Joined: 03 Jun 2004 Posts: 3834 | TRs | Pics Location: Out Hating
Mon Aug 20, 2007 11:06 pm
Confessions of a Shameless Peakbagger (aka Chelan Summit Tr)
*I should preface this by saying that there was really only a modest amount of peakbagging on this trip. The shameless part involves the manner in which said peakbagging occurred.
My father and I were planning a road trip to the Sierras this summer, but some unexpected work thingies on my end got in the way, so we decided to do a trip here in Washington instead. I wanted to do a long backpacking trip involving Hannegan Pass, Copper Ridge, and Whatcom Pass. I was really psyched about this and had gotten some great info from some fellow nwhikers that made me even more excited about this destination.
Alas, the weather had other ideas, and the forecast called for abysmal conditions. My father was understandably displeased with the prospect of spending 8 days in the damp and cold, so with much sadness, we decided to scrap that plan. Unfortunately, we scrapped it with little time to plan an alternative, and I had about 3 hours to come up with something else. Desperately seeking drier and warmer but still good alternatives, I came upon a description of the Chelan Summit Trail in the North Cascades 100 Hikes book. I had never been in this area before, but the description looked inviting and the sheer number of easy to get to peaks was far too obvious to pass up, so off we went.
Day 1 - Into the fire
Because we didn't want to deal with the logistics and extra time needed for a car shuttle, we got up very very early to catch the Lady of the Lake to the Prince Creek (#1255) Trailhead. The boat was very full despite the overcast weather and the smoke from the nearby Domke fire. Prince Creek doesn't have a dock - they just pull out this gangplank like contraption out of the bow and set it on shore. Apparently, the concept of people actually carrying packs and walking around was highly exciting for most passengers on the boat, and they came to see us off and take lots of photos. I felt vaguely like a zoo exhibit, so of course I returned the favor:
Other than us, there was also a group of four hikers that were planning to hike up the Prince Creek trail to the Summit Trail, then down another trail on to Stehekin. They said it was 33 miles, but I'm still trying to figure out what trail combination they could have taken to result in mileage that low.
I expressed concern to them that it was a fairly ambitious trek for three days, particularly partly on an unmaintained trail (I had called the Stehekin Ranger Station for trail conditions earlier and found out that the Prince Creek trail has not been cleared of downed trees for some time). They seemed unperturbed and said "That's okay, we hike fast." This I didn't doubt as their packs were miniscule and they quickly left us in the dust along the Lakeshore Trail, and I figured they knew what they were getting into.
My dad and I set out more slowly with our 40+ lb packs. Not a bad load for carrying 9 days worth of food, I though. The overcast skies helped keep temperatures from getting scorchingly hot. The first few miles of trail ascend fairly high above the creek, mostly through burned forest, which does not provide much relief from the heat.
Around 4 miles, the trail drops down and crosses the creek on a slightly exciting bridge:
There is a lovely campsite here, shortly after which the trail plunges into a flat section full of an annoying, but manageable amount of blowdown. This is where we met the intrepid hikers of before, who I thought we'd never see again. They had decided to turn around due to the blowdown. The fallen trees were really only a nuisance in a couple of flat areas. Other than that, they were present once in a while, but not in great density.
For the next three miles, the trail stays relatively close to the creek. Other than the blowdowns and a bit of brush, the trail tread is still in excellent condition despite a lack of maintenance. We decided to stop for the night just before the junction with trail 1255.1, our turnoff into the Middle Fork Prince Creek valley toward Cub Lake.
Distance: 7 mi
Elevation Gain: 3200 ft
Day 2 - The Shamelessness Begins
We proceeded up the Middle Fork Prince Creek. This trail initially stays in forest but more and more views open up the higher one gets. After less than two miles, the charming but oddly-shaped Cub Lake is reached:
From here on, the trail is maintained and sees much more traffic, as evidence by its dramatically increased breadth and dustiness. More gentle but persistent ascent brought us to the Summit Trail (#1259) in a little over three more miles. From here, it was only another easy but maddeningly circuitous mile to our next camp at Boiling Lake.
