Date Index Person/Place Index Person/Date Index Place/Person Index Place/Date Index Time Index Home

John Guilford's Hikes

Vesper Peak on 1994-05-07

Date: 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'
Continue:	3:50
Summit:		5:15		6214'
Leave:		5:35
Headlee Pass:	6:10 ?
End glissade:	6:30
Bottom valley:	6:45
Down switchback	7:35
Log crossing:	7:40
Out:		8:00
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). 

[ PIX1 ] 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 dry. 

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. 

[ PIX2 ] 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). 


[ PIX1 ] View of Morning Star Peak from road end (start of trail). 

[ PIX2 ] View of Mt. Rainier from Vesper's summit. 

Date Index Person/Place Index Person/Date Index Place/Person Index Place/Date Index Time Index Home
Please send comments or corrections to
Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015