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About Us > Adventures > Mt. Gardner & N. Gardner

Mt. Gardner & N. Gardner 8/14-15/03

When our original 4-day climbing plans evaporated, Doug and I scrambled to find an alternative excursion and chose Gardner and North Gardner, two peaks in the North Cascades, as our destination. We called a bunch of climbing buddies, but with a day’s notice, it was next to impossible to find anyone who could leave mid-week, so with our dog sitter scheduled, we left from Seattle early Thursday morning, just the two of us.

The drive from Seattle to Winthrop via I-5 and the North Cascades Highway (SR 20) and then over to the Wolf Creek Trail 527 trailhead (2,900’) took us about 4.5 hours with a few short pitstops along the way. When we reached the trailhead, a single van was just heading out, leaving us the only truck in the parking area. The last party that had signed the trailhead register had exited the area 4 days ago. It was another hot sunny day, and we left the trailhead at 11:15 a.m.

The Wolf Creek Trail drops some 250 feet from the parking lot before it begins a gentle climb toward Gardner Meadows some 10.5 miles in at 5,700’. The trail itself is comfortable, forgiving dirt (much different from the pavement-feel of the Hoh River Valley trail, also 10 miles, into Olympus) and winds in and out of dry streambeds. At about 3 miles, there are some flat campsites near the river, and we were relieved that the bugs were not an issue this trip. About 3 hours into the hike, we reached the first fork in the trail (at 7 miles, 4,580’), a route that heads left up to Abernathy Ridge. We started ascending in earnest from there, entering an area of the valley that must have recently (3-5 years ago) been victim to a major fire, as many large trees were charred and toppled. We slowed down considerably in the afternoon heat, and by the time we reached another streambed that still had water, we stopped to filter two liters each and our 2.5 liter Platypus at 5,450’. Refreshed by the cool fluid, we continued on to 5,700’ at Gardner Meadows, where we decided to stop for the day at a beautiful wooded area with flat campsites, within talking distance of Wolf Creek. Approach time 5 hours.

I decided the first thing I wanted to do was clean off all the caked dust from my legs – having followed Doug all the way in, I was amazed at how grimy I’d gotten. The cool stream was invigorating and left me feeling revitalized. While Doug soaked his feet, I set up the tent and settled onto the bench someone had built and left by a fire pit. There was also a pile of firewood and s’more sticks leaning up against a tree, though with the present burn ban in most of the state, we couldn’t take advantage of it. In the distance we could see a few deer heading down for dinner in the meadow. But not another soul the entire trip in.

One of the four (a nursing female) bravely approached our campsite until, to our surprise and delight, she gracefully jumped a huge log not far from us and stopped as what must have been a favorite eating location, not 20 feet away from us. As soon as we stepped a little farther away from our gear, she boldly strolled right up to our gear and started sniffing at the Pringles and Phad Thai containers. We decided that was close enough and used our “dog scolding” warning vocalization, and she skittered away, but never too far. We named the foursome Mama, Baby, Horny (a young male with antlers) and Skittish (a young deer that went so far as to scoot under the same log Mama had, but quickly dashed away again). Mama definitely was the most comfortable around people. We decided we should keep the food inside the tent with us in case they chose to keep grazing after we’d turned in.

Other visitors included squirrels, chipmunks, and plenty of squawking birds, as well as a coyote in the middle of the night. Goats often frequent the highlands as well, though we only saw goat hair on rocks. I was unable to locate my ear plugs, so several times in the middle of the night I bolted upright, convinced the deer were right outside the tent. A few shakes of the tent with some loud coughs were enough to cause hoofs to hastily retreat. How close they got is still unknown, but the next morning, certain they were in the middle of our camp when I got up to go out, I couldn’t see signs of them anywhere nearby. Was it all a figment of my imagination?

Friday morning we left camp at 6 a.m. to beat the summer heat, and headed up the broad open slopes of Gardner en route to 6,880 feet, where we could traverse west to the basin and entrance to North Gardner. At 6,800 feet we spotted another stand of trees with a few prime flat campsites, and more importantly, running water. We stopped to top off our bottles, then headed into the basin (east slopes, left portion) and up the rock and scree to gain the ridge with views of Glacier Peak, Dome, Sahale, and other points east. Once we were on the ridge, it was another 15 minutes to reach Point 8487 and a good view of both North Gardner and Gardner. This time of year both climbs are snow-free, so you can leave technical gear (crampons, ice axe) behind; take a filter or three liters of water, as there is no running water above 6,800’. I’d like to try it again in May when all the surrounding peaks still are capped with snow.