Upon arriving there, we found the prime campsite to be occupied by two people who were just about to leave. Noticing the ice axes and helmets strapped to their packs, I began to grill them about where they'd been and the best routes to get there. (I should admit at this point that--due to being incredibly short on time in the planning of this trip--the only descriptions of summit routes I had were from the first edition of the 75 Scrambles book. Anyone that's tried to use it as a resource for accurate information knows where that can get you.)
Armed with this new knowledge, I was eager to bag my first peak right then, but first a few chores: after we set up the tent, my father somehow managed to find a way to use the entire length of our 50' parachute cord to hang the food. Highly advanced food hanging technique, I tell you!
At this point I subtly suggested that perhaps an afternoon stroll to nearby Mt. Bigelow was in order. I'm ashamed to admit that I was not even the slightest bit remorseful for this suggestion, despite the fact that my poor father had just hauled a heavy pack for 6 miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain. Surprisingly, he seemed unperturbed by my suggestion, and off we went. We traversed gorgeous flower filled meadows:
At one point, I became antsy and decided to start heading up. I soon discovered that it was not the ideal spot, and we encountered steeper slopes than I expected, necessitating advanced scrambling techniques:
Higher up, the scrambling became more fun - mostly on rock instead of loose sand/small talus. When we gained the ridge, my mistake of heading up too early became obvious - I'd inadvertently put us south of the summit instead of north. But, damn, the view to the north was startling:
Luckily, the west side of Mt. Bigelow is highly forgiving to routefinding shenanigans and we proceeded toward the big thing in the previous photo. Surely, I thought, that must be the summit! My father was a bit winded by this point but still cheerfully strolling along:
As I neared what I thought was the top, I looked for the "walk-up" option that the helpful peakbagging couple had insisted was there. I kept contouring around more steep terrain until I discovered that the summit was actually even further north than the cliffy thing I had been looking at and consisted of a pile of the most gentle dirt, grass, and small talus that I have ever seen. Fooled again, sheesh. The views were a bit smoggy by this point, but the local views were still pretty good:
We enjoyed the summit for quite some time, remarking to each other that these mountains remind us of our favorite alpine mountains in Bulgaria. At this point, some people on the southern end of Bigelow's long ridge decided to start shooting: now we both agreed that it was exactly like our favorite alpine mountains in Bulgaria. Upon reviewing the terrain from the summit, we easily located the path of least resistance and enjoyed some plunge stepping in sand most of the way down to those lovely, flower-filled meadows. My father seemed oddly untraumatized by this experience, and I began plotting the next torture session...
That night, I got up expecting hazy skies but found a crystal clear sky chock full of stars. I laid on the very convenient table at our campsite and enjoyed the meteor shower for quite some time.
Distance: 9.4 mi
Elevation Gain: 4700 ft
Day 3 - A "Rest" Day
We had agreed to spend two nights at Boiling Lake, so I suggested a pleasant jaunt to nearby Cooney and Martin Peaks. An early start allowed us clear views early in the morning, but we could tell it wouldn't last long:
We set off on an obvious but unofficial horse trail toward a small pass just south of Boiling Lake, from which I could look at the north ridge of Martin Peak (the suggested route in 75 scrambles). This looked decidedly more sketchy than I wanted to try with my father, so we opted to drop down into more beautiful meadows and contour around to the Summit Trail and then take Angel's Staircase (another trail), which practically goes to the summit of Cooney. Less than three hundred vertical feet of talus after leaving the trail, we strolled around the spacious summit of Cooney. Many comfortable spots to lounge about on this summit:
The ridge to Martin looked like a super fun stroll:
My father was pretty tired by this point, so I shamelessly suggested that he lounge about on the very comfortable and warm summit of Cooney while I bagged Martin Peak.
