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SultanHiker
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PostMon Sep 02, 2019 7:14 pm 
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I live in Sultan, and I see lots of mountains that call me during my commute every clear day we have. So I’ve been primarily focusing on close mountains during my 5ish years of climbing. And I don’t get enough time to get after them. So I only climb a few during the summer season. But Merchant is one of the last on my list of close to home mountains.

There are very few reports on this site for Merchant. Everyone who does the South Gully says that it is not fun. I was kind of thinking of taking that route. Some have gone the SE route. And they had lots of “fun” navigating. My friend sent me the Beckey description for Merchant. And I started looking at the map and realized that most were not doing what Fred described. So I decided that I would check out Beckey’s SE route. It might be longer, but it would save ~1100 ft of elevation gain.

Credit to Fred Beckey, the greatest climber to ever live.
Credit to Fred Beckey, the greatest climber to ever live.

My friend went to a concert the night before the Saturday climb. So he didn’t make it to join my 15 year-old son and me for the climb. The road to the fisherman’s trail to Eagle Lake is terrible. I saw a minivan that made it and a sedan that parked a bit short of the trailhead because it wasn’t likely to get through without scraping bottom. A truck or SUV would be a good idea. Trailhead around 3400ft. Decent directions on WTA.

Arrived after 7 and was on the trail by 7:20. It is very easy to follow. There are a lot of downed trees to circumnavigate or climb over. We caught up to a couple with three kids. One was small enough to be in a backpack kid carrier! I thought that was cool. We passed them quickly, and right before the lake we met two guys coming back from Townsend. They were interested in photography more than summiting, so they just went up the ridge pretty far and stayed the night, but didn’t summit (what??!?!!). We moved on. WTA says 2.5 miles to the lake.

The cabin is completely empty (used to be full of things and supplies last time i was here). We pressed on, as there was precipitation forecast to be possible for the afternoon/evening.

Mason at the cabin
Mason at the cabin

Getting to the far side of the lake is not hard. Then we used the rock and talus to gain some altitude while traversing climber’s right toward the saddle between Merchant and Townsend. We got into the forest and gained the col. We dropped into the rockfall on the north side of Merchant and took a small break. We went to the last big gully that hooks back climber’s left, and began the uphill battle heading south. There is a gully straight ahead that is rust colored rock. I don’t believe it goes to the summit.

Eagle Lake with Eagle Rock behind.
Eagle Lake with Eagle Rock behind.
North side of Merchant. Gunn in the distance.
North side of Merchant. Gunn in the distance.
Mason crossing the rocks on the way to the gully.
Mason crossing the rocks on the way to the gully.

This is a 1000 ft climb to the ridge. It’s not great rock. You can pick your way up it to minimize the amount of crap you kick loose. Best to leave distance between party members just to be safe. Helmet optional. Saw plenty of goat tracks. Once gaining the ridge, we went a little low to SW face of the ridge. But we should’ve probably tried to stay higher up when possible. We came back staying high and that worked well, only dropping to avoid obstacles. It’s another 500ft gain to the summit. We saw a goat near the summit. He took off toward the summit. It’s unfortunate that their instinct is to head to where I want to be…

Baring on the way to the summit.
Baring on the way to the summit.
Barclay Lake
Barclay Lake

We arrived at the summit at 1:15p. We saw the goat down below on a lower part of the mountain to the NW. We enjoyed decent views, and stayed for an hour. But the clouds did increase and start to obscure Glacier Peak (next on my list…). I spent a long time with binoculars looking for possible plane wreckage on the north sides of Wing and Merchant. I could only see the debris south of Wing from the Navy plane crash in 1953. I’m still trying to see if the Wing Luke crash site can be located. Some say the peak called Wing is named for Wing Luke. But it could also be named for the large sections of aluminum that are probably partial plane wings from the 1953 crash. Anyway, I couldn’t see anything. We left at 2:15p.

Photosphere (must click the resulting image a couple times to get into 3d mode)


Me on the summit
Me on the summit

We stayed high in most places, but did have to make some small backtracks once or twice while near the summit. Then the ridge becomes simpler to navigate.

Mason admiring rock formation on the way back to the gully entrance.
Mason admiring rock formation on the way back to the gully entrance.

When back to the 5600ft part of the ridge, I noticed a cairn signaling that this is the correct descent. But right after descending, an optional trail appeared to the right which would lead down a different adjacent gully. We decided to follow it for a while. But when it became clear that I would not get a visual of it’s terminus, we decided to scramble across a spine and place ourselves back in the gully that was guaranteed to lead out, and not just to some impasse. Better safe than stuck…

We got to the bottom and started to cross the rockfall on the way back to the saddle That’s when we got the first rain drop. We picked up speed and got to the saddle and down into the trees. When back to the lake, we found two people in Eagle Lake on floaty-type-pool-mattresses. And two people on the shore using binoculars to spot a goat with kid halfway up Merchant’s false peak.

It was really starting to rain on the way back to the cabin. It didn't last very long, but it soaked all the bushes quite effectively. We met the family of 5 at the cabin and talked with them for 10 minutes. It’s always fun to explain to regular hikers what we had just done.
“You were up there?!?”, pointing to the false summit.
“Actually, we were a little farther away and a few hundred feet higher than that”
“Up there?!”, pointing a finger again
“Sure, basically…”

The trail out kept us soaking wet. And we were glad to get to the truck (5:20p) and head down to Subway for a post climb well deserved meal.

