Cascade Mountain Trip Report
Bunnells Fork, 06/11/05
Cascade Mountain is one of the more rugged of the Seven Peaks. Towering above the valley, it's long ridge, and steep west face present a challenge for any would-be climber. As such, Cascade proved to be a worthy goal for the summer of '05. The only problem was the unseasonably cool weather we had and amount of snow that continued to fall on the Wasatch mountains. Even in mid-June, there was still a lot of patchy snow on the west side of Cascade, but the ridge looked clear. We decided to go for it.
We chose the Bunnells Fork route, which starts at the popular South Fork Park. I had gone a couple of miles up the route in July of the previous year, but turned back due to injury. The route closely follows the Bunnells Fork drainage until it tops out in a bowl under the main Cascade ridge. The trail then has several steep switch backs up to an adjacent ridge, and then it is a traverse to the true summit. Even though Bunnells Fork is a much steeper route, it is a much shorter distance than other routes up Cascade.
The weather on Friday was beautiful, but there were a couple of storms forecast for Saturday, the day of our hike. We decided to get an early start to avoid whatever weather might arise that afternoon. By 7:15, we were at the trailhead and ready to go. The first bit of the hike wasn't bad at all. The grade was relatively flat, and the trail, although very unused, was still passable. As we continued, the morning started warming up.
Our problems started when we encountered our first bit of avalanche debris. An avalanche had swept down the drainage, and left a large amount of debris. Remains of the avalanche were still there, but walking on it was tricky. The snow was hard and slick, but the stream remained running under it, increasing the possibility of falling through. We stayed on the edges of the debris, occasionally opting to follow game trails through the brush. Any semblance of a trail was gone by this point, and we made very slow progress.
Eventually, the drainage opened up into a wide bowl, which looked to have been pulverized by several avalanches earlier in the season. The snow remained hard and slick, and since we didn't have crampons, we continued to move slowly. Routefinding was a little tricky because even though we had accurate topographic maps of the area, we weren't sure of the snow conditions on various parts of the route. To make matters more exciting, the weather, which had been sunny in the morning, was now starting to get worse; clouds were rapidly displacing the sunlight.
It was at this point that we decided to turn around. As the pewter sky continued to dim, we thought it prudent to get off the mountain. With a storm coming in, the summit ridge would not be a wise place to be, and any amount of rain would make our footing on the snow even more precarious. As we descended, we could hear thunder and see it raining farther down the canyon. We didn't get much rain, however, and with a fair amount of glissading and bushwhacking, we were back at the trailhead in a lot less time than it took to get up the mountain.
Later on that day, we saw the summit of Cascade enveloped in clouds. When they lifted, there was fresh snow on the summit ridge. We were glad that we had turned around when we did. Cascade is a rugged and demanding mountain, but I'll be back on it again this summer. After two attempts thus far, I'm not going to let the mountain get the best of me!