same wall that surrounds our campsite. We could see the zig zag tracks from previous groups and 2 different sets of footprints leading to 2 different notches. We choose the farthest left one.

Truly cannot see how much further is past each edge
Soaking up morning views to the north
Notch with multiple tracks beneath

I started worrying about the approach again. The group before had mentioned how terrible the scree slope was, and I’m not a fan of it myself and hoped not to take forever. We took our crampons off and peered over the edge. It was definitely steep, but definitely doable. If you didn’t look over the edge, you’d think that it was a steep vertical drop off, but in reality, it had varying degrees of steepness. Plus, if you think of scree as snow, you can move a bit quicker using similar methods of walking down. Though that doesn’t mean it was breezy for me either. I was faster than I used to be, but the whole feeling of the scree moving like a Newtonian fluid still catches me on the edge. It takes practice and maybe at some point I’ll have traveled on scree so much that it’ll just be like a walk in the park. 

In my comparatively snail pace, I made my way down, stopping for pictures and taking in all the sights. As we descended to the lake, the views of this upper basin revealed itself. And more the reason to go slowly to everyone else’s dismay. The banded glacier was more impressive than I had imagined! I did little research of Logan beforehand, so I didn’t even know what to expect. But you can clearly see the ice beneath the snow. And to think that this glacier used to reach beyond the lake! Halfway down this slope, we got to glissade on the snow to the lake. We continued walking along the lake, filling up on water before ascending again.

We had lost about 500 feet down the scree field (that somehow also felt like 1000 feet). But you could finally see the summit, our end goal. Looking up we had several options but by far the best was through the rock field left of the glacier. Going up rock is usually more fun than a walk up the snow! I particularly enjoy rocks better cause the ability to slip is far less. Although scrambling on rocks is a tad more difficult with mountaineering boots than with trail runners or approach shoes that Steve and Cameron had worn. I took boots since I feel more comfortable with them on snow, plus my feet would stay dry! My trail shoes still had not dried out from my previous trip and I was happier with dry feet in running shoes. There’s a time and place for all footwear!

Eventually we reached the end of the rock field and put crampons on again as we cross over to the top of the glacier beneath another headwall. Sure there was some 2000 feet to gain from the lake, but the higher up we went, the higher I got on mountain views. I couldn’t stop smiling looking back at the lake and seeing the snowy peaks behind. It made the pain of the uphill far less irritable.

On the top of the glacier, but below the last ascent to the saddle between Thunder (to the east/left) and Logan, we roped up. Something about being attached to other people makes me feel more secure on both snow and rock. We crossed some crevasses and definitely went over some ice chunks. Despite having participated in an ice climbing seminar and done multiple glacier roped travel, including steep snow, getting past this seemed to perplex me. Nowhere near graceful, I managed to crawl my way up. Steve placed one picket on the next steep section (and 2 on the way down). I definitely like the feeling of having protection!

Just a couple hundred feet later, we were back on my comfort zone of snow. The easy going, semi soft stuff! We unroped and continued a little ways up the snow to the start of the scramble. Just looking up, I could tell the scramble would be short. As a lover of scrambles, I wished for it to be longer. But truthfully, the length was perfectly fine since wearing boots added a bit of a challenge to maneuver between larger steps in the rock. We climbed up and over the false peak and back up to the true summit. No summit registry was found. But stoke of having 360º views (when someone wasn’t blocking you) was high.

We could barely all fit on the summit. I think 3 people pretty much maxes out the space! Any more and you’d standing on the edge of a cliff. But I promptly sat down for fear of falling off the unstable rocks. What if with one shift, everything came tumbling down? One shift of my weight was moving more than one rock, which was concerning. If you know me, I love doing yoga balance poses on peaks but this peak was not one to play that game with. We took turns taking a couple pictures and then scurried back down to where we left our packs.

Views west to Eldorado and Koma Kulshan

Then I did my very best to speedily make my way down. I only slightly fell through a snow bridge in my carefree mindset. But we carried on and avoided the icy slabs back to unroped territory. We’d scramble over rocks for a bit but primarily made our way through the snowfields. Again needing more practice, my speed was still slow in comparison. How does one boot ski without falling over? How do I trust my feet in boots when going between boulders? And how does one plunge step without slipping so much? That last question: be heavier…. I could clearly see everyone else’s boot tracks sink in twice as deep as mine. And sometimes when I tried to boot ski, I just wouldn’t move. Gravity and friction were not working with me.

