Forum Index > Trip Reports > Fortress Mountain and Helmet Butte 8/30-31/2019
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awilsondc
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awilsondc
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 11:29 pm 
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This was probably my last opportunity for an overnight trip this year, and I was having great difficulty deciding where to go.  I eventually decided to go for Buck Mountain with a night in Louis Creek Basin, and maybe another peak or two depending on how it went.  I got my stuff packed up and woke up really early to make the long drive to the trailhead.  But... first things first.  Today was a big day, a monumental day, one that myself and many others had been waiting a long time for.  August 30th, 2019 was the release date of Tool's first album in over 13 years and fortunately it was available for streaming.  They were by far my favorite band in the 90's and 2000's but I haven't listened to them as often since I got married because my wife detests rock music (nobody's perfect) and I've had to adapt my musical tolerances.  Anyway I was stoked listen to new stuff from my favorite band growing up and I rocked out to Fear Inoculum on the way.  Initially I was unimpressed, but after a couple listenings holy ****!  Best thing to happen to rock in, well... 13 years!  I particularly love Descending and Pneuma.  Anyway, back to the mountains...

It rained quite a bit on the way to the trailhead.  To get achieve my goal of getting Buck with a night in Louis Creek basin I had three options.  Via Little Giant and Napeequa valley, bushwhack up the east ridge of buck, or take the long way up via Buck Creek Pass.  With all the wet foliage I figured hiking through Napeequa Valley and it's overgrown trail would get me soaked, as would the bushwhack up the east ridge.  Only the long way around up Buck Creek offered the opportunity to stay dry so I picked that way.  I figured since I was going up that way I'd start with Fortress and see what the day brought after that.  Some time between 8:30 and 9:00 I was on the trail.

This used to be a nice bridge
This used to be a nice bridge
Entering the burn area
Entering the burn area
I enjoyed this part of the approach
I enjoyed this part of the approach
Still a few flowers left
Still a few flowers left
Green!
Green!
Flowers
Flowers
Hey there lil' guy!
Hey there lil' guy!
Helmet Butte
Helmet Butte
Bee
Bee

This trail is long!  But, it's relatively easy and well graded.  I kept a decent pace and managed to take in the sights along the way.  I really liked hiking though the burn area, witnessing both the devastation and the new life springing up along the way.  There were even a few flowers left to admire.  On and on I hiked, with the weather clearing as the day went on.  Somewhere along the way I decided that I'd have to skip Fortress to make Louis Creek Basin with any significant amount of daylight left to admire the area.  I really didn't want to rush through it.  I changed my mind SO MANY times on this trip.  Here I decided to give up on Buck and just head up Fortress.  I knew there was a cool summit bivy on Chiwawa, but was there one on Fortress?  If not, I'd continue on to Chiwawa and make a loop coming back down the Chiwawa River valley.  So, that was the new plan.  I stopped where the trail crosses Buck Creek ~5150ft to fill up on water.  Not knowing if there'd be water up Fortress or on the way to Chiwawa I loaded up with 3.5 liters of water.  Now with an extra 7 pounds of weight on my back (yay!) I headed up to Pass No Pass.  The valley heading up to the pass was gorgeous, and loaded with berry bushes!  The bushes were bursting with berries and considerable time was spend picking and eating.  From the pass I took off east by northeast through a lovely wildflower meadow.  It was steep and with the extra weight on my back, I was feeling it!  Like really feeling it... I did fine until the final 1500 vertical feet to the summit.  Then, choss happened.  The route to the summit up the south slopes is horribly chossy and it took its toll on my physically and mentally.  I started eyeballing terrain features I might be able to bivy on since I really didn't want to have to continue on to Chiwawa at this point.  Fortunately, about 50 feet below the summit there was a single tiny bivy spot, but it was all I needed.  I took off my pack and decided to make this my home for the night.  7 hours car to summit.

Pass No Pass
Pass No Pass
Pass No Pass drainage
Pass No Pass drainage
Wildflower meadow
Wildflower meadow
Getting higher
Getting higher
Helmet Butte rising tall
Helmet Butte rising tall
Choss!  ughhhh
Choss!  ughhhh

The views from Fortress were fantastic, and I had three or four hours to enjoy them!  I took photos, played around on the rocks, ate dinner, sipped on some whiskey, and successfully resisted the temptation to dink around on my phone despite 4G on the summit.  It was great to just enjoy being on a mountain top for a few hours!  I was hoping for some epic sunset colors, but I could see a thick layer of clouds at the horizon and knew that once the sun went behind the clouds it would be over.  There were still some gorgeous sights to witness, but I was hoping for more.  Shortly after sunset I crawled into my bivy for some shut eye.

