Bullseye Traverse (day 2): Chain Lakes to Frosty Pass via Bull’s Tooth summit
Our second day of what we’ve termed the Bullseye Traverse (in the spirit of all the bull-themed waypoints) brings us over Bullseye Pass, past the Bull’s Head, and to the base of the Bull’s Tooth, our summit for this trip through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. There’s not a great deal of trail kilometres covered today, but the thrill of standing high over the surrounding lakes and peaks, however smoky the view may be, makes for an incredibly spectacular experience.
Trail stats: Chain Lakes to Frosty Pass via Bull’s Tooth summit
Elevation gain: 540m (including Bull’s Tooth summit)
Trail hours: 3.5hrs + 4.5hrs RT for Bull’s Tooth summit
Highlights: Waking up to a stunning reflection of the Upper Icicle Mountains at our campsite; scrambling and roped climbing up to the Bull’s Tooth summit; overlooking the Doelle Lakes; camping in a sea of red heather (and finishing all the tequila at dinner)
Campsite: Wild camping just below Frosty Pass
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Following yesterday’s flawless weather, we wake up this morning to slight haze obscuring what would otherwise be a blue sky. And yet, our lake campsite is BEYOND beautiful, the early morning light filtering in through the trees to illuminate a perfect reflection of the Bull’s Head in Middle Chain Lake. I spend more than a bit of time running around in the trees just gasping at the view from every possible angle.
Several dozen photos later, around 930am, we eagerly set off for the remainder of our climb up to Bullseye Pass. The trail switchbacks steeply up to the high point, avoiding a large talus field and offering a wonderful panorama of the somewhat smoky Chain Lakes below.
It takes just 30min to reach the pass, from which we only have to walk a short distance down the trail before reaching a spot directly below the Bull’s Tooth.
Here, we drop our packs, step into harnesses, strap on helmets and, after a short snack break, begin blazing our way up the heathered hillside. There’s no actual trail, so we use our poles to pull ourselves up the impossibly steep southeast slope until we reach rocks, rubber-necking back at the ever-improving view with every couple steps.
Eventually, we are forced to drop our poles and continue upwards on hands and feet, scrambling over large granite rocks that are extremely grippy and covered with handholds as if by design. This Class 3 traverse brings us up and over a hump before dropping beneath the summit on the western side.
The fun only continues after we rope up, Eileen leading up the south ridge as I follow in the middle position, dad bringing up the rear (to take unflattering photos of me while I ascend). I’m certainly happy to be roped for this Class 4-5 section of our climb, perilously exposed on either side as we scale slightly trickier rock faces in pursuit of the Bull’s Tooth.
With a 40m rope, we make it nearly to the summit in a single pitch; for the final few vertical metres, dad tethers to a sturdy rock and belays me to the tippy top, where I stand on a small rock overlooking the hazy valley below.
A group of hikers several kilometres away spots me on the summit and whoops their approval. I flap my arms back, feeling on top of the world.
Descending from the summit proves the greatest challenge of the day— the sheer granite face that felt easy enough to run up is essentially devoid of foot or handholds for my descend.
I eventually settle on a graceless slither down the rock, impressed when I make it back without tearing my pants. After each dad and Eileen take their turns on the summit (and it gives me some relief to see that I’m not the only one who had slight difficulty with the large granite rock), we set up a tether around another sturdy rock for our descent.
It takes a series of 3 rappels to return to the scrambling terrain below (during which time I managed to fall through a hole in the granite deceptively camouflaged by a small growth of heather).
All said and done, our side trip amounts to 4.5hrs, leaving us to wolf down some food when we reach our packs and then head off shortly after for Doelle Lakes below.
Our original intent was to make it to Lake Margaret for camp, just below Frosty Pass. However, it soon becomes clear that, not only is that going to be a dark journey this late in the day, the ever-worsening cloud of bushfire smoke is currently settling into the valley.
Over the next few hours, the smoke completely socks us in and we are forced to reconsider not only the night’s plans, but also the trip itself.
The favoured solution is setting up camp at a high point just short of Frosty Pass and hiking out via an alternative trail to Whitepine, where we are hopeful that we can get family friends Jim and Sarah to retrieve us tomorrow afternoon.
No one is thrilled to cut the loop short, but given the worsening conditions that obscure all views and might also compromise our ability to go hiking the following weekend (I already have a headache from the smoke and I get pretty congested during the night), it’s a smart plan. And thankfully, day 3 proves every bit as eventful as our first 2 days, smoke and all.
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