Two Peaks. Two Days.
Why bag one peak when you can bag two right? Well that's exactly what Justin and I set out to do. The objectives were simple on paper. Day one we'd climb Cathedral Rock. Day two we'd climb Mt. Daniel. It sounded so simple. We were confident we could do it, but I don't think either of us anticipated what we were up against.
I picked Justin up at around 7:30pm Friday night, and headed over Snoqualmie Pass towards the town of Roslyn. After cruising through the small quaint town we made our way down the 13mi gravel/dirt road to the trail head for Cathedral Pass. Umm... was there some mass invitation I wasn't aware of? The car count was easily above 50, and finding a spot was a bit challenging. We finally squeezed in between a couple cars, and setup our tents behind the Rally Rav. The stars were out, and sprits were high. We admired the Milky Way for a bit, and finally gave in to the reality that we better get some sleep for what we thought was going to be a casual day ahead. "Thought", being the key word there.
Morning came, and the unfortunate news that Justin had not slept well was at the forefront. Apparently, the combination of my two-day-earlier nose cauterization job and my pillow sliding up caused my nasal passages a wee-bit of a lack of airflow. This resulted in me bellowing through my throat for the majority of the night, thus keeping him (and even others) awake. We strategized on how to prevent it the next night while we packed up, and despite the rough night, hit the trial with spirits high. Now despite being major "ounce counters" there really wasn't any way around heavy pack weights on this trip. We had to have glacier gear, ropes, and a full trad-climbing rack because of the huge contrast on the two peaks. 38lbs each in minimalist packs was not feeling the greatest that's for sure.
We made our way up the trail refilling water at Squaw Lake and then passing through Spinola Meadows. Wow, this place is beautiful! The trail holds a fairly decent elevation gain all the way to the pass, but the views definitely offset it. Finally we rounded a bend and there in clear view in front of us was Cathedral Rock. I stopped, gawked, then even muttered to myself, "People actually climb that?". Yes Nick... yes they do, and in very short order you're going to be climbing it too. Oh boy, what had I signed up for.
About 3/4 of the way up the climbers trail to Cathedral Rock we ditched our packs and geared up. Two 35m ropes, trad rack, and 1L of water. This was supposed to be a fairly quick climb (don't they all start out like this?) so we weren't too worried about bringing to much gear. We made our way up the rest of the trail to only get confused on where to actually start climbing. Route finding was "interesting" on this here little mountain. Nothing look like it went, because the gullies are somewhat hidden from view. Now lets see... how can I even begin to describe Cathedral Rock. Think of it like a Jenga game made out of gravel from your driveway. Yeah, that's it! The gullies are filled with loose rock that loves to dislodge itself and go hurling down towards your climbing partner. What remaining rock that manages to stay somewhat in-tact is held there by just enough force to ensure you won't even look at it sideways for fear of it dislodging. The gullies are mostly class 3 with a couple of class 4 sections. I was more worried about being able to find our way back down than I was about the actual climbing at the time.
We made the final push up the last gully, past another rappel tree, and were finally greeted with the single class 5 pitch. Now before I get corrected, yes, Beckey does not call it class 5 however everyone knows he's full of shit and has a tendency to under-rate stuff. This is a great case. Yes, some of that section is class 4, but the absolute garbage rock, a couple class 5 moves, and higher exposure definitely puts it in the class 5 to me. Justin lead the climb, and struggled a bit to find decent rock to place pro but in the end we made it to the belay station while only having to dodge a couple small rocks that went whizzing by my head. Nice work man! Shortly after the belay station we made it up and over the very obvious rappel boulder, and onto the ridge line. We were behind schedule, but in one piece.
Here's where it got interesting. Crappy rock, 1,000ft down on either side, and places that get about 1.5ft wide. Perfect right? Umm... yeah. I fully admit that I was battling some mental demons at this point. Apparently I wasn't hiding them all that well and Justin was very upfront about being ok with calling it if I wasn't up to finishing. I knew I had the technical skill. I just had to take a second to let the left side of the brain convince the right side of the brain to shut up and quick being a Shurley and put on it's big girl panties. Eventually, the adventurous side won and we simul-climbed our way up to the peak. Victory! My first rock summit was in the books. My first trad climb was in the books. Actually, my first outdoor climb was in the books! Wait, how in the hell did this end up as my first outdoor climb?! Justin! Hahaha! That's what friends are for right?!
