Bonanza Peak 9511' (2899m)
Mary Green Glacier
August 14-16, 2004
Dated photos by Jake, others are mine
Jake and I had talked about climbing Bonanza Peak, the tallest non-volcanic peak in the state, earlier this summer and started laying plans a month ago. Originally Kim and Greg were planning to climb with us, but Kim recently purchased a dental practice, and Greg needed to work on some home improvements. So Jake and I tackled this big mountain alone.
Disaster was averted when I woke up Saturday morning at 4:45am to a telephone ringing. In a dazed stupor, I stumbled out of bed and ran to the front door where Jake was waiting. I had set my alarm for 4:00 PM instead of AM. So instead of having the luxury of a nice breakfast of coffee, sausage, and blueberry pancakes, I quickly threw on my clothes, grabbed my gear, kissed Kim goodbye, and headed out the door. My breakfast had been reduced to a banana.
It was 5:00am and we were on our way to Field's Landing on Lake Chelan where we would catch the Lady of the Lake boat that would ferry us 38 miles up to Lucerne. At Lucerne we would meet Mr Ed and the old yellow school buses which would take us safely up 12 miles of winding gravel roads to the Lutheran camp of Holden where we would meet Joy who welcomed us to the village.
This was a pleasant day spent mostly driving in a car, sailing on a boat, and riding on a bus. All of the work that Jake and I did previously to find out the sailing schedule and cost of the boat (9:45am sailing, $27 round trip on the slow boat), the cost of parking at Field's Landing ($6 per night), and reserving a spot on the Holden bus by mailing in a reservation the week before ($10 per person round trip) paid off. Everything went perfectly.
We pulled into the parking lot at Field's Landing around 9:30am and while Jake was putting his things together, I walked down to the office and paid for two nights of parking. I learned from the man in the office that there was another climbing party that went in the day before to climb Bonanza. This was very good news for us. With our extremely warm summer, we were concerned about the conditions of the snow bridges on the upper Mary Green Glacier, particularly the snow bridge that crosses the bergschrund. The Beckey Bible advises that this route is "best done in early summer because of breakup and shrinkage of the Mary Green Glacier". He goes on to say, "numerous large crevasses invisible from below may make any other crossing impossible once bridges disappear." Jeff Smoot's description in his book, Climbing Washington's Mountains warns, "A bergschrund may bar access to the snow thumb by late season." We tried to find recent trip reports or information from other late summer ascents, but to no avail. Not wanting to spend all the time and effort to get back in there only to be turned back, we decided to go into Holden and if we didn't meet other climbers with good news on the Bonanza route then we would turn south and climb Copper Peak and Mt Fernow. FYI, a great trip report of this route done in July can be found here.
We walked down to the crowded dock and took turns standing in line to buy tickets while the other person dropped off their pack at the end of the pier. Since they just pile all the luggage at the stern of the boat, they asked us to remove ice axes, pickets, trekking poles, and wands. We were really glad that we hadn't missed this boat since the success of our climb depended on it.
Jake had been on the boat up to Stehekin before and told me how beautiful it was, so I was really looking forward to this leg of the trip. We passed the Pot Peak and Deep Harbor Fires on the way up. An announcer on the boat told us about the two helicopters that alternately swooped down to pick up water and then soar up to the fire line to dump it. One had a 500 gallon bucket, while the other had a snorkel that it sucked up 2000 gallons with. It was amazing to see the huge waterfalls cascading down from the helicopters onto the trees. We visited with several people on the boat ride. Most were going up to Holden for a weeklong retreat. Some had cabins at some of the more remote landing sites. One fellow who looked like he'd be right at home on a big Harley-Davidson was heading up to a friend's cabin which had been in their family since 1914. He said it had been 113F in Chelan the day before so he was looking forward to putting a chair in the cool water and drinking a beer. That sounded nicer than the 8 mile hike up to Holden Pass that Jake and I had to look forward to.
