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John Guilford's Hikes

Vesper Peak on 1990-07-22

Date: 1990-07-22

Location: Vesper Peak

People: (including myself): Gene Obie, Jay Wardle, Joe Tarantino

Start :         9:30  2100'?
Headlee Pass : 12:00  4600'
Summit:         2:10  6214'
Leave Sum:      3:30
Down :          5:30
We met Gene at the trailhead (we were about 20 minutes late).  Gene and I had been up to Headlee pass before, but neither Jay nor Joe had been.  At the trailhead we noticed that the last trail condition report was dated 9/3/88 (and hence not too reliable).  The trail starts off kind of flat, crosses a couple creeks (which were pretty full - fuller than last year - probably due to all the warm weather we were having) then climbs up a bit until you get to an intersection where a side trail takes you out to Manley's cabin at 2320' (there isn't much of it left).  Continuing on, you arrive at the largest creek crossing which is accomplished on a large log laying at an angle to the creek.  The water was high enough, that it was occasionally splashing onto the top end (which made the footing trickier).  A bit further on, we started switch-backing up a slope with lots of ferns and vegetation.  This was where the flies were *real* bad last year.  This year they weren't bad at all.  It was pretty hot and humid on this slope since you in direct sun and all the plants keep it moist.  After ascending the hill, you pass through some trees and then switchback up some more until you arrive at Wirtz basin which is a flat bottomed valley that leads up towards the pass.  This valley is full of boulders and debris swept down by avalanches in the winter.  It is a big funnel that collects lots of avalanche debris, although there are several stands of trees that apparently miss the brunt of the slides.  I was glad we weren't any later as this valley was pretty warm in the sun and had little shade.  At the top of the valley the trail turns right and grinds up an extremely steep slope, in a multitude of tiny switchbacks, to Headlee pass.  We stopped for a bit and had a snack to sustain ourselves for the last push to the pass.  I had my peach there.  A plastic container does wonders for keeping the peach from getting smashed in the bottom of your pack.  I highly recommend it.  We didn't find too much shade and there was no breeze, so we didn't stop for too long.  After grinding up to the pass we stopped for lunch.  There is quite a good view from the pass and it makes a good destination for a shorter hike.  If you had two parties, a good hike would be to do a one-way over the pass to Sultan river basin.  At the pass we discovered that there was quite a bit more snow on Vesper than there had been last year.  After lunch we descended the back side of the pass a little ways and traversed across a large scree slope that ranged from gravel sized rocks to boulder sized rocks.  We crossed until we came to a small lake.  The lake was frozen completely over, although there were a couple of "puddles" in the surface.  There was a cold breeze blowing off the lake (from all the snow and ice).  Here, a couple people refilled water bottles (using iodine).  Jay had brought some frozen raspberry juice that they used to help hide the iodine taste.  We scrambled across the stream flowing out from the lake and started up the east slope of Vesper peak.  Initially, we could skirt the snow fields and climb on dirt, mud, and rocks.  But soon we had to take to the snow.  As could be expected with as warm of weather as we had, the surface of the snow was pretty soft and gave pretty good traction.  We were following the steps of others who had gone up earlier (which were mostly melted away).  The leader was the only one who had much trouble with sliding back.  By the second or third person back, the steps were pretty well established.  I discovered that people tend to take real small steps when climbing snow fields.  If you are near the back, they seem real small, but when you are leading, you tend to take the same size.  A little bit up the snow field we came across a rock outcropping.  As we were getting hungry we stopped for lunch.  There was quite a bit of glare off the snow, so we also put on some suntan lotion (it turned out to be too little or too late as we all had mild sunburns by the end of the day).  After lunch we took turns and ground our way up to the summit.  Along the way, we came across a large gap in the snow field (about 2-3' wide and several feet deep).  It wasn't hard to go around, but we made a mental note to miss it coming down.  The summit and the south and west sides of the peak were clear of snow.  The north face of Vesper peak is sheer, so we didn't get too close to it.  There was a climber log on top (sealed in a piece of pipe), which we signed.  There is a good view from up there.  You can see a good view of Copper Lake, the back side of Big Four, Sperry peak, Mt. Pilchuck, Spada Reservoir, Three Fingers, Whitehorse, Mt. Baker, etc.  If it were clear, we would have been able to see Rainier.  The clouds were building in the East.  