| Mount Meeker - South Ridge
The plan was a winter summit of Mount Meeker via the south ridge. Fellow 14er.com user Dave, dswink username, and I arrived at the Wild Basin trailhead at 6:15 am and set out on course. The trip itinerary was to follow the Sandbeach Lake trail to Sandbeach Lake, cut north to Meeker Meadows, climb to Dragon's Egg Rock, then onto the southeast ridge to the summit.
While gathering beta for the trip we received several reports that Hunter's Creek is the best place to cut off of the Sandbeach Lake Trail to get to Meeker Meadows; waiting to break off trail until Sandbeach Lake only adds unnecessary distance to the trip. However, given the winter conditions, waiting to turn off until a bend just before Sandbeach Lake was the best option because it offers the least amount of bushwhacking compared with the Hunter's Creek turnoff. In the winter this option is well worth the extra mileage.
Dave and I hiked the Sandbeach Lake trail the week prior to our Meeker attempt. The scouting trip found the trail well groomed and easily navigable. With a leisurely approach in mind, we planned to arrive at the Sandbeach Lake turnoff by 8 AM. Unfortunately, on the day of our summit attempt there was a fresh six inches of powder covering the previously straightforward trail.
We quickly decided to abandon the time consuming task of maintaining course on the obscured trail and deferred to a clearer route along the trails upper ridge. Breaking the fresh snow added time to our approach and we arrived at the Hunter's Creek junction at 8:40. Pressing on towards the lake, we came to our turnoff point roughly thirty minutes later. Time for some bushwhacking.
A tributary creek runs south from Meeker Meadows for half a mile before connecting with the southeast flowing Hunter's Creek. Intent to follow the water system up to the meadows, we took a bearing on the summit and trudged along the creek through the deep, off-trail snow.
We entered the south side of Meeker Meadows at 11:20.
Crossing the meadows brought us to timberline twenty minutes later. Shortly after removing our snowshoes and beginning the ascent to the Dragon's Egg I looked up to see dswink standing less than six feet away from a group of three ptarmigans. In spite of my alert, it still took Dave a few seconds to recognize the well camouflaged creatures.
To our chagrin, the boulder-strewn slope of Meeker's south face held two to three feet of unconsolidated powder amongst its slippery rocks, effectively disqualifying our plan for a crampon-assisted ascent. In order to keep our shoes as dry as possible we boulder-hopped our way up the hill, grateful for the agility of our trail runners.
Later on along the slope, at about 1:00, we noticed a few storm clouds to the south above nearby Mount Copeland marring the otherwise clear sky.
Subsequently, at 2:00, we were twenty minutes below the Dragon's Egg, where it became clear we would not be able to summit.
Our original turn around time of 3:00 was closing in and the apex was still, by generous calculation, a two hour climb away. On top of that, the storm clouds to the south were further developing into a healthy a snow storm.
While climbing to the egg Dave and I considered an alternate route back to our cars. Meeker Ridge proved tempting as it was completely windblown and free of snow. We settled on a return trip of cutting over to the ridge and following it as far east as possible.
Due to the southward storm wind speeds were increasing, up to thirty miles per hour, and snow was filing into the surrounding couloirs. Also, as we climbed higher the snow pack below the top layer of powder became progressively icy and hard, presenting a moderate danger of slab avalanche. Standing below the egg, we spotted a safe rock path across the east couloir and began climbing up to it. The wind had other ideas. By the time we reached our path more snow had blown in and covered it up.
Spotting another path to cross on, we down climbed aside the couloir only to have it become covered up as well. Slightly annoyed at this point, we abandoned the ridge idea and focused on simply getting back to tree line before any real danger presented itself. Now climbing up, nearly to the original altitude of our turn around point, we reached a safe, uncovered path across the west couloir. Plunge stepping our way down, we made it back to the safety of Meeker Meadows at 5:30. All the up and down had me feeling a bit like a yo-yo.
We took a break at the base of the Meadows to gear up for the return trip and hiked back to the trailhead using our approach tracks – suprisingly not blown over – in conjunction with the trackback function of my GPS.
We arrived at the parking lot at 9:15 PM. Overall, the winter hike constituted fifteen hours, thirteen miles, and four thousand vertical feet.
We're planning a reattempt of Mount Meeker on Saturday, March 17th. This time we plan to camp at Meeker Meadows before attempting the summit in order to afford some extra time. Anybody interested in joining us is welcome. Stay posted for results!
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