South Chief, Table Mtn [added: snowy success!]

Discussions and Trip Reports for off-trail adventures and rediscovering lost trails
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Chip Down
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South Chief, Table Mtn [added: snowy success!]

Post by Chip Down » February 3rd, 2018, 11:37 pm

Wasn't sure what to do today, so threw a bag together and pondered it on the drive up the gorge. Decided to poke around the Greenleaf Slide a bit. Followed the Two Chiefs trail to Greenleaf Creek, but the creek crossing was a bit tricky, so I decided to do it another day (lower water, or from the other side).

Explored all over, but the thing that really caught my eye was the south end of the Table Mountain cliffs. Barely visible through the clouds, and accessible (I hoped) via talus slopes. Up I went. Pretty straightforward. I gained the top of the cliffs and discovered it was actually a fairly well-defined ridge. Continued up until I reached what I assumed had to be the South Chief, which I've been wanting to visit for a few months now. Confirming my suspicion of where I was, I spotted a cliffedge headed north, presumably towards the North Chief. Because it was so cloudy, one might feel some uncertainty, but I figured there was noplace else on Table where the topography would look like that. Sadly, at the most interesting part of my hike, it started raining in earnest, and continued through the brushiest part of my hike. Of course, that may have been related to elevation more than just bad luck.

Continued north to the North Chief, until my west-side traverse brought me to a ridge that looked consistent with the mossy rocky ridge that leads from Heartbreak Trail to the North Chief. I took a chance and dropped down that ridge until, lo and behold, I ran into Heartbreak Trail. Although I was moderately certain where I was the whole way, I'll admit it was very comforting to hit an actual trail, and a known one to boot. Followed it down to PCT, exploring here and there along the way.

One of the mysteries of the day was how I manged to miss Sac/Pap rocks, but I now realize (looking at the map) that my ascent took me between Sac/Pap and South Chief. Visibility was so poor, I didn't realize at the time how it all fit together.

South Chief is now on my return-when-it's-clear list, so I can see the views from my route. I bet it's an outstanding view of Table Mountain.
Attachments
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Maybe about 5 minutes after sunrise, exploring a bare area above Two Chiefs Trail.
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The tedious talus slopes from trail to cliffs.
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At the base of the cliffs, hoping to find a way up.
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Looking up.
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Looking over at the top.
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top
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Top of South Chief, looking South at my ascent route.
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Between South Chief and North Chief, looking over at South Chief.
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Last edited by Chip Down on March 7th, 2018, 8:14 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Eric Peterson
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Re: South Chief, Table Mountain

Post by Eric Peterson » February 5th, 2018, 7:07 am

Fun stuff.

Looks like GE or someone has misplaced Sacajawea on the map.

I see some fun weakness in those slopes...

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Chip Down
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Re: South Chief, Table Mtn [added: failed return in deep sno

Post by Chip Down » February 24th, 2018, 10:13 pm

Here's an update on a return trip that I decided wasn't worthy of its own TR.

I've hiked the Two Chiefs trail (which skirts the southern side of Table Mountain) on two previous occasions, including trips up to the base of the cliffs, but have never seen more than my immediate surroundings, due to thick clouds. Feb 19 was my chance to actually see the mountain, and with a fresh coat of snow.

As I approached the Greenleaf Creek crossing (my turnaround on previous trips, as well as this trip), the snow was getting almost snowshoe deep. Climbed up and followed the cliff base, curving around towards the base of South Chief. This started out fun, but eventually became rugged and brushy.

I reached the talus field that leads towards South Chief, but decided it didn't look the way I remembered it, so continued traversing, on and on, until I realized my mistake. Kept looking for a breach that would allow my ascent, but was foiled by water ice, heavy brush, and deep snow, occasionally up to my hips.

This was a day of diminishing goals: originally I figured I'd make it to the top of Table and then look for other opportunities depending on the time and conditions. Then my new goal was just to get to the top of Table. Then the two chiefs. Then just the south chief. Finally my goal was to get back to my car.

