Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - Vesper Peak

Perfect conditions for a winter scramble to enjoy amazing views from Vesper. Firm snow blanketing the route from the approach to Headlee Pass to the summit.

  • Road rough but passable
  • Microspikes + ice axe = successful summit of Vesper on a cold, clear day.

    The Sunrise Mine Trail was initially smooth, then became progressively rougher, with roots, rocks, small trickles of water to cross, which naturally means mud. Due to snow patches I was not quite sure where the official trail ended but about a mile from the trailhead there was one stretch of trail that was heavily eroded and nearly washed away, as we approached the wide open valley. Once we crossed 3 streams and reached that valley, we crossed over and began traversing alongside its northwestern side (below Sperry Peak), the trail was very rough and unmaintained, although an occasional cairn marked the route. As we approached the steep gully/avalanche chute that leads up to Headlee Pass (looking upvalley towards the obvious avalanche-prone slope - please take your AIARE avalanche training, winter travelers!) there was intermittent refrozen hard snow - we only donned our microspikes, however, when we were nearly at the foot of that gully.

N.B. Vespers are evening prayers or the evening star, as vesper is the Latin word for "evening." (I'm not sure how Vesper Peak got its name... maybe because Morning Star peak is nearby?)

We scrambled Vesper Peak on November 17, 2018, a beautiful, clear, and cold November day. It was about 30 degrees F. in the parking lot for the Sunrise Mine Trail #707 at 8:15am. (Note: outhouse is chained and locked for the season).

After leaving the Sunrise Mine trail, we zigzagged up the steep gully leading to Headlee Pass. The gully was filled with hard-packed snow, and helpful switchbacks had already been hammered out for us by previous travelers. Ice axes were occasionally necessary here, though we saw some folks make it to the summit without an ice axe (my reaction: no, thanks!)  


From Headlee Pass we traversed over to the lake, again, I found that having an ice axe in hand was helpful here; then we paused, before our final climb up to the summit. From the lake upwards the snow was hard and crusty, temps remained cold, and the snow to the summit was pockmarked with many bootprints which often provided handy steps.  It was pretty easy to punch my boots into the snow and climb up though, when others' bootprints weren't a comfortable reach for me with my shorter legs. Ice axe was also handy on the descent for iffy moments as I couldn't always quite plunge-step since the windblown snow was pretty hard. The sun turned the snow into soft slush on the return traverse (past the lake) to Headlee Pass, but that gully had remained in the shade and the snow there was very firm. After descending the gully (thank you again, Mr. Ice Axe) we removed our microspikes for the hike back on the Sunrise Mines trail.


As it was now after 2:00pm/2:30pm, and this valley is almost always in shadow rather than direct sun, the rocks and scree were becoming frosty and slick. So the return trip took longer than anticipated, despite the downhill portions. Once we re-entered the woods in the final 1.0-1.5 miles of the trail though frost no longer was such a problem and the footing was much easier though never easy. Concentration and avoiding the very slippery root systems was a must throughout this scramble!

We did finish after sunset using headlamps to hike out those final forested miles. Perhaps it was due to the darkness and solitude, but our thoughts turned somber as we recalled the hiker who went missing in this area in summer 2018. Tragic loss for her family.

A note re pace: Some members of our party moved with greater caution and/or sore knees, so the faster members periodically stopped and waited particularly on the return trip to avoid separating the group. Good group solidariety! :)

I would estimate that the faster members of our group could have covered this route - with breaks but without these extra wait times- about 1.5-2 hours faster (i.e., 8:30am start but 3:00pm-4:00pm finish time).

Stats: 8:30am start 

Headlee Pass: 9:55am

Lunch at the summit: 1:00pm

Trailhead: 5:00pm