I am sad to report that I felt only a slight twinge of remorse at leaving him there:
After the initial talus descent of Cooney, the mile long ridge proved to be a fun and easy walk most of the way, save one point shortly before the final summit scramble where one must traverse below some cliffs on a slightly steeper and loose slope. When I got to Martin's summit, the smoke from the forest fire had really rolled in with a vengeance and visibility was beyond pathetic. I booked it back over to the summit of Cooney, where much to my delight and relief my father had not decided to disown me.
On the way back, we decided to retrace our off-trail route through gorgeous meadows. Meanwhile, the smoke kept getting thicker and thicker, making the afternoon light very strange:
At one point, ash began to fall. At first it was just flakes, kind of like snow, but then fully formed ex-twigs began raining down on us. I began to wonder if the forest fire was still on the other side of Lake Chelan (it was, of course).
Distance: 10.8 mi
Elevation Gain: 3500 ft
Day 4 - In Search of Stellar Locales
It was time to leave our lovely campsite and start moseying along the Summit Trail toward Stehekin. In fact, I had quite a bit of on trail moseying planned for the day, so we got an early start. After descending one mile to the Summit Trail, we began the short climb toward Chipmunk Pass. Though we found no chipmunks there, we did see some bear tracks:
Next came a long descent to a depressingly low point in the valley (courtesy of the main fork of Prince Creek). I took solace in the spectacular views of Star Peak, behind which our next camp lay:
Of course, that's not really what I was thinking about. I was thinking about how aesthetically pleasing it was and how I really wanted to stand on its summit. We trudged on and soon plunged into forest. Once reaching the low point in the valley, we unfortunately had to gain all the lost elevation and more to go over the shoulder of Star Peak. Much huffing and puffing ensued in the scorching afternoon. We collapsed at the pass for a brief break after which I once again abandoned my poor father for a run up to the summit.
This summit actually offers some fun talus scrambling along the ridge, but I didn't want to make my father wait any more than necessary so I took a more direct but less pleasing line up to the summit. Like other summits in the area, Star Peak is relatively gentle on one side and drops off dramatically on the other:
I got to the summit just in time to be engulfed by a thick cloud of smoke, so views were less than stellar, even the nearby ones:
Oddly enough, as I took a short break back at the pass half an hour later, I noticed that views were decidedly less smoggy. I decided that this was my punishment for my lack of will power when it comes to controlling my peakbagging urges. I am ashamed to say that even the smog filled views did not make me regret going up Star Peak, and I was quite cheerful upon my return. Oddly enough, my father still had not disowned me. Maybe it was because I was carrying our entire supply of Ramen soup... and the stove.
Well, it was time to find camp. We descended from the pass and looked for the camp marked on the map. It wasn't there, which was kind of odd, and most annoying. We looked for it entirely too long before deciding to camp at Star Lake (ironically, this was the original plan before I decided that maybe we should camp at the official camp marked on the map because it was less of a side trip). Star Lake is nestled under the impressive cliffs of Star Peak's east side:
Of course, the only camp spot at the lake was occupied, but we found a lovely spot in an open meadow near the outlet stream.
The smoke from the fire was doing weird things with the sun again, and our camp was the perfect place to witness them:
Distance: 13 mi
Elevation Gain: 3900 ft
Day 5 - Dreaming of Food
Well, my father was getting a clue by this point, so he wasn't at all surprised when I informed him that we'd be strolling up nearby Courtney Peak, which loomed directly over our tent. Courtney is reached by following trail to Fish Creek Pass (between Courtney and Star Peaks) and then following the pleasant and easy ridge up to the summit.
