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BeyondLost
Crazy Bob



Joined: 07 Jul 2007
Posts: 3511 | TRs
Location: Mazama, WA
BeyondLost
Crazy Bob
PostThu Aug 21, 2008 12:01 pm 
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Since I live 3.5 miles from the TH I hike/run the West Fork Methow trail on a  regular basis and have for about 9 years. It HAS changed a lot since the Needles Creek fire. After the fire, crews of contractors and volunteers did a lot of trail clearing and it was in great shape for hiking, running and mountain biking. The last couple of years the brush has grown substantially and with our big snow year last winter growth really took off this spring.

The mountain bikers have not been riding it as much partly because of a slide in the first two miles which was cleared/repaired in July. Now they ride mostly the first 4 miles where the brush really gets high. It is really only bad intermittently for about 1.5 miles of the 8 miles and then opens up again.

I try to keep it clear but got so busy this year I only got out there all the way to the PCT once and did not get as much done as I wanted.
It is not a highly scenic, ridge line trip but there are nice views of Delancy Ridge, Handcock Ridge and the West Fork Methow is a pretty river. It is hot in late July and early August so expect heat if you choose to come then. In May and June this is a lovely, gentle hike, run or bike.
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Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot



Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Posts: 4032 | TRs
Location: Shoreline
Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
PostTue Nov 04, 2008 2:11 am 
Azurite, 8/15 - 8/17/08, from Purple Haze to Hot Haze
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I find that I have a more mixed view of the Azurite trip than cartman.

Here’s my nine-but opinion of the Azurite trip.

  1. The West Fork Methow Trail was brushy, but the brush was encroaching rather than obstructing the trail, so it still allowed reasonably easy passage.  And the fireweed made a pretty purple haze among the blackened tree trunks.
  2. The campsite was gloomy and viewless under heavy trees by the river, but those same trees also kept it shady and cool even during the hottest part of the day.
  3. The Azurite Pass trail was abandoned and difficult to find, but, once found, the tread was intact the entire way, and it even had switchbacks to break up the climb.  Actually, it was in better condition than a lot of maintained trails I’ve been on, and much better than most climbers tracks.
  4. Route-finding on the lower parts of the peaks was confusing, but every landmark was identifiable and we ended up exactly where we needed to be without any wrong turns.
  5. The summit gullies were full of dirty loose junky rubble, but there were quite a few places to walk on the edges of the rubble, and lots of very big square handholds and footholds to provide security for the steep parts.
  6. The heat was beastly, but, well, the heat really was awful.  That was mostly an unmitigated negative.  Better than clouds and rain, but still not an experience I could call good.  It felt almost debilitating at times, but what else could we expect when we chose to climb on the hot, dry side of the mountains on one of the hottest days of the year?
  7. There were annoying weird bugs on the summit, but there were no bugs at all on the trail or in camp.  Even on the summit, they were just flying around, not biting.  So that was a large unexpected positive, especially given the massive biting attacks reported elsewhere.
  8. Summit views were dulled by haze and backlighting, but Azurite is still a dominant viewpoint for the stretch of mountains running north from SR20 to Hart’s Pass.  I hadn’t previously been anywhere that I could see so clearly how that network of mountains, rivers, and trails fit together.
  9. So altogether, I wasn’t left with any desire to do Azurite again, but I was glad to have done it once.
Itinerary
Day 1: Hike West Fork Methow trail (TH 1600) to PCT to Horse Heaven Camp (4400 ).
Day 2: Hike abandoned Azurite Pass trail to pass (6700).  Take Azurite south ridge and west face to summit (8400).
Day 3: Exit same as approach.

Azurite Trip Map
Azurite Trip Map
Azurite Wider Area Map
Azurite Wider Area Map
Winter View of Azurite Route
Winter View of Azurite Route
Azurite
Azurite

The Heat
We picked a weekend when the temps were forecast to hit 101 degrees in Mazama.  We picked a valley where most shade was burned away by a forest fire.  However, the sun was filtered by hazy skies, the dead trees provided some shade, and the temps weren’t as hot in the valley.  There was running water only at Trout Creek (2.7 miles) and Brush Creek (8 miles).

The Bike Ride
Subsequent to a forest fire, brush is encroaching on the upper miles of the West Fork Methow trail, but the trail is still passable for all but the most inept mountain biker.  As it turns out, I am the most inept mountain biker.  In college, I used to commute by bike and prided myself on being able to climb hills without slowing down.  But that was twenty years ago.  Trying the same thing on a trail, I reduced myself to staggering along leaning on the bike as a rolling crutch.  Having burned out my legs, I gave up a Trout Creek (2.7 miles).  Eric continued a couple miles further.  Actually, it is a good trail for bikes, and worth continuing at least a mile past Trout Creek, where there are some really nice flat stretches by the river.

The trial along the river
The trial along the river

The Brushy Trail
The burned forest was quite pretty, with a haze of rosy purple fireweed and bluish purple Cascade asters, hovering between deep green foliage below and stark scorched trunks above.

