Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sonielem Traverse - Missions

On East Saint Mary's peak with the Soneilem ridge in the immediate background. Photo: Jeffrey
During 50th anniversary celebrations of the Wilderness act, it seemed appropriate to pay homage by casting off into the wild Mission mountain wilderness on a new and unknown traverse. As much as I enjoy recreating anywhere that is outside, spending time in designated Wilderness is always rewarding, and it was no surprise to return to civilization grounded, energized, and a little humbled.

I overestimated the length of the outing, so we headed out very early from Saint Mary's reservoir. Not wanting to drive two vehicles, we both biked the shuttle to Mission reservoir by headlamp, and were jogging from the trailhead at 7 am. The trail to Lucifer lake is steep but good, and we made decent time running when possible, but mainly just hiking and enjoying the morning. From a water refill stop at the lake, we cast off into the brush, heading for the base of the avalanche path at the toe of the Sonielem ridge. We had to do a couple of map checks, but the bushwacking was not too bad by Mission standards, and we were able to nose our way up through brush infested cliffs with minimal carnage. I had no beta for climbing the steep northeast face of the ridge, and an unanticipated skiff of fresh snow had us both nervous.  Fortunately, we were able to weave a way through the cliffs, even if it was a touch more exposed than we would have liked. We really didn't want to have to downclimb, so it was with great relief that we topped out on the ridge.
Bushwacking to the base of the ridge.
Jeffrey all smiles as we top out on the Sonielem ridge.
Glacier peaks and Picture lake in the background.
The initial ridge was clean easy, and we walked over the Sonielem high point before starting a more exciting ridge section to Peak Y. The knife edge traversing was engaging, and I enjoyed deducing the routefinding puzzles on the fly. Soon enough, we bypassed a final cruxy vertical step on the west, and walked easily to the top of Peak Y. The traverse to each of the Lowary peak summits was also clean and quick. After another lunch break on Lowary, we jogged down to the saddle, and huffed it up to St. Mary's peak, intersecting a hiking party just a few hundred vertical feet below the summit. After chatting and relaxing on the summit for almost half an hour, we jogged the 5,500 vertical foot descent to the car at a casual pace, hopping over downfall and yelling for bears on the steep and rugged trail. We arrived at the reservoir tired but not too worked, and immediately jumped in for a swim. Great day in the hills.
The exposed middle portion of the Sonielem ridge.
Belly flopping near the summit of Peak Y.
Normal Greywolf from East St, Mary's photo.
Although it is perhaps generous to call this a classic outing, the clean ridge section of the traverse is high quality (with the exception of some rotten rock here and there). It is also fun to be in a place seldom visited by humans, despite the Soneilem ridge's commanding presence from the valley. Gaining the ridge at the beginning of the day was a big push, but after that, the rest of the day just kind of flowed by with ease. Of note, while the difficulties never exceed moderate class 4, bailing from the traverse would be long and difficult.

I can't help but dream about a traverse around the rim of Mission creek, from the Sonielem ridge to Kakashe. Maybe someone fast can go do it and let me know how it goes...

Our day was somewhere around 7,500 vertical feet, and done in about 8.5 hours at a moderate, steady pace with several long stops.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Thanks for sharing, sounds awesome. Just moved recently to the area and want to traverse the Missons from maybe St. Mary's reservoir to Crystal lake. Sometime in July, ideally with minimal gear. Do you have any thoughts about a potential route? Thanks so much in advance