Lake Constance, Avalanche Canyon, Mt. Constance Attempt

This was an interesting trip despite not reaching the summit of the Mt. Constance, the third highest mountain (5th highest peak) in the Olympic Mountains. The approach to the south chute route is via the Lake Constance Trail. The trailhead is reached by taking FSR 26 from highway 101, then continuing on FSR 2610 to just beyond the bridge over Constance Creek, about one half mile after entering the Olympic National Park. The sign at the trailhead reads "Lake Constance Route", something of a warning that this is more than an easy hike. The trail ascends 3250' in about 2 miles with some scrambling in the last 1000 feet to the lake. After reaching Lake Constance (c. 4650'), continue on the trail around the lake to the beginning of avalanche canyon.

Avalanche Canyon from Lake Constance

The route through avalanche canyon is on talus and scree with a few remaining patches of snow and ice. In places a path makes travel somewhat easier. The primary difficulty here is locating the south chute. On this trip the clouds moved in as I ascended into the canyon and I finally got a glimpse of the "Cat Ears" that lie just north of the south chute notch on the ridge. By this time I was immediately below the chute and the ascent of 1200' to the ridge was almost entirely on scree. Once on the ridge crest I had my first encounter with the "ghost goat" that appeared and disappeared in the clouds.

The "Ghost Goat" at the top of the South Chute

From the top of the chute, a short traverse below cliffs is made to an broad scree gully. Ascend this looking for what the "Climbers Guide to the Olympic Mountains" calls a notch in a minor East-West ridge. The actual notch referenced is less than obvious. At the top of the gully, there are two obvious notches, the left being the one you want but still not the one described in the guide. From this notch descend on snow and scree then traverse north around a rock outcropping and ascend to another notch. This is the notch described in the guide. From here there are two options, the "Terrible Traverse" and the "Finger Traverse". To get to the "Terrible Traverse" one must descend a snow chute (photo below), then traverse north on ledges to the steep exposed snow slope, having no description of the terrible traverse (not to mention no crampons), I headed for the "Finger Traverse". After making an easy rising traverse I arrived  at the "Finger Traverse" which consists of a narrowing ledge and a slanting slab around the corner. It is very exposed and the crux is moving from the ledge to the slab. Without a rope I was going no further. 

The mystery chute of the E-W ridge notch

As I arrived back at the notch, I heard rocks falling below. Once again from out of the clouds came the "Ghost Goat". After waiting for the goat to climb the gully I headed down...dodging goat inflicted rock fall.

The "Ghost Goat" at the E-W ridge notch

For more information, photos and tips see the report from the Return to Mt. Constance

Climber's Guide to the Olympic Mountains, third edition; Olympic Mountain Rescue; Pages 102-106, 108
Olympic Mountains Trail Guide; Robert Wood; Pages 139, 292-293