Lake mountain - 8371' / Monument Peak - 8592' / Blackcap mountain - 8397' / Lost Peak - 8464'
Another excellent Bulger trip with Josh, on Saturday the 16th I left Renton in the morning to pick up Josh in Lynnwood and we were off to the Monument Trailhead near Mazama. With showers ans thunderstorms in the forecast, we decided it was the perfect day for approaching since it wouldn't be as hot. We left my van at about noon and quickly made the 1ish hour hike up the Monument trail to Eureka Creek. Josh had just hiked to this point a few days prior to scout out the crossing and we decided to give this trip a try when he said the water level would not be above my waist. Utilizing my knowledge and experience from crossing many large rivers in Alaska, I briefed Josh on the proper way to ford fast rivers, and we both made it across relatively easily with our sandals. The water level never got to my waist, however since Josh is a bit shorter it did reach his just barely.
We then located the trail as it began switchbacking up an open talus slope at the base of the long ridge separating the Eureka and Lost River valleys. The trail was mostly easy to follow, however there was quite a bit of downfall, and in a couple places we lost the trail albeit briefly. We made upward progress, and at about 4500 feet we took a small break on a rocky outcrop with a clear view towards Silver Star and the Gardners. We watched a storm slowly approach us as rain fell over the Gardners. We continued, and 20 minutes later it started to lightly rain, with some distant thunder. We waited it out for 15 minutes or so under a tree and continued when the rain eased up a bit. As we neared 6000 feet in elevation, a beautiful rainbow lit up the sky to the east, as a second shower approached us. I thought it was strange the storms were coming from the east, but I know it can sometimes happen.
At about 6200 feet elevation along the ridge, we waited out the second shower while we had some smacks and water. The views of Robinson Mountain across the Eureka Valley were superb, and we now could finally see Lake and Monument through the clouds to the north. They were still a long ways away! It was about 5pm by this point, and a few minutes later, we hit 6600 feet where the trail leaves the ridge and begins traversing the SW face of Pistol Peaks. We made quick time to Pistol Pass as the trail was mostly flat, and amazingly in good condition. From Pistol Pass, we got our first views of Lost Peak, waaaayyy over there. Also Lake Mountain, and its small rock spire were staring right at us from here. The wind really picked up here, so we didn't stay long, and quickly descended 600 feet down very soft snow (the first snow we ran into) until we found a nice place to set up the bivy tent roughly 100 feet below, and south of Lake of the Woods. There is a great flat area closer to the trail here at 6500 feet which offers many great camp spots, with less bugs since it's further away from the "lake". We relaxed for the final couple hours of daylight and went to sleep with an early alarm set. We knew we were in for at least a 16 hour day coming up.
The next morning, we got started a little after 6am. This would be the day we would loop up all 4 Bulgers in an estimated 10,000 feet elevation gain day. We started with just one pack between us that we'd switch off carrying, up Lake Mountain and passing Lake of the Woods along the way (excellent morning reflection). We took the normal route up the obvious east gully (thanks Fred) where the difficulty never exceeded Class 2+. We worked our way up the loose gully, only touching snow for a few small patches. At 7:45 we reached the summit of our first peak and enjoyed the excellent morning lighting on the North Cascades. We scouted out the upper east ridge of Monument, which goes at class 4. Doing this route allows you to traverse directly from Lake to Monument, never having to drop off the ridgecrest saving both time and effort.
After a 20 minute summit stay, we descended directly down the north ridge of Lake, dropping down a few class 3 steps until the ridge flattened out. We made quick work traversing directly on the ridge to the small 7660 foot saddle just east of a small unnamed point on the lower east ridge of Monument. We left the pack here, as this is where we would return to to drop into the headwaters basin of Lost River. The whole east ridge of Monument drops near vertically into this basin with the exception of this gully which drops at a reasonable 35-45 degree angle allowing us to connect Blackcap and Lost.
Continuing on to Monument, we reached the base of the upper east ridge, where more difficult scrambling began. The crux was the first 50 feet, where the ridge is steepest. We climbed somewhat blocky and questionable class 4 rock, and at times I had to throw junk off and make my own handholds. Beyond this though, the rest of the ridge was class 3, except for a small knife edge section at the end of the leftward traverse, which I thought was also class 4 (and exposed!). Near the summit, we had to cut left. I reached the east peak of Monument with Josh shortly behind, and realized the west peak was higher, so I made the 5 minute traverse over there and summitted at around 10:30. Peak number 2 was in the books. I actually really enjoyed that scramble, and it certainly beats dropping down the loose west face of Lake all the way to 6600 feet to access the long south ridge of Monument. Monument is the highest in this group so we spent a little more time enjoying the views.
