Monday, July 31, 2017

Lucifer Loop in the Missions

" 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..."   
My brain, three years ago, after doing the Sonielem ridge traverse.

Bad bushwacking, pretty flowers.
No complaints on the climb to Kakashe.
I have not become any faster, but with a full day to burn, I decided to give it a go. With good familiarity with most of the route, I did a some meager Google Earth research on the approach to Kakashe, quickly packed a running pack on Friday night, and rolled out of bed at 3:30 am the next morning.  The early morning drive and trail approach to Mission falls went smoothly.  I had anticipated leaving the trail where it opens up above Mission falls, but the brush looked awful, so I decided to take the trail toward Lucifer, hoping for a cleaner approach gully.  I ended up leaving the trail in the primary avalanche path just before the lake, climbing for about 800 vertical feet, then making a long traverse back west to the base of Kakashe.  In retrospect, I think there is probably a faster approach from the valley, possibly on the historic Kakashe trail, but my route worked, and the bushwacking was Not too Bad.  Which passes for success in the Missions.  
Delicious distractions along the way.

Kakashe, finally in sight.
Chipper and psyched on the first summit.
Fun-enough terrain between Kakashe and Flattop.
From the summit of Kakashe (3.5 hours), I easily made my way to Flattop.  It was great to finally summit these two prominent Mission mountains.  The traverse from Flattop to the base of Icefloe peak was a little longer than anticipated, but it was easy.  I was mildly concerned that the west face of Icefloe would be too difficult, but the gully system ended up being reasonable, and it merged seamlessly with the enjoyable 4th class northwest ridge of Icefloe.  Having kept up on food and water, I walked over the summit of Icefloe and continued on familiar terrain to Glacier peak (7 hours).  From there, I made another delightful jaunt across the Garden Wall and climbed Mountaineer.  
Looking up the West face of Icefloe.
I took the gully system just looker's right of center.
Good times on the Garden Wall.
Beta photo:  This is the point to leave the north ridge of Mountaineer for the ledge traverse.
Note the yellow rock on the ridge.
I have made the traverse from Mountaineer to Lowary at least six times now.  It is not my favorite section.  So I just got it done.  It may sound odd, but the highlight was the psychological challenge of pushing through fatigue to summit Lowary with many hours to go in the day.  To save time, I climbed Lowary directly via the northeast face instead of my usual route from Vacation pass (10 hours).  The Sonielem ridge traverse was a lot of fun.  I ended up bypassed all of the tricky rock steps on the west, and was reminded how wild, aesthetic, and generally enjoyable this section is.  Getting off the Sonielem ridge took a long time, but was not as bad as I had feared.  There are a lot of cliffs to negotiate, but my seat-of-the-pants, intuition based routefinding worked.  The bushwack to the lake was a very solid Pretty Bad on the bushwacking scale.  I had to get a little creative, downclimbing mossy chimneys through cliff bands and swimming through brush, but I made it.  The run out on the trail was fun.  I took it easy and made it out just over an hour from leaving the lake.

Steep loose scree, no summits in the near future.
 In the less fun bits between Mountaineer and Lowary.
Looking out along the Soneilm ridge.
Tired and psyched on the last summit.
Looking down the steep exit off the Sonielem ridge.
Committed. Time for some serious routefinding by intuition.
Thoughts  
I have been dealing with an ongoing low level left knee injury for several months, and the day was very hard on it.  After a string of flawless running outings, it started hurting early in the day, and it slowed my progress down significantly on flat and downhill terrain.  And, after two days, it has still not fully recovered.  In any case, the route itself was great.  There is quite a bit of blue collar bushwacking, but that should be expected in the Missions, and the trade-off in pure wild terrain is debatably worth it.  The alpine line itself is not the cleanest, but it is still a logical and challenging route.  It is outside the Grizzly closure,  bailing throughout the entire route is at least possible, and the simple logistics of the loop are appealing.  I would rather do the Mission traverse, given the choice, but the Lucifer loop is still a good one.
Rough sketch of the route, not including the trail.
Statistics
Route: Up Mission Falls trail to within 1/4 mile of lake.  Up to Kakashe.  Along ridgeline over Flattop, Icefloe, Glacier, Garden Wall, Mountaineer, North Lowary and across the Sonielem ridge.  Down the NE end of the Sonielem ridge to Lucifer lake. Out on the Mission Falls trail.
Approximate total elevation gain:  10,900 vertical feet
Length: ? miles done in 14 hours, 15 minutes
Accomplices: No
Put in:  Mission Falls trailhead
Take out: Same
Fuel: Peanuts, bars, gel, lots of snowmelt water. Averaged about 150 cal/hr.
Equipment:   Not much. Bear spray just in case.  A good map.
Tricks of the day: Knowing most of the route well ahead of time.
Stoke factor (1-10): 8
Fatigue factor (1-10): 7
Memories to suppress:  Knee pain.

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