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Camp at Picket Pass.
 
  North Cascades Grand Tour – 1990  
  Part 2  

 
 
Ohe afternoon start to the third section of the tour was very tough. With full bellies and loads, Natala and I struggled up the climber’s path from beyond Pyramid Lake to a camp at 5500 feet below Pyramid Peak. We dropped the Megamid down to the ground in a mildly successful effort to shut out the fierce mosquitoes.

McMillan Cirque.  Don Goodman
In McMillan Cirque. Enlarge © Don Goodman.
Atop Snowfield on the 4th, we experienced our first encounter with a backcountry traveler, Kevin Thurner. Kevin loves to sleep on summits. We traveled briefly together on the 5th, as we both worked south toward Isolation Peak. Kevin kindly agreed to contact my father to convey a wish to replace our tattered shirts and satisfy a few food cravings. In 2003, thirteen years later, we would again meet Kevin on a summit, this time Mt. Larrabee (north of Mt. Baker).

Punctual as ever, Jim and Pauline reached the Boston Basin trailhead at 10:00 AM on August 9. We enjoyed another wonderful picnic and our final re-supply. Natala and I were moving up the Cascade Pass trail by 1:00 PM; the Ptarmigan Traverse, our final section, had begun. The weather remained good with the exception of occasional afternoon cloud build-up and thunder showers. At Yang Yang Lakes, we enjoyed plentiful blueberries, adding them to our pancake mix. Blueberry pancakes combined with melted maple sugar candy, a contribution from Natala’s parents in Pennsylvania, made for some very special breakfasts!

At White Rock Lakes, we spent an enjoyable evening with Gary Paull, who to this day remains the Forest Service’s trails guru for the region, Bernie Weingardt, then Deputy Forest Supervisor of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and one other Forest Service employee. They were attempting the Ptarmigan from south to north, an unusual approach. Under the threat of deteriorating weather, we pushed over the Dana Glacier to the south side of Dome Peak. The Dana was our last major obstacle to completing the Grand Tour, and establishing a camp at 6400’ on Itswoot Ridge was a relief. We spent three nights here, the second of only two camp locations where we spent more than one night, the other being Whatcom Pass.

August 14 was our first day of total R&R on the entire trip. My notes from that day include an “attack” by crazed marmots and the execution of no fewer than 40 horse flies!

On the 15th we climbed Dome, the final “anchor” of the Grand Tour. Late in the morning of the 16th our friends Jim Frush, Kristen Day, and Jim Martin strolled into our camp, having come from White Rock Lakes that morning. They were hightailing to reach the Suiattle that evening. We gladly lightened their loads of bagels and other “goodies” and wished them well. The weather was definitely deteriorating, so late that afternoon, Natala and I descended to a camp in Downey Creek while the brush in Bachelor Creek was still dry. Our final day on the trail was a pleasant walk through the primeval forest of Downey Creek.

View down to Moraine Lake from near Torment. Photo  Don Goodman
View down to Moraine Lake from near Torment. Enlarge Photo © Don Goodman
We spent our final night at the Downey Creek campground, relieved to be in the valley bottom, sheltered from the torrential rains. Listening to the downpour on the tent walls, Natala and I discussed our incredible adventure, now almost over. Though we were looking forward to a hot shower and change in menu, we also discussed the possibility of continuing south along the crest through the Glacier Peak Wilderness and on to Highway 2. We had been incredibly lucky with the weather and staying healthy, and we concluded it was best to leave a few things “undone” and head back to the “real world.”

On the morning of August 18, Jim and Pauline arrived as planned. I thought my walking was over, but a strange request accompanied them. During his night descent of Downey Creek on the 16th, Jim Martin had sprained his ankle approximately three miles from the trailhead. He abandoned his pack above the trail, marking the location with a cairn. As relayed to my father, Jim Martin asked if I would go back up the trail and retrieve his pack! I literally ran back up the trail to the cairn which I had spotted on the way down. A bizarre ending to a wonderful adventure in the North Cascades.

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