Dramatic views of Star Peak kept us looking back over our shoulders on the ascent:
At one point, Oval Peak, the behemoth of the area, comes into view:
Other local views were also pleasantly visible:
The summit of Courtney Peak yielded a surprisingly wide view of the North Cascades. It was finally nice to get to a summit early enough in the morning to beat the impending smoke. I also saw what I think must have been an inflatable boat in one of the Oval Lakes.
We lazed around the summit watching some clouds float by - the forecast called for a chance of thunderstorms, so we headed down sooner than we'd hoped. On the way down, I studied the climber's path to Star's ridge from Star Lake:
I also saw this from Star's ridge the day before, and it looks scary and steep and unpleasant.
My original grand plan (the one that the voices told me was a good idea) involved traversing Buttermilk Ridge and bagging Oval Peak as well, but despite my behavior on this trip I really wasn't attempting to kill my father, so I refrained from even suggesting it.
We lounged around at the lake waiting for the bad weather to set in. At one point, we found ourselves in the basin above the lake and below the trail, which is the most marmot infested locale I have ever seen. The nice thing about rest days is that you don't do much and you recharge for the next leg of the trip. The bad thing about rest days is that there's nothing to take your mind off the hunger. I discovered that packing food for an 8 day backpacking trip is tricky: I didn't really want to have an enormous pack, but I didn't want to starve, either. By the time late afternoon rolled by, my father and I had thought up all kinds of foods we'd like to have. We even made plans for a midnight raid on a nearby horse camp that looked like it was well-supplied.
Amusingly, we were not the only ones obsessed with food. That evening, Eric and Ann, who we'd met the previous day on our trip from Boiling Lake, set up camp at the lake. About the time they arrived, we all met up with some riders that were camping nearby. Eric proceeded to grill them about what they were having for dinner. Their description made us all . He also seemed incredibly paranoid that one of the riders may have stolen his chocolate while he and Ann were off bagging Star Peak earlier in the day.
The thunderstorms never appeared, but there was a dramatic drop in temperature that resulted in our tent being covered in ice before we even got into it for the evening! Once again, the smoke caused quite a light show:
Distance: 3 mi
Elevation Gain: 1500 ft
Day 6 - Cougar Country
Despite waking up to a frozen tent, we started off early and in good spirits:
The stretch of trail planned for this day turned out to be pretty desolate. We saw some vague human footprints (which must have belonged to Eric and Ann, who we knew had come that way from War Creek 5 days previous), but they were mostly obscured by multiple cougar tracks of alarming size.
These continued for pretty much the entire day! We were getting to see more and more of the mountains across the lake as the lower temperatures tempered the fire, which we also saw:
By far the scariest thing encountered on this trip was in this section:
It looked like it used to be a fungus of some sort, but I didn't want to get too close to investigate.
After another long descent into the Fish Creek drainage, we huffed up to yet another pass - this one marking our exit from the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness and our entrance into the Recreation Area that is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex. The last couple of miles looked like they would be a mostly level traverse, but turned out to be an up and down affair that had us cursing the wretched trail maker. Nonetheless, we arrived at Lake Juanita only slightly the worse for wear. Lake might be too strong a word for this place,
but the campsites and the entire area were surprisingly charming and pleasant.
Distance: 12 mi
Elevation Gain: 3000 ft
Day 7 - Oh, the views!
Another mellow day. I got up in time for sunrise,
after which we started out by hiking to Purple Pass, from which Lake Chelan and the mountains across it are a sight to behold. Feeling vaguely adventurous, I suggested we follow the ridge up to nearby Boulder Butte instead of following the well-built official trail. I had looked at it the previous day and it looked like an easy walk. Of course, I should have guessed it wasn't or the trail would follow it. A few hundred feet up, we ran into a bit of a rocky drop off and meekly decided to descend back and take the trail - oops! Views of Reynolds Peak made the trail go by quicker,
and soon we were on top.
Despite being much lower than any of the other peaks we visited on this trip, the view from this former lookout is simply stunning. This is definitely a side trip off the Summit Trail worth doing.
