Doerte descending from North Gardner Mountain. The route goes up the ridge to on the left.
North Gardner Mountain 8,956'
May 25/27, 2002 An Alpine Trip Report
For the last few weeks we had hoped to give Mount Rainier a try, but the mixed weather of clouds, rain, and wind chased us over to the East side of the Cascade Crest in hope of better conditions and weather. The Washington volcanoes are best done during days of clear weather and high pressure unless one is prepared to wand the entire route and spend long hours in a tent waiting for some visibility. We decided to try North Gardner Mountain in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness.
The Wolf Creek Trailhead, 2,900, is about 6 miles from the little town of Winthrop at the end of the North Cascades Highway. There were a few cars there, so we thought we would see some other climbers on the trip, but they were all families hiking to see the spring flowers. Scott Wood, Doerte and I left the Trailhead at 9 am.
The trail is in good condition, passing through hillsides of huckleberries. Balsamroot was in full bloom and the yellow heads were spectacular. Great fields of yellow lined both sides of the trail. The Balsamroot is a good food source for deer and elk. Native Americans also used the shoots, seeds, and taproot for food. We also saw many Indian Paintbrush in bloom. At the confluence of the North Fork and main fork of Wolf Creek is a beautiful meadow campsite. Big old growth Ponderosa Pines tower above a grassy meadow.
The snow began at about 4,000, deep in the shaded forest. The Trail Crew had not been out yet and there were many down trees across the trail. We climbed over, crawled under, and did end arounds the fallen trees. As we approached 5,000 the forest abruptly ended in an old burn area. The entire Gardner Meadow had been subject to a fire some years ago as evidenced by the new growth that was between 3 and 20 feet tall.
Gardner Meadow was melted out on the sunny side and we found a dry old campsite with a fire ring. We found evidence of cowboys and cows from former times. The area is certainly not overused, as we were the only party at the best time of year! We saw deer, the ever elusive marmots, and even a couple of Spruce Grouse.
We heard the mournful howl of a nearby coyote after dark.
Looming far above our camp was the NE slope of Abernathy Ridge that reminded us of the North Face of Dragontail. As we were leaving camp at 6 am a great avalanche roared down its face. An ominous sign very early in the day! Scott and I had scouted the route the evening before so we made good time heading for the ridge between Gardner and North Gardner. We stayed on the west flank of Gardner Mountain to avoid the heavily corniced direct ridge. The snow was frozen and perfect for crampons.
The ridge was about 8,000 and consisted of scree, crumbly, loose rock and snow. Cornices hung over the north and east sides of the ridge. North Gardner looked so big, and so far away, although it was only a mile along the ridge. The only tracks we saw were from Mountain Goats, but they never showed themselves. There were only just a few hints of the route. We slowly worked our way around on the ridge, passing below a few Gendarmes, sharp pinnacles of rock on the ridge, to the west.
The summit was small, and about 50% was cornice. We were the second party of the year to sign the register, the first being Fay Pullen on May 06, apparently solo. The only tracks we had seen were some old ski tracks so we guessed she had skied in! It is a great area for backcountry skiing! We also heard that one other party had summited, but could not find the register buried in the snow. The register dated back to 1986, and only saw 3 to 5 parties summit each year!
Most of the previous parties summited via the Cedar Creek Trail as recommended by Becky, and allowing a one day ascent of North Gardner.
The views were astounding! The North Cascades were a sea of white peaks. Silver Star, 8,876, Liberty Bell, 7,720, Kangaroo Ridge, and Abernathy, 8,321, were our closest neighbors. To the east was the Okanogen Valley and blue sky. Suddenly, a bit of snowfall reminded us that we still had to descend back to camp. The ridge was as much fun going down as it was going up.
The firm snow of early morning gave way to 2-3 feet of soft slush. Scott busted a route through the upper basin for 1.5 miles back to camp. Exhausting work! Doerte and I had an easier time following. Gardner Mountain, 8,897 is easily climbed on this same trip, but the soft snow prevented it on this day. Well have to come back on another day for that one!
As we enjoyed the sunny, warm afternoon at camp, we watched three more avalanches roar down Abernathy Ridge above us.
Mostly snow in spring condition with some class 3 rock. Three days, 26 miles, 6,100 elevation gain.
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