John Guilford's Hikes
Vesper Peak on 1994-05-07
Location: Vesper Peak
People: (including myself): Pam Becker, Rick Kline
My Alt. Real Alt.
Start: 12:00 2100'
Log crossing: 12:20
Start switchbck 12:35
Enter valley: 1:05
Pass: 3:10 4600'
Summit: 5:15 6214'
Headlee Pass: 6:10 ?
End glissade: 6:30
Bottom valley: 6:45
Down switchback 7:35
Log crossing: 7:40
There were quite a few vehicles at the trailhead when we got there. We
ended up parking down the road on a turnout (not all that far from the
trailhead). This early in the year the brush is low enough that one could
clearly see the switchbacks going up the hillside that we'd be traversing
later. As it was early in the year, it wasn't a question of whether we'd
hit snow, but when we'd hit snow. Pam and I had axes and I brought my XC
poles for Rick. By the end of the hike, Rick concluded that the poles were
definitely worth bringing along. You can't see the valley from the
trailhead, so we couldn't judge how much snow they'd be there (we thought
we saw up the valley, but it turns out that that wasn't correct).
The trail starts off through trees and begins climbing right away, crossing
a few streams, one with a bridge, others with logs or stones. In 20
minutes, you come to a good sized stream that has a long wide (2') log
diagonally across it. The top surface of this log has been cut flat and a
pattern has been cut into it to facilitate walking. A smaller branch and
stones are used to get to the base of the large tree. It wasn't too tricky
crossing over, but it was a bit trickier crossing back at the end of the
hike. On the way in, the log was dry except for the very top. By the time
we returned, however, the creek was flowing noticeably faster (the warm day
made lots of snow melt that was finding its way down stream) and more of
the log was damp. Furthermore it was easier to jump from the log onto the
bank than to step across back onto the log. The danger is that you're 5+
feet in the air over the stream, so if you slipped you'd get very wet and
likely injured in the fall. However, in all my trips I have yet to find
any problems with the stream crossing, even though it might be a bit scary.
Shortly after the stream crossing, you clear out of the trees and start
switchbacking up a hillside (this is what was visible from the trail head).
After a half dozen switchbacks or so, you cross into some trees and
continue a ways into the bottom of a rounded glacier carved valley.
Usually, this is rock with a trail going through it. This early in the
year, however, we found the entire valley snow filled. It was a warm day,
and we were hiking with t-shirts and shorts (except me, who had long, thin,
nylon pants). We started up the snow field into a cool wind blowing off
the snow. It was easy to see the path of a large avalanche that had some
down the valley (some time in the past). The snow in the avalanche area
was in the form of broken up firmer chunks of snow. This stuff was the
best to walk on, and for the most part we stuck to ascending the valley to
the side of the avalanche runout. Particularly from above, it was easy to
see the path of the avalanche.
Some distance up the valley we paused to put on gaiters and to put on
windbreakers. The breeze varied from non-existent to slightly warm feeling
to down right chilly depending on where we were in the valley. At times it
would be too warm with the windbreakers on and we'd have to take them off.
Other times it would be too cool and we'd have to put them on.
There were a fair number of skiers skiing down from the top of the valley -
both telemarkers and people with mountaineering skis.
On the way up the valley we stopped for some snacking and to put on more
sunscreen. At the far end of the valley, I followed a set of foot prints up
the gully towards the pass. I was a bit concerned about avalanche
potential in the gully (we saw two small avalanches down the sides of the
valleys on out hike up the valley), but the gully seemed pretty solid.
More confusing was the paucity of footprints for the number of people who
seemed to have gone up to the pass and beyond. The grind up the gully was
slow and uneventful. At the top we stopped for half an hour and had some
lunch. The pass seemed more overgrown than I remembered with hardly a
trail through the trees. It turns out that we had gone up the wrong gully!
We went up the gully to the immediate right of the one leading up to
Headlee pass. For most of the year, it would be obvious due to the trail
that goes up to the pass. With everything under snow, it isn't so obvious
which gully to ascend. The correct answer is to go to the far end of the
valley and take a distinct right hand turn instead of ascending the more
visible gully. With all the snow, I doubt that one is really that much
easier than the other - they both seem to be about as steep.
We had originally determined that our turn around time would be 5pm and it
looked rather dubious that we'd reach the summit by then, but we set off to
try. The very pass was clear of snow, but the whole back side was again
filled with snow. It was convenient to stop at the pass as there was no
snow there and our feet had gotten somewhat cold with all the walking in
the snow up the valley. The break at the pass gave us a chance to re-warm
them (and add more moleskin, as needed). Rick had tried to waterproof his
boots, which slowed down the water penetration somewhat, but by the pass
his feet were beginning to get wet. Otoh, Pam's and my feet were still
The hike from the pass to the summit was relatively uneventful. It was
snow covered the whole way with the lake completely covered. Rick got a
burst of energy during our break and eventually ended up some distance
ahead of Pam and myself. We found that sound carried very well over the
snow and it wasn't hard to yell between ourselves. We even had a
relatively clear echo off of a nearby cliff. With as close as we were, and
since we'd be able to glissade down quite a ways, we changed our turn
around time forward to 5:30.
