100 Peaks #7: Putrid Pete’s Peak and Chasing Carefree Summer Mountain Days

It’s harder to be adventurous in the winter, for me at least. I like at least some of my adventures to be solo, and I like to do as little planning as possible and carry as little stuff as possible. I am slowly learning to love (?) embracing winter activities like actually packing enough clothes, checking avalanche conditions, or just being very cold while kayaking… but I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t still choose fast backpacking in good weather any day. In winter, my solo options especially feel somewhat limited by safety, and if I’m being realistic, the absolute bleakness of snowshoeing alone during short daylight hours.

Due to my dislike of heavy backpacks and slow progress, even if I do someday know something about mountaineering and expand my range of “comfortable” conditions, I feel lucky not to have been born just a few decades ago. Back then people used to spend forever on the mountain, bring a ton of extra stuff and people, and often use a lot (more) money. Seemily, an increase in technology has allowed for a shift toward methods that are faster and in some ways simpler and more accessible. (Of course, as we make progress, claiming that mountaineering is accessible to any reasonable degree at this point would be laughable, as I prepare to attend a several-hundred-dollar glacier travel class in a couple of weeks.)

But one of the best stories from old-school mountaineering days, back when it was even more dominated by white men, is the story of Pete “The Belay” Schoening.You’d think that nickname was unglamorous, but Pete earned it on an attempt at then-unclimbed K2, when he saved the lives of several other climbers. Their 6 – person team was braving unfavorable conditions to rescue a seventh team member with blood clots (already admirable) when one of them slipped. They would have all fallen to their deaths if Schoenig hadn’t wedged his (wooden!) ice axe behind a rock and held all of them for an impressively long time while they mostly resolved the situation (the injured team member is believed to have cut himself free to protect his teammates).

This famous climber has a minor peak named after him in the little mountain playground an hour or so from my house, and it’s not often visited, maybe for the best since it feels like an insider secret. But despite being a less established route and not very popular, it isn’t hard to climb at all, so it’s one I tried to fit in when I didn’t have much time. Still, it was at the top of my list of minor peaks since Pete seemed like such a cool guy.

My first attempt at Putrid Pete’s Peak, as it is called, was one of my after work hikes, and Westy suggested it. It was the beginning of spring, so there were trip reports of people attempting it but giving up. We probably could have made it happen in an evening, but we didn’t take the easiest route.

It started when he suggested we start somewhere other than the trailhead and climb the hill directly rather than take the long road. And maybe it would have actually been faster, but we never got to know because the other decision was whether we wanted to go “the normal way” or take “the adventurous route.” Very characteristically of us, we both insisted we didn’t care and refused to have an opinion for a few minutes until we somehow ended up taking the adventurous route.

So we spent a lot of time bushwhacking, crossing a creek 113 times, finding some old sheds with some kind of communications equipment in them, and generally getting lost. Fighting plants in the not-freezing dark felt like wonderful, carefree summer to me! We ended up walking multiple unnecessary miles on some kind of road and finding all kinds of beautiful moss and ferns.

When we were back on track, it was clear summer hadn’t fully settled in as there was enough snow that Westy was using his ice axe to climb the hill (I hadn’t brought mine to work). The dark distant hills looked like a desert planet backdrop in a sci-fi movie, and it didn’t really feel like a little forest trail anymore. Between our misadventures and the slowness of progress in the snow, we decided we’d rather sleep than summit.

But I got another chance before all the snow was gone! Between a doctor’s appointment and a flight, I went back, this time sticking to the 100% WTA endorsed path so I could compare the routes. It was midday, and I climbed the at-first-established switchbacks in 80 degree heat. I got past where we had stopped before without seeing much snow. Just a couple of weeks later, it was an entirely different trail. This spring has been swift and sweltering.

Eventually, there was enough slow to collapse and make me awkwardly force my way through it as the trail vanished. I climbed around some snow patches by climbing trees. Having this kind of slightly-off-trail adventure by myself felt like summer to me! At the end, there was still one steep and rapidly – deteriorating snowfield that I tried extra hard not to fall off of. As I sat on the pointy summit rocks, surveying recent avalanche debris on the other side and perfect views of Tahoma and the Cascades, it really felt like summer had begun.

Apparently in the summit register there is a photo of Pete, but I never found it. Nor did I figure out if the peak or Pete himself is the putrid one (seems like neither). But as this WP article says, Pete was a Seattle native and probably learned his skills in these mountains too. Despite being not nearly as cool as Pete (and only and year younger than he was at the time of the incident!) I felt especially lucky to share his exciting playground. And now is the season for the most freedom to play, for night scrambling and sleeping under the stars!

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