We retraced our steps back down the east ridge and all the way back to our pack. We took a slight variation on the lower crux, traversing skiers right to hit the snow moat and downclimbing along the moat, rather than downclimbing the middle of the ridge. After a short break, we began descending the snow gully into the basin to the north. It was initially 45 degrees but the snow was very soft, so kicking steps wasn't really an issue. Past 100 feet down we were able to plunge step the whole way, and curve left at 6,800 feet around a buttress and into the upper basin. We found a water source to fill our bottles, then continue in a straight line northwest up to 7800 feet on the east ridge of Blackcap. Traversing across this basin was all on snow, with the final 250 feet steepening up to the ridge. We left the pack once again here, and finished the final 650 feet to Blackcap, and our third peak on the day which we topped out at 3pm. This ridge I didn't even think was Class 3 but a couple spots could have been. Both Josh and I were feeling good at this point, however we both knew these were the easy ones. Traversing over to lost was going to be a "piece of work" as Josh put it.
We descended back to the pack, and didn't waste time beginning the long traverse to Lost at 3:30pm. I guessed it would take us 3 hours, leaving us 3 hours of remaining daylight to hike all the way back to camp. In reality, it took 4, even moving fast. The traverse down to Shellrock Pass was a beautiful ridgerun with spectacular views of Carru and Lago. From there, we descended soft snow once again to a small tarn at 6840 feet, where I found the trail. We followed the trail, as the snow disappeared, and we entered a burn area. We reached where the trail junction for Butte Pass would be but found no resemblance of the Butte Pass trail initially due to the burn, so we simply began hiking up. Only 300 feet up brought us to the pass, where we then found the trail as it continued east along the ridge. We began steeper ascending up to point 7260, then dropped a couple hundred feet before ascending once again to Pass Butte. I was really beginning to feel it on this part of the hike. Josh and I made it to the top of Pass Butte at about 6:10pm, and Lost Peak still looked far away! It was another 400 foot descent to the next saddle, followed by a traverse on the south side of point 8100 to the next saddle and then along the long but very easy ridge to Lost Peak, which we reached at 7:30. Our 4th peaks was finally in the books! As the sun was now getting lower in the western sky, we were granted with some spectacular lighting. Cathedral Peak was visible way off to the east, as was all the usual peaks to the west.
By 7:50 we started descending down the southwest face of Lost all the way to the Lost River 3200 feet down, enjoying amazing photography on the way. We stayed on a ridge between two large ravines which would dump us out right at the trail. The entire valley was burned so we couldn't easily find the trail, however we did manage to spot it, and follow it to where it crosses Lost River. Unfortunately it was getting dark at this point, and I didn't want to fumble around too much. So while we still had some twilight, we forded it. Luckily it wasn't as bad as Eureka Creek since we both left our sandals at camp. We then continued down the trail, losing it often as it was largely destroyed by the fire (I couldn't help but think back to last years' GPW trip Josh and I did where every trail was gone). It got dark and our progress really slowed as we had to hop over dozens of logs and whatnot until the trail began curving right into the valley towards Pistol Pass. It was a difficult, slow, painful re-ascend of 1700 feet back to our camp which we reached just after midnight, after a 15 minute struggle to find it. We immediately went to sleep after a quick dinner with sore legs.
We didn't get out of the sleeping bags until 8am when the sun started directly hitting the tent. We slowly packed up and had to once again re-ascend 600 more feet to Pistol Pass, admire the lostness of Lost Peak once again, then hike all the way back to Eureka Creek. As we dropped elevation, the temperatures increased into the upper 80s and maybe even 90 degrees. HOT. Josh even got a little heat exhaustion on the final 400 feet down to Eureka Creek, since there isn't much water on that ridge. Crossing Eureka Creek was a little higher this time around due to two days of hotter temps melting more snow. Nevertheless, we made it across and finished a miserably hot 3.5 miles back to the van.
I do not know what the total mileage for the 3 days was...perhaps 35? I added up the 4 peak loop which was 17 miles, and about 10,000 feet, almost as much as Josh and I's day doing Osceola, Carru, Lago, and Ptarmigan back in September 2016 which was 10,500 feet. For some reason, this day felt harder...maybe because I'm almost 2 years older? haha
As long as this trip was, I don't think it stacks up to our friends' car to car in one day trip of Olympus they did the 16th (our approach day). Well done Fletcher, Jake and Eric!
Now that I finished writing this I can go to sleep.