north Gardner (8914')
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The one place I had some serious issues was when the trail starts to head uphill into Garnder meadows. In the dark, the trail is difficult (if not impossible) to find at times. There were multiple points at which I had to backtrack and search for where the trail winds through the downed logs, grass, and at times thick brush. There is at least one creek crossing that is not obvious, even in the daylight, and it became very time-consuming to make any headway.
By around 10 pm I had made it to the area where it is time to head uphill and start the climb. While I had a map that provided an excellent turn-off spot to the climbing route, I was running low on water and heard a running creek that I thought I could use and then just cut over to where others go up. Unfortunately, this decision ended up in an hour and a half battle with trying to make my way across a gully that is covered in slide alder and brush. Not fun in shorts and a t-shirt. I made it across but the struggle came with multiple cuts and scratches up and down my legs.
Once I was on the main ridgeline that connects North Gardner and Gardner mountain, I chose to head for the larger of the two first, North Gardner mountain. It was pushing midnight at this point and I was getting pretty weary but felt like I could still take on the ridge scramble before a significant break.
At night, the ridge is kind of a monster. It has multiple large pillars of rock and when there is no light on them it is difficult to see where to scramble or work around them. Several times I chose to go left and ended up taking on some 4th class scrambling with a headlamp on. None of the moves were incredibly difficult if you are experienced. But there is certainly some extra fear when the exposure below you looks like a black abyss.
From the top of the ridge above the scree field to the top of North Gardner Mountain took me about one hour. I let out an overjoyed shriek when I arrived, signed the summit register (noted it was 1 am), and then threw out my air mattress so I could go to sleep. I wanted the trip to be as light and fast as possible for this trip so instead of a sleeping bag, I threw on my puffy, bottom base layer, a hat, and some gloves. I curled into a ball and just stared up at the sky.
For the first section of this trip, I can say that was the best moment. Laying on top of Washington’s 20th highest peak under the stars with no one else around and just enjoying the silence.
Around 2 am I finally drifted off to sleep.
To make sure I was not stuck hiking out in the high heat of the day, I wanted to be up before sunrise and head for the second Gardner mountain. My alarm woke me up at about 5 am and I munched on some crackers, a cold tuna packet, and some dried fruit while I watched the sunlight start to dance over the horizon. Because I had arrived at such a late hour I did not have a chance to take a quality summit photo on top of North Gardner mountain. Once there was just enough light, I shoved everything back into my pack snapped a quick summit shot, and headed for the second peak of my journey.