Mount Constance

On Friday evening as I drove up the Dosewallips river road, I kept getting glances at the summit block of Mt. Constance. From this angle it looked like a stone hut, or a temple. I imagined some hermit residing up there. Day after day, year after year, looking down on all the ruckus across the Puget Sound basin. Laughing, sometimes crying, but mostly silent. Listening to the wind blowing across the ridge. The sound of small bells ringing outside the door.

I thought maybe there’s more to this? More than just physical exertion, rock, dirt, sweat and sore knees? Lao Tzu said, “Naming is the origin of all particular things. Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.”

He also said, “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” I grabbed my bike and my pack and started up the Dosewallips river road above the wash out. I rode up to and past the Lake Constance trailhead, and found a nice camp along the river.

A warm wind blew down the Dosewallips valley. Bats emerged as the daylight faded. Prime conditions for a good night sleep. I drifted off until 10am the next morning. Preparing breakfast, I realized I forgot my cooking pot! Luckily I was able to make tea in my steel water bottle.

Lake Constance trail

After breakfast, I was off to the Lake Constance trailhead. I stashed my bike in the brush, and started the ascent. The lower section is brushy and burnt out. The middle section is a classic old growth forest with huge mossy boulders and waterfalls. The upper section is a scramble up a steep mountainside to the lake. You have to snap to attention on the upper section or you may wander off trail like I did, and have to backtrack.

I hit the north side of the lake Saturday afternoon and made camp.

Lake Constance trail

Lake Constance

While I awaited the arrival of my climbing partner Tim from Port Townsend. I planned to spend the afternoon doing photography around the lake, but it was overcast with flat light. So I just loitered around camp, filtering water and snacking. Eventually Tim honed in on my camp and got situated. We discussed our plans for the next day, and agreed to both set our alarms for 4am, so we could have a leisurely breakfast and leave by 5.

Neither of our alarms went off! The next morning I woke up to “Craig it’s 5:30.” We were off a little after 6. Tim and I have both wanted to climb Constance for some time now. So we were both super excited to be on the way!

Lake Constance and the Brothers

Avalanche Canyon

We headed up Avalanche canyon towards the south chute. As soon as we saw the “cat’s ears” we started angling up the canyon wall.

Mt Constance

Mt. Constance

We passed through “chute’s notch,” and had our first view eastward towards the Puget Sound basin. It was a beautiful morning, with clouds covering the lowlands. A strong wind gusting across the ridge.

High Country

Mt. Constance

We sipped some water, enjoyed the view, and started up another steep scree slope leading to another notch in the ridge line.

Mt. Constance

Mt. Constance

We crossed over the notch, and encountered a steep snowfield. It didn’t look safe without a rope, so we scouted around for an alternative. We were able to climb up and over a west facing precipice.

Mt. Constance

From this point, I skirted an additional piece of snow by slipping around a section of the west ridge. It was a move with significant exposure, now that I think about it. Tim followed across the snow.

Mt. Constance

From this point we moved up and around the ridge. We encountered a rock cairn at the west end of the ridge. There was several small pieces of bamboo sticking out of the cairn, with small holes drilled through it. I knew there was a hermit up here!

Our next move was the finger traverse.

Finger Traverse

From here we had a nice view of the summit.

Mt. Constance

We then moved across the ridge and encountered a snow field between us and the runway leading up to the summit. We traversed the top of this snow field, and I, being lazy decided to climb the gulleys of the south face, instead of dropping elevation down to the runway and climbing back up.

This led to a view north towards the Buckhorn wilderness and marmot pass area.

Mt. Constance

From here we followed the ridge NE to the summit block.

Mt.  Constance

This was my chance to get some meditation in. I thanked the mountain spirits for allowing us to travel safely in their magical realm. I left a small offering. The lowlands were covered with fog, but we could see across to Mt. Rainier. North to Mt. Baker and Glacier peak.

Mt. Constance

I was stuck on “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” When Tim snapped me out of it and said we need to eat something and drink some water. I washed down my last pro bar, with my last sip of water.

We returned via the finger traverse.

Mt. Constance

I remembered a spot where we could both get a sip of water.

Mt. Constance

After becoming human avalanches we eventually arrived back in the bottom of Avalanche canyon.

Avalanche Canyon

The wind and the sun dried me up. On the hike to the lake, I thought of fresh squeezed lemonade with crushed ice…of the myriad flavors of ice tea. Of mixing iced tea and lemonade. When I reached the lake, I stuck the output hose of my water filter in to my mouth and started pumping.

From this point, we changed and put our camp back in our backpacks, and started the descent to our bikes. The down climb from the lake was tough. I think my digestive system shut down, and there was several times I thought I was going to puke. Everything stayed composed though, and we reached our bikes with the last of the evening light.

We then glided down the road…Ahhh… Reaching our vehicles about 9pm.

This was an amazing alpine adventure. It involved all of our mountaineering skills. Hiking, climbing, backpacking and wilderness navigation.

Essentials for the climb were, helmet, axe, poles and gaiters. We didn’t bring a rope, but there were several instances where it would be nice to have.

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