I slept like a rock. A rock that woke up feeling like it had fallen from the top of the mountain and broken into a million pieces. I had a headache and some serious brainfog, although I cannot say which beverage caused it. The likely culprit was from all the sugar in the Tropicana we were passing around.
I crawled down the ladder of my RTT to find the ground still wet under my feet. After rubbing my eyes to rid the sleep that still plagued them, I was surprised to find the campsite engulfed in a blanket of fog. Although not the dry and warm campsite I dreamt of, this was definitely an improvement. I hustled to Doug’s tailgate and began prepping breakfast and a much needed press of Stumptown’s finest roast. Within the hour, the veil of fog had begun to dissipate, revealing nothing but the pure blue sky above. As we packed up camp, Chase and Peter of the Tamarack crew, grabbed the drone for a few rounds of the lake and campsite. Our damp tents and accommodations stayed out until the end to let the natural warmth of the sun do its work and dry our gear. While the sun worked it's magic, we walked to the bridge near the camps entrance to check out some of the freshwater salmon who were spawning below. Looking onward, the lake was like glass, displaying duplicates of the surrounding natural contours in its reflection.
After a few more rounds of photos and a sketchy flight of the drone under the low hanging bridge, we scurried back to camp to clean up our now dry tents. The day was looking promising indeed.
Several members were forced to depart at this time. Due to it being a Sunday and not able to sneak an extra day away from the office, they had to head home to be back for the Monday morning grind. Regretfully we said goodbye, feeling truly bummed they would miss this sunny day in the ‘Koots’. The remainder turned focus to the task at hand: more high elevation exploration. We were within 5kms of another local trail that has been documented to climb to some of the most amazing glacial till and ice in the region. The variable again was if our trucks were too fat for the challenge.
We quickly found the trailhead and climbed what was definitely the right trail - a small sense of affirmation after the multiple turn-arounds the day before. We carried on at a good pace, following the river’s edge while gaining elevation only slightly. The clouds remained at bay as we progressed further into the valley. A couple tight sections left for some interesting maneuvers to avoid falling into the river, but it was nothing to keep us discouraged.
We hit our first obstacle about 30 mins up the trail where it had narrowed and then a portion of the perpendicular bank had sluffed across the trail with a few accompanying stumps. I made a quick effort with the rear locker engaged but found the passing too narrow with the Tundra’s wide girth. The good news with me upfront, is that if my truck can make it, then anyone can behind me. Instead of risking the narrow crossing, we opted for the smart choice of a little manual labor to clear the washout and widen the path. We made quick work of the dirt and only struggled slightly with the haggard roots against our axles. With a quick spot to ensure I didn’t take a tree root through the passenger door, I was through and carrying on up the trail with the rest of the group following closely behind.
We pushed onward, soon discovering the next washout in our path. This one significantly larger, steeper, and less stable. We scouted the area for a bypass but to no avail.
We were on the right trail but even after attempting a little dirt work, we made the wise group decision to bow down in favor of well… not dying. This was a difficult decision; we were getting shut down again to what would surely be some of the most amazing views imaginable. It gnawed at me to walk away without a clear victory but it was the right decision.
We quickly back-tracked down to the trailhead as I tried to clear my head and come up with an alternate plan to salvage the rest of the day. As the last truck rolled back onto the smooth gravel connector, we stuffed our faces with some grub and aired up. I knew the area better than most, but thought this time I was going to play the odds.
With the hammer down, our crew reached the base of the mountain and turned the tires upward. The ascent was slow and tedious with constant washouts eliminating any constant forward momentum. It was late afternoon and the sun was still shining. I was feeling refreshed and positive that we would reach the top – I was even thinking we might be able to catch the sunset from the lookout. Switch back after switchback we climbed in tight formation. The views increasing in beauty with each approaching bend.
The trail narrowed and got more technical but our progress didn’t falter as this particular climb seemed to never end. The dank forest grew more fluorescent as the green moss covered an increasing amount of surface area. Temps were dropping quickly and suddenly I had a nervous feeling in my gut.
Still running lead, I was the first to round one of the switchbacks and be confronted with our first dose of the white stuff. It quickly stopped me in my tracks with my tire pressure still at ~23psi. Out came the deflators and another 13 psi from each corner. The ARB compressor breathed some life into my rear differential and Doug clawed up the snowy switchback. Everyone else followed suite and we continued to climb against the resistance of a growing volume of snow. Somewhere along the line, the switchbacks became so steep and tight that it was hard to make the corners in a single pass. This effort combined with the need for momentum in the deep snow meant we needed to tackle each rise one truck at a time. Sliding backwards down each section of the climb was possible, so we needed to keep our spacing should something unfortunate happen. I made a few switchbacks before radioing down for the next member to start climbing before continuing onward.
The next climb rose steeply infront of me but this climb was also longer than the rest. I kept the rear end locked and encouraged more speed. The Toyo’s fought their way up the slope and by the time I had reached the switchback (which luckily had enough space for 3 or 4 trucks to fit and stage for the next ascent) I had lost almost all traction and momentum. I rolled over the lip of the hill with a deep exhale as my co-pilot expressed his concern for his life (lol). Sliding backwards would be devastating, but any lateral movement would have us skidding right off the side of the mountain. I quickly turned around in the space at the switchback to hear David’s 80-series winding-out as it clawed up the incline. I hand-gestured “more speed, more speed…” until he had rolled over the safety net and into the parking space. We quickly got on the radio and advised the next member to also keep his speed up and not to let off until he had crested the top. Dave and I then stepped aside for a brief discussion regarding the next plan of action.
After our pulses slowed enough to normalize, we looked north to see the view we had been searching for. The sun was just setting and we could see the peaks of dozens of the Purcell’s finest mountains glowing against the sun’s setting rays. It was absolutely breathtaking.
The sky began to turn shades of orange and pink with the contrasting Larch trees and snowy peaks. We admittedly got lost in the view until we heard the hum of my father’s Tacoma coming up next. We quickly realized we were about to run out of room on this incline to park more rigs and that stopping mid-hill would only result in disaster. One of us grabbed the radio while the other encouraged my father up safely to the top of this rise. We were nearly pinned now. The sun was setting and temperatures were about to quickly drop off, leaving the wet snow that we had just fought to come up, turning into a sheet of ice for the ride back down. Continuing up the next switchback was possible but it really wouldn’t help us get back down safely. By the time we had confirmed radio communication back down to the rest of the group, we had one more 4Runner squeezed at the top.
Even though only half of us had made it to the viewpoint, we had to share this victory with the whole group. The rest of the group below was encouraged to find a safe place to park on the trail and quickly hike up to see the last remnants of the sun before it set. Within 10 minutes the whole group panted on the ledge looking out over the spectacular view. The fare was worth the cost. Quickly reality set in and now we really had to get back down. And get back down quickly before the tracks froze.