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John Guilford's Hikes

Mt. Pilchuck / Bathtub Lakes Region on 1994-05-30

Date: 1994-05-30

Location: Mt. Pilchuck / Bathtub Lakes Region

People: (including myself): Rick Kline, Gene Obie, Rusty Ames

			My Alt.	Real Alt.	Mileage
Lv Granite Fall 9:15
Start:		10:55	2560			0
Bear Lake:	11:00				0.25
Pinnacle Lake:	12:00	3700	3800		2
Iodine Gulch:	12:20	"	"		2.15
Top Iodine G:	1:30	4640	4640		2.6
Lunch:		3:00	5000	5074		3.5
End Lunch:	3:35
Head Down:	5:20	4920	~4900		4.1
Down:		6:30	3220	3160		6
End car shuffle	7:45
We met at Granite Falls and took two cars up to the Mt. Pilchuck trailhead.  Leaving one of the cars there, we went to the Bear Lake trailhead.  Shuffling cars around like this killed almost an hour.  The weather was supposed to start off cloudy, getting better as the day progressed.  It ended up being perfect weather - the clearest I've ever seen in the Cascades.  The day before was rainy and the following day clouded up and rained, so we lucked out and ended up with the best day around which turned out perfect. 

Although we expected snow, only two of us had ice axes, Gene and myself.  Rick had a ski pole and Rusty just had gloves and his hands. 

Due to the recent rain and the number of hikers, the trail started off exceedingly muddy.  It stays that way all the way to the lake, gaining about a thousand feet.  A short distance from the trailhead, a side trail branches off to go to Bear Lake.  Continuing on the main trail, we ascended and soon got the first of several views looking down on Bear Lake.  Soon after that we hit patches of snow which became almost continual snow coverage. 

Pinnacle lake was mostly ice covered, though the were patches melted through, especially down near the outlet (where the trail meets the lake).  We skirted the lake on left side (the snow making this somewhat easier than it would be in later season).  Most of the way around the lake is the bottom of Iodine Gulch.  Though some of the bottom of the gulch was snow free the middle and upper parts of the gulch were full of snow which made the ascent easier.  Without the snow, the ascent is made scrambling over rocks around the creek that flows down the gulch. 

The weather was warm, so that a t-shirt was sufficient to keep warm while hiking.  The clouds came and went so that we were in sun about half the time.  While the sun was behind the clouds it occasionally got a bit chilly when a breeze came up, but the air was mostly warm and still. 

[ PIX1 ][ PIX2 ] We steadily climbed the gulch which occasionally gets steep near the top, emerging onto the relatively flat top.  Here we stopped to put on sunscreen (though we should have done so earlier).  This is the start of the Bathtub lakes region - a series of numerous small lakes set among rock, heather, and berry bushes.  The sky was clearing now, and we were rewarded with the best view of Rainier I've seen from the Cascades.  This time of year, we found the entire area to be snow covered with the lakes visible as pretty blue water on top of snow depressions. 

[ PIX3 ] We traversed across part of the lakes area and then ascended to the ridge to see if we could get a view of Lake 22.  We were pretty cautious approaching any edges in case of cornices.  We got a good look at Lake 22, which was snow free.  Descending a short distance from the ridge line we continued west until we got to a little local high spot where we stopped for lunch.  From here we could see some of Heather Lake and also had an unobstructed view of the summit of Mt. Pilchuck (as well as great views of Three Fingers, Glacier Peak, etc.) including the normal trail approach from the ridge.  This didn't look encouraging.  In fact, it didn't look doable.  The trail is normally very steep (in excess of 60 degrees) with multitude of switchbacks.  This whole slope was mostly snow covered, particularly near the top.  We thought we'd look at it when we got closer, but the prevailing feeling was that we would be able to do it.  Checking out the topo map, however, it appeared that it would be straight forward to traverse around the north side of the summit and join the normal trail up to the summit.  By this time the sky had cleared so that except for a few high clouds, everything was clear. 

After lunch we continued traversing the ridge, sometimes on snow, and sometimes on the trail (marked by yellow blazes).  Nearer to the summit, the way descends to a saddle.  Along this part of the ridge, the trail sometimes passes close to cliff tops.  While the trail isn't at all dangerous, it is enough to cause adrenaline for people who are scared of heights.  After reaching the saddle, instead of continuing left and up to the summit, we descended right onto a broad shelf below the summit cliffs. 

Part way along the shelf we decided to ascend the snow field and see if we could climb to the ridge line and reach the summit that way.  After ascending some steep snow, we reached another flatter area.  From here we surveyed the ridge and thought that one area might be climbable.  We ascended further, again going up steep snow.  It would have been better if we all had axes, but we did okay with Gene kicking steps and those w/out axes following.  We aborted our initial attempt when it became clear that we didn't think that we wanted to climb the rocks that we ended up at.  We made a further attempt after traversing left 50 feet or so.  The biggest challenge hear was the initial snow climb.  At this point due to the lower portion of snow falling away, there was vertical chest high bank of snow, with steep snow above.  After clearing away some of the surface snow, I found this to be climbable by driving the ice axe deeply into the snow to use as a handhold and kicking steps.  I got up far enough to get comfortable, but I didn't know how those without axes would be able to make it up.  It still wasn't clear that we'd be able to make it all the way up.  While I continued ascending steep snow, Gene and the others started up.  They ended up doing it by sharing the ice axe.  The first person would ascend the vertical part and get settled on the merely steep part and pass the axe down.  This continued until all three were up the vertical part.  I continued up the snow, climbed part way up the moat between the rock and the snow, and finally made it to the ridge top.  There the news wasn't good.  We had traverse far enough east so that we were still east of the regular trail approach to the summit.  The other side of the ridge dropped down cliffs.  It may have been possible to traverse the ridge top, but it didn't look real easy and I couldn't see beyond about 20 feet and it wasn't obvious that it would be passable beyond that.  After discussing it, we decided to just head back down.  This was accomplished without incident, though descending the steep snow was somewhat slow in order to assure not slipping.  We descended down to the shelf where we had started up a while before.  We continued along the shelf below the lookout (clearly visible).  At the west end of the shelf we found a steep but very do-able climb up to the normal trail.  However, it was getting late and we decided to skip the ascent to the lookout and just head down. 

For a while we were on snow (a couple glissades, but nothing special).  Of course, along here there were many more people (being a fine Memorial day, many people came up Mt. Pilchuck, some in t-shirts and tennis shoes).  A couple glissades later, we picked up the trail.  The rest of the hike was just a slog down mud hole city.  About 80% of the trail was mud puddle.  I don't know how people with tennis shoes made it.  Near the base of the trail, the trail crosses a stream which provided a good place to wash some of the mud off of our boots.  At the parking lot, we spent some time changing shoes and muddy pants.  This was the only place the bugs were noticeable. 

At this point we really wanted to head home, but we still had to spend an hour to again shuffle cars, driving back to the Bear lake trailhead.  Ideally, this hike should be done by two groups going in opposite directions so that car shuffling could be avoided. 

The road up to the Mt. Pilchuck trailhead starts and ends as pavement, but the middle stretch (comprising the vast majority of the road) is dirt.  It was rather full of potholes, but wasn't too bad for the amount of traffic that uses it. 


[ PIX1 ] Gene Obie with Rusty Ames and John reflected in his glasses. 

[ PIX2 ] Bathtub Lakes, Rick in foreground, Rusty and Gene in back. 

[ PIX3 ] Lake 22 from ridge. 

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