Peak(s):  Casco Peak  -  13,908 feet
Date Posted:  05/20/2019
Date Climbed:   05/18/2019
Author:  yaktoleft13
Additional Members:   osprey, BKS
 A Sneak Up Echo Creek   

Ahh, the 14ers Spring Gathering: where lofty dreams of multi-peak days turn into an all-day grind for just one.

Tom (osprey), Brian (BKS), Dan, Rose (angry), and myself had made plans weeks in advance for a big day to get the entire French group at the gathering. Our grandiose plans possibly included another summit on Sunday, making a 4 peak weekend.

And then it snowed. And it snowed. And it kept snowing. And then it stopped snowing but started snowing again immediately.

And then we discovered access to Halfmoon, vital to a multi-peak linkup of the French group (because you don't have to resummit two peaks on your way back to the trailhead) was closed as much as five miles down from our desired parking spot. Oh, and did I mention it was snowing? And forecasted to snow all day Saturday?

So we tried to find alternate plans to hike as a group. Different peaks, different routes, different days, but coordinating logistics between five people is the hardest part of any climb. We were still trying to figure out what to do Friday morning when Tom suggested a little-used Roach route up Casco via Echo Canyon. It seemed to fit the bill and give us the best chance of at least one peak, so we agreed this was the plan.

(Side note; thanks to SurfNTurf for organizing the gathering! It was great to meet new people, share tales of climbs, and figure out if Turner Peak is real or imaginary)

Unfortunately, Rose had something come up and wasn't able to make it. Our fivesome became a foursome, as we piled us and our gear into two cars and set off trying to find the Echo Creek trailhead at 5 AM Saturday morning. The trailhead is located right off of 82 at the beginning of a dirt road that houses Echo Creek Lodge, which appears to be a defunct bed and breakfast. The road continues up along the canyon, eventually turning into a trail, leading up to the basin above.

We started out at 5:30 AM and promptly missed a turn 10 minutes up the road that would have saved us some bushwhacking. After about a half mile, there is a foundation of a decrepit shack up the road. We were so focused on the building that we missed an obvious right turn that would have led us across the creek and further up the road. We instead went to the building, lost the road, and spent a solid 15 minutes exploring for the best place to cross the creek, which we eventually did.

Once we crossed the creek, we were able to relocate the trail. Unfortunately, the high snow year meant the trail was covered by a thick layer of angled snow, which meant a lot of kicking steps and postholing to navigate. I think we can all agree that the first 800 feet of gain was the most frustrating part of the whole day. It took us nearly two hours to gain the first 800 feet.

Dan navigating the slopes of death

No, in case you're wondering, the skis strapped to his pack did not make it any easier

Dan struggles while Brian and I cheese

The ground conditions were an intermittent mess of dry dirt, leaves, mud, and snow. We ascended a steep sidehill slope and regained the path, where it had switchbacked up above, and found the road again (which was lost in the sidehilling snow mess as seen above).

Brian and Dan headed up the sidehill slope to the road.

After navigating through more similar terrain, we found ourselves at the base of a huge slide path off of Bull Hill. After crossing the snow debris, we weaved through more trees and suddenly appeared in a clearing, somewhere near 11,200.

Feels good to be out of the trees

Dan agrees.

Tom in front (a common theme for our hikes), looking back at me, Brian, Dan, and Echo Creek.

Once we popped out of the trees, we came to the upper basin, which was long and flat. The terrain was very gentle and the snow was good. 2-4 inches of powder over a firm base. Conditions were good enough that somehow Tom managed the entire hike without snowshoes. We continued through the basin until we reached the low saddle between Bull Hill and Casco.

Kind of a view!

Me stopping to appreciate the 35 seconds of sunshine we had the whole day

And just like that, the clouds close again.

All throughout the basin, the walls were dotted with slide activity. Some appeared old, like the one off of Bull Hill. Others were fresh, both slabs and wet releases.

A striking slab release

Heck of a crown

At around 11,600 (I think) and below the low point of the Casco/Bull Hill ridge, we stopped for water/fuel. We also elected to stash snowshoes, as the coming slopes were much steeper. We all opted for crampons. Dan, however, just had ski boots and skins, so he chose to make it his goal to gain the saddle with no attempt at the summit.

We thought we were alone in the basin, but at this point we were caught and passed by Bill (climbingcue), who flew past us on his splitboard. He stayed slightly ahead of us on the rest of the hike and we were thankful for his bootpack.

