Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hannegan Peak August 2011

Hannegan Peak  All the details on this hike can be found at this site, including pictures.
However, my personal experience of the peak was enhanced by Leif Swanson, neighbor and fellow hiker.
We hit the trail before seven, the overnight campers at the trailhead still had sleepy voices rumbling from their sleeping bags, the sun slanting only across the peaks of the nearby mountains.
All those peaks had names and most of them were summated in the past by Leif. He was the proverbial fountain of information.  Leif was also scouting the trail for his wife, Heather, a horse packer for the National Parks. We weren’t that far up the trail before Leif decided that it wasn’t the downed trees or narrow twisted stream crossings the would be a problem for a string of horses but the fields of snow that were still in abundance across the trail.
The snow was hard, ice like, difficult to kick your foot into to get a grip. Leif encouraged me to mentally put my mind into my footing and physically how to carry an ice axe and then to use it to self arrest when my head went elsewhere and I started to slip and fall.
We passed on climbing Mt Ruth when we got to Hannegan Pass. We tried but without crampons I could see myself sliding into oblivion with or without an ice axe. Hannegan peak was the obvious choice.
The peak itself stands in the middle of a ring of higher mountains with a number of valleys dropping away from its flanks. Leif had a story for almost everyone of them, of climbs past and trail info of which headwater winds up in what river system.
With our early start we didn’t see any other hikers or black flies till we were about half way down. Leif was able to point out the type and quality of the trail work as we went along. An unused blast hole and the shattered remains of one used to break up a boulder blocking the trail. The difference between a water bar and check dam to protect the trail from runoff, and some intricate rock work almost hidden under moss and detritus.
Wild flowers were in abundance in the open areas, glacier lilies lifting their yellow petals right through the snow. Each slope, depending on its solar orientation, had its own set of dominant flora. Most of the stands of huckleberries we passed through had hardly leafed out at all causing me to wonder if they would get a chance to fruit at all.
We saw a bear below us the valley, a big one but non threatening. I can’t imagine there was much to eat but grass and leaves. But even more interesting was the marks of a porcupine on the bark of a newly fallen tree. The teeth marks were at various levels, which as Leif pointed out, were made as the porcupine returned to the same branch as the snow levels dropped.
For a ten mile hike I learned a lot. I also discovered a few things on my own. I had overlooked taking a hat and sun glasses. The reflection of the sun on the snowfields was unpleasant almost painful and I was glad the crossings were not too long. Surprisingly I ate and drank everything I carried. Between the plodding on the icy snow and the duration of the hike my energy and water consumption was more than it would have been had I been running on a snowless trail.
Fortunately Chair Nine, a new restaurant and bar, was twenty minutes down the road. An aptly named Elysian IPA frothy pint full of tasty flanvanoids hastened my recovery.

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