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February 17, 2010
by Lynn Ensslin and Dennis Brandt -
According to many Washington
State alpinists, the Ptarmigan Traverse is the classic
alpine traverse in Washington. It is unique in that it
generally requires a week-long commitment on an off-trail
route which weaves its way between the glaciated peaks of
the North Cascades. It is a route that one should try only
if they have climbing and glacier experience.
photo of the Traverse from Sahale Peak to the north. Note
the green route lines for stages 1, 2, and 4 ("standard"
schedule). Stage 3 is entirely hidden behind Spider
Mountain. The highest point on the Traverse proper is Spire
Col at just over 7,800 feet.
Photo and Annotation
compliments of Robert Bolton. The "Stages" are
In early August 2006, Los
Alamos Mountaineers Gregg Brickner, Dennis Brandt, and
Norbert & Lynn Ensslin attempted the traverse, betting on
this time of year to give them the best shot at good
weather. As always, the Northern Cascades offers brilliant
views of glaciated peaks, campsites near clear mountain
lakes, colorful wildlife, and an alpine grandeur that takes
your breath away.
A great place for a
rest and a snack on the trail leading
down to Kool Aid Lake, just after we climbed Cache Glacier.
Lynn met her husband at the
Los Alamos Mountaineers climbing school in the 1980’s and
has rock climbed with him and friends since then. Her
glacier experience is limited to a few traverses in the
Cascades and in Colorado. She loves hiking on the sandstone
domes and canyons of Utah and Arizona, and hiking in
Colorado’s mountains. Her favorite climbing areas are
Tuolumne Meadows in California and City of Rocks in Idaho.
Dennis has been involved in
mountaineering activities for the past 36 years. His first
trip was a Grand Canyon backcountry adventure in 1973 lead
by Merlin Wheeler. Dennis took the Los Alamos Mountaineers
climbing school in 1974 and has been continuously involved
in outdoor activities ever since. His Early Mountaineering
experiences focused on Arizona canyon trips, local rock
climbing, climbing Colorado's 14ers, climbing volcanoes in
Mexico, mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest and caving
in southern New Mexico. Dennis served as the club's
president in 1987 and 2009, and he was the the clubs
Vice-President and Climbing School Director in 1986.