Scramblin’ weekend – Sloan Peak and North Twin Sister

Post by blogger | September 3, 2010      

Reporting from Bellingham, Washington: a bit of summer fun before the snow flies and the skis glide. We did a nice double hit of some good old Cascade scrambling this past weekend. Sloan Peak on Saturday, and then an attempt on the North Twin Sister the day after.

Sloan Peak, often described as the Matterhorn of the U.S., is a cool rock horn a few hours from Bellingham off the Mountain Loop Highway. It has everything: a long hike through deep timber, a big glacier, and fun 3rd and 4th class at the the very top. Andrew Yasso, Matt Signore, and I left Bellingham at 6:30, surprisingly found the trail head without getting lost, and started up the trail at a good pace.

The views were beautiful once we got above the forest.

The views were beautiful once we got above the forest.

We hiked through the woods for a few hours, and then ascended some fun granite slabs up to Sloan Glacier. The glacier was nice summer snow, and thanks to our late start some other people had already kicked steps so we were able to make good time to the saddle where the scrambling begins. Here Matt decided to take a nap, and Andrew and I continued on towards the summit. Fun scrambling and some slippery snow covered heather led us to the summit, where we enjoyed great views of Mt. Baker, Glacier Peak, and a bunch of other mountains rising around us. Perhaps someday I’ll be in this area doing some backcountry skiing.

Andrew at the saddle with Sloan Glacier on the other side.

Andrew at the saddle with Sloan Glacier on the other side.

Sloan Peak had this cool Mountaineers' summit register at the top

Sloan Peak had this cool Mountaineers' summit register at the top

We descended quickly to the car, in time to drive home and plan the next day’s trip. We decided on the West Ridge of the North Twin Sister. This is one of the closest peaks to Bellingham, and is the tallest mountain in the Twin Sister range. The Twin Sisters are composed of a super grippy rock called dunite, and are one of only two places in the world where this stuff is exposed at the surface.

We left Bellingham at 7:00, but due to some problems on the drive arrived at the trailhead at 10:30–alpine start! The approach for the North Twin includes several miles of steep, gated logging roads, so we pushed our mountain bikes most of the way to make the way back go quicker.

When we had our first glimpse of the peak, it was surrounded by clouds, and given our late start, we didn’t really expect to make it to the summit. However the trail climbed quickly, and before we knew it we were starting up the long ridge of 4th class fun. The climbing was fun and sustained, and even after the dunite became wet, it still felt like 80 grit sandpaper. We were moving through the fog and appeared to be close to the summit when we heard the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance. I guess that’s why people leave before 10:30! Lesson learned. After a brief discussion about the conductivity of dunite, we turned around and retreated back toward the bikes. Nice to get out on the Northwest peaks in the summer, and good recon for future backcountry skiing adventures.

Climbing into the white

Climbing into the white

Me down climbing some of the fun terrain of the North Twin Sister

Me down climbing some of the fun terrain of the North Twin Sister

The bikes cut about 2.5 hours off the trip

The bikes cut about 2.5 hours off the trip


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14 Responses to “Scramblin’ weekend – Sloan Peak and North Twin Sister”

  1. Jim C. September 3rd, 2010 7:57 pm
  2. Lee September 5th, 2010 5:01 am

    Hi Lou/Louie

    Which Altimeter?

    You may have read on my blog that I’ve been having a rather disappointing time with Suunto. I unfortunately bought a Lumi (which like the Core has been plagued with design problems). It went wrong almost straight away and after having a it replaced under warranty was sent another faulty watch – man that sucks. I fear Suunto have done a TNF, realised they have great reputation for quality and reliability so decided to become a “Fashion Brand”. Hire some design graduates, push out a load of poorly designed and un-tested Chinese built junk with the Suunto badge it, then sell it at an premium price to people who think it’s cool to have altimeter on their wrist but will never ever use it – can you tell I’m annoyed?

    Anyhow, I’ve owned a number of altimeters over the last 20 years and as I’ll hopefully get a refund on the Suunto I am now looking for a reliable altimeter that will also give me a daily log of ascent. I had a Suunto X3HR which was great but I no longer trust Suunto. (Although the strap on the X3 was junk and you could only buy a replacement from Suunto at an extortionate price). As Wildsnow has a much bigger audience than my blog and mostly they’re serious outdoor people I wonder if I can eleicit some advice?

    Can anyone can suggest a good reliable and accurate altimeter? – BTW it doesn’t necessarily have to be worn on the wrist.

  3. Lee September 5th, 2010 12:33 pm

    Sounds like a good weekend, too bad you didn’t make the second peak but better to live to fight another day! Sorry to be a bit “off track” with my which altimeter post Louie, in hindsight I probably should have tagged it on to the BD/Apple post.

  4. John S September 5th, 2010 8:46 pm

    I dumped my Suuntos a couple years ago and decided to try a St. Moritz VS-1. It has a hefty stainless case, easy to read LCD display and the user-replaceable battery lasts over a year (18 months on the first one).

    So far, I’ve been surprised at its reliability and accuracy. It’s inexpensive compared to most other altimeter watches, so I was skeptical. The sapphire crystal is awesome. Not a hint of a scratch despite about two years of daily wear, including climbing trips, etc.

    Bonus: Canadian company.

  5. Lou September 6th, 2010 6:43 am

    John, thanks for the tip on St. Moritz. Here is a link for those interested:

    Looks nice, but I’ve never had much of a problem with the Suunto cases, in fact I like the lightweight plastic feel of them…. and my cheapo Vector I got on sale last year has been fine (other than needing to epoxy the useless compass ring on to the unit so it wouldn’t pop off now and then.)

