@Koestrizer definitely a bizarre environment up in the higher portions. Up until 6500 feet (bit less than 2k meters) or so the landscape looked like the rest of the mountainous pacific northwest (covered in evergreens) but once we climbed through Aasgard pass it was somewhat alien.
Fly into SEA, take some of the communal gear and food, go to REI buy and rent some more stuff, head to Leavenworth to spend the night so we can get out early. Slept about 2 hours before my flight so I’m pretty dead.
Sleep 6 hours. Get on trail by 7:45 (later than planned) with a lox cream cheese bagel in the belly. Hike 4 miles with 2300’ of elevation gain to get to Colchuck lake, pretty smooth hike up through the forest ending in a beautiful alpine lake. I feel a cramp in my right quad but stretch and everything seems fine. From there we have to get around the lake to access the pass which is probably at least another half mile and requires some rock hopping. At this point we (myself and 2 friends) have run into 3 groups (2 individuals and 1 group of 4) who have all turned back from the pass, saying the weather was too sketchy, yikes. Change clothes near the entrance to the pass and eat a few bites of a sandwich that I had brought along. Feeling good and sweaty at this point. Think about filtering water but forgo it (a mistake).
Start the ascent up the pass, first quarter is somewhat reasonable, just hiking up boulders essentially. Nothing too technical but every single step requires focus and effort. I decided to take the trail less taken (still with cairns) for a bit that branches left, it ends up being way steeper with loose dirt, absolutely demolished me over maybe a few hundred feet. A bit after that we find some cover under some large boulders and have a snack and drink some water, at which point I realize I’m effectively out 1/3 of the way up. Luckily there is a stream running to our right, although not accessible at this point. There are also trace amounts of snow starting to show up on some of the rocks and the wind blowing in the area is dropping the temp rapidly, I’m only wearing a light layer of wool leggings, shorts, and a wool long sleeve to drive and balance sweat and cold. As we are getting ready to leave the snack spot two women hike down past us and say they thought the pass was too sketchy to make it and that the snow at the top was getting worse. Undeterred and also unhappy with the prospect of hiking down, we continue up the mountain. We make it a bit over halfway and conditions are still okay, switching from sun to wind to light snow every 5 minutes, it seems. We find a lone spot to pitch our tents at around the 2/3 mark and make the decision that we are going to try to make it through the pass and if it turns too bad, then we can camp there. We also have to go a bit further to get water, so we need to put in a bit more work anyway. Make it to the stream and after a bunch of fighting with the unprimed filter get some water in our bottles and bags, at this point the cramp that seemed fine before is starting to hit my quad pretty regularly and we still have a ways to go.
After about 10 minutes there we decide to trudge on and finish this thing, at this point I’m taking about 10 steps then stopping for a bit to catch my breath and try to get my quad happy. We hit a semi-technical section and the woman in our group gets a bit stuck, she is much much shorter than myself or the other guy in the group but makes it through with a bit of bag assistance and some encouragement. There are still about 500’ of elevation to gain (which is being measured in football fields at this point) and I am using poles to roll out my quads every hundred or so feet, to keep them going. Snow is on the ground and in the air but honestly not enough to be very bothersome. After what seems like forever, we come to an underwhelming summit, completely enshrouded in clouds. I’m drenched in both sweat and exhaustion, it took us over 3 hours from the base to the top, which apparently is a somewhat reasonable time. This whole hike, apart from the people turning back, there are 2 people (1 group) going up the mountain and they look like models for Patagonia.
After the summit we enter a bizarre landscape filled with alpine lakes, streams, granite, larches, and a few evergreens. The scene is stunning, it’s also quite cold and there aren’t many places to hide. Campsites are every half mile or so from there and we decide we’ll check out a few and camp when we get a good one, we figure that there aren’t going to be many people up there so we should have a decent pick. After a few miles we run into one that is slightly protected and decide to stop there for the night. I’m pretty exhausted at this point, my pack is somewhere in the 40-50lb range, the elevation, the mileage, and the weather are wearing. I also slipped on a slope and taken a decent fall on chunk of granite, luckily it was pretty smooth and i hit the mostly soft parts of my body. Just some pain, no worse for the wear.
We start setting up camp in the site (about 7600’ elevation), everything is going relatively well but the snow and cold are increasing, with no fires allowed we decided to call it an early night. I’m in bed by 6:30, by 8 I realize my tent has a layer of snow, I knock it off the top. Same thing at 10. At 11:35 I realize that the shirt that was hanging about a foot above my head in the tent pocket was now touching my face. With the thought of tent collapse on my mind I scurry outside and use the trowel and my hands to dig out the sides of my tent and the fly, luckily it pops back up. I repeat the snow removal a few more times throughout the night but it never gets as bad as the near collapse scenario, thank god.
