Dome Peak, Elevation 8,920ft
Northwest Face, 50+ degrees
August 29-30, 2001
Ben, Josh, Jason
Dome Peak from Itswoot Ridge. My high point this trip is in blue. This photo was taken in August 99 with a lot more snow. My high point that trip is in yellow (yea, I was off route). Our climb is in green.
The approach to Dome Peak isn't easy. 6.6 miles of trail followed by 8 miles of cross-country. That doesn't sound all that bad until you throw in a few steep climbs, several miles of brush and many downed trees. If it still sounds good then you might want to check your hearing. The climb is as difficult as you want it to be. There is a relatively easy route up the main summit but there are plenty of challenging variations nearby. The SW Summit provides some steep snow and ice that we were destined to discover.
Anyone who's been through the brush knows better than to bring skis. I had been through it twice (four times if you count the equally dreaded up and down). Each time I reminded myself how lucky I was not to have skis. In fact, I promised never to bring them. Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of breaking promises.
There were only a few days left in August and the Hummels needed to ski. We had skied every month for the past 4 or 5 years and they weren't about to let a month of unemployment slip by. They wanted to ski Baker but I did it a few weeks earlier by myself (see Coleman/Deming) so I wasn't interested. Somehow I managed to convince them to ski Dome.
Baker would involve a 3 mile approach and a 3 mile ski. Dome would involve a 17 mile approach and a 1 mile ski. The choice was obvious.
We agreed to meet at the familiar Downey Creek trailhead. This is a convenient put in for the Upper Suiattle. We had camped there and kayaked at least 10 times in the previous 6 months. Our most recent trip involved an exploratory run down the last mile of Downey Creek. The Hummels camped there the night before and were sleeping in the back of the Sport Truck when I arrived. I jumped in the cab and took off the brake. It wasn't long before they were up. We started hiking around 7am.
The first 6.6 miles parallels Downey Creek through an old-growth forest. The only trail maintenance since 1975 took place a few months prior saving us a lot of time and energy. We reached the turnoff at Bachelor Creek in just over 2 hours where we took our first break.
The Hummels crossing a log at Bachelor Creek. One at a time.
The next mile climbs a steep well-beaten path along Bachelor Creek. At approximately 8 miles, the trail takes a stubborn line through a couple miles of brush along the valley floor. This is never a pleasant experience. You're bound to get wet from leftover rain and ever-present dew (I suggest wearing shorts) but you're bound to get bruised from the sharp branches and hidden path (I suggest wearing pants). Choose your evil.
Myself getting bushed.
Photographer: Josh Hummel
We continued bloody and wet. There is a nice camp at 11 miles where we stopped for our second break. The trail opens up but we were still a long way from the summit. We passed a few groups on their way down from the Ptarmigan Traverse. The skiing was reported as both good and bad but one thing was certain -- it was not worth the extra weight. We reached Cub Lake around 2pm and stopped at a nearby creek to fill up with water. A short climb led to Itswoot Ridge where we decided to camp.
The Hummels in a meadow before dropping to Cub Lake.
Nearing the pass.
I wanted to continue and bivy near the summit but the Hummels were not in the mood to carry overnight gear down, across and up several miles of boulders. It was nearly 3pm but we agreed to make a summit attempt. The guidebook says 6-9 hours from Itswoot Ridge. We were hoping for less.
Beginning the boulders from Itswoot Ridge.
I attempted to climb Dome Peak in late August a few years back. My high point was the edge of Dome Glacier but I was solo and there was a fair amount of new snow so I decided to turn around while I still had the chance. A long two days. I returned the following spring but was turned back by foul weather and diminished spirits. Our high point was Itswoot Lake where we caught one fish and turned around. A wasted three days.
Myself on Itswoot Ridge during a Summer 99 attempt.
The Hummels and Troy during a Spring 00 attempt.
There was a lot less snow than I had remembered. Regardless, we spotted a steep slope off the SW summit and agreed to make the most of what was left.