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|Mailed to WacList||09/07/2010|
Mountains: Dumbell, Greenwood (aka NE Dumbell)|
Participants: Toby Young, Ira Rushwald
Crampons - never used
I brought a Whippet for an ice axe but it was not needed.
Approach shoes made the walking much more pleasant.
At the beginning of August I went with Miles to try and climb Dumbell and Greenwood mountains. The weather had other ideas for us, though, and the entire trip became a "..did not play." We walked into Spider Meadows under thundering skies. The rain faucet opened just as the tent went up and continued throughout the night and into the morning. We simply walked out after a leisurely morning of sleep. Now, a month later, with a very good weather window was slated for this past Thursday and Friday I would try again. Ira had the days free and was game so we made a plan for it.
For those in the know, Dumbell and Greenwood are both on the Bulger List of Washington's 100 Highest Peaks. Neither of us are working on that list but the list does make a convenient reference when looking for something new to climb. And with the "Summit Routes" guide book written just for that list, there is sufficient beta on the peaks. This is in stark contrast to Jonathan Pryce's adventuresome spirit of seeking out places no one is quite certain how to get to or if you even can.
Both Dumbell and Greenwood are scrambles with no technical gear required beyond the possibility of an ice axe and crampons. We brought the latter but they were never required for the current conditions.
Our plan was to walk into Spider Meadows on Thursday afternoon, make camp, and relax. Come Friday morning we would climb the two peaks then walk out and drive home. Given that the trail to Spider Meadows gains something like 1,500 feet in 5 miles or so, the meadow itself can be easily reached in less than 2-hours. Add another 20 to 25 minutes to reach the other side of the meadow. With such an easy approach, we met at a Park and Ride at the crack o' noon. The drive over Steven's Pass was uneventful and the drive down the Chiwawa River Road is as long as always. At 3 PM we were walking quickly down the trail with one of the lightest packs I have carried in some time. The pack would have been a tad lighter had we not each packed in a can of beer along with 400 ml of whiskey in my pack and some tequila in Ira's pack. Hey, with such a short approach we were bound to find ourselves with an abundance of time to kill that evening.
We reached Spider Meadows at 5 PM and were in a campsite at the far end of the meadow at 5:20 PM. This particular campsite is quite comfortable - probably one of the better sites in the meadow. The site has a water source within 20 feet of the tent. There is a large rock present with a very flat surface suitable for cooking. The site itself is sufficiently away from the trail to avoid visitors. And given that it butts up against a forest, there is ample fire wood available for the established fire ring. Yes, camp fires are still allowed in Spider Meadows and is a reason for this being one of my favorite backpacking destinations. To find this lovely tent site, follow the trail through Spider Meadows as if you were going to Phelps Basin or Spider Gap. Just before the trail becomes steeper and enters heavy timber, look for a side trail on your left. Walk this trail for about 100 feet and you are there. The site is on the left side of the meadow and not far from the water runoff from the cliffs above. If you pass the two large horse campsites or you reach the turn-off for Phelps Basin, you missed the side trail to the tent site.
At this point we had a good 3 hours or so until dark and bed time. We sat by a fire. Ate dinner. Drank the beer (properly chilled in the stream, thank-you very much). And ate a dessert of chocolate covered toffee chased with whiskey then move onto the tequila. Overall, I would say we brought just enough booze to stay warm and feel good but not enough to compromise the end-goal of the next day. The alarm was set for 6 AM with a plan of leaving camp at 7 AM. We were hoping to be back in camp early in the 2 PM hour and then start the walk out by 3PM. Of course we ended up behind schedule. Story of my climbing life.
To reach Phelps Basin, follow the main trail further uphill for a tenth of a mile or two. You will pass two large campsites on your left. The turn-off for Phelps Basin is signed and heads to the right. Should you not be paying attention and miss this turn-off, you will instead ascend to the left up the cliffs towards Spider Gap. Once you take the correct turn-off, the trail remains on the left-side of the creek and stays in brush for a few minutes before breaking out into Phelps Basin. The trail ends a short distance further. There is a stellar campsite near the end of the trail.
