Mount Si via Black Canyon
Early in the spring Justin brought up this totally nasty canyon on Mount Si called Black Canyon. He said it was super sketchy, had tons of loose rock, and looked like a blast to do. Sketchy? Fun? I'm in!
We killed a couple birds with one stone on this trip. One, we've been wanting to do this for quite awhile now. Two, Jessie wanted to get some scrambling time under his belt. This seemed like a perfect fit to get both done on one trip. With a marginal weather forecast in the outlook we gave it a last minute thumbs up, and made the final prep for the trip.
Jessie and I picked Justin up and were at the Little Si trailhead around 7:30am in order to beat the masses. It worked perfectly and we were cruising up the trial in no time. The "turnoff" for the canyon came rather quickly and up a small rocky trail we went. Now I want to be clear here. There is no "trail" for Black Canyon. It's about 90% route finding and bushwhacking. You head up the rocky runoff trail for a bit then as we saw an open mossy boulder field on our left we started the traverse over to the mouth of the canyon (btw, if you hit a cairn in the middle of the rock chute you've gone too far). At this point it was raining fairly hard, and the ran on the thick brush made sure we were left without a single square inch dry by the time we hit the canyon.
As you hop into the bottom of the canyon it immediately hits you how incredible (and serious) it is. Vertical walls on the left, nothing but loose rock in the center, and high vegetation on the right suggest that a LOT of rock comes down this canyon and when it does, you're in for a serious ride.
We peeled some layers and replaced them with our outer shells since we were out in the open rain now, and headed up the canyon. The plan was to simul-climb it remaining as close to side-by-side as possible to reduce the risk of one of us hitting the others with loose rock. The elevation gain on this canyon is no joke. Very compatible to Aasgard Pass for those who've experienced that except without a single solid stone on the way up. Awesome right?! We made pretty good time as we got into a nice rhythm and all things considered it was pretty uneventful until about 1/2 way up. We came across a massive boulder covering the right 2/3 of the canyon and what looked to be a nice little slot/pinch on the left side. After further inspection it genuinely looked like a single little class 5 move to get up. Kinda weird, because we hadn't read anything about that in our research. Oh well! After a couple slips I managed to get some good stem action going on and got up it. I gave Jessie a solid hand belay from the top and we got him up it. Poor Justin got the shit end of the stick because as he was getting ready the large rock we had been standing on to start the move slide down the hill making him about a foot shorter. This, combined with his still healing semi-recent hand injury left us with a little problem to solve. He opted to see if there was a route around the right side of the rock and into the trees, and a whopping 45 seconds later he was standing at the top. We laughed about it, and then remembered a couple reports had said they needed to go into the trees on the right in one spot. Oh yeah! Haha, oh well.
The rest of the climb up the canyon was fairly uneventful with only Justin taking a small rock to the arm (sorry dude!). Towards the top there are sporadic trees and brush amongst the rocks and we found evidence of just how powerful the rock fall and momentum of these falling rocks are when we spotted a rock embedded into the trunk of a tree. The energy required to do that is just amazing!
Cresting the top of the canyon we found ourselves in a little mossy clearing and while rejoicing that we had "made it" (so we thought) we were greeting with a nice middle finger from mother nature in the form of a huge hail storm. Wet, and now cold, we grabbed a quick snack and headed up the last 600 vertical feet towards the summit. I don't think any of us were expecting that part to suck that bad. It was extremely steep, and riddle with barkless sticks so thick that it was crazy slick! I do feel, however, like we were treated with a bit of guilt from mother nature because as we started to crest the top of the ridge the sun poked its head out and gave us the most majestic light beam show through the trees. From a photographers perspective it was heaven. The moisture in the air created a stunning rainbow effect in the light beams. Beautiful!
After skirting the ridge we all became much more aware of a potential situation arising. A very heavy fog had rolled in and visibility had now dropped do no more than 20ft. This was a problem because GPS was becoming much more unreliable, and we're walking along the edge of very steep ridge. We knew our target was a little saddle that dropped down and back up to Haystack on the summit, but we simply couldn't find it! Haystack couldn't be more than 500ft away, but it might as well have been 10mi away we because we couldn't see it! With compass' and maps ready we all worked together and managed to find, what looked like, a little spot to down climb onto what we hoped was the correct saddle. Looks like our navigation skills were on point, because after a nice little scramble we finally were staring at Haystack. Woot!
Skirting around the backside of Haystack on a very small trail we finally reached the lookout where all the "normal" hikers stop, lol. We made it! From there it was a simple 3mi hike back down the well traveled trail to the car. Total trip distance is a bit of an unknown due to all the GPS issues we experienced, but we're guessing around 6mi. Total gain was 3,881ft and total time was about 7hrs. Not a bad day in the wilderness!
Final thoughts on this route. I personally don't think the canyon was as sketchy as I had expected, but I still wouldn't down play the alertness needed to do this safely. I'd say the biggest concern is with weather and navigation. This is a genuine bushwhack, and while on a nice sunny day it wouldn't be too hard, when the weather rolls in and visibility is lost it gets real serious real quick.