Saturday, August 4, 2012

Pilot Mountain via Lion Lake #1.

Unfortunately this post will not be accompanied by any photos.  I took the camera with me, but did not take the battery.  Oh well.
I started on August 2 from the Wild Basin trail head at 645 am.  The hike up was mellow; the air was cool but not so much that I had to put on a long sleeved shirt.  I took the campsite shortcut trail, passing by Siskin which I would hit on my way back to go to Twin Lakes.
This is the first time I have hiked to Lion Lake this year, and I was reminded of how steep the trail gets after splitting from the Thunder Lake trail.
I made it to Lion Lake in decent time.  From here, you have a great view of Mt. Alice and Pilot Mountain, and can basically work your way to the scree slope between them. The book indicated that you should head south around the lake before continuing on.  Since I felt I was closer to the north side of the lake I went around that way.
There is some wet and marshy terrain to navigate near the inlet from Trio Falls.  If you don't have waterproof boots, I may recommend going this way, but crossing the creek a little higher up.  I took the other way around the lake on the way back and found it to be equally wet.
There is some light bushwhacking involved as you make your way towards Pilot Mountain.  Nothing too involved or difficult.  Some talus and boulders to work around as well.
You will arrive at a bowl that looks up a talus/scree slope with a grassier slope slightly to the north.  You could take the grassy slope to ascend Mt. Alice, but I would recommend staying in the slope to the south which contains more talus and larger boulders and less scree.  I took the scree slope down, and I feel it would have been a bit easier to navigate the talus since the scree is at a steep angle and very loose.
Eventually the talus slope will come to an end with an impassible wall.  To the left is the steep rock of Pilot Mountain itself, to the right the scree filled slope.  It does look like you could ascend the steeper rock directly, but I would not do so without real climbing gear and knowledge.  It doesn't look too steep looking up, but once you are at the top you can see how steep it is, and to fall without the protection of a rope would certainly mean serious injury.
I crossed the scree slope to get to the chest high solid rock on the north side of it to provide stable hand holds to work my way up.  This is a second and third class ascent.  A helmet would be recommended here, particularly if you are following someone else up as some rock will be kicked loose, and the slope is enough that it will tumble quite quickly down.
As you gain altitude, you will notice a large boulder coming up that looks as though it is blocking the way.  This is a marker to remember, as I hit the boulder I looked left/east and saw the grassy ramp described which leads to the summit of the mountain.  I felt the scree was too much to cross as there was nothing visible that looked stable for hands or feet, so I scrambled up to the right around the boulder.  From here I was able to cross the scree much more easily before hitting the ramp.
The ramp starts out three to four feet wide, and it is a good place and vantage point to stop for a drink or bite to eat and prepare for what lies ahead.  The next fifteen yards or so contain the most difficult part of this hike.  The ramp will narrow, and now looking down the northeast face of Pilot Mountain is very, very steep.  Be sure to use caution here and take your time.  If you were to fall, you would have to self arrest almost instantly; this is made difficult as in many places the rock is smooth with no features to hold onto whatsoever.
The ramp will turn into rock, and continue to narrow until you reach a chimney feature (almost vertical rock on three sides) that lies between the eastern summit and the knife ridge that continues to the west.  This is upper fourth class, and again, a place where you do not want to fall.  Fortunately there are large hand and foot holds to help you up.  I felt the transition from the top of this to the eastern ridge was the hardest part.
Once you gain the top, the ramp is down to about six inches wide and no longer contains grass.  Continue east for a short distance over this third and fourth class rock.  The summit is shortly thereafter, and WOW!
I think the view from here may be the best I'll get all year.  You tower over Falcon Lake to the south, with Thunder Lake and Lake of Many Winds also visible south.  You can see Tanima Peak, Isolation Peak, The Cleaver, Mt. Alice, Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker, Copeland Mountain...  The list goes on.
It was truly inspiring to take in and to know that I have now ascended or been to almost everything I could see looking back to the east.  I thought about how much time I have spent in Wild Basin over the past year and how I am now very close to my goal of hiking to every named feature in this area.  Pretty awesome.
I wasn't expecting a summit register here, but there was one, and it was intact.  It was placed here in 1974, and I would estimate there have been less than 100 registered ascents since then.  I was the sixth this year, with only four in 2011.  Compare that to Longs Peak, which I have heard estimated in season gets something like 100 ascents A DAY!
This hike is longer and more technically difficult, though with less total gain.  I was able to kind of get cell reception up here, but could not place a call or send a text.  I was able to see that it was now 1120, giving me 4.5 hours to get here.  Not bad.  I hung out at the top for a bit before turning back.
Again, I took my time and care to descend the third and fourth class face to the chimney.  I took it slow down that as well, and made it back to the grassy ramp.  I took this back to the scree slope, and decided to descend this directly.  I got going pretty fast when I decided to butt slide down it, and stopped myself.  I got back to the chest high rock on the north side of this slope and used it to provide stable hands and feet at times for the descent.
I did make it down but I felt as though it took me more time to go this way than it would have to cut back to the talus slope.  I will do that next time I do this hike.  After all, I do have to go back to get photos for you!
I continued overland with some light bushwhacking until I ran into Lion Lake #1.  I went south around it this time, again traveling through some wet terrain until I was able to hop the outlet.  Back on the trail I made good time down.
When I got to the sign for Siskin, I followed its trail up to get to Twin Lakes.  I got to the campground and looked around for cairns or anything that looked like a trail.  I didn't seen anything, so I just headed due north from here.  The hill is steep and I was dripping sweat in no time.  You will arrive at a point where you see some granite boulders coming up- this is not quite it.  There is still another slope to ascend.  I was reassured by seeing footprints and the holes from hiking poles here- at least I was going the right way.
The first lake came almost as a surprise.  It is very pretty and lily padded with large boulders in and around it, particularly to the east.  Now here is when I encountered some trouble.  I was not sure which of the lakes this was and if I should go east or west to find the second.  I went west and eventually stumbled onto a unmaintained trail that was marked with cairns.  I followed this, loosing altitude until it seemed to end in the middle of nowhere.  It felt like I was not going the right way and had gone too far, so I followed the trail back up.
I was now on the north side of the lake, and again the trail seemed to stop in the middle of nowhere.  I continued on around the lake and headed east for a bit.  Eventually I gave up.  I am not sure where the other lake is or which one I was at, but I tried!  And it was relatively easy to find one of the lakes.  Very pretty as well, with great views of Copeland, Tanima, and Eagles Beak.
I headed back down hill and met up with the Thunder Lake trail a little bit above Siskin.  I took the Campsite shortcut back.  I was feeling pretty fresh and made good time, getting back to the car exactly at 445pm.  Despite some time lost looking for the other lake and really taking my time after descending Pilot Mountain, ten hours is entirely reasonable.  I feel if done by itself, I could probably get there and back in eight or less.
Make no mistake, this is a very long and both physically and technically demanding hike.  But given the truly spectacular view that you will most likely have all to yourself, as well as being one of the two to six people per year to get this view...  I will be back to it, that is for sure.  It would be fun to do after hitting Mt. Alice via Hourglass Ridge.  That would be a long and adventurous day for sure.
Pilot Mountain via Lion Lake #1:
Pilot Mountain: 7.6 miles one way, 3700 foot gain.  Up to difficult fourth class near summit.  Strenuous.
Twin Lakes: 3.25 miles one way, 1340 foot gain.  Moderate minus.

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