Cascade Lake to Spiller Creek
We wake as we knew we would, cold and wet. The melted snow is now frozen water, on the ground, on our tents, and condensed inside our tent. Our water bottles are frozen. The stars are still out, which is a good sign our closest one will also appear and begin drying us out.
We stay hidden in our frozen tent caves until actual sun rays reach us. We slowly move things around, brush them off, and position them appropriately for the sun god. It is 9:30am by the time we get going, and we have to stop for non-frozen water to filter, so it is closer to 10:00am when we start our assent of Sky Pilot Col.
Sky Pilot Col feels like a triple by-pass. First we scramble up to a tarn. Second we scramble up nasty talus blocks, which keeps getting steeper. It is like the sloped wall in American Ninja Warriors. Third we scramble up loose scree, which keeps getting even steeper and looser. The ground is so unstable, each step forward involves some sliding backwards. There are times we slide further backwards than we stepped forward.
The view at the top is amazing, but even more amazing – my phone starts dinging with messages from Terri. I didn’t even know I was not in airplane mode. I try to call, but that fails. The few text messages that went through made it seem we were on track to be picked up tomorrow. It sounds great, though frankly, we have lots of miles and elevation left to do to make that happen.
The trip down from Sky Pilot Col was crazier than the up. The down can only be described as a series of bone chilling avalanches. Each step was a complete mystery. It could be a normal step on reasonably stable scree, or it could be the beginning of a Mister Toad’s wild ride, as a large section of rock appears to liquify and make a run for it.
The steepness eventually becomes more reasonable, and the avalanches less frequent. Instead we faced miles and miles of miserable boulder and rock hopping. It seems like we are killing ourselves, and yet have so little mileage to show for it.
We eventually reach Shepard Lake, where we take a break and snack. We continue down towards Virginia Canyon. The journey is through mazes of willows, and eventually a not so pleasant crashing through the forest. Each step down is made more painful because, as soon as we reach the bottom, we will cross the creek and climb right back up over 1,400 feet of elevation.
The climb up out of Virginia Canyon for me is miserable. The forest is steep and thick. We are constantly zig zagging, trying to get over logs, around brush, and over rocks. You really can’t see the forest for the trees, and the maze offers no feeling of progress. I need to stop for physical and mental breaks. I can tell Kevin is worried we will not be making the necessary miles to get out tomorrow.
We eventually break out into open granite and I get a second wind. We press up to Soldier Lake, where we fill a water bottle and move on up past Grey Butte. We are now staring across at Stanton Pass. It looks ridiculously steep, with impassible cliffs, but given that this is our 32 pass, and we felt the same way about most of them, we just shrug our shoulders and press on. We dip down to a tarn, where Kevin fills a bottle, and we start up. Our GPS waypoints indicate we should move right, but Kevin likes the look of a ramp/ledge on the left. We traverse to it, and eventually slide into place a little above the pass, but perfectly.
From Stanton Pass, we can now see Spiller Creek, our goal for the night. Like most passes, the down side seems way worse than the up. There are several “you have got to be kidding” moments. At one point, Kevin falls, flinging one of his trekking poles on an amazing flight. The slope eventually un-slopes a bit, and we struggle the rest of the way down, with Kevin reminding me it is past his mountain bedtime.
We crash through brush and willows, and find a flat spot in the valley. We setup camp, cook, and retire to bed, knowing we have only one more pass, and we should be done by tomorrow.