One of the most visually prominent peaks on Seattle’s western skyline, Mt Constance is the third highest mountain in the Olympics, and one of the most challenging. A favorite among local climbers, it’s a physically demanding ascent with a distinctly alpine feel.
We spend 3 days on this climb. On our approach (day 1) we ascend over 4000′ to Lake Constance, a big day in itself, where we establish our camp for the climb. This is one of the most picturesque locations in Olympic National Park. The climb itself is a full 10+ hour day, covering a full range of terrain including snow and rock climbing. Notable sections include the South Chute, the “Terrible Traverse”, and a higher variation known as the “Finger Traverse”.
This program is also offered on a custom basis for private groups and individuals. For more information on custom programs and rates, see Custom Programs.
We meet at 8am in the town of Brinnon at the Brinnon Visitor Center. After introductions and a quick gear check, we drive up to our trailhead at a washout along the Dosewallips Road.
The approach follows the overgrown road for the first 4 miles before reaching the Lake Constance trailhead. At this point the incline ramps up significantly, gaining over 3000’ in 2.2 miles. This is more of a climber’s path than a hiking trail and switchbacks are minimal.
We set up camp at Lake Constance, cook dinner, and make preparations for the climb ahead.
DAY 2 – Climb
With an alpine start we set off from camp. The route ascends Avalanche Canyon with the walls of Mt Constance and Inner Constance towering above. At the base of a broad talus slope, we begin an ascending traverse, aiming for a notch in the steep ridge above. This is the South Chute, the namesake of the route.
From here we wrap around the backside of this ridge, climbing a gully to a col in another sub ridge. From here there are multiple route options, including the “Terrible Traverse” – a steep snow slope, and the “Finger Traverse” – a higher variation involving a couple of easy but very exposed rock moves.
The final summit block is impressive, and the last couple hundred feet of climbing are spectacular. On top we enjoy beautiful views in all directions, snap a few photos, and prepare for our descent.
We get back to camp in the late afternoon after a big day in the mountains, brew up some hot drinks, and relax for the evening.
DAY 3 – Descent
After a leisurely breakfast we pack up our camp for the walk down. The descent is initially slow going, retracing our steps down the steep Lake Constance Trail. Once back on the old road grade we’re able to open up our stride and coast the remaining 4 miles downhill. The walk out usually takes 4-5 hours in total.
We wrap up our climb with a celebratory meal in Brinnon.
In addition to the items on this list, participants will be given a portion of the group equipment to carry.
PACKS & BAGS
☐ Backpack: 50-75 liter internal frame pack (ex: CiloGear 60L WorkSack or Black Diamond Mission 75).
☐ Sleeping bag: Rated between 15° and 30°, down or synthetic. Keep in mind that manufacturer’s temperature ratings are subjective and serve as guidelines.
☐ Compression stuff sack: Sized appropriately to your bag.
☐ Sleeping pad: Inflatable or closed cell foam (ex: Thermarest Prolite).
☐ Ice axe: 60-70cm mountaineering axe (ex: Petzl Snowalker, Summit, or Sum’Tec). No leash is required. RENT
☐ Crampons: 10 or 12 point mountaineering crampon. Avoid waterfall ice crampons with fully rigid frames and vertical front points, as well as older crampons with leather straps. Be sure that your crampons are compatible with your boots (ex: Petzl Irvis or Vasak) RENT
☐ Harness: Alpine harness with adjustable leg loops (ex: Petzl Adjama). For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. Be sure to check the fit of your harness. RENT
☐ (1) Locking carabiner: Pear shaped recommended (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (1) Non-locking carabiner: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ Climbing helmet: Needs to be climbing specific (ex: Petzl Elios or Meteor III +). RENT
☐ Transceiver: Digital recommended. May not be required for later season climbs (ex: BCA Tracker 2). RENT
☐ Poles: Ski poles or trekking poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse). RENT
Our favorite option for this climb is a lightweight synthetic mountaineering boot with a half-length shank such as the La Sportiva Trango S; sufficient for most low elevation alpine routes and fairly comfortable to hike in.
☐ Mountaineering boots: Must be specifically designed for mountaineering. A lighter weight mountaineering boot is ideal (ex: La Sportiva Trango S EVO GTX - Men’s | Women’s)
☐ Sandals (optional): For around camp. Should be as lightweight as possible.
