Mount Cruiser, Olympic National Park
I poked my head out of the tent, like a turtle checking to see if danger is still lurking. Some patchy blue skies, but no rain. Smiling, I shouted something positive to the others in the tent next to me and started getting ready for the day. This should be easy, I thought. Three hours to the summit from here said the guidebook. Stable weather said the optimist. Good company said yesterday's memory. The five of us were moving uphill toward Gladys Divide a little after 7 am. Mount Cruiser is an aesthetic peak along the Sawtooth Ridge in the Olympics, which is one of the few spots with rock of high enough quality that climbing is pleasurable instead of death defying. It is a long way in to climb two pitches of rock. Three days long. But Cruiser is pleasing enough that it was the covergirl for the previous edition of the climbing guide to the Olympics.
June 29-July 1, 2007
The snow was still firm when we put on crampons and started searching for Needle Pass, which seemed misplaced to us. Nothing resembled it until we went almost to Gladys Divide and spied it. The below picture is actually from our descent several hours later. The snow climb to the top is of a moderate, perhaps 30 degrees, slope, and the snow was in excellent condition for the ritual kicking of steps.
The others slowly made there way up, moving uphill at a pace that they found suitable. There was no hurry, after all: The climb was supposed to short and mellow. Besides the views from the pass were especially scenic, despite some low, lingering clouds that obscured the tops of the interior peaks.
The pass was a comfortable place to rest for a bit and gawk at the Needle, a fun looking, if somewhat hard to protect, climb of about a pitch. A nicely overhanging arete would make for something a bit more thrilling, but not today.
After lounging, we scrambled up and around the corner, where we decided to rope up and simul-climb toward Cruiser, which was still hidden from view. The rock at the start was slimy and not exactly confidence inspiring, but after forty vertical feet, or so, it mellowed and we were on a pleasant, though very exposed, ridge scramble.
So, Cruiser is considered a basic rock climb by the Mountaineers, and I suppose it might very well be. However, the massive exposure while scrambling is not something that is met with on most basic rock climbs. There is a lot of air all around you and a fall would have rather massive consequences.
Although the weather was degenerating, it still looked like everything would go and the general alpine setting prevented any moroseness on my part. Below, you can see Flapjack Lakes, where we were encamped.
Finally, we moved around a minor gendarme and saw Cruiser, at least the traditional view of it. All of us were expecting to see this aspect of it from the Flapjack Lakes side of things, but in fact you can only see the fashion shot from the Mildred Lakes side (i.e, the other side of the Sawtooth Ridge).
Unfortunately, we were now stopped by a 15 foot snow moat. The snow on the ridge line had melted very unevenly, leaving us with either a vertical snow climb, followed by a very, very steep snow downclimb, or trying to tunnel through and around parts of the moat. As it was 1 pm by the time were were all collected at the moat, we realized that we would not have the time to do it, climb, and retrace our steps. And so back we went. A short rappel past the slimy rock at the start from a big tree was much more comfortable than downclimbing. However, a rather large rock got dislodged by the rope as one of the climbers was rappelling, missing her by a a few feet and me by about five.
Although we had come a long way without getting a climb in, we had had a lot of fun in the alpine. The big peaks of the Olympics were semi-visible, but the only one I could identify for sure was Mount Anderson, which has a very large glacier on it.
We descended the snow very rapidly, which was in perfect shape for several hundred feet of boot skiing, though a few members of our group found their backsides to be more stable.
We had some time to kill as our party found their own ways down the snow slope, which prompted some good, steep bouldering on a local rock. Mount Cruiser is the peak above my hands. With a few crash pads, you could work a lot of really solid problems, but I contented myself with just toying around.
Reassembled, we set out, pleased, even if little disappointed, with the day. Mount Lincoln was looking very fine in the late afternoon light, taunting us with its closeness. None of us much felt like another effort today, however.
What was much more tempting was the Horn, an awesome looking block that seemed to have a much easier approach than Cruiser. That, too, would have to wait for another day.
And, here is a final look back at Mount Cruiser, the prominent peak in the center of the photograph. This looks nothing like the other photos I've seen, all of which are from the other side of the ridge.
From Lakewood, drive I-5 south to Olympia and exit onto US 101 (exit 104).Take 101 north from Olympia to Hoodsport, about 30 miles away, and turn left at the sign for Lake Cushman (SR 119). Drive 10 miles to where SR 119 T-junctions. Go to the left. The pavement ends after a couple of miles but the gravel road beyond it is in good shape. It is about 5 miles to Olympic National Park and the Staircase trailhead at roadsend.
The trail head is at 800 feet and Flapjack lakes are at 3900 feet. But, the first 4 miles gain you only 700 feet. At 4 miles, you'll junction with the Flapjack lake trail, which you take uphill. After a short climb, it levels out until you reach the bridge across Madeline creek, after which you have to put some work in.
You need a special quota permit to camp at Flapjack Lakes: Get it in advance. From Flapjack Lakes, follow the Gladys Divide Trail about 1.5 miles, almost to the divide. Locate Needle Pass, which has a big Needle at the top of it. Climb (snow for us) to the notch. Make a left turn and head up the rock (4th class initially, mellowing out) and follow a faint climbers trail through the rock, traversing to the right side of the ridgeline, then left, then right again. Spy Cruiser, finally. Drop down through a gully. We got stopped by a huge moat. We took a slow pace. It should be possible to climb Cruiser in a day, perhaps 14-18 hours car to car. However, a three day climb would be very luxurious.