After a short celebration, and realizing we were running very low on water, we made our way back down to the rappel boulder. Mark that one down as my first rappel! See a pattern here? One more rappel, about 56 loose tumbling rocks, and we were finally back on solid ground. We were tired no question, but the grins were hard to hide. Peak #1 to project Two'fer was in the books despite being about 5hrs behind schedule.
We grabbed our packs and made the final mile to Peggy's Pond where we both agreed we'd set up base camp. Originally we were going to set up camp a bit higher and closer to Mt. Daniel, but the birds-eye view we received from Cathedral Rock told us there was a SERIOUS lack of snow on Mt. Daniel. Our intended couloir ascent up the Hyas Creek Glacier to the Daniel Glacier was not going to go. After some much needed dinner we decided to take the Southeast Ridge instead, and traverse over to Daniel Glacier in the morning. It wasn't our first choice, but in the end a summit is still as summit. With some advanced booger picking I was able to clear some of the crap in my nose before bed, and the application of a little duct tape on my pillow to keep it from sliding up said we were both going to sleep like logs. Yes... yes we did.
At 4am I found myself coiling rope, and turning my trad rack into a glacier rack all while sitting oh-so-comfy in my tent and under my EE quilt. No one likes to get out of their tent in the morning. After a bowl of the tastiest instant oatmeal I've every had I finally rolled out and we double checked our gear and hit the trial. The SE Ridge is a hike. Nothing fancy. Nothing technical. Just a long, steep, kinda boring hike. It was sometime during this part that Justin realized his glacier glasses were no where to be found. We figured they were either in his tent, or had fallen out when we grabbed our packs by Cathedral Rock. Being snow blind is no joke so we decided to push forward, but swap my glasses back-and-forth every hour to keep exposure to a minimum. Snow conditions were a tad sloppy (no thanks to our slightly tardy departure time), but the traverse across to the East Peak went well. This is where things went a little sideways momentarily. We simply couldn't find the trail, lol. We could see people over on the true summit, but we really struggled to the find the spot where you dropped down onto the ridge and headed over.
After burning probably a solid hour, lots of four letter words, sloppy scrambling, and a bit of frustration we retraced our steps and finally found the trail. Decision time. We were behind schedule, tired, and had a 6.5mi hike back to the car once we even got back to camp. We knew if we went for the summit we'd have to haul ass. So, haul ass is what we did! We cache'd our glacier gear, ropes, and only brought the bare essentials to help lighten the load. Down the crappy rocks, up the crappy rocks, sliding on the crappy rocks, a little bit of snow, and cursing at the crappy rocks we finally made it to the summit. A short little class 3 scramble put us on the summit block and there we were! I knew we had a long road ahead of us to get back, but in my mind at that moment we won. We'd done it. The Two'fer! After a short chat with a guy and a gal on the summit we headed back down, and started the long push back to camp. The return to camp came and went without incident. Well, except the most hilarious demonstration of how to eat shit in a boot glissade that Justin put on. This was all too familiar to me because of my recent trail running shorts incident up on Excelsior but that's another story in itself.
With some snacks, and a much needed chugging of water we had camp packed up and were ready to head back. This is where the excitement of the peaks started to fade, and the reality of some fairly decent foot discomfort set in. Justin mentioned it. I mentioned it. This was odd because we've both done plenty of miles in these boots without incident, but DAMN my feet were killing me. There were a pair of uninvited midgets running around in each boot with tiki torches on the balls of my feet and I was not liking it! After some critical thinking we realized that we had spend the last 31 of 37hrs on our feet in full shank mountaineering boots with 6hrs of that on the balls and toes of our feet while rock climbing. No wonder they were hurting. We took a 20min detour to climb back up to the climbers trail at Cathedral and were very fortunate to find his glasses. The last 2mi were pretty grim. Very few words were spoken. We were tired, hurting, and just wanted to be done. The site of the car was almost tearful. We had done it! Hugs were shared, hands were shook, and all was well with the world. Well, everything except the MASSIVE hunger that was quickly growing for the biggest and crappiest burger I could think of that was going to get devoured in the near future!
Grand total was 17.73mi, 6,572ft of elevation gain, two peaks, and more "firsts" than I can count. It felt right. It felt empowering. Once again, diligent training had payed off. We pushed hard, but were safe doing it. We both agreed we didn't want to set foot on loose crappy rock for a bit, but we'll be back. Probably sooner than later too, lol.