Not enough to worry us, but it looked like our hot sunny days were coming to an end.  To actually get to the summit proper, one had to climb over some rocks near the top of the north face.  This caused me some anxiety as there was a pretty good drop a few feet away.  There were several rocks on top that sort of formed a series of walls.  After climbing over the "wall" you could stand in a little pocket real safely.  It turned out that you can get out of/into this pocket quite easily from a hole on the south side.  We descended down the west slope a about a hundred feet and killed about an hour.  I finished off some cherries that I hadn't eaten at lunch.  Joe and Jay wandered down the east snow field and found a stash of garbage some jerks had left.  Being all around nice guys, they picked it up and packed it out.  Around 3:30 we decided we should be heading down.  We traversed around the summit to the east slope snow field.  Below us was a long expanse of relatively steep snow.  We started down doing standing glissades.  A found that keeping my balance wasn't terribly easy and was tiring.  I decided to try something different.  I sat down and kind of pulled up my legs.  Wooosh! You can loose a lot of altitude real fast that way.  The snow was soft and smooth enough that it was pretty comfortable.  It does take a little bit of work to stop yourself though.  Without any ice axe, you have to make sure that you don't need to make any sudden stops.  During this first glissade, I didn't know how stable I'd be so I kind of dragged my hands through the snow beside me.  It turns out that this doesn't add much control, but does do a good job freezing your fingers.  Your seat gets pretty soaked, but the day was warm enough that that wasn't a problem.  The other three watched me, said to themselves, "Hmm, he doesn't seem to be trying to stop himself.  It must to okay." They then proceeded to sit and slide down.  It is definitely a fast (and easy on the knees) way to descend.  After a couple stretches of doing this, we crossed some heather and rocks and had one more snow field to go before the slope lessened and we got to the bottom of the lake.  At this point most people were doing standing glissades.  I thought to myself, "Rats, I wish I had a picture to me sliding down." There was still an opportunity though.  I gave the camera to Joe who went down a ways.  The terrain was as follows: the snow narrowed down to a stretch between two pieces of dirt/heather.  Joe stationed himself at one of them and got ready with the camera.  I moved over to avoid some spots in the snow that the people who had gone down before recommended I miss (it turns out I shouldn't have moved over, though).  I started down.  Unfortunately, I wasn't heading for the gap through the heather, as planned; I was heading for Joe.  He was following me in the camera, and suddenly realized that the camera wasn't changing directions.  He was thinking, "He'll stop.  He'll stop. . ." and then a whoosh of snow went past him.  When I saw I coming at him, I dug in my feet, but couldn't stop in time.  I just dug up a cloud a snow that spread across the heather and gradually slowed me.  I came out of it just fine.  Joe was fine as I missed him by a few feet.  However, I did fill up his backpack (which was sitting on the ground) with snow and coated his sunglasses.  Oh well.  He thought it would have been real funny if someone had taken a picture of him taking my picture.  We descended to the lake, crossed the creek, refilled water bottles, and traversed back to Headlee pass.  Through out this time, I had been checking my altimeter which didn't seem to be working correctly.  I don't know if the barometric pressure was changing fast with the weather change or what, but I kept correcting the altimeter at known heights (e.g. the pass and the summit), but it still seemed to read the wrong altitudes later.  I don't know.  We descended down the many tiny switchbacks to the floor of the valley.  There we decided to be nice to our knees and go down the snow field instead of the trail.  There was too much debris on the snow to sit, so we did a combination of glissade, walk, and run down the snow.  Eventually the snow ended and we had to hike on out.  By this time our feet were pretty wet.  It didn't bother me since there wasn't that much further go.  While going down the switchbacks through the ferns, it seemed to me like the flies were worse than they had been in the morning.  Someone else thought they were lighter.  I had finished my water a ways back (I decided not to refill and use iodine) and was a bit thirsty when we got back to the cars.  I was very glad that I had brought a couple of Hires in a cooler.  Two things I've decided are really nice to take hiking (and leave in the car) is a cold drink and a change of shoes.  All in all it was a very enjoyable hike for all of us. 


[ PIX1 ] View of Copper Lake from Vesper's summit. 

[ PIX2 ] Joe near stream near the bottom of the trail on the way out. 

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Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015