Colin and I have both wanted to climb Mount Thomson since before we met and we've been discussing it regularly for over 2 years now, so of course we were both stoked when the weekend we tentatively put aside arrived, promising clear skies on summit day.
A leisurely start on Saturday morning got us to camp before 2 o'clock. Bumblebee Pass seemed much larger and more daunting when I first visited 3 years ago. Huckleberry Peak was picturesque as we descended into the basin, surrounded by low clouds. We set camp near a small pond on a grassy knoll high in the basin and waited for the weather around Mount Thomson to clear.
When the clouds remained for several hours we started up towards the West Ridge Notch to find the start of the climb. An obvious belay station sat about 100 feet below what could only be the "bushy tree" at the top of the first pitch. After scrambling SW to a tiny peak we were lucky to get a 5-minute clearing - and even a bit of sunshine to light up the route - before the whiteout returned. Satisfied with the beta, we carefully returned to camp over some extremely loose talus.
As we lounged in the tent watching weather move through the basin a deep, distant rumble slowly built to a scream and I instantly realized what we were hearing. I have read several accounts of fighter jets flying low through the Alpine Lakes and I've always hoped for a chance to witness this unnatural phenomenon. Despite the clouds that were still surrounding us in all directions, we instinctively jumped out of the tent, looking down the basin toward the only small clearing. As if on cue, the jet burst forth from the white, banking as it tore through the saddle behind Huckleberry Mountain and returned into the clouds. After a brief fit of childish excitement I was reminded of the mixed feelings I hold regarding these incredible machines.
When I awoke around 2 a.m. our tent was glowing with moonlight. I emerged under the stars, immediately disappointed to find a small cloud hovering around Mount Thomson. My brain immediately drew parallels to our recent bail on Mount Stuarts West Ridge but the sky was otherwise clear so I returned to bed, optimistic that the forecast would prove to be accurate.
Besides the cold start, the climbing was excellent. There were plenty of options for placing pro along the route, except for a 20' stretch just below the false summit (Pitch #4). If we were to do this one again, a second 1" and 0.75" cam would be helpful. When we reached the summit it was clear that we had not, in fact, started too early. It had taken us nearly 6 hours to climb 5 pitches, which was not surprising considering our general lack of experience trad climbing.
Views from the summit were fantastic. Many years of anticipation made this a particularly significant accomplishment for both of us. We toasted with various summit treats while counting dozens of surrounding peaks from which we've gazed upon Mount Thomson with yearning desire. Most notable were the peaks surrounding and beyond Gem Lake, where Colin and I took our first, and arguably most successful peakbagging trip together. It was a bit of a struggle to open the pvc summit register. We found a few familiar names as well as an entry from a threesome from the day before, who we must have just missed on their way out.
The decent was fairly simple, although we made the common mistake of taking the wrong gully, requiring
a short rap and a bit of mildly sketchy downclimbing to get us back on course. A series of well-worn bootpaths brought us to the east notch, where we took a short break in the sun, watching shadows stretch across the basin toward us. We packed up quickly hoping to catch some more sunlight on the trail out, as well as some of the views we missed out on during the approach. On the hike out we passed about a dozen folks on the PCT, a few of who mentioned they were headed for Canada. So jealous...
4 hours to camp
7 hours to summit
5 hours summit to trailhead