Impatiently waiting for me to stop taking photos and catch up
The one picture of us roped up

All too soon, the pleasant views of the glacial lake and distant mountains faded. And the next looming task was to get over the dreaded scree field. I kept telling myself, only 500 ft, but my legs were starting to get tired and each step was slower. Generally, I could see where Cameron and Steve were, but at times I’d lose them. About halfway up the gully, I thought I was following their path, but ended up in a mild panic. I couldn’t see or hear them, I felt stuck, uncomfortable going down and scared to go up. But then I took a deep breath and in regaining confidence and determination, I placed my trust in a choke boulder and shimmied my way up. A couple hundred more feet found myself at the top of the snowfield leading back to our camp.

Views on shore are different but still good, looking at the dreaded scree field

Alas we’d be going downhill for a while. The main work was done, I could rest a little. Half running, half boot skiing, I played a game to see if I could catch up to the guys. I’d never win, but it was always good motivation to move quickly. At camp, we took our sweet time to pack up and eat. It was so nice to just chill after the climb. And truly a necessary stop to prepare for the long hike out.

Beautiful views all the way down to camp

Surprisingly, the down climb back to the Fisher Creek Trail went by much faster than expected. We didn’t need to go down any 3rd class scrambling, just some shrubs and steep soil I still would get weary of. How much experience or mental breakthrough does it take to become more confident down this terrain? Maybe it just means I should get out more often!

Compared to the uphill speed, we went down so much faster that I was caught by surprise to find ourselves back on the more maintained trail. The hike out started off quite gentle, though Cameron and I kept watching out for the steeper section. Eventually the mellow trail got steeper and steeper and by Steve’s calculations, our new speed would put us at the car around 8 or 9pm. I could feel myself get slower with each step. My brain wanted to turn off and it was a battle to keep my legs moving quickly instead of going to sleep. I just had to make it to the pass and I can cruise on downhill again. 

In the forest, it’s hard to see where you are, but I’d get glimpses of the mountains above. I would question if it was Mesahchie. Cause if it were, then we were much closer. Close to the meadows and a couple short bands of trees. Then closer to the final switchbacks. But we were still in deep forest.

Fisher Peak

As mentioned before, weight makes a huge difference in my ability to go fast on a trail. We determined to redistribute weight so we can all move at a comparable speed. However, redistribution in this case meant offloading all my backpack weight to Steve. It probably doubled his pack weight. But I could then walk carefree, keeping up the speed with Cameron for the most part. That is, until we hit the switchbacks. Maybe it was mentally knowing there’s a lot of uphill, or maybe I did run out of energy, but my speed entirely tanked and it took all the focus I had to finish the last couple switch backs. Even Steve could walk faster with 2 packs than me without. It was humbling to see how being fit and taller make a difference too.

Keeping this in front memory as motivation for forest march out

After a short break at Easy Pass, we started our descent. The guys would boot ski, and upon slipping on my butt in shorts on snow with running shoes (not fun), I decided to take the trail instead of the snow runout. Downhill running was fairly mindless, and I’d try to play catch up again. Soon after, I carried my backpack again and we got back to the car at 7pm. Later than we originally planned, but earlier than our mid trail reassessed time. It was a long day for everyone and we were exhausted from being up for more than 14 hours already. Hungry and tired, we zoomed our way out to find sustenance and our beds back home.

As unexpected as this trip was, I was thrilled to have done this trip and to have gone with two incredible mountaineers. We were perhaps a bit underprepared for what the route entailed, but that’s half the fun of exploring mountains. I may not be at the level to comfortably do big car-to-car mountain climbs in a day, but this trip, I hit more distance and elevation than ever. And wow is that cool to see progress! Thanks to Steve and Cameron for letting me join and accommodating me and my abilities!

notes

  • A 2 day push is pretty difficult unless you’re quite fit.
  • In the summer, trail runners can suffice on glaciers if you have experience. It’s comfortable on trail and good for summer snow.
  • Depending on time of year, you might get away with scrambling up climber’s left of the glacier and only need to rope up for the short section of the glacier. There’s one steep section where one might place protection to be on the safe side.
  • The scramble is quite short and easy, although the summit is fairly precarious and allows for only 2 people realistically.

Photos shot on Canon Rebel T6

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