No shame in this DNF
I dislike DNFs as much as any geocacher. But sometimes the memories created by a DNF override the dissapoinment of not finding the cache. Such was the case when I attempted to find Crater Mountain, a multi-cache in the Hozameen Range of the North Cascades.
I’ve had this cache on my radar for quite awhile. It’s a rare 5/5 multi. No one has found it since it was published in early 2014. And with the season for an attempt quickly drawing to a close, I decided it was time to give it a try. I searched for someone willing to join the adventure, but the 15-mile roundtrip and 6,300-foot elevation gain seemed to turn everyone off. So, it was me, myself and I in the car for a pre-dawn drive north on I-5 and then east along the North Cascades Highway.
The wind was whipping when I left Seattle, which concerned me because I didn’t like the idea of summiting an 8,128-foot mountain on a windy day. Thankfully, I arrived to clear skies and calm conditions at the Large Canyon Creek Trailhead lot. A lone man and his two dogs were gathering up supplies for a hike. Otherwise, the lot was empty as I slipped on my backpack and began the walk at 9 a.m.
The route to the summit is pretty easy to follow. Not long after leaving the parking lot, you cross a large bridge over Granite Creek, turn, and then cross Canyon Creek over a bridge created from a once-mighty tree. You then hook up with the Jackita Ridge Trail and begin the steep ascent.
The trail’s incline is significant. Elevation at the trailhead is 1800-feet. After five miles of hiking, you’ve moved to 5700-feet and arrived at Crater Lake. Just past the five-mile mark, it’s 5700-feet five-mile mark (5700’), you arrive at Crater Lake. It’s a somewhat stagnant body of water that has little in common with the renowned Oregon lake of the same name.
The best thing about Crater Lake is that you’re about to leave the forest and enter an open ridge. The view really opens up to the south. The clouds were still lingering when I passed this point on the way up. But they had broken up by the time of my descent, and it’s a beautiful view.
By this time, you’re at around 7000-feet and nearing the rock scramble. The cache description calls it “a class 2-3 rock scramble that is only recommended for experienced climbers.” But it also states, “As long as the conditions are not icy, most people should be comfortable without a rope.” I wasn’t sure which description to believe, so I held out hope that I was experienced enough to handle it.
Thankfully, there are some faded painted route markers that give you an idea of which route to follow. While not icy, there’s enough moisture from snow melt that I was extremely cautious while ascending. It took me 20-30 minutes to make my way to the false summit at 7900-feet. From there, I walked a trail through light snow cover to the summit at 8128-feet, arriving at 1 p.m.
Truth be told, I didn’t pick the absolutely perfect day to summit. Lingering clouds hindered my view in all directions. It was pretty marvelous, nonetheless. Jack Mountain (9,066 feet) is easily visible directly to the north. The peaks of the North Cascades are off to the west. Crater Mountain is “only” the 81st-highest mountain peak in Washington state, but that’s still pretty darn high!
After snapping a bunch of photos, I gathered the necessary information for the multi-cache, plugged the coordinates for the final stage into my GPS, and started back down. As I neared Crater Lake, I met a woman who was ascending. She was one of only three people I saw on the trail the whole day. She planned to camp near the summit and was curious to know about the terrain near the top. I shared what I could before continuing on down. As one would expect, going down was much easier than going up, and I arrived back in the parking lot shortly before 5 p.m.
Of course, I don’t want to give anything away about the cache, so as not to spoil the experience for anyone else. But it’s important to mention that I didn’t find it! I’m 99.99% certain I went to the right place for the final stage. But the hiding place is positioned in such a way that I wasn’t surprised someone may have absconded with the geocache. Still, I wanted to be sure, so I decided I needed to see the “spoiler pic” that the cache owner had included in the listing. However, I had no cell coverage, and therefore couldn’t download the photo. I did what any silly cacher would do and drove 20 miles west until getting into AT&T’s coverage area. Downloaded the photo and thought, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure I checked that.” But drove the 20 miles back and searched again. Yep, definitely not there.
So the day ended with a dreaded DNF. But what a journey it was! It’s been a long time since my marathoning or 100-mile bike ride days, so it was great to have a true endurance test of sorts. And if the cache is ever replaced, I’ll look forward to returning again.