A Marmot tail (tale) one year late - ClubTread Community

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post #1 of (permalink) Old 07-13-2007, 10:37 AM Thread Starter
Headed for the Mountains
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Bellingham, Wa, USA.
Posts: 164
Default A Marmot tail (tale) one year late

For my 100th post I'm sending out this trip from last year which may be of interest. Only sent this out to a few friends.

I had been aware of Marmot Mountain, a medium sized Cascade summit just north of the border, but it was not a very high priority for me to climb. Things changed, however, when I became interested in doing as many 2000' prominent peaks as possible and also I could find no account of Marmot ever being climbed. If it had never been climbed it would surely be the most prominent summit in the Cascade Range without an ascent! My first attempt was thwarted by a locked gate, way low down where I never expected a gate to be. The gate is closed at 3 pm M-F and closed on weekends. This makes it a 2-day trip during the week, which I wasn't able to schedule until last week.

Don B. , dog Luna & I set out early Wed. morning May 17, 2006, from Bellingham with bikes in the back of the truck just in case the road was gated and prepared for quite a few unknowns on this exploratory route. Taking the Sumallo River road we thankfully passed through the open gate just past Sunshine Village and proceeded to the upper gate about a mile before reaching the old Silvertip Ski area, about 3600', Since we had our bikes we rode them to the ski area ( & walked them through some snow patches) until the snow patches became too frequent. I don't know the history of the ski area but it had only one T-bar lift which was still there and a few cabins too. After ditching our bikes it was a short walk on the old overgrown road to a logged area where we could see up-valley; the terrain was steeper than I had anticipated. The day was very warm as we hiked on snow of the flat valley floor and approached the headwall. After a short treed section we were in a slide alder area partially subdued by the snow. I had planned on following the stream up but after seeing a waterfall-hole in the rather deep and steep sided canyon that in which the stream flowed we chose to cross the creek (partly on weak snow bridge) and ascend a snow slope to the right. The snow slope led to a wide gully/ ridge above and below cliffbands and was an easy hike on still firm snow. Continuing up to the saddle was easy on open snow slopes to the saddle at 5500' where we set up camp at a nice flat and wind protected spot on the snow.

We decided to climb Marmot that day so there was really no need to carry camp any farther, it was traversing and a big descent from here to the base of the peak. After setting up camp and having some lunch we headed east crossing the end of ‘Tearse Ridge” to reach a SE trending sub-ridge at 5400' and a cliffy drop-off. We climbed a bit to reach a level section of ridge at 5550' and found a better way down to the pass with Marmot. After taking a short drop we angled left to an open gully which we followed until it took a steeper drop and exposed a waterfall. Angling right above cliffs we found a very good snow gully, which dropped us down to the pass at 4250'. We now began the climb of Marmot 2600' above up through heavy timber on good snow (it was good to have shade in the 75 degree temps) until we reached the toe of a basin and timberline at 5600'. Views expanded as we kicked steps up moderate slopes then angled up to reach the west ridge of Marmot. After cresting to a false summit we gazed upon the final snow and rock pyramid of the high point. A short descent took us to the easy 500' snow climb to the top. We found no evidence of a previous ascent but snow covered the highest point; we built a cairn and placed a register about 50' from the high point (and not much lower) and placed a register. Between eating relaxing and picture taking the 45 minutes we spent on top evaporated quickly. Had some great glissades on the way back and arrived at camp at 8:15pm about 8 hours after leaving. We were tired after about a 6000' cumulative day so crawled in the tent shortly after dinner.
Slept until 6:30 and had a leisurely morning before going up “Big Tearse” , the southern and higher point of Mount Tearse which gave good views of our route on Marmot. Hiked back to camp and then proceeded up Brown Peak's east ridge to gain a fine vantage point of the Silvertip/ Rideout/ Payne group. Brown Peak is 7000'+ and was a good high point to take a break on though we had to get down to make sure we were out by our 3pm gate lock time.
Normally now all I have to say is that the descent went well and we made it out to the gate on time. That is true that both those happened but there is a lot more to the story. What we experienced on our descent was something that neither Don nor I have ever been through in many combined years of climbing and something that I will not forget.
From our vantage point on Big Tearse earlier in the day we could see a very large and thick slab avalanche had come off of the NE face of Brown Peak and looked to have gone down to cross our route up from the ski area. As we descended from camp we could start to see bits of the top of the slab edge high above and ahead of us. We began to have a better perspective on what had happened less than 24 hours before as we came to an area where we could see the destructive path before us. It had started near the top of the ridge about 2000' above us, and spread at a crack horizontally a few hundred feet below that to become a massive half-mile climax avalanche. It had come down to our ascent gully, over the top of the flanking ridge then dropped precipitously to the valley bottom several hundred feet below us.
From here we could see that there was no way around it; we would have to go through the avalanche. I was hesitant to travel under the slide area especially since there was more snow above that had not released, but we had no choice and we needed to reach the gate before the 3 pm closing. We decided that since a lot of the lower snow had slid that another slide of such magnitude was very unlikely. Still, I was nervous. Upon reaching the debris, much of it large blocks of snow, the real impact was realized. Don said that the broken up blocks were like traveling through the Kumbu icefall; since he's been there he should know. Wanting to get through as quick as possible we zig-zagged to the best path we could find. We followed the ridge for much of the route. It was a place that would seem to be a safe location yet the trees had been stripped of their limbs or were altogether gone. To experience the power of nature so close and to feel so vulnerable was a very humbling thing. To realize that if the avalanche had come down a few hours earlier would have meant our certain death was freaky. We crossed some deep channels where the snow had flowed like a river and had to climb 10' high walls to get out of them. We crossed some sections that were untouched because of a diverting rock buttress far above, and then came across another devastated section. Trying to stay as far as possible from where a new slide might hit we dropped down a short gully filled with snow blocks and areas where the snow had a smooth ‘slide base' where tons of sliding snow had almost polished a smooth path.

