Caitlin Schneider, Anne Vialettes, Veronika Schmitt
On a hot Saturday morning at 6.30, Caitlin, Anne and I left Vancouver on Hwy 1 towards Washington to climb the Twins Sisters. The plan was to take the standard scramble (W Ridge) up the North Twin then descend SE to reach the ridge crest connecting to the South Twin.
We crossed the border at Sumas, which, unfortunately, took almost an hour. As every time I cross the board, I still have my expired 3 month visa for the US in my passport and get nervous. And as every time I just remove it but keep it handy in case the border guard decides to throw a tantrum. They quite like doing that once in a while, especially if I screw up the questioning part, which is surprisingly easy. Just make sure you have a super honest passenger sitting next to you who answers the food question with a “yes” after you (the driver) had already answered it with a “no”, having totally forgotten about that stupid can of black beans. Anyway, the border guy was very nice this time.
We reached the trailhead at 10 am and were looking forward to about a3 hour long (5.5 mile) logging road slog in the blazing sun, already knowing that this would totally suck on the way back. We reached the North Twin- South Twin junction about 2.5 hours later and Anne and Caitlin had a small break while I was busy running around frantically with a horsefly. We went up a steep trail that was supposed to quickly lead to the top of the W Ridge of the North Twin or, in our case: it quickly led to a heat stroke for Caitlin, so we stopped and took a very pleasant, somewhat long nap in the shade.
Lesson 1: the sun is hot.
Around 3 pm, we went off again, reached the ridge and slowly moved along in the sun, getting more and more dehydrated. The route finding was a little bit difficult, with cairns and possible small trails all over the place, but we finally made it to the summit around 7 pm and were happy to find a big snow patch there. We thought there would be some snow along the way where we can get more water, but there was none. Also, Caitlin should have probably not left the four litre water bladder in the car.
Lesson 2 (specifically for Caitlin): Carry four litres water instead of two.
From the summit we peaked over to the ridge and glacier between the North and South Twin and decided that it did not look too good. The view was incredibly nice, but our route options to reach the South Twin via the gully down the North twin to the South ridge and glacier were not looking tempting, especially considering the time it took us to just get here. The ridge looked quite crumbly at the top and the glacier too steep. We had brought ice axes, harness and a 30m glacier rope, but Caitlin and I were in approach shoes as we thought the glacier crossing would be “a walk in the park”.
Lesson 3: A glacier crossing is never a walk in the park.
Happily procrastinating the final decision to the next day, we decided to stay on the summit for the night and made ourselves comfortable at a flat sleeping area with a stellar view on the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands, with Mt Baker to the other side and a vastness of random mountains scattered along the horizon. By now, the mosquitoes had found our camp too and the suffering began. Anne cooked us some delicious dinner and we watched the sunset. Afterwards, we quickly went into our sleeping position and were looking forward to a good rest, which we never got.
Lesson 4: it is impossible to sleep in a 0 °C sleeping bag at an outside temperature of 20 °C
The next morning we got up shortly before 4 am. If it was up to me I would have started anytime between 10 pm and 4 am, because the mosquitoes were just stupid annoying. Anne seemed to be ok hiding (almost naked) under a tarp, but Caitlin agreed, her super light sleeping pad had gotten a hole which made the whole sleeping adventure impossible. We packed up quickly, had a small bite and were soon on our way again. We downclimbed into the east gully and descended unpleasant steep loose terrain towards south, rappelled 15 metres and reached the bottom of the gully after two hours. Somewhere on the way (probably when we were most fed up with mosquitoes and loose rocks) we decided against trying anything on that south ridge and were now heading directly to the camp at the base between the two sisters, the starting point for the standard route (W ridge) of the South Twin. We hiked through a dry lake, dropped our stuff and started with amazingly light backpacks towards the ridge crest.
The scramble was really nice and not all that hot with a refreshing breeze. Nonetheless, after 2 hours, Caitlin and Anne were almost out of water (again) and we were at least another hour away from the summit. I had 2 L of water left and there was a pretty good possibility to find snow on the way, but as we did not know for sure, we almost decided to turn around. Anne seemed overall a little bit light on eagerness and tired. I did what to give up yet I had spotted a tiny snow patch a short down climb from where we took a rest, so I went to explore. I actually found two more small snow patches when I had downclimbed and I returned with around 7 litres of ice cold water and 3 bottles of nalgene ice cream.
Lesson 5: If you are looking for water, there are always two more snow patches to the left of a tiny snow patch.
We were perfectly hydrated again at 11 am, but Anne still decided to not come as she wanted to save some energy for the reasonably long downclimb and hike out, so Caitlin and I started off to the summit. The route finding was easy enough and the scramble was very pleasant. After a tricky steep section with some loose rock, small drops of rain were starting to fall. We had not really looked up until then, but we could see now that it was raining over the ocean. We had been scrambling for an hour and were only 30 min from the summit, but we turned around.
Anne was waiting for us and we scrambled back down to get our stuff. We filled up our water again at the creek 10 minutes below and headed straight into a bushwhack. Anne seemed really eager to cross that small patch of forest directly rather than just hiking around pleasantly, so I followed grumpily. (To be fair, Anne was actually looking for a trail and following old trailmarkers). The logging road later on was indeed quite unpleasant but we made it back.
Lesson 6: If your feet hurt just as much when going slow, just go fast, and make it back to the car faster.