Wake up around 7, by wake up I mean finally motivate to get out of my 0 degree bag (which was a great call), both of the others in my party were standing outside seemingly contemplating what the hell we were into. We did a quick recap and they were both very cold at points and afraid of the quantity of snow. However, being Seattleites, they decided we needed to brew a cup of coffee before packing up camp and moving on to lower elevation and safety. After realizing that neither of the lighters we had worked in the cold/snow we fell back to some camping matches, which thankfully got the stove going. Unfortunately, against my advice, we left the gravity filter outside, full of water, so the filter would prime. Instead of priming, it froze. So we ended up melting snow on the stove to set in a bowl to unfreeze the filter. After breaking up the ice in the filter bag I ran to the stream nearby to grab more water and we successfully boiled coffee, unfortunately the stream crossing we made to get into camp was going to have to be repeated to exit and while there were a lot of rocks to step on they were all under about 5-6" of snow.
After coffee, a few snacks, and some grumbling we set out to meet with the larger group, who had come in the not dumb way, it was already around 11:30am at this point. We figured they were about 4 miles away so we should make it easily.
Naturally, we didn’t make it that day. The high snow and granite made every step potentially treacherous (7 falls on the day between the 2 other hikers) and there were some steep, somewhat technical descents. The worst of which was about 30 minutes into our day. It was probably only a few hundred feet of descent but quite steep and covered in snow, I didn’t time it but it had to take 45-60 minutes for us to get down it. The rest of the day was quite nice, some sun about, ran into the model couple again, and we maintained a very slow but steady pace. About 3.5 hours after we started we ran into one more technical section where you use rebar as grip for your feet then have to traverse down some narrow sections, it wasn’t too bad but struck fear in myself and the small one. We make it down and run into the last campsite in the “core zone.” It’s about 3:15pm this point and we have to descend another 1200 feet over 1.5-2 miles to meet up with our friends. We’ve heard that the section is some of the hardest work, so we decide to avoid it. Not much to be said about camp but it was dry, pretty, and cold as hell.
The sun is shining so we enjoy a couple cups of coffee, pack up, and head down to meet our friends. It takes us a couple of hours down the steep section but it honestly wasn’t bad, we could’ve cleared it the night before pretty easily. Upon our arrival our navigator says to look into campsites to see if we can find our friend, and, almost as soon as he says that I see someone standing out on a point by the lake who looks exactly like him. Turns it out it was. We find their camp, they come and meet us, with a joint in hand then invite us over to the sunny point and we all relax and lay out on the rocks in the sun to heat up. We set up camp a bit later (i got mildly lost on the way back lol) and a few more friends make it in to join us, making our group 10 in total.
Slept awfully Thursday night but had decided that we were going to hike back up into the core zone and maybe summit one of the peaks there. Without the pack on and with more people having thru-hiked the core zone everything goes by quickly and easily. We make it about 4 miles up and decide we don’t want to summit Little Annapurna, it’s blowing hard and the mountain is covered in snow. Instead, a few of us, decided that we would do a small side hike that is supposed to have mountain goats and views. We got views but no goats. At the top we decided we would actually turn around as we had picked up one person who was scared of heights; the trail was exposed and snowy. Made it back to camp after a few more hours by then I was about 2k calories short of where I needed to be and absolutely drained, I ended up eating about 1.8 MREs and a bunch of snacks. Had a good night with the whole crew and actually stayed up until after 9pm lol
Sleep terribly, drink coffee, eat peanut butter, pack up. A group of fast hikers go out first, one of which was from our initial group, so they can shuttle the cars. I end up going with the little one and apart from a few stops we blaze down the 9.5 miles out of the park. It was a grueling, monotonous hike filled with switchbacks that crushed the quads but at least it wasn’t extremely strenuous. After grabbing a few snacks, drinks, and pictures we parted ways.
Overall it was a wild trip, the first half truly felt like living on the edge. The latter half felt like a casual backpacking trip with friends. Had an amazing time though and am looking forward to my next one, whenever that might be. I think losing more weight (in part to reduce sweat levels) and continuing to bring up my cardio are going to be my best bets for making this easier on myself.
Camp before night 1 but after some snowfall
Camp after night 1
Side Hike view
Some of the crew