To reach Dumbell ascend Phelps Basin towards its head and then break hard right. There is a creek drainage and you want to ascend it on the left-hand side. A bit of a trail does exist in places once you get into the steeper part, though at no point is the terrain at this point beyond class 2+. Ira's photos show the lowest part of the drainage. This SummitPost entry provides a decent picture of the basin from down low:
Continue to ascend the drainage taking the easiest path at all times. At about 7,100 feet the easiest path begins to turn left and you gain a glimpse of the basin below Dumbell. Photo #5 of Ira's pics show this view. The ascent up to this point goes rather quickly as the terrain is good under your feet. From camp, we covered 2,000 of elevation in 1 hr 30 minutes and anyone that knows me knows I am certainly not built for speed. Not unexpectedly, travel slowed significantly once our feet hit the scree.
Beyond the 7,100 foot mark continue up into the basin below Dumbell on rock or snow or some combination. Soon you will be near the end of the basin and need to decide whether you want to climb Dumbell first or Greenwood. We opted for Dumbell. There is a good picture in the SummitPost link above of the portion of the basin you need to ascend to reach the top of Dumbell. I believe Ira and I first ascended the area between the labels "A" and "B" in the photo. Then we went up the area labeled "E". The climbing is all 3rd class at most and with good handholds. The route is easily down climbed, partly due to the good handholds.
The summit of Dumbell contains a real nice bivy site. Assuming you haul enough water with you, this would be a heck of a place to spend the night! The summit register contained a handful of names from 2010 - probably less than a dozen. The last entry from 2009 is Susan Ashlock's and Lee Adam's ascent on October 9th. Bonanza looms very large just to the north. It is the biggest thing around you at this point. Far to the north we were able to make out Bucker, Ripsaw Ridge, and Sahalie. Eldorado's distinctive east ridge was also in view. Again, see Ira's pics. One observation I made was the presence of fresh snow just on the north side of several nearby peaks, specifically Seven Fingered Jack, Fernow, and Copper. Ira and I surmised that the snow came from weather that brought heavy rain to the region prior Tuesday. At the higher elevations Autumn would appear to be presenting it's calling card.
We sat on top for 30 minutes enjoying the sunshine. I would have been content with sitting longer but Greenwood still required a visit and the day was not getting any shorter. The descent off Dumbell is of no real consequence. Simply descend the same route as you came up.
Greenwood is reached by heading to the RIGHT at the head of the basin below Dumbell. Again, the SummitPost article in the link above has a good picture (what you want is labeled "H" in the picture) and Ira's pics show some detail as well. The terrain out of the basin to the notch does not look very good but as you get closer you do see a bit of a beaten-in path. Once at the notch continue to the left and the ledge you walk across comes into view. It is actually a pretty cool looking ledge and for the most part wide enough to walk normally, though the drop-off is big and severe. The Summit Routes book indicates to not attempt this crossing if the ledge is wet or snow filled. I agree whole heartedly.
Once across the ledge there is a small glacier to cross. The USGS map does not snow a glacier in this location but the visible evidence would seem to be sufficient that glacier ice is present. Fortunately, the terrain is very mellow and the steepest portion that drops into a little pond is well below where you need to cross. We did not don the crampons coming or going as conditions did not warrant it. I could see crampons being useful should September stay warm and significant portions of the underlying ice are further exposed. Or, if the September nights turn quite cold and the snow freezes solid. Once across the snow, pick a way up the boulder field and up to the summit of Greenwood. It is a walk-up.
We climbed only the south summit of Greenwood. Yeah, I know there is some debate about whether the north or south summit is higher. But the Bulger list uses the south summit and that was my reference. Moreover, the USGS does not even label these peaks on their map so I doubt there will ever be an official ruling on the matter. But, if I had to come back in the future, it is not a bad place to have to come back to. The summit register on Greenwood is new and according to it was put in place on October 10th, 2009. Ira and I were the first to put our names in it since that date. I find it very hard to believe that no one else has been to Greenwood since October of last year. It isn't like the register is hidden away from site: look for the PVC tube under summit carin.
After 45 minutes of lounging we began the descent. Getting back to the notch past the ledge is fast. Descending from the basin below Dumbell back into Phelps Basin, however, actually seemed to take longer than I would have thought. There is a decent amount of scree and loose rock to make your way though and that does slow progress. Regardless, when you have sunny skies and an occasional cool wind, life isn't be to bad. We made it back to camp around a quarter after three, which I learned from Martin Volken is the appropriate afternoon coffee hour. Knowing the walk out would be 2-hours and flat to slightly downhill, I proposed a plan to first make a cup of joe and then soak our feet in the nearby stream while drinking that coffee. The vote was two to zero in favor with no debate.
The car was reached at 6:30 PM. The (now cold) beer I stashed in a nearby stream on the way in was a welcome reward. Dinner was at the 59er Dinner at Cole's Corner.