This past weekend I joined climb leader Paul Steger with an attempt to climb the South Peak of the Brothers, located between the Hamma Hamma and Duckabush Rivers in the Olympic Mountains. It was a difficult undertaking for the first climb of the year because it was a multi-day backpack, it has been a heavy snow year, and it was unexplored area for our climb team.
We started on familiar ground by hiking up to Lower Lena Lake. From there we followed the trail through the Valley of the Silent Men. It was not long until we ran into serious snow and donned our snowshoes. Things got really interesting we crossed a bridge with a tree that had fallen down over one end. Here we had to hold onto a (thankfully) strong limb and swing around with full backpacks and snowshoes. We shared camp at Lena Forks with another group of 12 climbers from Seattle.
While it had been overcast when we went to bed, the sky was clear when we got up for our alpine start. The other group had told us they had climbed this route before and we were welcome to tag along. However, after snowshoeing up to a covered meadow at 4400 feet, we discovered that there was disagreement within the other group on the route. This should have been a clue to us that they were not dialed into the correct route.
The two groups started to proceed up towards a headwall. As the slope got steeper we shed our snowshoes and took turns kicking steps. At the headwall the Mazamas stopped while the other group continued up the steep snowfield. After we put on our helmets and pulled out our ice axes we started up the steep slope to 6000 feet, only to find that the other group had run into a dead end. At this point I was asked to lead the group safely back to the headwall, where we rested and looked at our options. We prudently decided that we needed to head back to our camp and our cars.
While this may had been disappointing. it was not. It was a beautiful day to be out on the mountain. Looking east we could see that the Puget Sound basin was clouded over. Furthermore, as the Assistant Climb Leader I got practice leading the group down a sleep snow slope and navigating from the camp back to Lower Lena Lake. Not only did I learn several little nuggets of climbing wisdom along the way, I have one of the three climbs as a Assistant Climb Leader done for Climb Leadership Development.