Watson to Blum Traverse
with self propelled return via bike and kayak
August 22-30, 2009

Photos and story by Jason

"To see LARGER photos, go to Alpine State of Mind"

The Nautilus was piercing the water with its sharp spur, after having accomplished nearly ten thousand leagues in three months and a half, a distance greater than the great circle of the earth. Where were we going now, and what was reserved for the future?
-~Jules Verne from 10000 Leagues Under the Sea

>>>>PART ONE (this page)


..Going Full Circle

In 2006, having no available partners, I made a crossing of the Ptarmigan Traverse with a self-propelled return. This combined over 100 miles of ridges, rivers, glaciers, and roads. Since then, the idea of this type of adventure has appealed to me. Not only does it combine several of the sports I love, but when you are transported at more humanly paces – not by auto, train or plane – you get to ‘smell the roses’. It’s like eating cake and ice cream, too!

Another North Cascade traverse from Mount Watson to Blum appeared perfect for this sort of outing. At least that’s what was on my mind as I rushed down from the Alpine Lakes (link) back to my house to immediately pack for 9 more days. Before much rest my kayak, bike and all my hiking gear was crammed into my car, my last few dollars into its gas tank, and I was driving into the mountains once again. It was then, I realized, half of everything I own is continuously going in and out of my car. A laugh overtook me, though, because it's more like continuous cycles from washing machine to car, but nevertheless, I’ve rarely been home for 5 months. There’s no complaining coming from me. Everyone needs a break. While a bit cliché, one climber I met along the way submitted this, “Mountains keep men honest.” I like that. My time in such high places has certainly kept me from deceiving myself. I know what I want and I'm out there doing it.

Day One and Two: Watson Trailhead to Diobsud Lakes

Sometimes I joke that there is as much work getting to the trail as the actual hiking. Even if it’s not exactly true, a lot goes into it. Fortunately Jessy, my little brother, had arrived to help me. With him we left gear at the end of Baker Lake Road and Baker Lake before arriving at our final destination, the Watson Lake Trailhead. Josh and Christy were there to join us for the day. Except for the bike ride back up to Watson, Jessy would keep me company for the next 9 days. Having begun a new business, my twin couldn’t and would miss out on our annual brother’s trip (2006, 2008), but we would all meet up for the kayak portion.

A nice trail begins the first 2 miles of the Watson to Blum Traverse and is the last we’d see for a week. We took several detours to explore the area before finally heading to Upper Anderson Lakes and the lower slopes of Mount Watson where we dropped our packs and climbed to what we thought was the summit. One other pinnacle appeared a few feet higher. Nevertheless, the way forward captivated us and we were excited to part ways with Josh and Christy and push further along. Yet, after they left, we tried for the other summit of Watson anyway. It was more than we were looking for, so we backed off. Since we couldn’t imagine leaving the high country for Diobsud Lakes, we found a camp sooner than we needed, but a perfect place caught our attention. That night we watched as bright stars tumbled out from behind dark mountains.


Morning sun and clouds rose long before we did. Like a head on beer, we wondered how long it would take for the sun to drink the haze up. Once moving we passed several Ptarmigan who were intent on racing along the rock, as intent as we were on making our way over to a high pass. With curious glances ahead, our eyes met sloping heather fields nestled below cliffs and sights of Diobsud Lakes soon after. Without knowing it then, our biggest challenge of the trip lay across the valley. Closer looks were warranted, but none were taken.

After dropping through forest between Upper and Lower Diobsud Lakes, we had lunch in a huge meadow full of Fireweed, Daisy’s, Salmon Berries and Cow Parsnip's. After a long rest, full of confidence, we proceeded up the wrong side of a waterfall toward a ramp on the south side of Bacon Peak. For several hours we proceeded through grizzled, arthritic hunks of trees more dead than alive and masqueraded ourselves as tree huggers and slide alder pullers between cliffs before submitting defeat. Apparently, in a place where there are no wrong ways, just easier ones, we managed to bite off more than we could chew and were rebuffed. Cut and scratched, bruised and weary we safely arrived below the waterfall once more. Looking upward, we shook our heads. "Why did we go that way?" Our route had wound through cliffs and near vertical brush and trees to dead end in worse cliffs. We could see now that we no where near where we wanted to be. We felt like idiots, looked up at the rain clouds coming in and decided to be smart and make camp while we had a place to do so. Our progress had been pathetic, less than a few miles.

