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Trip Report    

Sloan Peak/Corkscrew Route

This climb should be done more often. It’s remote, uncrowded, and has great variety of trail, terrain, rock, and glacier. It was hard to judge conditions in this low-snow-year due to lack of trip reports, but the glacier was still passable, Yay! To counteract the lack of reports, this will be long but useful, I hope.
We did a two-day trip, starting Saturday 8/1/15. We met at 9:30 on the N. Fork Sauk side, to hike up Cougar Creek. It was easy to find the trailhead. There is a small sign for “Sloan Peak Climbers Trail” at the pullout. There were a few climbing parties per week in the trail register over the last couple months. We left the TH about 10:15 on a very hot day, first navigating the river crossings. I counted four crossings, all passable by rocks or logs, but several of us had water shoes and just waded across, up to mid-calf on the last one. The paths and flagging helped us find the good crossings. We stashed water shoes for the return. The first section of trail up to Cougar Falls (at 3,300’) has many very large (3-5’) logs to get over or under. That slowed us down. We had lunch at Cougar Falls and purified some water. There was a log to cross at Cougar Falls, and then there were two smaller creek crossings that were just a rock hop and a jumpover. From Cougar Falls, most of the trail is clear of downed trees, but rather overgrown in the sunny places around 4,000’ and 4,500’.
Near 5,300’, we stepped out of a finger of trees into the rocky basin. We couldn’t see running water anywhere except a thousand feet above us and a trickle from the rocks that we had just crossed over. There is a tarn on the map around 5160’, but it was dry. Right after that, we crossed a rocky gully with that small trickle of water springing from the rocks. Two of us scouted the basin to our right and the ridge to our left with no luck finding any other water. But we did find a nice large campsite on the ridge to our left, and decided to stay there and get our water from that small spring in the gully below us. The camp offered some shade and plenty of room for tents and bivies. That spring, however, may dry up as the summer progresses. The last water source before that was the final crossing of Cougar Creek at about 4600’. The next higher water we saw would be up by the glacier at 6,500’.

We had warm night in the upper 50’s, and left camp at 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. The path goes S-SE up a treed ridgeline, turns right around the north side of a knoll, and then reaches the ridgecrest where you can see southwestward into the glacier basin. We passed some small camp spots among rocks and trees at 5800’, but there was no water nearby. The path pretty much ends there, but we just followed this NE ridge up to about 6500’ toward a finger of snow above the first “rock island” in the glacier. There are two rock islands with snow/ice separating them, and then the cliff face of the mountain. Some reports mention going below the first rock island, and others mention starting above it.
The glacier was very broken looking. The shelf below the first rock island was covered in nice white snow, but looked steep and ended with a large crevasse and a small-looking snow bridge on the left edge of the shelf. The shelf above that first rock island also had a line of nice white snow and looked less steep, but we could not see how it ended to the left of the rock island. We took a chance on the higher shelf.
The higher shelf went pretty well. The snow was soft enough for decent steps, except a couple icier spots that I protected with pickets. But it ended in a jumble of ice and rock, before gaining a much wider slope of nice white snow. It almost turned us around. I placed a picket and dropped down hard snow about 20’ to scout a flat spot of pure ice covered with some rock. On the other side was a finger of white snow that looked like a bridge, but it turned out to simply be white snow on top of hard ice that easily led up to the wider snow slope. I placed an ice screw to further protect the step down and the icy traverse, and then placed another picket on the snow slope beyond to help belay people down and across. We all regrouped on the wide snow slope, beyond both of the rock islands. Then, looking backward and down below the first rock island, I could see that the small bridge on that lower shelf was actually quite solid, so decided to go back down that way later.
Across the rest of the glacier, we found one good route across decent bridges and snow slopes, with only one more icy section. First, we traversed left to end-run one crevasse. Then we went further to the left to end-run another crevasse. Then we had a jog to the right and left to get across two more crevasses. By now, we were well left across the glacier, and higher near the cliff face, so we could see where the cliff wall met the east ridge. But we couldn’t get across the left side of the glacier from where we were. We had to go rightward to get above a couple more crevasses that totally opened up to the left. Then we had to climb hard icy snow about 20’ to get up on an edge of snow right against the rock wall. I couldn’t see any other routes that kept us further from the wall. We had not yet seen or heard any rock fall, so we began the route. The icy slope to the snow needed a couple pickets, and that was when a small rattle of rocks came down. One small rock pinged off a helmet, and another hit the top of someone’s hand. Thankfully, the snow widened out and we could move away from the wall, but there was about a rope length where we were uncomfortably close to the wall. That was the final snow patch, because it took us on a fairly flat traverse directly to East Ridge and the start of the scramble route.
We left ropes, harnesses and axes on the ridge, keeping our helmets. It was 8:45 and I had planned to summit about 9:30, so things were looking good. The scramble path was fairly obvious. If you think you lost the path, you did. Backtrack and look. It’s a very exposed but easy path in sections, with wonderful views to the south and west as you go around. The first gully to scramble up on the SW side is obvious, but there is a move leftward out of that gully that caused a couple concerned expressions, like “wow, we may need a rappel rope to get back down this.” It wasn’t that bad, but I noted the concern. After that, there is another traverse into a much wider Class 4 gully that climbs up to the final ridge that you scramble to the top (easy scramble). We reached the top at 9:40 and relaxed until 10:15. We could see two fires smoking in the NE toward Chelan. Glacier Peak was very obvious to the east. Over toward the SW, we could see the “pretty side” of the peaks above Monte Cristo. To the West and Northwest were central and north Cascades everywhere you looked. We tried naming others, but there were so many to see. The view from Sloan is incredible in all directions.
Going back down the scramble, I helped the most concerned climber place hands and feet to get safely back into the smaller gully. There wasn’t any other problem with the scramble, other than just paying careful attention on the exposed sections.

We were back in our rope teams by 11:15 and followed the same path around crevasses. First, we had to pass safely and quickly under the rock wall. I once again placed a picket on the steep and icy transition from wall to snow slope. One participant did slip and went about 12’ before arresting and taking slack from the rope. The other two members of the team had already gone into arrest position as well. He stopped well before reaching any crevasse or danger. Everything went well from there on good white snow with solid traction. As we neared the rock islands, we selected the lower route, below the first rock island. That crevasse was 5’ wide near the rock, but narrowed near the edge of the shelf such that the bridge was extremely solid, without any visible gap beneath. But it was close to another crevasse over the edge of the shelf, so we placed a picket to protect that transition, just in case. Then it was an easy few rope lengths back onto the rock. By then, several people needed water, so we took it directly from dripping glacier ice and zapped it with a Steripen. We were back to camp at 1:20, hiking out by 2:30, and reached the cars at 5:30. Those large logs and the river crossings slowed us down again. We stopped at Playa Bonita in Granite Falls for dinner, along with lots of other people returning from Sunday camp trips. By the way, there isn’t an active brewery in Darrington anymore. One business went back to Arlington, and other doesn’t have a license to sell beer within Darrington yet. I do believe, however, that the drive through Darrington is much faster than the drive through Granite Falls/Verlot to reach this climb.

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