Doerte and Tilmann descending from Gardner Mountain. (They are a couple of specks in the center) The route follows either ridge from left to right, or up the gully between them.
June 08/09, 2002 An early season Alpine Trip Report in the Washington North Cascades!
The Wolf Creek Trailhead, 2,900, is about 6 miles from the little town of Winthrop, at the end of the North Cascades Highway. From the Methow Valley we could see the high mountains covered in new snow. There was only one other car there when Tilmann Gneiting, Doerte, and I left the Trailhead at 9 am.
The trail was in better condition than it was two weeks earlier since we had cleared most of the dead limbs that were movable off the trail. Tilmann counted 46 downed trees across the trail (not counting ones that were stepped over easily). It is 10.5 miles in to Gardner Meadows.
After an hour we got to the Cow Camp where cowboys had a line camp for cows in former times. It is a beautiful meadow full of blooming Lupine and Forget Me Nots and towered over by huge pumpkin colored old growth Ponderosa Pines. These giants only grow on the west side of the Cascade Crest, but range from Canada to Mexico!
The trail was mostly clear of snow all the way to Gardner Meadows and our camp at the old Cowboy Camp. It started to snow as we entered Gardner Meadows. We put on our rain jackets and hurried to the Camp. After setting up the tents and gathering some firewood, we hunkered down to wait out the storm. Not Tilmann, he took advantage of the time to explore the Meadows. Doerte joined him as the weather eased, and started the campfire, but Mike continued to hunker in the tent until the clouds lifted.
Having snowed all afternoon, the peaks were a fresh white, and we had new snow right to our camp. We soon had a nice fire going for the evening entertainment. The wind would let up for a while and then roar down from the passes sounding like a freight train! This continued all night and into the next morning. We could watch the snow blow above 8,000 on Gardner Mountain.
Sunday dawned windy and cloudy. Not very promising weather for a summit attempt. Mike, dressed in all his warm weather gear, half-heartedly left camp at 6 am, to look at the route to the summit. The clouds started to thin. At 7,000 the snowpack began and I put on my crampons. The snow was hard, covered with 4-8 inches of powder. I front-pointed up the gully, then moved over to rocky rib and continued my slow ascent. Mercifully, the ridge blocked the worst of the wind.
I finally reached the false summit at 8 am. It was like standing in a hurricane. I hunkered down and stayed well away from the ridge, as I was afraid the wind would blow me off balance. The traverse to the main summit was easy along a huge cornice. There were tracks from a previous party some days earlier. I could not find a summit register on Gardner Mountain, 8,897, and the 22nd highest peak in Washington. (According to Bulgers list). We always enjoy the summit registers as they give a brief glimpse of recent history and conditions. I had some fantastic views as the clouds were starting to clear in places, mountains and peaks lit up by the sun as if under a spotlight while others were still shrouded in storm clouds. A tag of the summit and I was on my way back down to the Cowboy Camp.
I was more concerned with the descent and was careful to try to follow my tracks back down. A couple of times I used vegetable belays before moving back into the gully. It was amazing how such a benign summer mountain could be such a challenge in winter conditions in June!
I looked for Doerte and Tilmann in the basin at 7,200 but didnt see them. I was back at camp at 9 am for a 3-hour round trip, and 3,200 elevation gain from the Cowboy Camp to the summit. Doerte gave Tilmann a crampon and ice axe lesson, and both returned later. We all had hot soup and drinks before starting the long hike out.
Gardner Meadow was incredible beautiful. In two weeks the snow had completely melted out and it was a carpet of green. Glacier Lilies, yellow, were sprouting up everywhere!
Lower, on the trail, we passed through great fields of blooming Delphinium (Larkspur), Forget Me Nots, Silvercrowns, Indian Paintbrush, and Lupine. The Delphinium is a wonderful, beautiful deep blue elegant flower. Tilmann told us that the name is Latin, from "Dolphin". We saw them growing in open scree areas where they could get lots of sun.
Gardner Mountain was in snow in winter condition on this weekend in June with some class 4 rock, snow, and ice. Two days, 24 miles, and 6,100' elevation gain.
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