Looking down from the summit at my bivy spot
Looking down from the summit at my bivy spot
Chiwawa and Fernow, 7FJ, Maude group
Chiwawa and Fernow, 7FJ, Maude group
Dreaming of Buck
Dreaming of Buck
BONANZA!!!
BONANZA!!!
Shadows descend
Shadows descend
A moment in time
A moment in time
Golden hour pano
Golden hour pano
Buck
Buck
Dome
Dome
Good night world
Good night world

The night was nearly a new moon so I set an alarm to get up for some milky way photography.  When my alarm rang I peeked out of my bivy to see there was still a thick layer of clouds where the milky way should be.  Bummer.  Actually, not really.  I was tired as hell and stoked to just go right back to bed.  My alarm rang for dawn.  I peeked outside only to see more thick clouds.  GOOD!  More sleep.  Sunrise came and went, but I refused to get out of my bivy.  It just felt so good to lay there.  Eleven hours I stayed in my bivy before I reluctantly forced myself to get up.  There was some cool **** going on!

Oh, hi there!
Oh, hi there!
I guess I should get up
I guess I should get up
mmmmmm, yes that'll do
mmmmmm, yes that'll do

It was very cloudy over towards Chiwawa, like totally socked in.  It was mostly clear to the south and east with clouds blowing in and over the summit.  I hiked back up the summit area which had a nice wind block area with views out towards Glacier Peak so I posted up there for breakfast.  I love this side of Glacier Peak.  It's my favorite view of any of the cascade volcanoes.  I was still feeling sluggish after breakfast and with the socked in weather over towards Chiwawa I decided to just head home rather than do the loop.  The choss was way better on the way down, even fun in a few parts.  I was kind of bummed though that I was going to leave with only Fortress, felt like kind of a waste but oh well.  As I got lower, Helmet Butte started getting higher and higher.  Heck, I'll just climb that on the way out!  It's got a solid 1000 ft of prominence, more than Chiwawa I believe.  I worthy addition to my itinerary.  On the way down I ran out of water and resigned myself to doing Helmet Butte without water.

Breakfast views
Breakfast views
Fun clouds
Fun clouds
My favorite side of Glacier Peak
My favorite side of Glacier Peak
Descending.  Views were still good.
Descending.  Views were still good.
Can't. Stop. Staring!
Can't. Stop. Staring!
Next stop, Helmet Butte
Next stop, Helmet Butte

From Pass No Pass I followed marmot trails beneath forest and brush to the bottom of a basin that looks like a smile in the photo above.  On the way up I took the right side of the smile up through a steep rocky dried up creek / waterfall that was class 3 and probably not the best way up.  I did however find a tiny trickle of water!  I held my water filter bottle under it for about 5 minutes collecting 2/3 of a liter of water, enough to get me back to a better water source.  The final summit block was class 2/3 and kinda fun.  Views from Helmet Butte were fantastic!  I loved the view down into the basin to Flower Dome and Glacier Peak, and Fortress looked bad ass!  I couldn't really see Fortress from afar the entire trip, it just never comes into view, in fact I don't think I had even seen a picture of Fortress that I could recall prior to the trip since I pretty much only went up as a backup plan.  Now that I could see it I was impressed!  It made the trip up Helmet Butte even more worth it.  I stayed about 30 minutes before descending the left side of the "smile" I mentioned earlier.  It was much better with a well established game trail.

Back in the meadow
Back in the meadow
Gentians and Fortress
Gentians and Fortress
Water!
Water!
Fortress Mountain from Helmet Butte
Fortress Mountain from Helmet Butte
Helmet Butte pano
Helmet Butte pano
GP BW
GP BW

There were lots of marmots about in the basin below pass no pass, and more berries to munch on!  The way back was long.  I reveled in the dichotomy of wanting to get it over with and get back to the car, while simultaneously wanting to enjoy my time simply being in the forest.  The burn section was once again a highlight for me.  It started to sprinkle a little, but it was nice and didn't last long.  I passed a deer on the trail.  Then I could see clouds brewing and I quickened my pace.  About 15 minutes from the car it began to rain lightly.  Not wanting to get out my rain coat I just hustled back to the car.  Awesome trip.  I'm glad it all came together!