Angling finally down to the lower section of the gully that led to the flat valley floor we were surprised to find that the avalanche had not reached this area; it had flowed across our route above to reach the main creek-bed. Now we were in a safe place and able to moving quickly away from the danger. What a relief! Upon moving a bit farther down-valley we had a view of the main creek gully. The waterfall was now gone and a 30' or so high pile of debris was at its base. There appeared to be no place that we could have ascended the valley and been safe if the avalanche had come down when we were there. It seems as though we should have heard quite a roar when it happened but we were probably way over the ridge on our trip back from Marmot. After returning I looked at photos taken from high on Marmot taken in the direction of Brown Peak, and the slide had not yet occurred. Had we been back at or near camp we would have heard it also. This narrows the time down to about 6 to 7:30 pm when we were totally blocked from view and sound.
As I walked out the last bit my mind went over the events that had taken place. I was certainly glad to be back safe but was so shocked that we had not sensed the great danger we had been in on our ascent. We didn't really have a good view of the snowfields above us. In fact at one of the lower areas that had been covered deeply we could see only a little snow on cliffs above us; the great snowfields above were hidden as the angle lessened. I suppose too that in the excitement of heading for a possible unclimbed summit I was focusing in on that and not paying enough attention to the hazards. A few weeks ago my wife told me to be safe as I left for a trip. I told her that being safe was second only to reaching the summit as our most important goal. Guess that about sums it up!

PS; Don is currently on an expedition to climb K2, 'The Savage Mountain'. I believe that if he succeeds he will be the oldest to do so. Best of luck to him & be safe Don.
Avalanche that went across our route, which we climbed up from lower right to upper left skyline
Top of Marmot Mountain
Don & dog Luna on Marmot (Brice & Shawatum in back)
Glissading the Marmot
View from Brown Mtn., Silvertip-Rideout-Payne

hiking through the avalanche
The creekbed was a death-trap
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 07-13-2007, 02:09 PM
Hittin' the Trails
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Wow! Quite an amazing tale - thanks for the read. Nice pics too of the avalanche. The power and suddeness of nature can be astounding.
Glad you guys made it through ok.

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post #3 of (permalink) Old 07-13-2007, 02:38 PM
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Nice one.

Some comments from Karl Ricker in a BCMC journal a few years back made it seem pretty sure that Marmot had been climbed before, not sure of the details though.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 07-13-2007, 03:15 PM
High on the Mountain Top
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D'oh-was hoping to get Marmot before you did. Definitely an obscure summit, despite the proximity to the highway, and tricky to get into. I'd guess that prospectors or geologists have been up there at least once, but it does have an aura of mystery. Very much appreciate the TR for future reference!
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 07-14-2007, 09:06 AM
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That was a difficult peak to get. I've considered a crossing of the Skagit and a bushwack from there. Good one!
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post #6 of (permalink) Old 07-14-2007, 02:03 PM
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Nice job on bagging a few peaks over a couple of days. Big Tearse is known unofficially as Goldtip on bivouac.com. I was in that area a couple of years ago. That was one hell of an avalanche. You could have headed to the Tearse/Goldtip col and head down to the ski area from there. I went up that way and then came down the creek/gully you went up/down.

Still been meaning to get up there and bag Brown. Maybe Marmot as well.
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 07-15-2007, 09:30 PM
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Holy crap that's scary seeing that destruction right through your path [:0]. Congrats on the summit .

Good luck on K2 Don and be safe!!!
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 07-15-2007, 10:05 PM
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Thats some mass of frozen water,a late in the day release [:0]
Glad you walked thru and away from that one
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post #9 of (permalink) Old 12-11-2007, 08:41 PM
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quote:Originally posted by gm

also I could find no account of Marmot ever being climbed.
Here's at least one documented ascent, from 2003, with photos.
Makes an interesting read. I would walk right by this stuff without noticing it was anything unusual.
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