Monday, March 21, 2016

The Cross and Avalanche Peak 3-19-2016

A winter attempt on Titus Peak ends due to do unstable cornices and deep soft snow. We change plans and climbed The Cross and Avalanche Peak instead.

Partners: Brett.

Stats: Including the Titus attempt to point 9,921, The Cross 9,225 and Avalanche Peak 9,433 - 7.6 miles, 2,700ft gain in 6:40hrs.

Gear notes: Snow shoes.

Links: The CrossAvalanche PeakThe Cross/Avalanche Peak Summitpost page.

Looking toward lower Titus form the road.

Brett and I met up at the Albertsons off of Federal way at O' Dark thirty (05:30) for what we hoped would be a winter ascent of a 10,000 foot peak. We were going for Titus Peak in the Smoky Mountains. There was recent heavy snowfall so the avalanche risk was moderate to considerable. Titus Peak seemed relatively safe to attempt but the generally mellow terrain still demanded caution.

Along the route.

We arrived at the pullout on Hwy 75 and were trudging up the track just after 8:30. The snow was deep powder so anything outside of the narrow track was going to be a lot of hard work to break trail though.

Along the route.

The weather looked to be stellar; almost no clouds and not a breath of wind. Even though the temp was 11F at the car, it felt considerably warmer. I was down to a short sleeve shirt in no time.

Castle Peak in the background.

We had hardly done anything when we turned back to take in the view and Castle Peak was already looming in the background.

Galena Peak.

The Boulder Range looked pretty well covered and I anticipate a good spring climbing season.

View toward the southern end of the Sawtooth Range.

The views from the Galena pass area are hard to beat.

Looking up the route.

We were making good time up the trail and arrived at point 9,921 listed as "Titus Weather Station" on Lists of John. Apparently, that's what most of the skiers out that day refer to as "Titus" because they all stopped there and dropped in on the east slopes toward Titus Lake. There were no tracks beyond that point leading to Lower Titus and Titus Peak. Oddly enough we could see ski tracks on Titus but they must have come up another route. The ridge we needed to follow was corniced and I knew the snow was deep and loose. I also saw recent slab avalanches below the area of a slope we would have needed to traverse to avoid the ridge. As close as we were so early in the day, it was a little disheartening to have to pull the plug on Titus Peak.

I'm all about getting the summit, but I'm really all about getting home.

Main crest of the Smoky Mountains.

We hung at the high point for a bit as several skiers made there way up and dropped in on the east slopes. We did give it a second look but I did not feel the the route was safe. Brett had suggested that we try The Cross and Avalanche Peak on the south side of the highway. A quick map check revealed that we were literally - right across the street from it! Lets get down this sucker and head up that way!

Boulder Mountains.

We zipped down to the road and I vowed that I would invest in an alpine touring setup.

View north to the Sawtooth Valley.

The expansive views in to the Sawtooth Valley cannot be understated.

Welcome sign.

So, I'll let this sink in for a minute. We turned back on a peak because of avalanche conditions and headed for two other peaks called "The Cross" and "Avalanche Peak." Despite the ominous names, they are fairly benign and proved to be perfectly safe.

The Cross.

We knew to get both peaks was about a 3 mile round trip and it was barely noon, so we had plenty of time. Now we just had to contend with the snow slog.

Snow slog up The Cross.

We found tracks heading in the same direction we needed to go, so that saved some work.

Avalanche Peak

About 45 minutes later we topped out on the narrow summit of The Cross. We got a good view of Avalanche Peak and decided it was a go.

Summit of The Cross.

There were several skiers on this side of the road as well. A couple of them said they had never seen this many people up here before. Every pullout was full of cars.

Boulder Range again.

So, anyways, the views did not suck.

Avalanche Peak.

Soon we were heading for Avalanche peak. We found a track headed straight for it which was nice, but the snow was getting soft.

Looking back at The Cross.

Looking back at The Cross, I realized that we would pretty much have to re-climb it to get back to the road.

Brett slogging up Avalanche Peak.

The sparse shade was a welcome break from the solar furnace. A bit of wind would have been nice to cool things down.

Looking back on our track.

Even though we followed a track, it still felt like breaking trail.

Southern Sawtooth Mountains.

No matter where you chose to venture from Galena pass, there are plenty of opportunities for pretty mountain pictures. We took a lot of them.

Smoky Mountains.

We could make out the point that we stopped at on Titus. So close, yet so far away...

Looking to the true summit of Avalanche Peak.

We made the summit of Avalanche Peak without incident and enjoyed our lunch.

Summit of Avalanche Peak.

I was ready for a nap in the shade, but we still had to get down. The snow was only going to get softer. Times a wasting!

Heading back to The Cross.

The downhill sections weren't too bad. The uphill sections sucked. We were able to traverse a shaded slope below the summit of The Cross.

Headed back to the car.

Soon we were back in the solar radiation heat bath, and back to the car shortly after that. It certainly felt like more than a 3 mile round trip, but we had already climbed almost half of Titus and all of this had been in deep powder; surely that had nothing to do with it. Seriously though, I need to invest in an alpine touring setup. The elusive winter ascent of a 10,000 foot peak will have to wait yet another year and Plan B saved the day yet again.

Spring has sprung so lets get at it! 

Happy trails! Granola, out. 

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