I made some panos of dubious quality, but you just have to go see for yourself.
We hung out on top for some time enjoying the views before the fall-like chilly day finally drove us off.
We wandered down the Boulder Creek Trail a ways as well, as it would be our method of getting to Stehekin (the Purple Pass Trail being closed due to the fire last year that destroyed the forest it passes through). I took a nap and looked at some flowers:
But maybe not in that order. It being another slow day, I also spent an inordinate amount of time studying our maps. I discovered that there was a nearby cirque in which there were some lakes called Triplet Lakes. Strangely enough, the green trails map only shows two lakes there. This inconsistency completely ruined my day and made it impossible for me to go to sleep that night (well, okay, maybe not, but it was annoying).
The only others camped at Lake Juanita were three people that were doing research for the National Park Service on a non-native rust that's killing the white pines in the area. One of them was exceptionally kind and pleasant and called in a camping permit for us (which I didn't realize we needed there) so we were legally camped. Thank you, Steve! He also radioed down about the conditions of the Purple Pass trail for us and informed us that it was in fact closed, despite the lack of any signage in the area.
In anticipation of this being our last night out, and having packed for 8 nights, I ate double rations of chocolate for dessert after dinner. Yummy and a psychological boost as well!
Distance: 4 mi
Elevation Gain: 1400 ft
Day 8 - This trail is not as advertised!
I had studied the route that the Boulder Creek Trail takes - passing under Reynolds Peak and through some fine valleys and meadows. Sadly, we didn't get to enjoy these fine locales because we woke up to rain and mist, which would follow us the entire day:
The trail is long, and also not as advertised on the Green Trails maps. The first part has some completely unnecessary and sadistically steep ups and downs which made us wonder whether the person who designed it had learned the craft in New Zealand.
When I had checked trail conditions prior to leaving, the consensus was that most of the trail was not cleared of blowdown. However, much to our surprise, the entire trail has recently been logged out - making our descent much faster and less tedious, despite the mysterious ascents once in a while. We descended alone through mist and fog, until finally Lake Chelan came into view:
Soon, we were on the Stehekin Valley road, which we hiked back 2.6 miles to the Stehekin Landing (stopping at the bakery for reinforcements, of course).
By the time we finished, I was thoroughly convinced that I had just hiked 73 miles too many for my poor hiking boots:
Distance: 14 mi
Elevation Gain: 1000 ft
We enjoyed a surprisingly uncrowded ride back to Chelan, and saw some of the fire up close:
Near this particular bit of fire, there was a cabin that was wrapped in some fire retardant material (to prevent from getting crispy, presumably), but it was surrounded by smoke - didn't look good for it.
By this point, they had evacuated Holden and were not letting any passengers off at Lucerne.
Overall, this was a magnificent trip with tons more solitude than I expected. This area is incredibly scenic. Rugged enough to be beautiful, but gentle enough so that mere mortals can enjoy it. Despite my shameless peakbagging tendencies, my father not only did not disown me, but insists that he wants to go backpacking with me again! :-)
Total trip stats:
Distance: 73.2 miles
Elevation Gain (and loss): 22,400 feet
Marmots seen: Too many to count
Wildlife tracks: outnumbered people tracks by far
Blood sucking insects encountered: too depressing to think about
Huckleberries: not in season, except in a couple of very small patches
Number of other parties encountered: 8, with 4 being in the first two days. Most of those at campsites, not while on the move.
Number of parties on horseback encountered: 1
Visibility: LA-like during the day on the worst days, crystal clear in the morning and during the night
Meteorites seen: 22
-------------- PLAY SAFE! SKI ONLY IN CLOCKWISE DIRECTION! LET'S ALL HAVE FUN TOGETHER!
At one point, I became antsy and decided to start heading up. I soon discovered that it was not the ideal spot, and we encountered steeper slopes than I expected, necessitating advanced scrambling techniques:
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