After making a few stops we arrived at Lucerne. Our packs were loaded onto a truck and we were loaded onto yellow school buses. Our bus driver, Mr Ed, gave us some history of the area on the way up the windy road. Holden was originally a mining village and home to one of the largest copper mines in the United States. Over the life of the mine, in todays dollars it yielded over $2.5 billion of copper, silver, and gold. The tailings of the mine can still be seen south of the village piled high above the river. Once we arrived in the village a woman named Joy came on the bus and gave us a brief orientation of the village. She directed us to the Dining Hall for lunch with a formal orientation following. It was after 1pm and we still had a long hike ahead of us, so we passed on lunch and decided to start walking up the road out of town. We stopped by the "outgoing" bus stop to put on our boots. There were several guys with big packpacks so we asked them if they had been up Bonanza. Most of them had been fishing or backpacking, but no climbers. Then Jake overheard a man saying, "Yeah, I hiked up to the pass and looked at Bonanza but the rock went straight up. You have to be really serious to climb that mountain." Our ears perked up so we walked over and started talking with them. The one man was part of a group of 8 Mazamas who had climbed the route the day before! He told us that they had crossed a couple thin snow bridges, but the glacier was otherwise in good shape. That's what we were waiting to hear! We peppered them with more questions and learned that they had camped at Holden Pass, started at 6am and got back at 7pm, and that the rock wasn't too bad. They also suggested to stay high going around the lake up to Holden Pass. Energized by this information, we thanked them and headed up the road towards the trailhead.
We followed the gravel road out of town and stopped for a bite to eat near the "ball field". It must have been in the 90's because my Emmentaler swiss cheese was nearly liquid as I sliced it to go with my baggette and summer sausage. Meanwhile Jake was trying to bait bears with his "tuna fish in a pouch". I wasn't too worried, though. Since Jake hadn't carried a backpack in over a year, I was sure I could beat him in a foot race. I remembered the advice a friend of Kim's family had given us while on our honeymoon in Alaska, "You don't have to out run the bear, just your partner!".
The trail was in good shape up to Holden lake. About three miles in we had to deal with long, dusty, low incline switchbacks. But since we were now out of the trees and exposed to the full sun, we didn't complain that we weren't gaining a lot of altitude on a steep climbers trail. At a prominent switch back, Jake cached his Nike approach shoes and put on his mountaineering boots. Occaisionally we'd look back down the valley and admire the improving views of Dumbell Mtn, Copper Peak, Mt Fernow, and Seven Fingered Jack. Jake had climbed Maude and Seven Fingered Jack last summer with Greg and Marek, so he was enjoying seeing this huge ridge of peaks from a new angle. The forecast was for partly sunny weather Saturday and Monday with Sunday being isolated T-Storms, so we were a little concerned when some clouds rolled in and it started to sprinkle on us. But as our luck would have it, as the rain came so did the forest. We left the dusty trail and entered the protection and coolness of the forests canopy. Good timing!
At Holden lake we were treated with a spectacular view of several waterfalls cascading down steep polished slabs below the hanging snout of the Mary Green Glacier. And looming high above were a complex of ridges and peaks, the highest of which we recognized as our destination. The photos in the Beckey guide are impressive but they really don't do this area justice. Jake made the comment, "This is a special place." I couldn't agree more. We took a break to filter some water at the creek exiting the lake. Trying to go light, the liter of water that I rationed myself to get from the village to the lake was nearly empty. As we were filling our bottles, a small rodent swam along the bank and made a lunge for the end of my filter tube. It must have thought it was a minnow or something. With enough water to get us up to Holden Pass we put our packs back on and followed a good trail around the northeast corner of the lake. Near the north end of the lake the trail became marshy and muddy so we started making an ascending traverse up through the forest. The trail ended at some dense slide alder so we spent some time looking around until we decided that we had to bushwhack through. It was rough going against the grain of the branches. We finally escaped the brush onto a boulder field although only 2 of Jake's 5 wands made it. Here we made an ascending traverse of the boulder field, occaisionally seeing a cairn. On the other side a trail emerged next to a small stream and we followed this without incident up to Holden Pass.