    I’ve not tried the other Suunto models, but if you’ve had reliability problems that is alarming, as the watch/altimeter is one item of equipment that needs to be bomber reliable or it is worthless junk no matter how many “features.”

  6. Mark W September 6th, 2010 8:22 am

    Great trip Louie. My buddy and I once tried the bikes trick in the Beartooths during summer ski season, and the trip down involved a couple incidents of my skis shifting and getting snagged–at speed–on tree branches. My recovery skills, and nerve, were sorely tested. I never did crash, however

  7. Lee September 6th, 2010 9:21 am

    In Europe “St Moritz” watches have the brand name “Momentum”. Thanks for the advice…now if only I can get my money back….

  8. tob September 8th, 2010 6:41 pm

    the north twin does have some very good skiing on it. pretty much all aspects, and the north face usually holds snow well into the summer. by the way, the south twin is the highest of the fourteen or so twin sisters range summits. 😉

  9. Mike T September 9th, 2010 4:03 pm

    😀 Good one Louie……

    Great trip…..I did a similar trip a few years back with Andy T….The mountain bikes were for sure an advantage…..


  10. Paul September 10th, 2010 2:23 pm

    Here’s my two cents on the altimeter question. I am on my second Thommen, which I purchased about 20 years ago and is still going strong. Although heavy, I never need to worry about replacing the battery.

    I mention the Thomen because I recently realized I could use my Polar S720i heart rate monitor watch (which I don’t regularly wear) to log altitude. It is a simple task to download an altitude vs. time log to a PC. On a recent ski trip up Mt. Adams I compared the two every time I recalibrated and was surprised to find the digital altimeter on the Polar was far closer every thousand feet than the old analog Thommen. Unfortunately I can’t figure out how to get the watch to display altitude continuously for more than a few minutes so I have to push a button several times to step through a menu to get the display back when I most need it – very difficult to do with gloves on.

    As far as reliabilty goes I have used this watch for seven years and it has never failed. I have had the battery replaced several times (have to send it away) and the crystal replaced after I cracked it, but the watch/altimeter itself has never failed. If it could be made to display altitude continuously and had an extra long wristband that would allow me to wear it over my jacket sleeve it woud be perfect. That would be awfully handy to have while retreating down a mountain in a whiteout.

  11. Lee September 10th, 2010 4:35 pm

    After giving lots of people a very tough time Suunto offered to change my watch for different model and facewest offered me my money back…I took the money.

    Thought long and hard about a Thommen but an altitude log (total height gain/loss and log duration) is a really useful tool for me. Turns out the St Moritz/Momentum VS1 is sold by Decathlon here in France branded as a Quechua W600 for just 109 euros (less than half the price of the Suunto Lumi). Apart from the “set” button also turning on the light (which of course reduces battery life a bit), reviews seem globally good, especially altimeter reliability – so will probably go with one of those.

    Thanks for your help.

  12. Stuart September 30th, 2010 9:54 am

    Hi Louie,
    I referred your post to my son-in-law who is a geology professor at
    San Fran State. Whenever I ask him a geology question I usually get
    a full blown run down on the subject.
    Here it is:
    Dunite is an igneous plutonic (plutonic=solidifies deep underground) rock, composed of more than 90% of the mineral, olivine. (Olivine crystals are called “Hawaiian Diamonds” in the Islands, and make up the sand of Green Sand Beach near South Point on the Big Island.
    Dunite is named for its occurrence at Dun Mtn, New Zealand.
    When unweathered, dunite (& olivine) is light green, but when weathered the color is a dun brown.
    The formula for olivine is (Mg,Fe)2SiO4.
    A plutonic igneous rock such as dunite, which is composed of an aggregate of just one mineral, has to result from crystal settling in a low viscosity magma, such as a basaltic (gabbroic) magma.

    Some comments on the blog post:
    Blog quote: “The Twin Sisters are composed of a super grippy rock called dunite, and are one of only two places in the world where this stuff is exposed at the
    INCORRECT. Dunite is found in many places around the world, but I have only seen it in 3 places myself, New Zealand, Hawaii and South Africa, but there are large exposures in Sierra foothills, Greenland, South Carolina and many others. Still, dunite is much less common than other plutonic rocks such as granite or granodiorite
    “The climbing was fun and sustained, and even after the dunite became wet, it still felt like 80 grit sandpaper.”

    “After a brief discussion about the conductivity of dunite, we turned around and retreated back toward the bikes.”

  13. Andrew Yasso November 29th, 2010 7:06 pm


    That was a fantastically nerdy response, and I mean this positively. I think what Louie meant was that this particular outcropping of Dunite (the Twin Sisters) is one of the largest in the United States, if not the world.

    Yes Olivine ranks a fancy 6.5-7 on the Mohs Hardness scale (harder than a knife blade, as you say) however it is the cleavage planes and propensity to fracture (or lack thereof) that really matters. Olivine fractures at fantastic angles for climbing, and the bonds holding it together are quite strong, meaning you aren’t worried about it breaking off as you are cracking on it.

    Additionally the (Mg,Fe) portion of the equation means it is a solid solution, as in either magnesium or iron can replace one another (Forsterite or Fayalite, respectively). That’s why some of the Dunite will appear with the “dun” color (more iron to oxide in that area) and other will appear more green (more magnesium).

    And finally, the conductivity of the rock wasn’t necessarily in question, more our desire to get struck by lightening period. It turns out there was another party on the South Twin Sister at the same time that kept on climbing, they heard the two thunders we heard, and continued on. That was the last of the thunder/hail and they summited without issue. I still appreciate our more conservative decision making however.

    Wow, that was fun.

  14. Lou November 29th, 2010 7:16 pm


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