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  • Writer's pictureScott Nechemias

Glacier Peak Wilderness Part 3: Ross Pass to Upper Bannock Lake

Morning of day 5 I became physically aware that I had hit a wall. I felt a little dull and fuzzy, and my legs felt like lead. The last four days had totaled 34,000 feet of gain and loss, much of it off trail, and I was exhausted. I slept in and broke camp late morning, and made the decision that goals and plans for the day needed to be leisurely to make the approximation of a recovery day. Here is the view from camp in the morning:

Fortunately I was in an incredibly scenic spot for some slow exploration and deeper investigation of my surroundings. I took a leisurely stroll a little further north on the divide to get a closer look at Kaiwhat Pass and Sinister Peak... it sure looks like there is a route here that could continue further north into the complex of glaciers hugging the divide, though there appears to be a pretty serious crux getting past Sinister or Dome Peak, at least for the non technical backpacker. The divide holds some seasonal tarns that were still frozen over, and is one of those unique spots that is so easy to orient yourself in the larger context of the surrounding mountains that there is a larger sense of understanding the landscape.

Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sinister Peaks

It was now finally time to turn southward towards Bannock Lakes, my next destination. In the picture below you can see lower Bannock Lake in the center of the picture. Getting from where I was standing to Lower Bannock was one of the harder bits of route finding I've ever done. What seems like a simple contour below the divide over to the lake is constantly interrupted by avalanche chutes, drainages, and other spines of rock. I was certain there was a more straightforward bench, but I frustratingly never quite seemed to hit it.

Glacier Peak Wilderness Bannock Lakes
Lower Bannock Lake in the distance

The final climb and descent to Lower Bannock was scary, partly due to an abundance of loose rock, the season, and the angle. Booms of nearby rock slides where constant, seeming to mostly come off of Bannock as snow melted in the hot sun and loose boulders tumbled down the mountain. I sometimes left the unstable rock to try to travel on heather, which was not much more secure due to being slippery and the angle of descent. Very slowly I managed to pick my way down to the lake without being crushed or falling, but when I arrived there I was literally a hot mess, now mentally fatigued from the heightened sense of danger as well as physically tired. This picture shows the loose rock descent to lower Bannock, and then the route of the climb to Upper Bannock.

I spent 20 minutes or so putting myself mentally back together at Lower Bannock, and the climb to Upper Bannock went fairly smoothly, and then everything got better. Upper Bannock is a clear granite slab framed wonderland compared to it's glacial moraine crumbly rock lower counterpart. Multiple charming outlet streams, tiny little islands, lots of fish, small groves of trees dot the landscape. It was early in the afternoon on a day with a late start, but I knew immediately if I was going to give my body and mind some time to recover this was the place to do it. I placed my bourbon flask in a pile of snow to chill it and went swimming. I also got to wash my clothes, which sorely needed a dunking and rinsing at this point on the trip. Napping and reading in the sun, some snacks, a little solitary mountain happy hour became the order of the day.

With some time and some scenery, I found myself thinking of the philosophical knowledge argument, particularly as framed by the thought experiment of Mary the Color Scientist. The gist of the argument is about whether or not some knowledge can only be gained by experience, an internet search will lead you to countless essays on the subject. Being in the midst of a heightened experience certainly colored my viewpoint in the moment, as I found myself more leaning towards the view that there are some things cannot be known in the absence of experience. My bourbon assisted musings floated around this topic as my clothes dried in the sun, until I decided to wander a little further around the lake to camp for the night.

Upper Bannock Lake Glacier Peak Wilderness
Upper Bannock Lake

Upper Bannock Lake Glacier Peaks WIlderness
Camp at Upper Bannock Lake

I probably only hiked around six total miles that day, with a couple thousand feet of climbing, but in the final accounting it was a full day and a happy one.

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