Trip Report    

Mac Peak, Spark Plug and Surprise

Spring storm slog and overnight

  • Sat, Apr 13, 2019 — Sun, Apr 14, 2019
  • Surprise Lake & Mountain
  • Scrambling
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Short road to the trailhead is clear except for a tall snow pile that a good Jeep can drive around.

    Surprise Lake trail is clear of snow only beyond the 537 boardwalks. Beyond that, holes are opening, creek crossings are waiting to swallow your boots and rocks have huge moats. The steep portion above 3600 feet is especially bad. It's full melt mode out there. Two fallen trees across the trail in first mile.

    At Surprise Lake and beyond it's still winter. Lakes frozen, everything locked up with feet of fresh snow on top.


This was a backup weekend plan. The forecast was garbage but Luke and I were determined to bag some peaks. We set out at 8am in steady rain that turned to wet snow, and eventually dryer snow by the time we reached Surprise Lake.

The snow is DEEP out there. It snowed over two feet in the week prior and this weekend's storm was to drop six more inches. Took a while to reach the basin behind Glacier Lake, sinking somewhere between ankles and knees with every step in snowshoes. We took our first decent break there (10 minutes) and set out directly west, up steeply to the pass between Surprise Mountain and Spark Plug.

We wanted to stay in the trees and managed to find some break in a small cliffband where the trail wraps around a bulge at 5,600. Luke carried a snowshoe up the last bit after it fell off. Snorkles not required, but would have been nice. The rest of the way to the pass was steep, but simple.

We were now on the windward side. The  trees wrapped in rime, dry powder over melt crust, snow falling, and of course, that wind. It took a good long time to traverse north to the summit of Spark Plug, eight hours in to our day.

After exactly no break, we set off, retracing our steps to the pass and then Surprise Mountain. A bit easier, but we were tired now and the day was drawing on. It had stopped snowing and we descended what would be an awsome backcountry ski line off the south side of Surprise to Deception Lakes.

The sun was breaking thin clouds now as we made camp on the treed peninsula of the Lake, showing us what was now tomorrow's objective; Mac Peak. I'd brought chili mac for the occasion, but Luke had missed the memo and brought a jerk chicken meal he simply said was, "not good." It snowed all night. The wind was gusty, but after 11 hours on the move, we slept well enough.

We were going again at 7am the next morning and struggled to find a decent route up to Mac's southwest ridge. The weather had improved and the sun threatened, but never came through for more than a minute. We made the ridge at 6,200 and cruised up on windblown crust, giving a wide margin to the corniced ridge. 


There was one steep section pictured above where we used ice axes. It appears as a false summit, but after mounting this portion, the summit is a glorious stroll up 300 more vertical. The wind was coarse, blowing snow that would damage your skin. I held my arms out in triumph, trying to embrace the situation. We quickly retreated back down the ridge where the sun occasionally broke and we were afforded views of peaks we'll visit in the near future. Most noteably Junggeselle Peak. No time for that on this trip.

After packing up camp, it was time to climb the 750 feet to Surprise Gap. The north side is avalanche central with signs of large slides both new and old. We went one at a time, watching each other cover the quarter mile. 


Our deep track from the day before was largely lost in new snowfall. Additionally, it must have rained a long time Saturday as we opened up numerous holes where footing was solid the day before. This trail is treacherous right now. Sunday was an eight hour day and we were pretty whipped when we made it back to the car, raining as it was when we left. 

Trip total: 19 miles, 7100 gain, one more night melting snow for water. Can't wait to camp on dirt again.