West Esmeralda (Jun 12, 2011)

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west_esmeralda_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: ice axe, micro spikes
Map: USGS Mount Stuart
Area: Teanaway
Reference: 100 Hikes in Washington's Alpine Lakes
Stats: 9mi, 3542' gain (round trip)

I was ready for sometime a bit more challenging. It had been a while since I'd been our for a real snow scramble (long story). Jim was up for joining me on this trip. All I can say is...Thanks Jim! Jim suggested the trip. I'd been up East Esmeralda many years ago but with only a bit of snow at the very top. This time we were likely to find a good amount of snow on most of the route. The snow actually made the travel a lot easier. It did make for one tricky spot for me though...

We got an early start meeting in Bellevue early and back on the road heading east before 7am. We turned off Hwy970 and headed up the valley. The road was drivable to the DeRoux CG but beyond that...to the Ingalls Pass TH...it was snow covered. Just as we were getting ready to head up the trail, another car arrived with one occupant. We would see him later that day. That hiker let us know a Mountaineers group had been up Esmeralda the day before. Good...tracks to follow :) By 9am we wee on our way. It was a warm day already so it was shorts and t-shirt hiking weather.

Some flowers out near the trailhead (glacier lilies) but very soon the bare dirt turned to snow patches. It was more and more snow as we reached the junction with the DeRoux spur trail. That made following the trail a bit tricky. With a little bit of hunting around we could pick up and follow the trail. Lots of water flowing around all over the place. In some places the trail was a small creek. Lots of downed trees too. In the open area above the creek more flowers showed up (the typical early season glacier lilies, spring beauty, violets, etc). It was solid white snow higher up. Hoping to have good tracks from the day before we did somehow manage to lose them a few times only to pick them up again later. The warm temps were melting out the impressions when the tree cover thinned.

Jim had given me the heads up that one route stayed close to the summer trail but had a downside in that near the creek crossing there was a traverse across a steep hillside. No room for error here. A slip would mean a sliding fall into the creek down below. Another option was to stay to the left of the trail heading up crossing over an east rib of Pt 6260 higher up. It meant more gain but was overall safer. I was game for this. As we neared the point we had to decide the route, the tracks from the previous day were thankfully headed the route we wanted to go. Microspikes on and ice axes out, we headed up...up...up... The legs weren't so used to the steep snow and gain so progress was a bit slow but was manageable. What I didn't like is that the higher up we went, the thinner the snow got. Yuck! This was the steepest snow I'd been on since my double knee surgery and it was not pleasant. Jim was patient with me and coached me through the more difficult areas. They weren't really all that hard...but considering what I went through a year prior it was definitely nerve wracking for me! Once over the rib then it was time to lose some of that elevation to get back down to the creek. Nervous from the steepness going up I started getting a bit nervous and started to baulk. I yelled out to Jim..."tell me I'm being silly". He yelled back at me "you're being silly". It was easy. I knew that. But my mind was playing tricks on me. Jim once again coached me down the steepest of it (it wasn't really all that steep) and before we knew it, we were at the creek crossing.

Jim poked around looking for a good place to cross. The snow was deep here. We needed easy access to the creek and we were hoping to find a place where the water wasn't too deep. Jim found a good spot...and excellent spot. We dropped out packs, pulled off the boot and then proceeded to wade the icy creek bare foot. Yes...it was quite cold but at least it was short! One the other side we dried off, put the boots back on, and then continued upward. Here we spotted the other hiker. He had stayed low and did the steep traverse. We followed the creek a short bit and then followed tracks headed straight uphill. We more or less were in the area of the summer trail. About 12:30pm we stopped for a short lunch break. The other hiker continued up setting a nice track for us to follow. We soon followed him and after a while caught up. He was quitting in one of the big basin areas below the summit. We continued. Jim kicked all the tracks through the upper basin traverse. It was steep but snow conditions were good. We reached yet another upper basin and yet another even steeper climb on snow to the summit. It was warm...hot actually. It was taking it's toll on both of us. I was glad to have brought plenty of water.

It was late by the time we reached the top (after 2pm) but this was summer, the days were long, we knew the route down would take less time than going up. We met up with yet another hiker just need the summit. He'd taken a much more direct route up so we never saw him down lower.

On the way down Jim led. Jim stopped and dropped at the top of an upper glissade run. I watched Jim head down. I wasn't comfortable enough yet to glissade so I plunge stepped (slowly) downhill. We did a slight variation on the route back down to the creek.  Back over the creek (barefoot), a steep uphill climb back to the top of the rib, a yucky route down the steep open slope with thin snow, and then finally back to more gentle terrain. From here, it was and easy hike back to the car.
West Esmeralda Slideshow

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