Full Moon Rising

March 15, 2020


Manning Park / Pasayten Wilderness, WA

“Full Moon Rising” is the unofficial name of the substantial summit about 3 km west of Castle Peak immediately south of Monument 76 on the US/Canada border. The name was given by the Washington legend John Roper. The Canadian website bivouac.com named it “Fullmoon Peak”. I haven’t dug into the name’s history but from Frosty Mountain to the north, this peak does appear like a full moon rising out of the horizon. This peak isn’t unheard and in fact, I had been considering this ascent for quite a few years, but it had never gained serious interest given its proximity to the much-bigger Castle Peak as well as the lengthy and rough approach. The only approach that “makes sense” is by traversing up and over “Scimitar Knoll”, from Lightning Lake trail-head in Manning Park of British Columbia. There were a few trip reports on the internet and all of which were done in “late spring”, summer or “early fall” time. My plan was however, to do it on snowshoes as I saw no reason why this couldn’t be done in winter. A few years ago I snowshoed the west ridge of Frosty Mountain and I expected similar terrain but a much longer outing.

The original plan was Mt. Blum in the North Cascades with a strong group of WA friends but the 14-day quarantine combined with the restricted border crossings due to this stupid COVID-19 pandemic had me changed the plan at the last minute. I thought about to do it no matter what without telling anybody nor writing anything until a month later, but the risk of getting stuck or flagged in US was too much for my tolerance. Mel and I made the last minute decision to head into Manning Park for this equally-scenic objective. To my surprise Mel managed to convince four more to join – Ilia, Jessica, Michelle and Karen. We agreed to meet in Hope’s McDonalds at 6:30 am. I had never met any of them and this was shaping up to be a fun day.

Full Moon Rising NW Ridge via Scimitar Knoll. GPX DL

The temperature dipped down to -21 degrees Celsius at Allison Pass but warmed up to -16 degrees at the trail-head when we saw the first sun beams of the day. The gearing up took a while so once we started the plod across Lighting Lake we went as fast as we could in order to stay warm. The plod across the entire length of Lighting Lake felt just as long as my last time doing it. Once we finally finished plodding across this lake we got off shore and found the well-trodden trail. There was minor up-and-downs along the trail but it seemed more efficient than breaking our own trail on the lakes so we stayed on the trail bypassing Flash Lake. The trodden track took a sharp turn south across the stream on the far side of Flash Lake leaving me wondering where the heck that went. Maybe there’s a campground but I had no idea. I made the call to bail into the forest to break our own trail and crossed the creek back to its north side after a couple hundred meters of trail-breaking and cross-country travel in the woods. We rejoined the trail but there was no longer any recent traffic activities so we had to pack down the path. A couple kilometers later we came down to the shore of Strike Lake and bailed onto the frozen lake. Mel then led the plod across Strike Lake to the start of Scimitar Knoll’s wooded NE Ridge, exactly 1 hour 40 minutes since we left the vehicles.

At the parking lot. Everyone seemed stoked.

Looking at the Skyline Ridge from Lightning Lake day-use area

Mel plodding across the first stretch on Lightning Lake

Mel plodding across the second half of Lightning Lake.

Cool snow pillows between Flash and Strike Lakes

Looking back at the west (true) peak of Frosty Mountain

There was a steep section right off the bat but the steepness only lasted for about 100 vertical meters and then the ascent was fairly gradual with some minor rolling terrain. I actually had to check GPS multiple times to make sure we had our bearing correct. Another stretch of steep section game at about halfway up the ridge, and then the grade eased off again. Comparing to what we did on Mt. Coulter a couple weeks ago this was literally nothing. There was some trail-breaking effort but from the forest and bushwhacking perspective this was pretty tame by BC standard. There was a long stretch of flat or slightly uphill terrain before emerging into the treeline zone on Scimitar Knoll’s east ridge. There wasn’t much beta about this route in winter time and the appearance of Scimitar Knoll’s east ridge was much more daunting than I expected. About 100 vertical meters below the summit the ridge narrowed down with steep open slopes on the south side and massive cornices dangling over the north face. The terrain wouldn’t give me much of a problem on hindsight but before this trip I wasn’t expecting “mountaineering” at all to reach this first peak, so I was still surprised. I led some side-hill traversing lines on snowshoes staying well away from the cornices. There was a decent transition zone of “tree island” about 2/3 of the way across the sketchy zone, that I could stay on the ridge crest without worrying about the cornices. After that I went back to the side-hill traversing mode across the south side and soon we were on the summit of Scimitar Knoll with the sudden, jaw-dropping sight of Hozomeen Mountain.

Me breaking trail. Photo by Mel O.

Mel grunting up the forest

This is one of the steeper stretches

After a long while we could finally see some views

Mel wondering about the narrow ridge ahead

Looking back at Mel starting the side-hill traversing

Mel ascending the open slope

The E. Ridge and the N. Face of Scimitar Knoll

Mel with Frosty Mountain behind

Castle Peak (L) and Full Moon Rising (R)

Mel with the twin summits of Hozomeen Mountains ahead

South Hozomeen – one of the 10 hardest summits in Washington

North Hozomeen – easier than the south peak but still a daunting objective

Without doing any unnecessary lingering Mel and I immediately turned our attention to Full Moon Rising. We didn’t even bother to take off our backpacks and instead, easily descended the SW Ridge of Scimitar Knoll and then went up and over several bumps towards the low point at Monument 76. One particular step on the connecting ridge looked very sketchy with cornices but turned out to be not a big deal. The lower section of the NW Ridge of Full Moon Ridge had a few steep, but not exposed rolls that required some “technical snowshoeing”. I thought about to ditch the snowshoes but the snow elsewhere was soft and deep, especially around trees. We kept snowshoes for halfway up the ridge and ditched them to swap for crampons. On hindsight we should have at least carried the snowshoes further as deep post-holing punished us higher up. The snow was indeed icy on the upper ridge but not everywhere. We encountered lots of weak spots and deep patches. The wallowing was painfully slow at times.

