Saturday, October 17, 2020

Hike: Ptarmigan Trail from Climber's Bivouac, Cougar, WA

View of the Green Knoll from the timberline

Distance: 4.0 miles (full trip on AllTrails is 8.2 miles)
Type: Out and Back

Elevation Gain: 1043 feet
(full trip 4,583 feet)
High Point: 4800 feet
(full trip 8287 feet)
Duration: 2.5 hrs (full trip ~8-9 hrs)


Getting There

I was just out for a day trip in the car and ended up at the Climbers Bivouac by chance. I'd take a drive on WA-14 to Carson. I sorta had in mind that I might head to Norway Pass or the Harmony Fall trail above Spirit Lake. I didn't exactly get an early start to I just keep driving the route between Carson and the Lakes/Reservoirs (Merwin, Yale, Swift).

When I got to Hwy 90/NFD-25 junction I realized I didn't have any water for a hike so I doubled back to Eagle Cliff Store & Campground, then back toward the junction. I paused briefly to consider heading to the Lower Smith Creek Trailhead but took a left instead.

I remembered going to Lava Canyon/Ape Canyon area so I thought that'd be a good spot for some photos and light afternoon hiking. At the last minute I veered left when I saw the Climbers Bivouac trailhead. I'd never been there so why not?

I was stoked to find the gravel road and surprised when I reached the top and found a nicely paved parking lot and campground. The fog was a bit heavy and it was cold. I hadn't planned to hike but parked and put on my gear to just scout the trail a bit. I read the sign that said the summit was 4 miles. I really wasn't up for an 8+ mile round trip, esp. when starting at 2:30 pm.

Permit Info:


The Hike

Whelp... I hiked as far as the 4800' ft mark where a permit is required to go further. It's the treeline and according to the trail description, it's a pretty grueling hike from there up and over the boulders and ash.

I passed a group of four women who sang "It's Only Just Begun", a siren's warning that I was in for a challenge.

Another guy was optimistic and said the rim was free of clouds. I thought "maybe the summit is reachable, the trail so far was certainly easier than the High Rock hike. I passed another group and asked when the situation was going up.

One guy said they'd left the trailhead at 7 am and it took 5 hrs to reach the summit. That lines up the estimates I've read: 4.5 hrs up, 3.5 hrs down.

I reached the 4800' ft / permit required marker about 10 min later. I venture in the scrub to take some photos. A couple was on their descent and looked at me quizzically. I waved and continued with the photos.

SW view from the trail

Intersection, Monitor Ridge, June Lake Tr, Loowit Trail junction

View of the Green Knoll from the timberline

View of ridge and boulder scramble, 4800' ft

SW view from the trail, sliver of Yale Lake in distance

Leaving the forest

Post-Hike Thoughts

Every single one of my hikes in recent memory going back to July has resulted in L knee pain on the descent. I believe it has something to do with my RA but it's also manageable (bearable) with stretching. But like clockwork, after an hour or three hours on the trail, it's the same. It's characteristic for the muscles used on descents vs ascents.

After reading this article, I'm going to start using the foam roller and see if I can reduce or eliminate this problem.

I remember Les Stroud talking about the Lemon scoring system (S7E7). (He also talks about the hazards of going uphill vs downhill, using big muscles quads & calves going up but small muscles in knee & ankle going down. Also, 1-10-1 rule: 1 min to calm down, 10 min decrease in limbs, 1 hr hypothermia)

For example:

  • A blister and old injury = 1/2 lemon
  • Hiking alone = 1/2 lemon
So today I might have scored the situation like this:
  • Time of day (later in afternoon) = 1/2 lemon
  • Not doing my homework on the trail = 1/4 lemon
  • No food = 1/4 lemon
  • Hurt knee = 1 lemon

Incidentally, I've found go backwards down steep sections like steps made from tree roots; it can be easier than using poles and baby steps.


The Map

I hiked to the #3 marker (0.2 mi past #2) on the map below, zoom in to see