Spider Mountain via Ptarmigan Traverse / 經雷鳥縱貫上蜘蛛山

Final ridge traverse on Spider Mountain
Final ridge traverse on Spider Mountain

See more trip photos here.

Happy Fourth of July!

Spider Mountain is one of the four high points along the Ptarmigan Traverse on my bucket list. Last weekend we climbed Spire Point from the southern end of the traverse. And this weekend we came in from the north. We made use of the boot tracks left by the four skiers we met by Cub Lake days ago.

The Lowdown on Spider Mountain

Access: Cascade Pass Trailhead
Round Trip: 19 miles
Elevation Range: 3480′-8286′
Gear: helmet, ice axe, crampons
GPS Track: available

Cascade Pass Trailhead to Cache Col

Overnight clouds lingered in the valleys well into the morning. Even at the trailhead, they showed no signs of clearing. On the way to Cascade Pass, we met a couple visiting from California. They had heard about the scenic hike up to Sahale Arm, and so they came to climb Sahale Peak. I wish the weather could have worked out in their favor so that they could experience the area’s true beauty.

After a short break on the pass, the pup and I continued toward our destination. Glad I had been to Cache Col on the way to Mount Formidable. Otherwise, even with the help of GPS, I still felt disoriented by the massive clouds. We followed a faint boot path until we reached the col. Visibility was virtually just a few feet from Cache Glacier onward.

View to the south from Cache Col
View to the south from Cache Col

See more trip photos here.

Cache Col to Red Ledge

Clouds continued to obscure our views as we made our way down the south side. A few small snowfields to get through. But otherwise, the trail to Kool-Aid Lake was easy to follow. At one point, we got off the path and went too low. Glad I caught the mistake early enough to get right back on track. We soon arrived at the tiny lake below Magic Mountain.

Red Ledge was closer than I thought. After passing through a talus field beyond Kool-Aid Lake, we were by the snow ramp leading up to the ledge. The new foot tracks had packed down the snow, and so crampons stayed in the pack. Past the bench, the trail was mostly snow-free until we reached Middle Cascade Glacier.

Access snow ramp to Red Ledge
Access snow ramp to Red Ledge

See more trip photos here.

Red Ledge to Spider-Formidable Col

Most snow had already melted off. The trail continued to be easy to follow as we moved right along. Clouds briefly dissipated as we approached the Middle Cascade Glacier. I saw the massive moraine deposit below the icefall, but with no signs of Mount Formidable straight above. We followed recent boot tracks at the northern edge of the glacier. Clouds swarmed in shortly after.

If it weren’t for the boot path, it would have been more challenging to navigate in the whiteout. At the top of the glacier, the tracks split into two. But we stayed with the one that was more defined to be safe. Even with limited visibility, we were able to avoid a couple of visible crevasses from below. Occasionally, the silhouettes of the outcrops at the edge of the glacier would be looming above.

A good sign
A good sign

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Spider-Formidable Col Camp

Visibility continued to be weak even after we reached the Spider-Formidable Col. The whiteout impeded my plan to climb Spider Mountain today. So instead, we stayed put and hoped for the weather to turn better the next day. I couldn’t locate the west notch where my partners and I bivyed when we climbed Mount Formidable. So I made camp above the east one.

Just as we were settling inside the tent, a couple of Ptarmigan Traverse groups came through. Even carrying on a conversation in the mists was interesting, since I could barely see anyone on the other side. Just before bed, I checked the weather forecast to find another cloudy day ahead. How discouraging! Clouds cleared up a bit at sunset time as I enjoyed limited views to the south.

Evening view to the south
Evening view to the south

See more trip photos here.

Spider Mountain Climb

The pup woke me up at 4 AM and was anxious to get outside. I finally peeked outside the tent at 5 AM, and to my amazement, the sky had cleared up. Somehow the clouds had disappeared overnight despite the gloomy weather forecast! I was afraid that the weather conditions would change at any moment. So we bolted out of the tent and went climbing the mountain.

From camp, we dropped 200′ feet below the notch to bypass a buttress. Despite morning sunlight, the south side of the mountain remained in the shade. That meant we would be on icy terrain for now. We traversed eastbound for under half a mile on excellent snow coverage. And before long, we were at the bottom of the steep access gully looking up. The photo I took last weekend confirmed that we were in the right place.

South access gully on Spider Mountain
South access gully on Spider Mountain

See more trip photos here.

South Gully Approach

Ascending the snow finger next to the wall didn’t help with the efficiency. So I kicked steps until we gradually moved to the middle of the shute with soft snow. We got to the bottom of the buttress on the right and then proceeded to get on the rocks. Then we were climbing on dry ground for the most part. Then from the ridge, we made a left toward the true summit beyond the corniced snow arete.

We dropped down onto a notch on the other side of the arete. By staying south of the ridge crest, we avoided the steep snow on the north side. If there were more snow on the final class 3 scramble to the top, it would have complicated the situation. Soon, we arrived at the summit of Spider Mountain adorned with a large cairn.

Northwest-northeast panoramic view
Northwest-northeast panoramic view

See more trip photos here.

High on Spider Mountain

I still couldn’t believe how the weather turned out today. I was almost sure we’d climb in a whiteout after seeing yesterday’s weather report. Gradually, the sky had become overcast, but glad the clouds stayed high during our stay. I couldn’t believe how much pointier Spire Point looked from the north; how intimidating! Views to the north were beginning to become hazy. But even so, most high points in that direction were still visible.

Glad I got a good look at Johannesburg Mountain. I was still hoping to get to the mountain this season. Funny that we were in clouds the whole time when we climbed McGreggor Mountain. But for the last two weekends, the mountain was free of clouds! Ptarmigan Traverse was undoubtedly a sight to see. Perhaps I’ll get to it one of these days when I finish with whatever bucket list I have.

Ptarmigan Traverse panoramic view
Ptarmigan Traverse panoramic view

See more trip photos here.

Back to Spider-Formidable Col and out

We stayed well over an hour to get our money’s worth for coming all this way. But the show must end; we still had a long way to go to reach the trailhead. Once we carefully descended on the snow finger, it didn’t take long before we made it back at the col. Bidding farewell to the beautiful landscape to the south, we packed up and quickly exited the area.

Talk about timing. Just as we walked off the glacier, the clouds lowered and once again obscured our view. But I was glad that the weather god showed her mercy during our climb and granted us the immense views! Now that I was more familiar with this section of the traverse, we were able to move more quickly. Before long, we were back on the cloudy Cache Col with no visibility.

Back to Cascade Pass
Back to Cascade Pass

See more trip photos here.

Cascade Pass Awaited

Just as we got down to the bottom of Cache Glacier, the sky opened up. Then the view of Sahale Peak, Buckner Mountain, and Booker Mountain began to pour in. As we made our way through the meadow, half a dozen mountain goats were carefreely grazing among marmots. Interestingly, the minute we saw Cascade Pass was when the clouds came in again!

We were back to hiking in the mists from the pass down to the car.

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