When I gave up, I couldn't bear the thought of backtracking, so I took a chance and just descended in the easiest direction, following the gentlest terrain and least brush. It's unnerving just tromping through the woods hoping to find a trail, but I thought long and hard about what could go wrong. Two Chiefs Trail and the PCT had me boxed in; I knew it would be impossible to get lost. Had to watch carefully though, knowing the trails were under snow. Sure enough, in short order I stumbled right into Two Chiefs.

I had a headlamp, so there was no time pressure. Poked around a bit, exploring clear open areas above the trail, and found something that had been eluding me all day: an open rocky mossy area, maybe 98% snow, but with a little bare spot to sit. Took my first break of the day. It started snowing, which shocked me. There were some clouds, but also some blue. Of course, we've all seen it rain when it's sunny, but I've never seen it snow when the sun is out, that I can recall. I even had a limited view of the gorge here, so really I have to admit there was a bit of amazing luck in spite of it being a mostly miserable day.

Started getting chilled, so after maybe a half hour I kept moving. On the way down the trail, looked for the ridge shortcut to bypass the loooong hairpin in the trail. Thanks to Don Nelsen for mentioning it. It really does make a big difference. Not that the trail is unpleasant, and I wasn't in a hurry, but it's fun to find a "secret" shortcut.

Consolation for my failure: If I hadn't made that routefinding error on the south chief, I might have been turned back by deep snow eventually. It kept getting deeper as I gained elevation, and that trend was likely to continue.
Attachments
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I didn't have to break trail the whole way.
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Table mountain as seen from Two Chiefs trail.
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Greenleaf Creek crossing on the Two Chiefs trail.
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Crack of the gods.
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The Two Chiefs.
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I was so focused on the mountain in front of me, I didn't even notice the view behind me until I turned around and saw this.
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Chip Down
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Re: South Chief, Table Mtn [added: snowy success!]

Post by Chip Down » March 7th, 2018, 8:23 pm

Back to attempt the southern chief in snow again. Better routefinding and a little less snow this time. I was actually worried the snow would be even deeper, but nope.

South Chief disappointed somewhat. Just not the great view I expected. Looking over at the higher North Chief, it looked like it was more trouble than it was worth, considering I've been there before. The weather had me nervous: a little misty below, a little snowy up high, and the Oregon side of the gorge was getting swallowed in clouds. So I traversed around the big chief until I could see heartbreak trail below. Dropped to it and followed it to the saddle between the chief and table. Ascending from there, I was worried about wind and deep snow, but it wasn't that bad. I followed deep footprints left by somebody wearing superfluous crampons (I had left mine behind, confident they wouldn't be needed). Those footprints took me to the top, but not to the gorge viewpoint or to the Table Mountain Table, which I found odd. Finally occurred to me it may have been socked in by clouds when they were here, and a first timer wouldn't really know for sure what to do next. I know the feeling; I've been disoriented in the clouds and snow up at the top. From the gorge viewpoint I struggled to the table, waded across the beargrass meadows, to the north summit, along the west rim, and down Westway. It was possibly the best weather I've ever seen on Table, maybe around freezing, with no precip and just a bit of breeze. Turns out I would have had the time and weather to tag the top of North Chief as well, but that's okay, it was a fun rewarding day.
Attachments
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South Chief in foreground, North Chief to the left, Table Mt straight ahead.
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South Chief
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Gap at the saddle between North Chief and Table. Maybe I'll climb up that some day.
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Looking down on the chiefs.
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Approaching the gorge viewpoint.
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Deep virgin snow, approaching the PCT sign and the Table Mountain Table (sign barely visible in this pic).
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A little excavation yielded part of the Table Mountain Table.
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Looking back at my footprints coming up from the gorge viewpoint.
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Happy St Patrick's Month.

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