Washington Basin circle


A point-to-point, 5-peak climb through the southern White Clouds

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

First, let me explain how this was a point-to-point hike.

Tom and I parked the car at the Three Cabins trailhead and started walking the route toward 4th of July trailhead. Meanwhile, the other three parked their car at the 4th of July trailhead and started walking to Three Cabins. When we met in the middle, we swapped car keys. So although there were five of us on the trip, I basically spent the whole day with just Tom.

So here we are the trailhead, 9am.

Tom and John at Three Cabins trailhead
We knew that it would take us longer to get to our trailhead than Dan's group. We also knew that we would have more elevation to climb than them. So filled with a sense of duty, we climbed our first objective, the 2100' to the top of Bible Back mountain, in 90 minutes. Tom on Bible Back mountain

Meanwhile, Dan's team was first tackling Fourth of July Peak, on the right. They would then drop down to the saddle and climb the peak on the left.

The left peak is noteworthy because it was to be the last peak of the day for Tom and I. More on that later.....

Meanwhile, pictured below, Tom and I were looking at Croesus, our next peak on the adjoining ridgeline. The very white peak at the end of the basin, on the right, is Washington Peak, where we hoped to meet the other group for lunch.

4th of July Peak
Croesus Peak

We had to scamper down through some cliffy areas to get off of Bible Back- nothing difficult, but very loose and sandy. We were glad the other group was climbing this, and not us. Not that the big climb up the other side was anything different.

Descending Bible Back Mountain

When we got to the top of Croesus, we took a break and checked the view. Tom noticed these little dots across the basin. 14 goats!

Remember, click a picture to see a larger view.

Note to Tom: As we suspected, Croesus (kre-sis) was some dead guy, but the word now refers to any very wealthy person.

Goat herd

From Croesus, we had a ridge walk with several summits. However, they do not have sufficient prominence (height difference from summit to adjoining saddle) to be considered a true peak.

They sure felt like it, though.

The first one was mostly a long traverse. The second one, according to Lopez's guide book, involved Class III climbing. Dan had thought this would be the only Class III of the day.

Our route

So here's the face that supposedly had the Class III. Tom and I climbed the obvious, light-colored gully. It was extremely loose, but not difficult. We sort of held onto the rocks on the sides of the gully to keep from sliding down with the mountains of debris in the middle.

It was just about where this picture was taken that a big billy goat appeared in from of us, maybe 150 feet away. I got Tom's attention, but in so doing scared the big boy off before I could get a picture.

Thrid-class gully- Not!

Once we go up the gully, we had a long ridge walk to the top of Washington Peak.

This ridgeline was really easy going. There is a decent trail right on the crest, and the tread is mostly small gravel.

Washington Peak
As you climb the ridge, you look down into the Champion Basin on the left, with the Sawtooths on the horizon. There is a trail into the upper end of this basin, but none at the bottom: private property. Champion Basin

Looking back to where we had come from was impressive. Bible Back is on the left, below the horizon. Croesus is at the top of the big dark arete to the right of Bible Back.

Lots of snowy peak in the background. This day was never short on astounding views.

Also, there was remnants of old mining stuff around. On the ridge before Croesus, we had found the ruins of an old log cabin. And in the basin, we could see some ancient mining shacks.

Bible Back and Croesus

We beat the other boys to the top of Washington Peak by a good margin. So we had a second lunch and looked at our route. The little red dots show our next summits, and the arrow points to the other car.

Note the ridgeline- it is fairly narrow....

Tom and Castle Peak
A little further along the ridge, we finally met the boys, swapped keys, and told a few stories. As we sat, we saw a few members of the large band of goats. Then we were off, with an agreement to make an effort to be back to our respective cars by 6pm so we could all get home at a decent hour. Closer goats
Looking back along our route, you can see how steep the terrain is. The red circle shows the boys approaching Washington Peak.
The boys approach Wshington Peak

We summitted Peak 10,500, which didn't count as part of our 5 for the day. But it gave us a great view of our upcoming route. The red hash mark on the left of the picture is Peak 10,514, and the one to the right of Castle Peak is Peak 10408, which was pointed out in an earlier picture.

Again, you'll notice the ridge is narrow.

Our last two peaks of the day

But not as narrow as our escape route off of Peak 10408!

This baby looked scary. And we couldn't tell how long the scary part would last (most of the way, as it turns out). Dan had said, "You'll have fun on that ridge." Well, it could have been fun. But I had several things working against me:

  1. I was very tired, and one of my legs was trying to cramp, especially if it was very bent.
  2. The day was getting long, so many of the moves were in shadow and hard to see.
  3. The rock is crumbly limestone.
  4. There was snow on the crumbly limestone.
  5. We were downclimbing.

And to top if off, this ridge involved a lot of exposure. I'm not sure if Dan thought I would enjoy it, or if he is a secret sandbagger. But there was clearly no alternative, so off we went. Very , very carefully.

Knifeedge ridge

Here's Tom negotiating one of the sections where I finally felt comfortable pulling out the camera.

The actual climbing lasted a surprisingly long time. We did finally get off, and then we had a two-mile hike back to the car. The map showed an old road in the bottom of the valley, but there was a lot of snow down there. Instead, we stayed high on the ridge side and bushwhacked most of the way. Shortly after we finally crossed the road, I saw a wolf run across it. The big canid capped a great day.

Tom descending

Epilogue: We got to Dan's car at 5:45, and drove leisurely down the road. We knew we were ahead of them by the clock, and that they had a longer drive. So when we got to the agreed meeting point at 6:15, we drove down to Sessions for "supplies", but the store was closed. So we doubled back to Smiley Creek where we finally scored a 6-pack. Then we returned to our meeting point and drank a beer while sitting in the grass while we waited. And waited. And waited. We put on our down parkas as the temperature dropped. Then it got dark. Then we got back into the car. Finally, at 8PM we started driving toward Germania Creek to effect a rescue, worried that they might pass us going the other way and we wouldn't be able to recognize the car from the oncoming headlights.

Passing Smiley Creek for our 4th time that day, we saw a car screaming down the Valley Road. Just as they pulled out, we flashed our lights and they recognized us. Whew.. we really didn't want to drive to Germania again. The original plan for the day had been six peaks- and they were doing 6 peaks, even at the risk of finishing in the dark (they were pretty close). Tom and I had only done five, skipping their first peak- more due to my fatigue than lack of time.

So all's well that ends well. A truly incredible trip.

Dan's trip report

Dave's trip report

Mr. Natural Home | 2006 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski