Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mount Phelps 5535' ( most of the way anyway)

I had a small window of time for today's foray into the mountains so I needed something shorter and efficient. I had tried to Phelps last year via a route that I isn't done very often. That attempt ended when a partner lost his ice axe and once dropping to find it we couldn't find the motivation to continue. I suspect it had alot to do with the driving slush that was falling from the sky. I had tried to pass the usual Blackhawk Mine approach and approach by older growth found on the West side of the creek. For this attempt I wanted to try the standard approach. I had done so much research for my prior attempt I didn't feel the need to revisit any old reports. While I am not sure what effect not doing my homework had on the eventual outcome I do know it didn't help.

   I was able to make good time to the turn off for the 4x4 road that leads to the mine despite the fact that there seems to be a lot of work currently being done on the North Fork Road. For my last trip we were thwarted on the drive in by a washout so I parked in the same spot as I did last time. The washout has been fixed which means I needlessly walked an extra mile. It seems strange to me that the road was fixed since I would suspect it sees very little traffic. The road is again washed up further but that only leaves a short ways to the road that I wanted. Once leaving the main road the 4x4 road heads up steeply and just at where the road again splits is the start of the climber's trail. The trail is flagged every so often and I found it most helpful to use the stumps with rocks on the top of them as my guide. The trail is steep in spots but not too hard to follow. I was very careful to pay particular attention to where I exited the clearcut so that I would be able to pick up the route on the way down. I would recommend on trying to stay on this trail as much as possible because the descent could be problematic without the trail. Once out of the clearcut the initial portion is scrubby trees that give way to more mature trees speeding the ascent. I was still able to follow the trail as it starts a rising traverse. Soon I reached a small flat area that grew into a subtle ridge. I was surprised because I expected to hit the saddle between Phelps and McClain to the South. I was obviously further East than what I thought.

  Since the Ridge was heading in the direction I wanted I decided to forgo the traverse to the saddle and instead keep climbing. The subtle ridge starts forested but then breaks out into some talus and heather fields. The wet foliage had now dried and the pace kept the elevation ticking away. The grade is not overly steep so I was feeling better about my chance for success. I reached an immense slab that I forced to go around. I went climbers left and came out an snow filled gully. I dropped 50' of elevation to go around the snow. The snow looked of sketchy quality so I didn't want to chance climbing the gully. I instead crossed it and headed up the steep duff slopes. I came out onto another gully filled with very small, loose talus and climbed until I was stymied. The cloud cover was very low keeping me from seeing too much of what lie above me. What I could see wasn't something I wanted to attempt solo. I could see a small gap above to my left above me that may have afforded me the summit ridge but I had a feeling I was off route. After some thought I felt I needed to traverse further left but I was now growing concerned for time. I didn't want to force myself to have to do a speed descent of my ascent route. I had to be back at a specific time and I couldn't afford to be late. I decided to not take any chances and descend.

   I dropped 400' following my ascent route without issue. I then lost the trail and had a small quandary about which way I needed to go. I ended up back tracking and rejoining the trail and was able to follow the balance without issue. I can't recommend enough to use the stumps as your guide on the way down.

Approx 4 miles 2800' of climb 4:30 car to car

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