Stopping point to change gear

We then started up the slope. It began mellowishly, but then steepened up to a pitch that required an ice ax and crampons. We did an ascending traverse toward Casco that took us to the low point of the saddle at 13,000.

Brian and I ascending

Still going up

Approaching the ridge.

Is that the ridge? I can't tell because everything is flat white.

Brian on the ridge, surveying our remaining work.

From there, we stayed on the snow largely ridge proper. Portions of the ridge had a cornice, but all were easily avoidable. The snow was supportive, but the ever-increasing amount of powder over the top made traction difficult at times, especially as a few short pitches were quite steep.

Me, grinding up the ridge

Quite a striking landscape

Casco, come here!

Stopping to breathe, nearing the upper portion of the mountain.

Final pitch to the summit

All these pictures are of me because I was at the back. There are no pictures of Tom because he was too busy leading the way up

Brian topping out as Bill dares him to play king of the hill.....probably

We made it! At 11:50, we reached the summit, giving us an ascent time of 6 hours and 20 minutes, about 6 hours and 10 minutes of which (give or take) was spent battling the trees and sidehill snow in the first 800 feet of the route. The weather stayed snowy and we had some steep snow to descend, so we didn't linger too long (other than to steel some of Bill's peach-os).

Me, Brian, and Bill on the summit.

Brian and I giving Casco one more mean-mug.

We all looked over to Frasco and French, couldn't see 5 feet in front of our faces, and decided we were good for the day. Our descent was fortunately uneventful. We were off the upper ridge in about 30 minutes, after taking at least three times that to ascend. Once at the low point in the saddle, we found perfect glissading conditions and were able to butt-slide from 13,000 to much lower than 13,000 feet (that's a scientifically accurate assessment of our elevation). From there, it was a short walk to our snowshoes, a much longer walk back to the Bull Hill slide path, and a much easier descent than ascent, as we found all of the trails and road that we missed on the way up.

This was a wonderful day with wonderful people and partners. Snow complicated this route greatly, especially the portion below treeline, which would have been all trailhiking without the snow. Very fun route, and a beautiful approach to a great peak.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 28 29

Comments or Questions
Dismal Forest of the Lost
05/20/2019 17:09
Post holing and route finding through the Dismal Forest should be added to Dante's lowest circle of Hell.
Climbingcue, as I found out on Little Bear, is on a different level than most of us. He snowboarded from the top of the saddle leaving plumes of snow in his wake.
Thank you for leading the way on the descent through the Dismal Forest. I still do not know how you were able to find the way down so effectively.

05/20/2019 17:15
Sheer dumb luck. And thank you for the pictures! All compliments and complaints on the photos can be directed toward osprey

Dante's circles of hell
05/20/2019 17:38
Tom - I have a graduate degree in theology and had to look that one up. You are a man of many talents.

Eric -Thanks for another great write up. Appreciate your route finding and writing abilities.

Great partners make all the difference in long, tedious days with less than ideal conditions

Nice work!
05/20/2019 17:42
Nice job in tough conditions, fellas. âœTom leading the way❠- I know that one. Great write up. Canât say I was sorry to miss that one!

05/20/2019 17:50
Thanks Brian! Looking forward to the next one.

Kirsten: you may not have missed it but we missed you on it! Hope Crystal went swimmingly!

05/20/2019 17:56
Did something similar to this a few years ago on Casco. It was hard!

Nice work all. Looks like a great day.

05/20/2019 20:11
looked terrible indeed! Glad you guys persevered.

We skied Casco & French on a normal snow year in 2017 from Halfmoon creek TH in mid-June, and I was surprised to see a fairly sizable avalanche debris field down in the basin, which we had to navigate early in the morning along with several epic creek crossings. I am thinking even if the Halfmoon TH opens, that avy slide path could be pretty enormous this year. Potentially impassable. It's on NE aspect of French mountain.

Looks like Echo goes!
05/21/2019 08:00
I'm glad you made it! Looks like it was a heck of a day and a whole lot harder than what we did on gentle Lackawanna. And from what I can tell, Turner doesn't exist

Good job!
05/21/2019 09:12
You all earned it

No visibility
05/22/2019 12:58
It was a tough hike through the trees on the way up and just as hard on the way back down. It was great chatting with you guys. The next day the weather and visibility was 100 times better on Lackawanna.


Well done
05/29/2019 12:26
I had an extremely similar experience a couple years ago. That bushwhack from the cabin to the clearing really sucked. Way to stick to it.

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