Little annapurna (8440')
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With the Covid-19 restrictions finally starting to lift, I wanted to take a shot at two of Washington’s top 100. The Bulger list has long been a dream of mine and so I set my sights on climbing McClellan Peak and Little Annapurna in a single day. Measuring the trail out on Gaia it looked to be around 22 miles and 7000 ft of elevation gain.
With camping still not allowed I chose to sleep at the Nason Creek Rest Area after driving through the night. This would allow me to wake up at 2 am and be on the trail by 4 am at the latest. Due to my laziness I was not up until almost 2:30. I still made it to the trailhead by 4:30 and set off confident.
The climb up to Colchuck Lake was uneventful. I chose to take a break there and watch the reflections of Dragontail and Colchuck for a few minutes. The Enchantments are a special place in Washington. Even if you are only walking through for the day, make sure to stop and admire what is around you.
After my brief rest, it was time to head around the lake and up Aasgard pass to start the climb of McClellan Peak. While walking I was paying attention to something at my side. As I came around a corner I ended up nose to nose with a mountain goat. With its horns close enough to touch my hat, I knew I may be in trouble. The last thing I needed was a goring by an unassuming mountain goat. Luckily, the Goat cared little for my existence and continued chewing whilst I backed up.
From the top of Aasgard the trail became far more difficult. There is a lot of snow this time of year and with the warming temps, it was softening at a rapid pace. I was ecstatic that I had brought snowshoes and saw countless post-holes that others had left. If you are going to climb in this area in the spring bring all gear that you think you need. Even if it means more weight in your pack.
Thankfully, the depth of snow allowed off-trail travel by preventing damage to delicate flora. I was able to work along the edge of Perfection lake and make a direct beeline for the ridge the connects to McClellan peak. Finally, my day started to feel like a climb and not a long slog through a barren wasteland.
After another 45 minutes, I was traversing across the side of McClellan peak and toward the pillar. This section was difficult not for its elevation gain or route finding. Instead, it was the perceived exposure that was racking my brain. I knew an actual fall would be short but the way it looks while you are on the slope is huge.
Once I reached the pillar, the snow had melted back and there was a short 3rd class scramble to the ridge. Once on the ridge was the most disheartening part of the entire climb. While scaling the lower portion of McClellan peak, the summit appears to be right on top of the ridge. But, once you crest it, you will realize there is a small ridge walk and some low-class scrambling still to go.
The Summit of McClellan Peak is tiny. Like fits only two people kind of tiny. By this time the wind was kicking up making photos tough and forcing me to descend after a brief stay. Once back down about 100 feet I was able to take in the views and eat a snack. All the while staring at my next objective for the day, Little Annapurna.
The climb of Little Annapurna is nothing to rave about. If you look on a Gaia map you will see that there is a trail going up it from the west side of the peak. The slopes are steep but nothing intimidating. All in all, this is the easiest Bulger Peak I have yet encountered.
The descent of McClellan sped by and from my lunch spot below the summit I was back at Perfection lake in 45 minutes. From here the map makes it look like a simple jaunt back up to the upper Enchantments basin. Of course, by this time it was around 2:30 and the sun had melted out much of the snow. Glad I brought my snowshoes, I threw them on and was at the base of Little Annapurna within a half hour.
Due to the mass of elevation gain I had already done for the day and the miles under my legs, it took me around an hour and a half to the summit. As I arrived at the summit, clouds were moving in from the Stuart area, rain was falling and the sun was falling. To make matters more interesting the wind had become violent and I could barely manage to take photos.
The view from the summit of Little Annapurna was spectacular with clouds moving in from one side and sun falling on Enchantment peak to the other. I wish I had more time to enjoy, but fear was setting in that I may be descending Aasgard in the dark.
I did manage to make it back to Aasgard and start the descent while still in the sun. But, the weather system moving in was right over the top of me. Making my way down Aasgard with rain coming down and the wind whipping around was a fear-filled hour. Several times I could feel the wind pressing me off my crampons. Finally meeting up with the actual trail at Colchuck lake was the most relieving moment I have had on a peak in a while.
As luck would have it, I had let my girlfriend know I would not be back to cell range around 10 pm. Forgetting she lives on the east coast right now, she alerted my family at 7 pm (PT) that I had not reported in. By the time I had reached cell service and they had contacted all the ranger stations and were about to call 911. Thankfully they did not. From now on I need to remember to check my SAT phone and give my travel plans to more than one person.