Sunday, July 8, 2018

Northern Swans, Union to Cooney traverse

It is time to get back to summer mountain scrambling.  I got the short summer season rolling by checking off the last portion of the high Swan crest that I had not yet seen.  It was a great day, and it was good to finally summit the beautiful Union peak, which is the last of the major peaks on the Swan crest that I had not previously climbed.  

I started the day by biking the easy 6-mile shuttle and following the good climber's trail to Pony lake.  I jumped up onto the ridge at the lake, although in retrospect it might have been quicker to bushwack a little farther up the drainage.  The climb of Union peak was straightforward and fun.  There were a lot of slow sections between Union and the crest, and it took about an hour more than expected to reach the Swan crest.  In retrospect, I should have hopped down on snow and passed the slow sections on the North.  
Nearing the final ridge to Union peak.  Pony lake in the background.
Union peak on the right, and the traverse to the crest off the looker's left ridgeline.
The first few peaks of the crest were fast, clean, and fun.  The South ridge of the highest peak is steep and cliffy, and it took quite a bit of route sleuthing, some very solid 4th class downclimbing, and lots of scree and choss management to make it down.  To my surprise, the next section of ridge was steep and scary, so I bypassed it on the East.  In retrospect, I think it might be better to take the easiest Southeast gully off the high peak, bypass the technical ridge section, then climb back to the crest for the last two peaks.  
Looking out along the best part of the ridge from the crest.
Looking back at the first half of the ridge.
Downclimbing crux.
Steep snow, with the tricky Southwest face of the high peak behind.
The remaining traverse to Smith creek pass was fast and enjoyable.  I had an extra few minutes, and used all of them summiting Cooney peak, which adds about half an hour over just heading down the trail from the pass.  The 5 mile trail run out was downfall free and a blast.  I did take one tumble, shattering the screen on my cheap camera.  This is why I have always just used cheap digital cameras.  
Fun, fast travel near the pass. 
On Cooney, ready to head home.
Rolling home.
The drive back was quick, even with the shuttle, and I was back in town just 3.5 hours after leaving the summit of Cooney.  I have been re-doubling my efforts at spending more time at a true nose-breathing easy aerobic pace, and spent the day not too much above that effort level.  I was pleasantly tired by the time the truck came into view at 8 hours, 50 minutes bike to car, not including the 30-minute bike shuttle.  Just under 8,000 vertical feet.


  1. Hi Brian, I found your blog while doing some sleuthing for a trail run route in the Swans. I'm looking to do about 20 miles, nothing too wild, vert-wise (4-7k). I'm not local but have family near Holland Lake, so I was considering the Holland Lake loop you described in Sept 2014. Curious if you have another recommendation for something similar in terms of involvement/effort though! Cheers and thanks for the great trip reports.

  2. In my opinion, A few of the very best outings in the central Swan are: Holland lookout trail loop (up Holland creek to lakes, up through Necklace lakes to lookout, home); Holland peak scramble with many possible extensions, Smith creek pass to Holland peak traverse (technical, off trail), Pyramid peak scramble with many extension options. Less classic but good outings include: Holland peak to Holland lake traverse (technical, off trail), Clearwater traverse from Fisher to Carmine (committing and technical), Swan peak out and back from Squeezer creek, Various peaks above Turquoise lake in the Missions, Trail run up Lion creek once trail is clear (longer loops possible). Union peak day trip from Pony lake. Cooney peak day trip from Smith Creek pass. Fisher peak scramble from the Rice Ridge trailhead and Sunday Mountain. Also, I am less familiar with the far northern swans, but presumably all or part of the Alpine 7 trail from Hall to Napa would make for a great trail run. I have blog posts for most of those outings if it is helpful. That should keep you busy for a while :). Good luck.