Lost? Or Possibly Misplaced in
the North Cascades
Affolter at White Rock Lakes
So here's a John story.
It must have been the summer of '74 when John asked if I'd be interested
in doing the Ptarmigan Traverse--a classic route in the North Cascades--like
where else? I fancied myself a budding mountain man and knew I'd
be in good hands with John as leader so I jumped at the chance.
John, myself, John's then
wife Terri, and an east coast buddy of John's, Alex Medlicott were
We started by traversing
a steep snowfield east of Cascade Pass. I thought it was steep anyway
though I don't think John was particularly impressed with it. We
then came to the White Ledge. This was a narrow ledge that offered
possible death if one slipped off it. We didn't slip. Then, just
as my sphincters were beginning to relax, we came to the Red Ledge.
This was a narrow part of the trail that offered certain death if
we slipped so I think we actually roped up for that one. At least
I did. I was starting to rethink this trip when the fog hit as we
were crossing a snowfield directly across from Mt. Furious or Mt
Nasty or Mt.Terrible or one of those. I do remember it was a dark
jagged forbidding--maybe that's it Mt Forbidden, anyway I remember
hearing frequent avalanches the next few days from its slopes. I
say the next few days because the fog never lifted for 4 days and
we simple sat and waited, not sure what was above us or below us,
though we were more worried about what was above us since we were
camped in the middle of a modestly steep snowfield. Anyway I remember
we spent many hours trying to talk ourselves into the fact that
the sky was getting lighter by a lumen or two when of course nothing
at all was happening. Waiting paid off though and it finally cleared
although we were now way behind schedule. We were with the Legend
of the North Cascades though, so we knew we could stretch the limits
and continue on.
It was a great next 2
or 3 days and be bagged a couple of peaks and had a couple of great
campsites and eventually were poised for a long but very doable
last day's hike out.
We got up early and started
up a long glacier-snowfield to whatever the last pass was. I'll
bet John remembers the name (and the elevation, and the peak to
the north south east and west and the drainage, etc., etc.) When
we got to the top however our leader was perplexed because we were
200 ft too high or low whatever to be at the right place. This was
worrisome, but what was stranger still was the fact that our compass
was off by a few degrees. This, through the retropectoscope might
have given us pause, but John was not about to be second guessed
by a couple of crude instruments. Press on! he ordered and of course
we did, over the pass and down an increasingly steep and treacherous
slope. The fog was so thick we couldn't see above or below but we
had faith and on we went. At some point Terri started to become
hypothermic so we knew we needed to get down so we finally glissaded
the last few hundred feet into the unknown, not unlike Shackelton's
loyal crew on S. Georgia.
We finally found ourselves
on a wide glacier ringed by high peaks and not apparently where
we thought we would be. We anxious looked to John for guidance.
John meanwhile had pulled out the maps and was with an air of should
I say, mild concern, trying to figure out where the hell we were.
After consulting his errant
compass and altimeter and turning the maps this way and that he
announced that we were probably, I stress the probably, on the Spire
Glacier. He also noted that we would have to stay the night, a foregone
conclusion at this point and try to make it out over that pass,
he pointed to a pass or what could be a pass at the top of the glacier.
When we asked if he were sure it was passable he grunted something
that no one heard or maybe wanted to hear.
That night since we had
run out of food we each ate one of our boots. Or was that another
trip--anyway it didn't matter, we had put all our hopes on John's
navigational skills even though our faith was slightly shaken by
the day's events.
It should be no surprise
to hear that when we came to the "pass" with some trepidation the
following day (maybe that was the name of that peak - Mt. Trepidation),
we emerged on the other side exactly were John had predicted. We
practically skipped the next fifteen miles to the trailhead and
waiting car, where we quickly tore up and ate the leather seats.-or
was that another trip.
So that's it. Now I'm not saying John got
lost on that trip--that's close to heresy I know, but maybe he got
like confused or something. Anyway it was a rare and memorable trip
and I wouldn't have missed it for anything and if it weren't for
the Red Ledge I might even do it again.
Copyright 2004, John W. Roper.
All Rights Reserved.