After camp was set near a stream, Jessy and I left our packs and set off to find a way up Bacon Peak. I went one way and Jessy went another. Mine dead ended, so I returned to camp. When Jessy didn't appear for a long time, I began to worry, but out from the brush he burst just before dark. He had found a way. Two smiles were shared between us and dinner was served before it began to rain. The tap, tap on the tent at bedtime left me ill-at-ease since my hope was for sun and warmth the following day. As good luck eventually follows bad, I dreamt of blue skies.

Day Three and Four: Diobsud Lakes, Bacon and Green lakes to Nert Lake

My dreams weren't ignored. Blue skies continued to foster burgeoning expectations of what far-off sights were ahead, ones that we would see in days to come. After a rush to break camp, we set up the way Jessy had scouted. Over huge logs and small cliffs, we arrived at two small tarns. More were beyond steep, slick heather and even more after we climbed a waterfall. Easy boulder scrambling put us on a ridge overlooking an unmapped lake whose appearance wasn't the last thing to surprise us. Up further we climbed to the top of Bacon Peak, but 'surprise', another taller summit was spotted. Descending we traversed and climbed snow and then scree to the true summit where burnt remains of an old fire lookout were scattered across lower slopes. This wasn't so easy to spot, although, I'd much prefer to have the lookout here than debris. Nevertheless, views of the Pickets and all the mountains between hoisted our desire to see what was around the next corner.

After lunch and much leaning over the map, we decided to go down and see what we could see. With no rope and tiny rubber-snubber crampons over my shoes, I was less than thrilled about exploring more glacier than I had to. Jessy was more fortunate and had a good set of crampons. He took the lead as we wound our way through a few glaciers and ridges before finally descending hard ice to smooth rock slabs, shaped much like the glacier they were born from. The interspersed streams and potholes were icing on the cake in this wild and beautiful place. For us, one of the highlights of our trip.

We decided to parallel the glacier directly down to Bacon Laken. I'm sure there are better ways than we took, but we enjoyed the steep slabs and climbing, along with views forward and backward at all Bacon Peak had to offer. This peak had continuously surprised me and my ideas of what I thought she offered were much skewed by faraway sights of her. For its size it is more of a mountain than a peak; it dominates the landscape.

Camp was set as light eased into a peaceful slumber and dusk awakened. First sights of Bacon Laken set above Green Lake were far from being terrible company, but enough of a pull to keep us moving faster than we should have. We ran down the last rock fields to the outlet falls of the lake. Looking down it, I imagined a slippery one way journey down its curved path. Fording it was easy enough, although more water would be challenging.

Tent sights were non existent, so we found the flattest spot we could. Heavens forbid it had to be within grasp of the falls and thoughts of our gear tumbling away were a constant worry, but we kept everything in hand and found our camp quite a pleasure to stay at. Within a few feet the lakeshore was a 10-ft sloping mound of rock. It presented the most perfectly situated lounge chair this side of Mount Watson. Under the moon's scope, the waterfall and lake were inebriated, moving in slow motion like the stars. Minutes were passed by movements in the sky. With a cold quart of kool-aid we relaxed. Not much was said between us. To every side, this beauty had too much to talk about.


The next morning rain came again and we decided to spend a few hours exploring the area above our camp. The cerulean outlines of Green Lake pleaded with us to come down and explore it and much to our dismay, we packed camp and set off.

The best places to visit weren't exactly known to us. Going from Watson to Bacon to Hagan and finally Blum was what amounted to a game plan. The where and what we would get to see between was left for weather to decide. As clouds broke up, I asked Jessy "Do you think the lake shore would be easier than the ridge?" It was a stupid question, cause it didn't, but we agreed and turned right. Easy ground morphed into a waterfall, the climbing of which was fast becoming a forte of ours, and traversed mid-falls on a ledge to enter slide alder, the climbing of which was another talent seized up in other adventures. Success was spent sometime later on the opposite shore looking down another waterfall that fell away beyond sight. Lunch was served as well.

Ignoring the bushes, we climbed steep then gentle slopes to Nert Lake. Our progress was subverted by never ending fields of the biggest blueberries I've ever seen. Not a sour or spoiled berry in the bunch. Blue fingers and faces brought us to camp. A swim and fire were treats and the first of the trip. On top of a small knoll after dinner, we took in the area and scouted the way ahead.

Continue to PART II