Aasgard Pass Hike
John Bennett and I had planed a hike several weeks before and were both too stubborn to cancel in the face of ridiculous weather. A wet weather system hunched over the entire state like a possessive toad. Was I ready for the memory of so many beautiful dry fall hikes and climbs to be replaced by beclouded views and long shalumps through rainy forest? Ready or not, that’s what we got. But there were pleasant surprises.
Brian had come up from California to visit John for the weekend, and he came along, proving to be excellent company. We intended to leave the city Friday night but a tawdry drama engulfed Brian when he realized he took someone else’s bag from the airport. A weary vigil and more hours on the highway for poor John and Brian pushed our hike out to Sunday.
While they camped at the rainy trail-head, I slept warm and safe by Kris at home. But, I endured the pain of a 3:30 am start and a foggy night drive over Stevens Pass. I could already feel the cold, wet clothing ahead of me and drew inward.
The three of us were hiking by 7 or so, each with umbrellas against the unceasing rain. I marveled at Brian’s ability to forsake the sunny Sierras for planet Degobah and still proclaim to have a good time. Upward through the woods, and across icy bridges, we found our way to a nice viewpoint down to the valley we had climbed. Here we took some pictures, and quickly moved on.
Before long we reached Colchuck Lake and snow. We wanted to climb Aasgard Pass on the opposite side of the lake, so we headed south on a gradually less distinct trail. Soon, we were under Dragontail Peak on the south side of the lake, scrambling over boulders as the snow and wind increased. Pausing to put our parkas on for good, and glacier glasses if we had them, we ascended. Cairns marked the way here and there, but were not so important that we would go out of our way to stand by one.
The lake became smaller and the wind became fierce. The snow got deeper and the route became steeper. All of this happened gradually, until we were climbing icy rocks and hiding behind boulders during heavy gusts. When the wind tapered off, a quick scamper to the next rock, tree or snowdrift followed. Some of these gusts had us laughing out loud for their ridiculous overstatement! Was it really necessary to cause me to teeter back, heart in throat, ice ax slammed home at the last instant? Methinks not…
After 1000 feet (halfway up), we held a council of war. Any decision-making process was cut short by the appearance of a huge gust of snow blasting down from the pass. We could see a constant drift whizzing by higher up. After some brash talk, we prudently started down, now content to admire our surroundings since the time for brave works had passed.
Dragontail Peak was an enticing menace! Triple Colouirs and Serpentine Arete are some route names for this mountain. Obviously it is well loved and feared by those who climb. On the east shore of the lake, rose Colchuck Balanced Rock, a 5.10a climb characterized by steep sheer walls followed by a horizontal overhanging section.
A friend, Alex K. had asked us to check the ice conditions on Dragontail Peak but being completely ignorant of ice climbing I wondered what we could do other than misinform him. I know: “dubious.” There.
Down from our adventure at the Pass, we realized we’d had a great time. Blowing rain and snow is a definite improvement from boring drizzle! We ate lunch and hiked out.
Oh, and I got some crummy stares from late-rising hikers for my umbrella. I won’t get on my soapbox today, but I will make an observation: Not everything with utility is made of Gore-Tex and costs $50 per ounce. A good, sturdy umbrella is an excellent tool for hiking and mountaineering. Don’t look so shocked! Humpf.