Here's to the pioneers, Lyman Dye, Mike Howard, Kevin Hansen. I'm always willing to maximize the fun to suffering ratio and follow in others footsteps. Thanks for sharing your efforts with us.
As for the traverse options I think there is value in Kevin's Escalator ridge approach and I'm not sure it's necessary to actually lose that much ground. Once you hit the creek traversing you could still climb straight up to the ridge. In the daylight I feel it would be preferable to have the views of the North Face from the ridge while approaching.
Bob-We went up to the first saddle (~8000) then traversed. Pretty easy to maintain elevation most of the way then it forces you down into the creek where you lose about 200 ft.
John- I do believe things are melting out up there and everywhere. That said I think what you were seeing in October, from the look of the picture, was more fresh fall snow rather than leftover winter snow. I tried it once in October a few years ago and there was so much fresh that we bailed at the base.