I haven’t done the South Gully route, so I can’t compare. I do believe that In Fred Beckey’s day, there was not a road and Fisherman’s Trail to Eagle Lake. So that’s probably why the SE Route got just a side mention in his book. Curious to hear if anyone has done both… And maybe in a few years I’ll have time to revisit this mountain via the “standard route”.

8.26 miles
7 hours hiking (with 45 minutes worth of stoppage included)
1 hour on the summit.
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Jake Robinson
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 6:09 am 
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I've been wondering about this route. Thanks for the TR!
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Midnight Slogger
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 6:15 pm 
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Thank you for the beta!
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Zloi
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 7:23 pm 
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Thanks for posting this. You guys must be pretty fast to finish it comfortably in a day. As one who has been up the lower portion of the south route twice in different conditions, I can confirm it sucks, but this sounds like a route that could be worth going back for. Does Eagle Lake look pleasantly campable?
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SultanHiker
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 7:58 pm 
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Zloi wrote:
Thanks for posting this. You guys must be pretty fast to finish it comfortably in a day. As one who has been up the lower portion of the south route twice in different conditions, I can confirm it sucks, but this sounds like a route that could be worth going back for. Does Eagle Lake look pleasantly campable?

There's a wide spot for 2 (or more) tents right before the lake. We saw one tent at the far end of the lake, but it was on some grassy terrain just up from the lake. There's probably places a 2 man could fit along the left side of the lake (south shore) , but I wasn't actively scouting for camping spots. Didn't see the opposite side of the lake.
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Anne Elk
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 8:31 pm 
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Not being a climber, I really appreciate seeing these new perspectives of a familiar place.  I haven't been to Eagle Lake for decades; when last there, the cabin was locked.  Anyone know its history?  Also not familiar with the fishermen's route; looks easier than getting to Eagle via Barclay Lake (except for the road conditions).

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"There are yahoos out there.  It’s why we can’t have nice things."  - Tom Mahood
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SultanHiker
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 8:39 pm 
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Anne Elk wrote:
looks easier than getting to Eagle via Barclay Lake (except for the road conditions).

Can't comment on history. But I've climbed from Barclay previously. And the fisherman's trail is shorter, easier, and way easier to follow.
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Pyrites
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 9:19 pm 
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Great trip.

Thanks.
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puzzlr
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 9:49 am 
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Thanks for this report. I've shied away from that loose gully route, but this looks more like one I'd enjoy.

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RichP
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 1:05 pm 
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puzzlr wrote:
Thanks for this report. I've shied away from that loose gully route, but this looks more like one I'd enjoy.

Same here. We should team up and do it.
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Jake Robinson
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PostFri Sep 06, 2019 3:49 pm 
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Did this one today. Yikes, kind of a junky route but likely safer than the S gully. Lots of tedious loose rock and also some bushwhacking/pine needle sidehilling to enjoy. 7 hours moving time is pretty dang fast. It would be easy to underestimate the time required for this route, and I definitely wouldn't take a beginner up there. Still though, probably safer than the alternative. Thanks again for the report, beta was spot on. Oh and also, getting to the trailhead would be interesting without high clearance.
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SultanHiker
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PostFri Sep 06, 2019 7:16 pm 
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Jake Robinson wrote:
I definitely wouldn't take a beginner up there.

Absolutely. The lake or optional Townsend would better.

Jake Robinson wrote:
7 hours moving time is pretty dang fast

We were fast to/from the lake. And having a 15 year old who is taller than you will encourage a 42 year old dad to push himself.

Jake Robinson wrote:
Still though, probably safer than the alternative.

I would be very interested to hear from someone who has done both routes, to hear opinions. There's a lot of hand wringing about the south gully route. But I'm also underwhelmed by many reports of other mountains I've climbed. Many reports on other climbs on different mountains talked of ropes on class 3/4 downclimbs, and I end up never using them. But I work on roofs and ladders all day. And many I people I work with are less sure footed on the job than I. So it should be mentioned that everyone has different levels of comfort in steep loose slopes... I love talus and boulders. Not a fan of scree, but not letting it get in my way either.

Jake Robinson wrote:
Thanks again for the report, beta was spot on.

Curious about when you left the ridge and dropped into the gully. Were you tempted to descend climber's right? Or did you go the way you came up?

And to the next climber: bring a summit register. Unless you are morally opposed to such an idea...
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MtnGoat
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PostSun Sep 08, 2019 11:57 pm 
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The cabin is private on an inholding. the last time I was there we were lucky enough to meet the owners, who invited us in for a look. They had a great log book from the late 40s, which years later had an entry about seeing 'The sputnik'. pretty nice folks.

I've been to the ridgeline behind the lake towards Merchant, but never continued on. You guys did a nice trip!

I see the folks at WTA couldn't stand not to drop a dime on that trail too, with an official writeup .(Their predecessors did the same favor of sorts for Thunder Lakes.   down.gif)

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Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock. - Will Rogers
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Sky Hiker
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PostMon Sep 09, 2019 4:00 am 
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Give the USFS and WTA a break as they are operating on limited funding. The trail to Eagle lake is not exactly a sought after destination with the road situation being difficult to maintain.
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Jake Robinson
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PostMon Sep 09, 2019 6:43 am 
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SultanHiker wrote:
Curious about when you left the ridge and dropped into the gully. Were you tempted to descend climber's right? Or did you go the way you came up?

We saw the little trail you mentioned, it was tempting but we ended up taking your advice and going back the way we came. I think that's the way to go. There's a cairn on the ridge that marks the spot you want to descend. It's a short bushwhack and some veggie belays at first but not too bad. Maybe like 20 feet of that and then you're back on the steep dirt and choss in the gully.
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