Marmots
Marmots
Guardian of the lair
Guardian of the lair
Autumn is near
Autumn is near
Berries were abundant
Berries were abundant
Time to depart
Time to depart
A clearing
A clearing
Lots of trail to go
Lots of trail to go
Back through the burn
Back through the burn
Deer
Deer

~27.5 miles 7100+ gain are my estimates.  GPS said 12.6 miles and 6050 to the summit of Fortress and I never turned it back on after that.
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mrszupke
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PostTue Sep 03, 2019 11:56 pm 
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Great report! And those pics... 😍

Would you be willing to post a link to your GPX track or shoot it to me in a message? Doing a trip out there in two weeks and am collecting beta / ideas. If not, I understand.

Cheers!
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geyer
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 9:31 am 
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Ahh such a great area! you'll get to High Pass and Buck next time  up.gif
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cascadetraverser
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 9:39 am 
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EB looks loads funner than Fortress.  I am likely heading up there in a couple weeks.  Bringing my pooch so EB looks pouch worthy (I have been up Chiwawa but not Fortress; all that choss may not be good for paws!)
Thanks for the report!
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puzzlr
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 10:34 am 
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Awesome photos -- it really pays off for you to do those bivvys up high

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adam.rhoda1
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 2:52 pm 
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We saw your summit bivy spot with the Z-rest imprints on Fortress on Sep 1, I was wondering who was there and what awesome views you had! And also how much water you hauled up, haha.

Looks like you also narrowly avoided that rain which we got while at High Pass. Great pictures and TR.
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wildernessed
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 3:16 pm 
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👍🏻Awesome pics, I probably listen to Tool once a week great running and workout music.

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Living in the Anthropocene
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awilsondc
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 7:18 pm 
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mrszupke wrote:
Would you be willing to post a link to your GPX track or shoot it to me in a message?

Here is a link to an almost identical GPS track of my trip from Peakbagger.  I took different routes up/down Helmet Butte and did not record that portion.  If you want my specific track PM me, but my route up Fortress went off route slightly and this track is better.

puzzlr wrote:
Awesome photos -- it really pays off for you to do those bivvys up high

YES!  It's becoming an addiction.  I don't get a ton of opportunities for nights out in the mountains so I really want to make it count when I do!

adam.rhoda1 wrote:
We saw your summit bivy spot with the Z-rest imprints

Excellent sleeping pad mark identification!  That Z-rest is almost 20 years old and still going strong, although I don't use it all that much.  smile.gif
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texasbb
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 7:27 pm 
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My, oh, my.  Those pictures from up high are spellbinding.  What a perfect time to be up there.  Thanks for sharing!
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rubywrangler
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 7:54 pm 
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awilsondc wrote:
I guess I should get up
I guess I should get up

Awe, that bivy spot. Gives me all the feels.


It's even better when you're broken & bleeding embarassedlaugh.gif

Great photos as usual - one of my favorite perspectives of GP too. Louis will be even more lovely in a month or so!
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Nancyann
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 11:18 pm 
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So many beautiful pictures! You were lucky to be above the clouds for those views. We were on the other side of Glacier Peak for several days during that time and were under the clouds more often than not. bawl.gif
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contour5
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PostWed Sep 04, 2019 11:33 pm 
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The Glacier Peak sequence is full-on, transmogrifier-level transplendancy. Well done!
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Sky Hiker
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PostThu Sep 05, 2019 5:10 am 
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Great report.. This area will soon contain the high hunters on or before Sept 15th.
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RichP
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PostThu Sep 05, 2019 7:16 am 
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Sweet.. up.gif

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Without obsession, life is nothing. John Waters
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GaliWalker
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PostThu Sep 05, 2019 7:48 pm 
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Your trip report is great as are the photos, but...

awilsondc wrote:
August 30th, 2019 was the release date of Tool's first album in over 13 years and fortunately it was available for streaming.  They were by far my favorite band in the 90's and 2000's

...this was the real nugget! I'd never listened to Tool, and upon your words went ahead and downloaded the album. Wow, it was great! Invincible and 7empest were the standouts for me. Thanks! up.gif

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Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani/albums
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Fortress Mountain and Helmet Butte 8/30-31/2019
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