Navaho is one of my favorite scrambles.
There is a sketchy trail from Navaho Pass in the Summer. In the Spring it
is a fun snow scramble. I first climbed Navaho on 5-9-92, almost exactly
10 years ago. On that trip the first 4 miles was snow free. Today there were
snow patches near the trailhead. Heck, I was stopped on the road
by snow and walked the last third of a mile to the trailhead. There were
several snow patches that passenger cars should not try to cross. Trucks
have been driving right over the snow but there is about 8 inches of snow
between the wheel ruts. With warm weather the road should be snow free to
the Stafford Creek trail within a week or so.
I was on the road by 8:40 and reached the trailhead at
about 8:50. The trailhead is at 3100' and the summit of Navaho is 7223'.
The first half mile is mostly snow free. The next half mile has patchy snow.
After one mile there is very little dirt to be seen. Glacier Lilies are in
bloom where the snow has melted out. In the morning the snow was very hard
and icy. I took snowshoes and an ice axe to be safe. The snowshoes stayed
on my back the whole day. Both ski tracks and boot tracks were visible in
the snow. With this "trail" to follow I made good time heading up. As the
trail rose up the Stafford Creek Valley it became difficult to follow the
tracks. With Stafford Creek down the slope on the left and Little Navaho
and Navaho above on the right it's not to tough to keep in the vicinity of
the Summer trail. The one trick to this trip is getting across the creek
coming down from Navaho. The creek bed is very deep and the creek falls steeply.
The Summer trail crosses at one spot where the creek is fairly flat. With
7+ feet of snow finding a good crossing is even tougher. I reached the creek
at a spot that did not look at all familiar. The snow had softened up enough
to kick good steps down to the creek. Unfortunately my first two attempts
failed. I moved up farther and found a snow bridge that was several feet
deep. This one worked and I was able to climb down determine it was strong
enough and climb back up on the other side. I headed up the valley and up
the slope as well. I planned to either go all the way to Navaho Pass then
follow the ridge to the summit or head up the south slope if the conditions
proved to be good enough. The summer trail crosses the creek then shortly
passes above a large meadow. As I climbed higher I came into a huge open
snowfield which had to be the meadow. Traction was very good as I sank a
few inches in on each step. Rather than turn left and follow the Summer trail
I chose to head a little up the valley but mostly straight up the slope.
At 4960' I took a break. I was directly below the summit of Navaho but still
had 2260' to gain.
From the break spot it was mostly straight up. If the
snow was icy I would not have gone on. Instead, the conditions were nearly
perfect. I kept using my poles and left the snowshoes and ice ax on my pack.
Under these conditions the elevation gain came fairly fast. The only problem
was one I have not had to deal with for quite awhile. As the forest thinned
and the time went by the sun was blazing. I kept stopping to wipe the sweat
out of my eyes. Finally, I pulled out the winter headband and that helped
a great deal. I topped out on the ridge at a familiar spot. This was the
place that the Navaho scramble route leaves the County Line Trail and follows
the ridge to the summit. I was now at 6400' and had a ridge to follow the
last 820' to the top. Since just before the creek on up I saw no trace of
other people. This was my third solo Spring scramble and the third
time I saw nobody all day long. The summit itself was snow free. For the
full hour I spent on top there was no wind at all. My thermometer read a
very comfortable 54 degrees. There was not a cloud in the sky. Adams, Rainier,
Stuart and dozens of other summits were clearly visible. From 7223' there
are not many peaks blocking the view. The exception is Mt. Stuart and the
Stuart Range which blocks the view north. I had a nice view of the ridge
from Miller to Little Navaho to Navaho. Mike Collins and party followed this
ridge several days earlier on a cold snowy day. I had much nicer conditions.
I was the first to sign the register since November 2001. I looked over at
Earl Peak and thought I saw evidence of a slide coming down from the summit.
A closer look showed it to be a series of parallel ski turns. A group of
telemarkers skied directly off the northeast side of the summit and down
into the upper Stafford Creek basin. These were probably the same folks who
left the tracks I followed farther down the valley.
The first 2300' coming down was lot's of fun. I put on
the rain pants took out the ice axe and headed down. I had a great mix of
sitting glissade, standing glissade, and plunge stepping. Within 25 minutes
I was back to my break spot at 4960'. It was still early so I pulled out
the newspaper and spent 30 minutes relaxing. For some reason I did not have
a great desire to get back to Seattle. The snow was much softer on the way
down. I found my snow bridge again to get across the creek and started looking
for the trail. I found several footprints heading down and followed them.
As the snow depth decreased I started to posthole a little. By 5:00 I reached
the trailhead and followed the road back to my car. All totaled, I covered
about 10 miles with 4300' of gain. About 8 1/2 miles was on snow. I did make
one big mistake. I bought a new Smart Media card for my MP3 player and transferred
the old one to my camera. I forgot to erase the files on the card first.
I had my camera with me but could not take any pictures. I had a crystal
clear view of dozens of snow covered peaks and could not take a single picture.
I guess I will have to go back up Navaho again next year.