Marek and I made plans to climb the South Face of the Tooth, what with all the great weather since before Christmas. But Friday morning we arrived at Alpental in spitting rain and snow. Looking at the surroundings, we saw there had been 12 inches of fresh snow during the night. Realizing that the climb would involve much more scraping snow off of holds than we wished for, we fantasized about other climbs, such as the North Face of Chair Peak. Three parties were already ahead of us heading for that. We decided to follow, leaving snowshoes at the car since they did too. Only 20 minutes later, the track disappeared, and we learned all parties had bailed. We didn’t like the conditions either, and without snowshoes we couldn’t have continued if we wanted to. So we bailed. We gave discouraging words to two parties coming in for the climb, but wisely, they ignored our advise and continued on. We don’t know if they made it or not, but I’m definitely curious. The snow stopped around 9 am, the day became very nice, and there was no precipitation Friday night. Loren (Loren has a great long-standing website and partner made the climb Saturday.

So we decided to do something less technical. I was sighing a lot and having motivation problems. I’m tired of getting all excited about a technical winter climb, then (inevitably) abandoning the plan due to changed conditions and signing up for a day of snowshoe plodding. I actually didn’t sleep at all Thursday night, being a bit wound up considering mixed climbing on the Tooth. This didn’t help my motivation. But there was no way I’d let Marek down, who was chipper as a spring chicken. He suggested climbing Silver and Abiel Peaks, which sounded fine to me. We moved trailheads and were hiking around 7:30 am.

Trace amounts of snow on the trail made snowshoes unnecessary. In fact, we wouldn’t use snowshoes until near the end of our trip. Plodding along dully and feeling tired, I slowly woke to the beauty of the silent forest. We talked and continued upward to an obvious gully. After the second gully (potentially dangerous in bad snow conditions), Marek suggested heading straight up the slope to meet the Northwest Ridge of Silver Peak. He had climbed peaks and traveled extensively in this area, but had never gone this way. Immediately excited, I followed his steps for several hundred feet, as the forest got steeper. We put on crampons after crossing an icy gully, and continued up a ridge that became more and more defined. It also became an exciting climb. With my clinometer, I measured the slopes, and they were typically 55 degrees. The obvious avalanche gully down at the trail was the classic 40 degrees. We were chopping handholds for the hand without an ice ax, and the ridge narrowed. The clouds lifted to reveal slopes on the other side of Humpback Creek.

I relieved Marek and continued on snowy bulges, helped by occasional scrub trees. The angle lessened a bit, and soon we were admiring the scenery from the Northwest Ridge. The light was beautiful, and we got some pictures with Marek’s camera. Marek led up the ridge, traversing especially steep outcrops on the left or right. The snow conditions were great, but we avoided open slopes as a general precaution. We looked down on the vast snowfield leading down to Annette Lake. The summit was windy, so we didn’t linger very long.

But one interesting thing happened. There was a “fata morgana” around my shadow, as projected on a layer of clouds below the summit. This odd circular band of colors is apparently not seen very often. Also, there was a circular rainbow in a larger circle about the same point. Really strange and neat!

Now we went down gentle slopes to the saddle with Abiel Peak. Here, we put on snowshoes for the first time. I was feeling really tired, it just wasn’t my day! But I was impressed enough by the view of Abiel and the fairly steep slopes to the summit that I was ready to continue. I changed back to crampons and followed Marek. There was a short but really nice 55 degree section of hard snow (I’m really getting into my clinometer!) that I had to detour over to climb. Higher up, Marek gave me the lead since with crampons I could kick more secure steps. The summit was a little anti-climactic, probably due to waning energy. But the sky was changing to evening colors and looked marvelous.

We went down quickly, retrieving our gear and continuing down to Annette Lake on a low angle snowfield that traversed under the steep north face of the mountain. There were many icy gullies here, something to think about for a climb one day. A forested ridge on the west side of the lake brought us to tracks we could follow out to the trailhead. Sadly, we chose the wrong set of tracks, and they led us a meandering journey up and down, finally up for 200 feet to meet the main trail. Switching to headlamps, Marek told me about the benefits of being a flight attendant, and it sounded like one of the best jobs in the world! I asked where I can sign up, but the real benefits come with seniority.

There was a final adventure because I insisted on shortcutting two switchbacks. It was much easier to walk straight down the snow rather than deal with long traverses. The second shortcut must have saved us a mile and a half, but we grew worried as we dropped deeper and deeper into the valley, coming close to perilous log-choked streams. But we finally came out on the trail, all was well.

Special thanks to Marek for introducing me to this surprisingly alpine area! Before, when I thought of Silver/Abiel Peaks, I thought of clear cuts, logging roads and ski infrastructure. But we found steep hard snow climbing, cornices, blowing snow, and absolute solitude.