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Trip Report    

Alpine Scramble - Cushman Crest / Wilson Cleaver Traverse

A dramatic, beautiful, and strenuous traverse with much first hand evidence of glacier recession (climate change), as well as exposure to the unique route finding skills needed for coping with it. A botanist’s delight, this trip spans the Montane, Sub-Alpine, Alpine, and Nival (Snow) Zones.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • A fortunate weather window gave us blue skies for most of the day, with fog and whiteout in the morning and afternoon.  Fresh snow (over late season consolidated hard snow and ice) began at ~7300’.  Crampons were much appreciated (due to the underlying ice) for the section between ~7300’ and ~8000’.

This gorgeous traverse began at the parking area just prior to where the Longmire - Paradise road crosses the Nisqually River at ~3900’ (after staging a car at the Comet Falls trailhead for our return).  Steep and relatively open forest allowed us to quickly make our way to open meadows just east of Cushman Crest at ~5900’.  A traverse east (with a few ups and downs over intervening minor ridges) brought us to the base of an open bowl just west of the Nisqually Glacier.  A photo of this bowl can be seen here:

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After meandering through the base of this bowl we followed intermittent game trails on the ascender’s right of this bowl, before traversing west (ascender’s left) at ~6600’ to reach the ridge crest at ~7000’ (with beautiful views of the Nisqually Valley on the far side).  Due climate change a past lobe of the Wilson Glacier has now been isolated into its own mini-glacier in the area due south of the ~8000’ col on the Wilson Cleaver.  After ascending the southern aspect of the unnamed peak (elevation ~7800’) bordering the eastern side of this glacier, we descended to ~7500’, then resumed our ascent along the eastern margin of the glacier (over rock and hard ice) to reach a notch at ~7,700’ ( just below and NW of the unnamed peak).  From this notch a direct line to the NW allowed us to reach the ~8000’ col.  NOTE: although late season conditions allow small crevasses to be easily seen and avoided on this direct line, an early season trip should use roped glacier travel (would make a great mini-glacier climb with a line up the center or center-right).  A photo showing the mini-glacier and the unnamed ~7800’ peak can be seen here (taken from ~7500’):

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and a photo showing our direct line ascent to the ~8000’ col can be seen here:

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The normal descent from this ~8000’ col into Van Trump Park (on the west side of Wilson Cleaver) is not reasonable late season due to steep and very loose rock that is normally (in early season) held in place by a substantial snow field (which also fills in a continuous ~15 ft cliff).  After crossing to the eastern aspect of the Wilson Cleaver, we resumed our ascent to ~8200’ following the western margin of the Wilson Glacier and the Wilson Cleaver (with a few spots of T5, this was the toughest technical part of this trip).  A photo which includes this T5 portion as well as the notch between the Wilson Glacier and its mini-me (far below, to the left of the hands on the poles) can be seen here:

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From ~8200’  the ~1.5 mile descent into Van Trump park took 2 hours. Although relatively straightforward (made possible by GPS), this section involved whiteout conditions plus short glacier slab cliffs here and there.  The final 2.5 miles on well maintained trail were a joy at the end of a long day, especially with a chance to see beautiful Comet Falls.  An incredible S5/T5 trip (~12 miles, ~5000’ gain) with a total time of ~11.5 hours (includes 8 hours for the ascent).  Photos from the entire trip can be seen here.