Distance: 9.5 km
Elevation gain: 1000 m View map Download GPS track
With Sandra away this weekend I decided to tackle Thunder Mountain, a peak that might have been just a bit out of her comfort zone with the current conditions. The two-hour drive there turned out to be far more interesting than expected as wildlife was everywhere. Without any effort I saw at least a half dozen herds of 30-50 deer each, a herd of perhaps 100 elk, two moose, and 8 wild turkeys! The turkeys were the most surprising as frequently I only see the humanoid variety.
I arrived at the trailhead around 9 am to moderate winds and a temperature of -10 C - a far cry from the warm spring hikes we've been doing lately! I started up the northern ridge, hiking steeply up a vertical 250 m over just 800 m. An inch of fresh snow over this section made things a bit more difficult as I was unable to easily follow any trail, if there was one. After this steep section I reached a wonderful and windy plateau, then after nearly a kilometer of lovely walking started ascending though a forested section. A small cairn and flagging indicated where to enter the forest, and while I'm sure any route would work here this did allow me to find and follow a trail broken through the deep snow.
After a short section of relatively level travel I encountered the crux of the trip: The ascent of the false summit. In dry conditions it would be nothing more than an easy to moderate scramble along the ridgecrest, but today fresh snow, ice, and old snow made this too dangerous for me. It was a sheer drop to the right and a short distance up a steep section I had to retreat to safer ground. Instead I detoured to the left, traversing a steep snow slope before heading straight up. This was terribly strenuous as I had to kick through a fairly thick icy crust for each step, but it did allow me to continue.
Unfortunately (fortunately?) the adventure was just beginning (we're talking type II fun
here). In addition to the wind and freezing temperatures the combination of fresh and old snow made the remaining kilometer to the summit particularly difficult. A long section of narrow ridge between the false and true summits can normally be traversed without difficulty by sticking to its crest, but today a large cornice clung to the east side and with a wind regularly blowing me off balance I didn't feel safe walking along it. The west side was steep with short slabs and scree and had sections of trail, but today the fresh snow hid the rock underneath and I never knew whether I was stepping on bedrock, loose rock, scree, or ice. When dry it would almost certainly be an easy scramble, however.
These difficulties slowed me down considerably and it took me 45 minutes to cover the final kilometer to the summit, but I did reach it at exactly noon, a little less than 3 hours from the truck. Views were great from the summit, but a slightly lower bump less than a minute to the west offered better views of peaks to the west.
After a very short summit stay I started back down, now wearing nearly every piece of clothing I had to try and stay warm. I was also starving, but didn't find a place to stop until nearly 1 pm, and even then it was still cold and windy with spindrift swirling around me! By the time I was back down to the plateau the sun had come out and it had warmed up considerably, allowing me to eat the rest of my lunch without even a jacket on!
The only difficulty I encountered on the descent was the section between the plateau and the truck. Coming up I'd been able to see many cliff bands and avoid them, but on the way down I kept finding myself blocked by cliffs and thick trees. In general it seemed that keeping to the east was the best option here.