I made the short but worthy hike to the summit of Ch-paa-qn on Nov. 3 with Dale Bickell, my first trip up there since the mid-90s, when I nearly sliced the end of my finger off by falling on a sharp rock near the summit. We figured it was probably the most accessible high-country destination this time of year, and we made a good choice. We saw only two guns that made it up as high as the trailhead, and they were apparently road hunting. We had the route to ourselves.
It's just three miles to the summit along the west ridge, but the going got slow as the accumulation of snow grew up high. Coverage was pretty consistent above 7,000 feet, with perhaps six inches of sticky, reasonably well-consolidated glop on the ground. The rubble pile that forms the summit cone proved passable, but only with very careful, deliberate steps.
Temperatures stayed cool throughout the day, with little sun even after we got above the inversion. Steady wind raked the peak, driving us off after just a few minutes. I made very dainty, controlled steps back through the boulders, and was glad to relax once we got back to less treacherous ground, body parts intact. In all we probably spent around 45 minutes scrambling up and down the rubble, which was just about right to make things interesting without becoming a grind.
It's easy to beg off the high country this time of year, when conditions are mixed and unpredictable. But there are still plenty of good outings to consider. And getting into the snow definitely primes the pump for winter. Dale and I spent a lot of our time on the trail planning the ski season. My legs might not be ready yet, but my mind took a giant step toward steep and deep out there in the cold wind. Bring it, old man winter!
For those looking for game this time of year, we'll save you the trouble. We saw sign of one elk up on the ridge, and not much else. There were a handful of grouse, mostly concentrated around 7,000 feet. You're better off down low. We saw plenty of deer in the valley bottom. And while there were definitely a few guns in the field, it didn't look impossibly thick with hunters.