Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Calowachan loop

I did the Calowachan loop as a final moderate mountain outing before the Rut.  A more thorough report is here.  This post will focus on route beta.
Looking South to the main Mission group from the South summit.

Calowachan is an isolated and spectacular peak just North of the primary Mission mountain massif.  As such, it is hard to combine it with anything else, but just climbing the peak is a worthwhile stand alone objective. In retrospect, I think the preferred loop direction is clockwise.  It is easier to nail the bushwack, and it is also nice to get it out of the way early in the day.  The Northwest ridge is considered the standard route on Calowachan.  However, for running parties, I think that the quickest and most elegant way to get Calowachan done is an out and back from the Eagle pass trail, doing the traverse twice.

I decided to do the loop counter clockwise, saving the bushwack for the end of the day.  After successfully navigating a stand-off with a skunk on the trail, I ran and walked up to the final meadow below Eagle pass in 1 hour and 40 minutes.  The trail in the upper basin is grown in with vegetation, but I didn't mind walking and keeping an eye out for bears.  From the trail, I punched it up the almost 2,000 vertical feet of beargrass.  It was slippery and slow, and I wish there was a more elegant way to get this done.
Starting up 2,000 feet of beargrass below the South summit.
The traverse between the summits is craggy, and I spent some time trying to refine the route from last time.  As such, I tried descending a west facing gully off the summit which did not go, before downclimbing the distinctive 4th class east facing chimney to the notch.  I took a few extra minutes to summit the middle knob, climbing a stout 4th class chimney filled with scary loose blocks on the Northeast face, and downclimbing 4th class ledges on the South face.  The South face ledges were much preferred.  The normal traverse skirts the middle summit to the east directly below the summit block.  There is one small but continuous cliff on the South ridge of the North summit, and I had hoped to find an easier way through, but ended up just climbing the same chimney/dihedral as before.  There are two tricky moves off the ground, but after that, one can safely stem or chimney all the way up the 15-foot step.  The remaining terrain was easy to the main North summit.

Looking back to the South Summit.  I took the small shaded chimney
East of the crest, but one could easily bypass it entirely lower on the East side.
Happy scrambler on top.
Looking to the North summit.  I passed the primary grey cliff band in the
shallow dihedral just left of the shaded blob/chimney looker's right of the ridge crest.
Descending the Northwest ridge was great fun.  The route on the upper mountain is good low 4th class scrambling, and a game trail takes one cleanly down to roughly 6,000 feet on the ridge.  I abandoned the ridge as the game trail dissipated and started dead reckoning to the creek, which would lead back to the car.  The bushwack was much longer than I had remembered, and the descent would end up taking just as long as the climb from the car.  Getting down to the creek, and the first quarter mile along the creek were in the low Bad category, then it was almost an hour of Pretty Bad weaving through dense cedar forest to the trail.  Fortunately, there isn't really any routefinding, so I just crashed along.  The final 10-minute run on the trail was fast and fun.  I was surprised that the ascent and descent both took 2 hours, 30 minutes, but so it goes with bushwacking.

The summit block on the Northwest face.  I leave the ridge here, contour around
the sunlight ridge, work straight up easy gullies,
then trend up and right on 3rd class ground to the summit.
Approach directions to the Northwest ridge.  Take the Eagle pass trail for about a mile.  The trail will enter a lush cedar forest, and soon will switchback out of the drainage.  Leave the trail at the switchback.  Hop over slash blocking an old logging road spur, and continue up the spur road in the same drainage.  When the road prism peters out, drop north to the creek and follow the path of least resistance, usually near the stream bottom, until the stream grade flattens out, the canopy opens up, and prominent cliffs jut up on climber's right.  Plan 1 to 2 hours to this point.  Leave the creek bed in this section, and use your best bushwacking magic to attain the Northwest ridge of Calowachan.  There may be an optimal route, but I have not found it, so don't be discouraged if you end up fighting for an hour or so.  Once on the Northwest ridge, follow an intermittent trail to the upper mountain.  Leave the ridge a few hundred vertical feet below the summit, just below an obvious vertical cliff step, and traverse South around a corner about 300 feet to a broken gully system.  Work your way up from there, trending climber's right where possible, all the way to the summit.  If done correctly, nothing will be harder than easy 4th class.

On a gear related note, this was the last day on my first pair of La Sportiva Mutant shoes.  After a long search (Saucony Exodus, Altra Lone peak, La Sportiva Ultra Raptor, La Sportiva Helios, Pearl Izumi Trail N2), the Mutants are the first shoe that fits the bill for moderately technical mountain scrambling with a health does of trail running.  They are not perfect, but they are by far the best shoes I have found.  A second pair is already in use.

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