Over Labor Day weekend, I took a gamble and booked a flight back out to Seattle for some prime time in the North Cascades. The past few weeks had been hot and smokey, but I had three blissfully clear – if cold – nights in the mountains with my friend Holly when I thought my summer was already over. The plan was to scramble up Fisher Peak and potentially Mount Arriva as well. With three days, it would be a fairly leisurely trip. Or so we thought.
We left Seattle at 7am and were at the trailhead with permits in hand by 11am. It was mostly easy cross-country hiking in prime terrain. I had never actually seen a bear while hiking before until this trip. Walking up the valley, Holly and I spotted three piles of very fresh bear scat along with ripe blueberry bushes along the creek, so we figured there had to be one nearby. Finally, on Saturday afternoon we witnessed a bear walk through the upper lake basin and drop down into the drainage on the other side. Bears are capable of traversing some pretty inhospitable terrain, but to see it with our own eyes was crazy.
For me, the highlight of the trip was meant to be a summit of Fisher Peak on the second day. I felt like this peak was certainly within both Holly and my skill levels, but when they say Fisher Peak is class 3 one class 4 move, it's not quite so simple. I would describe the west ridge route as mostly low class 3/high class 2 but with some brief moments of extreme exposure. There are dips in the ridge where one has to first descend downward then maneuver around the gendarme. The first two of these dips were unbelievably exposed, with one section being about the width of my foot with a light dusting of pebbles over the rock and about 1000 ft of death exposure on the north side. The actual scrambling in between the gendarmes was pretty good quality.
Once we began scrambling, Holly was actually pretty uncomfortable with how exposed some of the moves were becoming and decided to stop and wait for me at the first gendarme. I pushed on another 200-300 vertical ft before turning back myself. All of the moves felt within my skill level and I felt I could carefully downclimb everything I had climbed so far, but I felt uncomfortable proceeding further alone.
One of these days, I'll have to return to complete Fisher Peak. Just three years ago, I attempted the standard route up Del Campo Peak and turned back since I was new to scrambling and found the exposure to be too much. These days, Del Campo is easy for me and I've even descended by headlamp twice. This is just to say that exposure and one's comfort level with it is something that is constantly changing with experience, so it may very well be that next year is the year that I'm ready for it. Until then, it's better to live to climb another day!
We made our way down Fisher at a leisurely pace, took a long break at camp, then decided we would try scrambling up the unnamed peak behind the upper lake, which is part of the long ridge to the true summit of Mt. Arriva. From Fisher, it looked like we could pretty easily reach the peak by skirting around the ridgeline lower down. We went part of the way up the ridge before stopping and deciding it wasn't really worth it. Oh well, we were still camped in some prime terrain and spent the evening watching a spectacular sunset in the North Cascades. It doesn't really get better than that, right?