Ptarmigan Ridge 2013
Thanks to Brendan Kehde for sending us this report. Even though they didn't summit they seem to have made really good decisions and stayed within their comfort levels. They also got some great photos and seem to have had a great time. All signs point to experience in the mountains.
It is worth noting that conditions do change rapidly and just because conditions weren't a go for these guys it doesn't mean Ptarmigan isn't a good choice for others. Get out and make your own assessments.
On Wednesday, June 26th with a weather forecast that suggested improving conditions, Patrick Griffin and I started up from the White River trailhead in the rain. Near Glacier Basin we encountered a bear along the trail. After skirting past the bear, we headed up into the clouds to St Elmo pass. A fortuitous and brief parting of the clouds at the top of the pass revealed a clean and relatively firm boot track across the Winthrop Glacier. We followed it across and then made camp on bare ground on the far side of lower Curtis Ridge at approximately 7200 feet elevation. The nearest running water to our campsite was 500 feet elevation down slope. That evening the rain stopped for a while and the cloud level lifted to provide glimpses up to Ptarmigan Ridge and our next planned camp at approximately 10,400 feet. Overnight the temps stayed in the high forties and rain pattered on our tent.
In the morning when the rain finally stopped we packed up and traversed across the Carbon Glacier toward the steep slopes going up to the Russell Glacier and Ptarmigan Ridge. The snow slopes showed signs of fresh wet snow avalanches and rockfall clacked down from the cliffs. We decided to descend down the Carbon through relatively un-crevassed terrain to approximately 6200 feet elevation and climb up onto the Russell where lower angled snow slopes were more stable and free from rockfall danger. This, however, made for a long, slow, slog up the Russell. Above 7800 feet we were sinking to our knees in soft, isothermal snow and completely enveloped in clouds. We maintained our course despite a maximum visibility of forty yards, following the slope and keeping an eye on our altimeter and compass bearing. Later in the day as we neared the top of the Russell the clouds began to clear, but the wind picked up dramatically. By the time we reached our high camp among some rocks along the ridge the wind gusts were knocking us off balance. The technical section of the Ptarmigan Ridge Route below Liberty Cap was in view but beyond was still obscured by clouds. While looking over this section, we witnessed a barrage of large rocks cut loose from somewhere high up on the cliffs. These funneled right down through the narrow upper sections of the climb and triggered a large snow slide that swept down the face.
Temperatures that night remained in the high thirties, strong gusty winds continued, and the clouds never lifted to reveal the higher portions of the mountain. Due to our relatively slow pace the previous two days, depleted energy levels, and the weather and route conditions, we felt that attempting to climb any higher would be too committing and unsafe. In the morning on the 28th we reversed our path back out to the White River Trailhead. The terrain we covered and beauty of the mountain was spectacular.