Mel with Scimitar Knoll behind.

Looking down at the cornices on the connecting ridge

Mel breaking trail on the virgin snow

Me leading the cornice step. Photo by Mel O.

Mel following up the cornice step

The NW Ridge of Full Moon Rising ahead. We were at the border now

Me snowshoeing up the lower section of the NW Ridge. Photo by Mel O.

Mel starting her boot-packing

Me wallowing in the deep snow. Photo by Mel O.

Pristine terrain.

Looking south into the Washington North Cascades.

The ascent onto the false summit had taken longer than I thought but the worst part was yet to come. The traverse to the true summit wouldn’t be bad at all in dry conditions, but we had to pick a line in between “too close to the cornices” and “too steep on the south slopes with huge run-outs”. The cornices were very scary and I knew the north face would be a straight drop to the valley, so I stayed very far from the edge. The punishment was patches of thigh-deep wallowing on the steep south-facing slopes. The summit itself was also suspected to be on a large cornice so we didn’t get that fabulous 360-degree views, but at least we got to see the tip of Castle Peak poking above the horizon.

The summit ridge is very corniced and windy

Mel traversing the summit ridge

Me leading the last stretch to the summit. Photo by Mel O.

Summit Panorama from Full Moon Rising. Click to view large size.

As you can see, it was very windy and cold despite the strong sun

Mel on her last steps to the summit of Full Moon Rising

Castle Peak and its west ridge

Hozomeen Mountain in the foreground

The typical Pasayten Wilderness view

The group of Pasayten Bulgers in the distance

Jack Mountain is a bulk mass from any direction

The Pickets on the horizon

Three Brothers Mountain and Nicomen Ridge in Manning Park

Silvertip Mountain is the northernmost Ultra in Cascade Range

The group of Chilliwack Bulgers – Mt. Spickard et al.

Me on the summit of Full Moon Rising

Another photo of me on the summit of Full Moon Rising

The wind was brutally cold so we didn’t linger too long on the summit. By the time we started the descent it had taken us 6 hours 20 minutes and I expected we would finish the trip within 11 hours, before sunset time. The plod back across the summit ridge was easy given our tracks. While descending towards our snowshoes my crampons came off. Not wanting to deal with more transitions I just carried them but then had to be extra careful on icy spots, sometimes hidden. The snowshoeing down the lower NW ridge was fun especially on those steep rolls. I had invented some “snowshoe-ski” techniques and we got down in no time. The reverse back across the ridge past Monument 76, that giant cornice to the low saddle south of Scimitar Knoll wasn’t as fun though thank to the uphill direction. We had to do one last break for food and energy before committing to the 100-m slog back to the summit of Scimitar Knoll.

Mel heading down the summit ridge

Mel and our tracks on the summit ridge

A closer look at South Hozomeen

Almost back to where we ditched snowshoes

The north slopes of Full Moon Rising

Snowshoeing could be very fun if you know how to play on them

A review shot of the NW Ridge of Full Moon Rising

Mel descending that cornice step

A bit of very steep side-hilling

Mel snowshoeing back across the connecting ridge

Looking back at Full Moon Rising

Time to grunt back up Scimitar Knoll, looking back

Castle Peak and Full Moon Rising

Another photo looking south into the Washington Cascades

Castle Peak and Passage Creek valley

Looking ahead to the valley that we’d slog out

Again, without doing any lingering we soon started the descent. We followed the now-trodden tracks down and across the sketchy zones in no time and then easily plunged on untracked powder into the forest. When snowshoeing downhill on soft snow I prefer to not use the existing tracks for more gliding and fun. About half way down the wooded NE Ridge of Scimitar Knoll we past Karen and Michelle descending. After some quick chatting we resumed our furious and fun plunge. It’s not usual to have cold, powder snow persisted into mid-March and we wanted to make the most use of it by plunging really fast. I got stabbed on my face one time by bush. I saw it but couldn’t react fast enough as I was getting pretty beaten up by this point. Down to Strike Lake, Mel took over the lead breaking trail as the lake was windy enough that the fresh tracks were all covered. For the next hour or so we plodded as fast as we could while retracing the exact tracks we took, including that stretch of off-trail wondering. We got back to the trail-head just when the last rays of sun beam dipped down behind the hills.

Snowshoeing down the lower east ridge of Scimitar Knoll

The steep forested descent

Mel leading back across Strike Lake

Mel on Lightning Lake now

Looking back from the plod across Lightning Lake

True summit of Frosty Mountain is that tall peak

Back to the parking lot, we still had some daylight left…

Our round trip time was just over 10 hours and that was a tad faster than anticipated. It sure felt much harder than the statistics suggested but we were moving pretty steadily throughout the day. The drive back was uneventful and because it’s Mel driving in her rental car we managed to get back at least half an hour faster faster than usual…