Twin Sisters Traverse

October 12 - 13, 2002

Dave Svilar, Matt Alford

Neither of us were feeling on top of our game, but the prospect of a clear October weekend was irresistible.  We rendezvoused at the trailhead (Matt from Bellingham, me from the south) and sorted gear.  All I had was my day pack and was hoping to pack light.  Matt was irritated that I was attempting to travel so light, so he punished me by giving me the rope.  This continued an unprecedented streak of at least ten straight trips in which my scrawny legs carried the rope. 

We began up the trail close to 10:00 a.m. and wished for mountain bikes, but I had forgotten mine.  I had to stop 15 minutes in to stretch my back which was hurting from work.  Although officially unemployed, I was busy building my future vacation house in the San Juan Islands.  Houses don't just rise from dust, so I had been straining myself lifting beams, pounding nails, and painting the ceiling.  My back finally warmed up, but my overweighted pack gave me the feeling of being pulled back down the hill.

Matt hikes the logging road towards the North Twin in the distance.  The west ridge forms the right skyline.

We zigged and zagged through trails, clear cuts and logging roads finally reaching the rock of the west ridge of the North Twin.  According to the books it was a fun scramble on class 3-4 terrain.  We were prepared for more difficulties due to a thin layer of fresh snow, so I had a rope and Matt the rack.  The options for climbing on the ridge were endless, so we tried to stay as close to the crest as possible.  At one point we crossed some slippery, snow covered rock that got our attention, but didn't require protection.  We climbed through a broken chimney over the false summit and cruised on easy terrain to the summit of the North Twin Sister.

Dave on the red rock of the west ridge.  Red rock in the North Cascades usually means loose rock, but in the case of the Twin Sisters range it means solid rock.


Matt approaches the summit of the North Twin.

We reached the summit by 2:30 pm with both of us feeling tired.  Normally this would be a cakewalk, but neither of us felt 100%.  Matt was still recovering from an epic on the Nooksack tower nursing soar toes and frost-nipped fingers.  He had also sprained his ankle and developed an ingrown toenail running with his high school cross country team.  I was searching for excuses and decided my body was fighting off a cold. 

Propelled by my homemade GU we descended the SE gully towards the South Twin.  In sharp contrast to the rock of the west ridge, the rock in the gully was loose and rotten.  At one point we rappelled to negotiate a steep step (the only time the rope ever came off my back).  We took extra care to not kick rocks on each other's heads and at one point I suggested we try to climb out of the gully towards the col.  My stupid suggestion didn't work but it may have saved us a headache.  A group of rocks broke off from the top of the gully and came rumbling through gully where we had just been.  We hopped back into the gully and quickened our pace to the bottom.

The gully had eaten up a good chunk of time, and it was obvious that we wouldn't make it up and down the South Twin (snow on the route) before dark.  In our tired state we were happy just to find a good place to bivy.  We ascended to the col between the peaks and searched for a flat spot.  There weren't any, but we were too tired to spend long looking.  We scraped out some rocks in a spot with views of the Puget Sound to the west and Mt. Baker directly behind us. 

The sun made the red rocks around us glow a bright orange which contrasted nicely with the fresh dusting of snow.  I watched the sun set over my beloved San Juan Islands with the help of a sunset enhancer.  The only cloud I had seen all day was perfectly positioned over the setting sun and changed brilliant colors of orange, red and salmon.  I thought it must be a side-effect of the sunset enhancer, but Matt saw the same cloud.  My string of superb bivy sites dating back to the Shuksan trip was intact.

Soon we were hungry and devouring what was left of my Mom's cookies.  We expected the temperatures to dip into the 15 - 20F range, but it never even froze.

Matt relaxes at the bivy.


Dave takes in the sunset from the bivy.


Matt watches the sunset over the San Juans.

Instead of continuing to the summit of the South Twin in the morning we headed down.  Matt had to be back in Snohomish for his parents anniversary, and I had to watch football.  We skirted the base of the west ridge cutting through clear cuts to regain the logging road.  Matt re-sprained his ankle and stopped to ice his foot in the creek.

Matt is cold and his ankle hurts.

We made it back to Snohomish for our respective engagements and made tentative plans for a future traverse in the winter. 

-written October 2002

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