The scramble over to North Gardner is very straightforward, with a loss of about 200 feet before climbing to 8956. We ascended on the west side and descended on the east (a little faster.) The bugs were hanging out by the summit register, so once we signed in (9:40, about 3.5 hours from camp) we dropped down a bit to plan our approach to Gardner. Not a soul in sight, and if the register account was correct, nobody had been up to sign it in over three weeks. We did our summit pushups and enjoyed the views for 30 minutes, then headed back the way we’d come.

Best advice is to stay on the ridge back to Point 8487 – it’s easy going, and despite the drop in elevation, it’s likely to be much faster than the “time-saving” option we chose. We dropped into the basin, but traversing sideways on loose scree really eats up a lot of time, not to mention energy.

By the time we reached the boulder field half way across the basin (where we actually got to do some climbing!) we decided the best course of action was to go straight up and regain the ridge. Time from North Gardner: 1:08. Once we were on the ridge, we had the option of hopping over and down a few mounds, or skirting south (right) and down to a goat path low on the scree. We stayed high and were rewarded for our decision by discovering a climber’s trail that took us all the way over to Gardner by 12:15. We mentioned in the summit register the importance of “staying high” to save time, and finished off the rest of our water. The winds had started to pick up a bit, and the clouds actually cooled things down a bit. 30 minutes later, we quickly dropped down the forgiving scree slopes to 7,500’ and a trickling stream. We greedily gulped a half a liter each of filtered, cold water, and refilled our water bottles for the remaining 40 minutes back to camp (2:10). Once we reached the meadow, the slope was not quite as steep, and it appeared as though we were finally finished with sideward traversing.

Not quite an hour later (3 p.m.), after refilling water bottles, checking feet for hot spots, cooling off in the stream, and packing, we started the long trip back toward the trailhead. We kept an eye on the clouds, thinking rain might be approaching, but a few miles into the walk the sun was back with a vengeance. Fortunately it’s always a little faster going down and out than it is coming in, so we made decent time and reached the car before 7 p.m. It helped that we heard two logs crackle and berry-laden scat in the middle of the trail – both signs of a large bear lurking not far from our path! We hadn’t taken any precautions against bears since the trailhead hadn’t alerted us to be on the watch, but anyone heading into the areas around Wolf Creek Trail should be aware of deer, bear, goat, and coyote! All in all, it was a wonderful trip, complete with nature, solitude, and beautiful views. We stopped in Winthrop for dinner for an hour before heading home, and pulled into our driveway at 12:15 a.m.


Wolf Creek on the approach.


Doug takes a break in the shade on the approach to Gardner Meadows.


Filter break at one of the few tiny tributaries still flowing this season.


Brush return following a season of wildfire several years ago?


Doug models his "mock camp shoes", a sit pad cut in half and "sewn" to his feet.


Gardner Meadows with false summit of Gardner (peak)


One of four camp visitors; a deer family of four circled our camp most of the evening, this female got within 8 feet.


Hearing a sudden noise, the female froze in her tracks, ears alert.


That's close enough, Mama! Sniffing our Pringles and Phad Thai.


Skittish decided he wanted to follow Mama into the encampment but was unsure about ducking under the log


How close will the deer get to Courtenay, or her dinner?


Doug Friday morning, preparing to leave camp to scramble both summits.


Moonrise and sunrise as we started up Gardner.


Meadows and last water in a valley at 6,800 feet.


Doug scrambling up to ridge. Beautiful day, no other people in sight.


Scree slopes on Gardner; no snow this time of year.


Courtenay on the ridge to Point 8487 with Dome and Glacier Peak behind.


North Gardner from Point 8487; 3.5 hours from camp.


Doug and Courtenay self-portrait at the summit of N. Gardner.


Doug does his 50 pushups on N. Gardner.


Scree of Gardner's south east side, from Gardner.


Approach path to Gardner; stay south of the ridge AND HIGH to gain the trail.


Self-portrait of Courtenay and Doug on summit of Gardner.


Court does her pushups on Gardner, a Schurman tradition.


At last, a stream! We refilled water bottles here and returned to camp within 30 minutes.


Courtenay and the burned forest on the way out Friday afternoon.



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