Fourth time is the charm! Colin and I rolled in to the Marble Mount lot with the teardrop early Saturday morning and quickly passed out. After a few hours of shut eye, we had a leisurely start and hit the trail at 7 as the sunrise colors began to fade.
There were less than a dozen vehicles at the trailhead when we left, but we saw at least 100 people throughout the day. A light cloud cover faded away just after we exited the forest. There was almost no snow below 4800 feet, but we went wherever it could be found for easier travel and to stay cool. We carried snowshoes, but did not need them at any point. By 9 a.m. the icy crust from the night before had softened nearly enough to kick steps, but we donned crampons early.
When the summit came into view we traversed west beyond Monitor Ridge, leaving the crowds behind. There were a few tracks from other climbers leading to the summit, but there was enough cornice visible to give us pause. At the saddle to the east we reassessed the situation. A trench test suggested a stable snow pack, and the cornices on the summit were pretty small so we decided it would be safe to proceed.
After 3 failed attempts it felt amazing to finally get this summit under my belt, and the views were incredible.
We hung out at the top for almost an hour before making a quick descent back to Monitor Ridge, where we removed crampons and enjoyed some epic glissades down to the trail.
It was lightly snowing when we pulled up to the Monte Cristo trailhead around midnight. There was slush and ice on the mountain loop a few miles before deer creek, and about 2 inches of snow at Barlow pass. After 4 hours of sleep, we started down the trail at 5 am, uncertain of the snow conditions that lied ahead.
The trail to Gothic Basin was well packed until the first gully crossing about a mile beyond the Monte Cristo Trail. We put on snowshoes on the other side of the gully and continued climbing as the peaks to the east began to appear above the tree tops. Evidence of the trail could be seen occasionally through a foot of fresh powder. Sheep Gap Mountain came into view ahead as we crested the ridge into Gothic Basin. Clouds flowed through the peaks surrounding Monte Cristo and Sloan Peak appeared in the saddle between Sheep Mountain and Gemini Peak. We were moving very slow, though it didn't seem like it - in 7 hours we had traveled only 4 miles and gained less than 3000 feet.
Gothic Peak was shrouded in thin fog when we entered the basin. From the frozen shores of Foggy Lake we ascended the mellow east face, connecting with the SE ridge. I became disoriented a few times, uncertain of the angle of the slope ahead of me in the whiteout. Just before the lake disappeared below us, we heard voices and noticed two people following our path. We didn't see them again, but noticed their tennis shoe tracks on our return - wow!
The west side of the ridge was super steep near the top. As we traded snowshoes and poles for crampons and ice axes the clouds surrounding us dissipated, and the Cascades appeared. With renewed energy we kicked up to the summit block then carefully scrambled the last 40 feet of rock and loose snow. The wind was mild, so we took tons of pictures and enjoyed a lengthy summit stay.
We rapped down to the snow and made a long glissade into Gothic Basin before pulling the snowshoes back out. All of the hard work we put in on the ascent payed off - in just over 3 hours we descended what had taken us nearly 11 hours to climb. Someone decided to break the register box and tear down some postings at the Gothic Basin Trailhead. Brilliant.
10.5 miles round trip
5000' elevation gain
15 hours trailer to trailer