Sunday, July 5, 2009

Mt. Toll

Tougher hike than expected. We planned to hike up to Pawnee Pass on the Continental Divide, follow the divide north across Pawnee Peak, Mt. Toll, and Paiute Peak, then bend east to Mt. Audubon. With a 6am start we thought we could be descending Audubon by noon.

Reality check: First, getting to Pawnee Pass took longer than anticipated. At the pass we left trail and the hiking slowed considerably. We summited Pawnee Peak around 10:30. It was late and there were clouds in the sky but nothing too threatening. We descended a snowfield on the north face of Pawnee to the saddle between it and Toll. At that point we reevaluated the weather and decided to ascend the scree field leading up the south face of Toll.

The north face of Toll is all exposed 5.6 climbing so we descended back south. On the way down we decided the snowfield would be a better descent than rock-hopping loose talus. It certainly was easier if not any faster. Around 12:30 we were back down to the saddle.

From there a snowfield descended all the way to Blue Lake. Halfway down there was another flat area. We weren't sure if the weather would allow us to continue on to Paiute and Audubon but either way we had to get to the flat spot.

Once there, the clouds seemed to be clearing. We rested for a bit by a rock island before deciding whether to continue to Paiute or search for the Blue Lake trail. Some blue skies were showing through the clouds so we decided to see what we could do about Paiute.

We contoured along the east and northeast sides of Toll. Along the way we passed a mini-crevasse and I couldn't help but think of Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. We reached a rock outcrop that looked like it could be scrambled up to the ridge between Toll and Paiute. Perhaps if our boots weren't wet from the snow and if it hadn't just started drizzling the route would have gone.

At that point (2:30) we decided we had pushed our luck far enough. Traversing the steep snow had tired us out. We glissaded down to another flat area and started our trek to the north side of Blue lake. It was around that time that 30 MPH hail started pelting us. Luckily we didn't have to hike into the hail. It stung when it hit our faces.

Circling around the lake was not simple! First we had a tough time finding a way onto the snow field -- cliffs blocked our path at one point. Along the way there were a few streams running down the slopes, exposed in places and snow-covered in others. We decided it would be safer to cross the stream where we could see it exposed than to trust the stability of the snow above it. The waterfalls were beautiful and loud.

We traversed snow and rock above Blue Lake. The bottom of the snowfield had broken away, clearly delineating the edge of the lake. I was extra careful on this slope -- although I had done a few self-arrests on other slopes, I didn't want to risk slipping into the freezing lake. Finally, around 4:00, we reached solid (and flatter) ground. There were still streams to cross but that was the end of the steep snow.

Once on the southeast side of the lake, we slogged through the mud and runoff posing as a trail. Our boots were soaked through. After an hour of that we had had enough. The sun was out so we stopped to change socks. They stayed dry for a while and we were more careful to step on rocks instead of just walking through the stream/trail.

Around 5:45 we were back at a trailhead, but we still had a mile to walk along the road to get to the trailhead we started at.

By the end of the day, 12 hours later, we had covered around 10 miles (map) and probably gained/lost 3000' elevation. Wet and miserable but definitely worth it -- we saw a lot of neat things and learned about the terrain. Next trip to that area we will hike trail up to Audubon, traverse to Paiute, and see what we can figure out from there about getting over to Toll.

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