☐ Gaiters (optional): Provide a clean interface between our pants, boots, and crampons (ex: OR Flex-tex).
☐ Socks: 2-3 pairs (wool or synthetic) that work well with your boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not necessarily heavy socks. If your boots are roomy choose a heavier sock, if they’re snug choose a lighter sock.
☐ Sunglasses: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection. Consider bringing an extra pair (ex: Julbo Dolgan). RENT
☐ Warm hat: Fleece, wool or synthetic.
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc.
There are many layering combinations for your upper body that will work well. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: First Ascent Midweight 1/4-Zip Baselayer or First Ascent Solarfoil Hoodie).
☐ (1-2) Insulating layers: Fleece, softshell or synthetic/down. Two lighter layers are more versatile than one heavy layer (ex: First Ascent Sandstone Hoodie, Hangfire Hoodie, or Accelerant Jacket).
☐ Hardshell jacket with hood: Lightweight and waterproof (ex: First Ascent BC-200 Jacket).
☐ Synthetic or down insulated jacket: Synthetic or down (ex: First Ascent Ignitor Jacket).
☐ Baselayer bottoms (optional) (ex: First Ascent Midweight Baselayer Pants)
☐ Softshell climbing pants: Lightweight, breathable synthetic fabric. Zip-off trekking pants also work (ex: First Ascent Guide Pants or Mountain Guide Lite Pants).
☐ Hardshell pants: For adverse weather. These must have full side zips (ex: First Ascent Rainier Storm Shell Pants).
☐ (2) Heavy trash bags: Cheap lightweight waterproof lining for your backpack.
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Insect repellent: Avoid DEET (ex: Natrapel).
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Water purification tablets: Regular iodine tends to work best (ex: Potable Aqua); chlorine dioxide tablets are less practical.
☐ Thermos (optional): Half-liter size recommended.
☐ Compact camera
☐ Extra batteries: For your headlamp, camera, etc.
☐ Headlamp: LED headlamp recommended (ex: Petzl Tikka XP2 or Tikka Plus). RENT
☐ See Details.
☐ Insulated mug
☐ (2) Spoons or sporks
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ Personal toiletry kit: Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and/or baby wipes, gender specific items, small bottle of hand sanitizer.
☐ Personal first aid kit: Band-Aids, blister repair, anti-diarrheal (Immodium), antacid, ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as any personal prescription medications (be sure to discuss these with us).
☐ Ear plugs
☐ Book (lightweight)
☐ Journal w/pencil
We will provide all necessary group equipment for you trip such as tents, stoves, ropes, and rescue gear.
- Previous backpacking experience is required.
- Previous mountaineering experience is recommended.
- Mt Constance is a physically demanding trip. Excellent physical fitness is required.
- You should be able to hike/climb for 1-2 hours at a stretch taking 10 minute breaks, for up to 12 hours.
- You should be able to ascend 3500′ in a day carrying 40+lbs on your back, and 4500′ in a day carrying 25 lbs on your back.
- Physical conditioning should not be underestimated, mountaineering is a strenuous activity. Some sort of training/exercise regimen is strongly recommended.
- The better shape you’re in, the more enjoyment you’ll get out of the climb. Being in top shape will maximize your chance of making it to the top.
- Guiding and instruction
- 3:1 ratio
- Group equipment: tents, stoves, fuel, ropes
- Permit costs
- Lodging and transportation before and after the trip
- Personal equipment and food*
*provided for an additional fee.
Lunch Food: In the mountains, “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. In other words, on a given day we generally won’t stop for a formal lunch break, and instead we’ll snack all day long. This is vital to maintaining high energy levels in this environment.
Be sure to bring foods that you like and emphasize variety. Energy bars and gels are great but in limited amounts – real food works just as well and tastes better.
Breakfasts & Dinners: Bring meals that can be cooked with just boiling water. Examples include freeze-dried pouches (Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry), ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, etc. The stoves we use are very efficient for heating water but are not suitable for cooking.
WHERE TO MEET
Brinnon Visitor Center in Brinnon, WA.
Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. From here the drive to the Brinnon Visitor Center is about 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Many options in Sea-Tac.
Brinnon and Quilcine are the closest towns.
Check out our Weather & Avalanche Resources page.
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