We were about 50 feet below the saddle of the pass, but here we had the protection of some large pine trees and we were closer to the stream so we decided to make camp. I smelled smoke in the air but assumed it was coming up the valley from the Deep Harbor fire. We needed water for dinner so we dropped our packs, took out our water bottles and cooking pot, and hiked back down the trail about 300 feet to filter water at a stream. Back at camp, I broke out my little MSR Pocket Rocket stove and heated some water. Meanwhile Jake made a reconnaissance trip up the trail to the saddle. He returned to report that the trail continued up the ridge towards the glacier and that he had seen some people camping at the saddle. After a well earned dinner of Polish beet soup, Chicken Teryaki, and Chicken and Vegetable Stew we headed up the trail to meet the other climbers. There were three tents and five guys sitting around a small campfire, talking and enjoying the evening. They had climbed Bonanza earlier in the day and reported much of what the Mazamas had told us. They pointed out the trail leading from their camp up to the glacier. One of them mentioned that the rock really wasn't as bad as the guidebooks say and that they downclimbed most of the route but made two "abseils" near the bottom. Clueing in on this British climbing term for rappelling, and another's distinct accent we asked them where they were from. One hailed from Australia, another from South Africa, one from England, and the rest from Redmond where they worked at Microsoft. They said they knew Michael and Alex. We chatted for a little while, trying to pick out some of the nearby peaks like Goode and Logan. Earlier that evening they had celebrated their successful ascent with a bottle of whiskey so they were pretty happy and relaxed. We said goodnight and headed back down to our camp.
Later that evening while I was crawling into my bivy sack, I caught another scent but this wasn't smoke. This scent was distinctly of the summit of Bonanza and it was pretty strong. Hell, if a bunch of Mazamas and Microsoft geeks climbed the mountain, then tomorrow was going to be a cakewalk. I told this to Jake and suggested that we start at 10am. He chuckled and said that even still, we should play it safe and start at 6am.
Five o'clock came early. Trying to go light and streamlined, I forewent a sleeping pad and paid the price. I was plenty warm but my hips and back never got comfortable for more than an hour. No matter. I was ready to get up and climb a mountain. I was still full from dinner so I passed on my instant oatmeal and instead enjoyed a nice hot shot of espresso from my nifty little espresso maker. Jake had a can of a Red-Bull type energy drink. I had a sip of it and gratefully went back to my espresso! Full of go-juice we cached all of our camping gear, stuffed our climbing gear in our packs and headed up the trail. As we passed the saddle we were surprised to see the other climbers up so early and breaking down their camp. We said good morning and good trip back down and out, and they wished us a good, safe climb.
There was a good trail to follow that lead west up the ridge toward the prominent ridge. Once up through the trees we followed the trail up through a screen field and then a dusty ridge up to the base of a steep wall. Here we traversed left on slabs directly underneath the wall until we were near a waterfall. We scambled up the wall near the waterfall on 3rd and 4th class rock to gain a meadow with lots of heather. We followed faint trails up through the heather to loose, rocky and dusty terrain trending west above the glacier. The trail came and went but eventually we reached a slabby shoulder and followed it west until it met with the glacier. Here we could see how broken up the lower glacier was. It looked like route finding would be a problem coming up directly from Holden Lake. At the edge of the glacier we put on our harnesses and crampons and roped up. We decided that Jake would lead on the glacier since he has a lot more glacier route finding experience than me (he's climbed all of the Cascade volcanos), and I would follow since I had our only picket and I am more experienced with crevasse rescue.
As we were looking up at the glacier and commenting that the upper route looked good and that we shouldn't have any problems, we were startled by a large crash as a hollow piece of the glacier broke off and slid about 10 feet. That was a good wake up call to not let down our guard as we stepped out onto the glacier. Things went smoothly as we made our way up the glacier. There were a few crevasses that we had to end-run, but it was mostly straight forward. We crossed one rather thin snow bridge with holes in it below the east face. After making our way south to gain the steeper part of the glacier and the snow finger, we had to cross the bergschrund on a narrow, unstable looking snowbridge. It was connecting the upper lip and lower lip diagonally. We were glad it was still morning and in the shade. Once across this bridge we had to climb up and then traverse right, above the yawning crevasse. The boot prints from the previous two parties could still be seen in the snow so we had a decent path to get across the snow finger to the rock. Once on the rock we took a break to eat some food and drink some water as we took off our crampons, unroped, and cached our ice axes. My altimeter read 8900' but the guidebooks all say that there is 900' of rock from the top of the snow finger to the summit. So my altimeter must have been reading high.