We got to the summit about 5:15 with a clear view in all directions. We
were rewarded with views stretching from Mt. Baker to Mt. Rainier, from the
Olympics to Glacier Peak.
The snow led all the way to the summit, with just the summit rocks exposed.
We stopped for a rest and some pictures, but we couldn't stay too long.
The sun was beginning its decent and I was getting antsy to get moving. We
only had 2.5-3 hours of light and I didn't want to have to hike out in the
dark (with no moon as the moon was a few days before new). Pam put on some
nylon overpants and Rick put on some jeans preparing for the glissades
down. Rick had some polypro glove liners and Pam had some Gore-Tex
overmitts to protect their hands somewhat during the glissades. I went
bare handed which led to a touch of frost nip by the end of the trip. In
the future, plan on bringing gloves if planning to glissade). I started
the first glissade off the top slope. After a bit I decided to stop and
see how the others would make out. I dug in my heels, but dug them in a
bit too quickly. To my surprise, they grabbed more than I expected and I
was catapulted forwards, over my feet, doing a face plant in the snow
before stopping. I yelled back, "Don't do it that way!" They came down
without incident and we continued our glissades all the way down the slope.
It was fun and a very fast way down, even though it was colder than I
remembered it being. Being relatively late in the day, it had started
cooling off and sitting in the snow with wet pants got us quite chilled.
It didn't help that this slope was in shade now.
At the bottom of the slope we reverted to walking/loping and traversed back
to Headlee pass. We got a patch of sun along the way and that was welcome.
Our gaiters kept getting full of snow from the glissading and postholing
and this snow was melting and running into our boots. Thus, Pam's and my
feet got as wet as Rick's were.
I wasn't very thrilled about the thought of glissading down the gully from
the pass. Rick wanted to try it. I started glissading and felt like it
would be too easy to lose control and stopped. Pam opted to posthole down.
Rick had waited at the pass as he had wanted a picture of himself
glissading down. When we didn't hear or see from Rick for a while, we
started getting concerned, but he eventually answered our calls and did
glissade down. He kept to a sane speed by digging in his heels, but that
was riskier than I wanted to try. It was reasonably fast to hike on down
anyway. Towards the bottom, where the slope opens up a bit, we reverted
to glissading, descending down into the valley. This continued until we
ran into too much of the avalanche debris that was too hard and bumpy.
Going over this stuff at any kind of speed hurt the ol' tailbone. So we
continued on hiking.
We still made good time going down the valley. I was getting quite cold by
now. I really should have brought warmer clothing. Other people were cold
too, but I think I was the coldest. It wasn't too bad while moving, but if
we stopped for any length of time, I really started getting cold. Pam
tells me that I was looking rather grey (which concerned her a bit, as did
my attitude which she says was more abrupt than normal). Near the bottom
of the valley, the snow was softer and we had more difficulty breaking
through the surface and sinking up to the thigh. The danger might be that
if you leg fell through, you might wrench it badly if you body continued
forward. There wasn't much we could do beside try to avoid places near
rocks and brush where it was more likely to be hollowed out underneath.
Near the bottom of the valley where rocks were appearing through the snow.
We stopped to let Rick wring out his socks. And change out of his wet
jeans. Further on, just after we got off of the snow, even though I felt
cold and wanted to continue, I decided that I had to stop to wring out my
socks, too. Sloshing feet just weren't any good. I got about a 1/4 C of
water out of each sock. After that it didn't take very far before we left
the cold wind coming off of the snow and the temperature pleasant rose
appreciably. Soon, I was feeling much better. About this time, Pam
changed her mind and decided that she had to drain her socks also (earlier,
she declined in order to save time and keep moving). Her moleskin had
come loose due to the prolonged soaking it got. When she removed one piece
we discovered a hunk of skin still attached to the moleskin (this was the
dead skin from a blister she had gotten a few weeks before). It didn't
hurt or anything, it was just a tad gross. She stuck new moleskin on and
we continued down, in relatively pleasant weather.
We were tired - it had been a somewhat long hike for early in the season
(pronounced, "when you're relatively out of shape"), but it was a beautiful
day and a really neat hike, nonetheless. We got out with still a
significant amount of light, though I wouldn't have wanted to be a half
hour later (sunset this time of year is 8:30).
View of Morning Star Peak from road end (start of trail).
View of Mt. Rainier from Vesper's summit.
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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015