We started scrambling up the obvious gulley, trying to find the easiest route. There was loose rock here and there, but for the most part it was pretty solid. We spotted a few slings towards the east ridge on the right and a few single slings far to the left. But we kept to the middle and made our way up 3rd and 4th class rock. We climbed passed one large boulder with several slings and then 30 meters higher we passed another set of slings through an old piton backed up by a long sling looped around a protruding rock. Not the most confidence inspriring anchor, but given the surroundings it was among the better rappel areas we saw. About halfway up the rock was looser so we tried to stay close so any dislodged rocks would gain too much speed before they reached the second person. I accidentally kicked loose an ashtray sized rock towards Jake and quickly yelled, "Rock!". Jake ducked and it just grazed the back of his pack. He didn't even feel it, thank goodness. We continued to climb carefully up steps, wandering left, then back to center. Finally we gained the airy ridge, 150' below the summit. Looking down the backside we were treated to a tremendous view of the Company Glacier 2000 feet below. The ridge was about 20 inches wide and comprised of what looked like loose shale, but it was actually pretty solid. We had to drop down on the right side of the ridge for 20 feet or so and then climbed back through a slot to the left side. A few loose steps and we were on the summit.
We walked around the small summit looking down the south side to the Isella Glacier, the west side to its expansive ridge, the north side to the large Company glacier, and then back to the east to the Mary Green Glacier and our route. As we were looking we heard the roar of a rockslide that seemed to be coming from the east face. Although it lasted for nearly a minute, we couldn't determine exactly where it came from. We looked back through the summit register dating back to the early 90's. Several parties had summited in poor weather. Climbing that rock when it was wet wouldn't be much fun at all. After some food and water and lots of pictures, we decided to head down. We had spent just about an hour on the summit. It was a spectacular place and we were thrilled to be there. As Greg says, we are quite fortunate to have the ability and the opportunity to be in such a place.
We downclimbed almost the entire route, bypassing many of the rappel slings. Downclimbing made a lot of sense because it's faster, it reduces the chance of rockfall caused when pulling down rappel ropes, and because most of the rappel slings and anchors weren't very appealing. In our attempt to find the easiest route down, we ventured too far south and found ourselves above the snow finger. We were able to traverse back to the middle and locate a route down, although it was loose and sandy in places. We made two single rope rappels from the two sets of slings we passed on the way up. The rock was steep and slabby (exposed with sparse handholds) and we were getting tired so it made sense. A few small rocks came down when we pulled the ropes, but nothing significant. We were very happy to be back to our cached gear at the bottom of the rock. I knew that Jake and I were pretty comfortable on exposed rock, but as Jeff Smoot states in his description of the route, "it is a serious undertaking, not at all suitable for inexperienced climbers". Like all mountains, weather and conditions will determine the difficulty of the route.
When we arrived in Holden Saturday morning, it was a packed camp with hundreds of people. When we arrived back in the village Monday morning it was a ghost town with fire hoses draped all over the buildings and bridges. We had no idea the fire was nearing the access road since we had been so high up the valley all weekend. As we dropped our packs by the bus stop for the trip down to the boat, a forest officer approached and asked, "Are you the two hikers?" The party of 5 who climbed Bonanza the day before had signed us in the "Hiker Haus" when they were heading out Sunday they mentioned that we were up there too. So I think they had been kind of looking for us. We saw a helicopter flying around the valley Sunday afternoon and Monday morning, but we really didn't think much of it.
So long story short, we were 14th and 15th people left in Holden, besides the firefighters. We were waving goodbye and goodluck to the 13 people staying behind. There were three buses of staffers and campers that we rode down with, but Jake and I were in the last two seats of the last bus. So Jake reasoned that we were among the last 15 out!
Since Jake and I were the only non-staff, a woman asked us to take a group picture of the staff. As soon as we said, "sure", close to twenty other people ran up with their cameras saying "thanks a ton!". Soon we were surrounded by digital, SLRs, disposables, and point and shoot cameras. Jake stood up on a rock wall and snapped pictures while I handed him new cameras. The group picture that Jake took with the "official" camp camera can be viewed here along with some other evacuation photos.
On the boat ride back to Field's Point, Jake and I celebrated our climb with a cold Red Hook and agreed that we had lucked out on the entire trip.