Asters & Fireweed
Asters & Fireweed
Fireweed
Fireweed

The Hidden Junction
There are lots of landmarks to find the Azurite Pass Trail junction.  We found every landmark, but not the junction.  Eventually, I backtracked and found the marker cairn, four feet high and in plain sight – but only if you approach it from the opposite side.  Coming from the west, it’s entirely hidden by a wall of fireweed.  (See “Route Info” below for description of the landmarks.)

Ancient PCT marker beyond the junction
Ancient PCT marker beyond the junction
Cairn hiding in the evening behind a wall of fireweed
Cairn hiding in the evening behind a wall of fireweed

Horse Heaven Camp
We spend the evening camped by the river at Horse Heaven camp, which fortunately had no horses.  I usually try to camp high and out in the open.  Camping under heavy forest in the valley, I felt oddly out of touch with both space and time.  I couldn’t view the terrain around me, or watch the light mark the passage of the day.

Shady Horse Heaven Campsite
Shady Horse Heaven Campsite

Azurite Pass
In the morning, we headed up the trail to Azurite Pass.  Near the start, game trails added confusion, but the abandoned trail is in surprisingly good condition.  The tread was intact all the way to the pass, and it had helpful switchbacks.  We filled up on water where the trail crosses Jet Creek at 5800 feet, because we justifiably feared there would be no water any higher.

Looking up from the PCT toward Azurite Pass.
Looking up from the PCT toward Azurite Pass.

Azurite South Ridge
From Azurite Pass 6700, we worked our way up Azurite’s south ridge.  We went up the right side along the edge of scrubby brush, went left around a rock wall, continued up easy terrain, went up a 2nd/3rd class gully at a small wall circa 7200, and continued up to a notch through rocky terrain circa 7600.  The ridge was generally easy but sometimes steep.  We left behind some gear and water before leaving the ridge.  It was very hot.

South Ridge
South Ridge
Hot
Hot

Azurite West Face
Now we could see the south face, and were able to pick out the route from Bongi’s photo.  We traversed ramps, scree, and combinations of both in an arc till we got to the gully below the main col.  A distinct delineation ran across the upper mountain.  Below the line, steep gray slabs and scree slopes.  Above the line, stacked pyramids of dark gray rock separated by steep brown gullies.  The traverse arched around just below the delineation.  Cairns occasionally confirmed the route.  The scree was somewhat loose.  We left behind some gear and water before staring up the gully.  It was very hot.

Azurite West Face
Azurite West Face
Azurite Route
Azurite Route

Azurite West Face Gully
The large 2nd/3rd class gully up the west face was rock-filled in its center, but opened out to more stable ramps on the right for much of its length.  It led us up to 8000 feet, just below the major col, where the summit gully began on our left.  We kicked off occasional slides of rocks.  It was very hot.

Azurite Summit Gully
The narrow summit gully was steep but stayed barely within 3rd class range.  Occasional chockstones blocked the gully, but the sides were so narrow that we could stem up on big flat handholds and footholds on the sides.  The center of the gully was brimming with loose rock, but we still found progress easiest by staying in the center, right to a narrow notch at the top.  We kicked off torrents of sliding rocks on our way up.  It was very hot.

Eric stemming up the summit gully.
Eric stemming up the summit gully.
Eric climbing past a chockstone in the summit gully
Eric climbing past a chockstone in the summit gully

Azurite Summit
From the very top of the gully, it was an easy scramble up to the rightward up to the summit.  There were hordes of bugs right near the summit, but they weren’t biting.  The views were wide but hazy in the heat.  It was still hot.

Matt resting on the summit
Matt resting on the summit
Eric feeling deliriously happy on the summit
Eric feeling deliriously happy on the summit
Looking north down Mill Creek, Majestic Mtn on left, Ballard on right
Looking north down Mill Creek, Majestic Mtn on left, Ballard on right
Looking NE to Glacier Pass, Grasshopper Pass, Harts Pass, Slate Pass
Looking NE to Glacier Pass, Grasshopper Pass, Harts Pass, Slate Pass
Looking east down Brush Creek to West Fork Methow
Looking east down Brush Creek to West Fork Methow
Looking south to the classic triad of Tower, Holliway, & Golden Horn, plus West Fork Methow headwaters and Methow Pinnacles
Looking south to the classic triad of Tower, Holliway, & Golden Horn, plus West Fork Methow headwaters and Methow Pinnacles

Back Down to the River
The descent retraced the ascent route, except for kicking off even more rocks.  Our mileposts were the bit of stashed water below the main gully, the next bit of stashed water on the ridge, a big refill of water at Jet Creek, and finally soaking in a running pool of water in the Methow River at camp.   At the trail junction, I paused again to glare at the hidden cairn in the broiling sun.

Like walking down a moving steam of sliding rocks
Like walking down a moving steam of sliding rocks
East summits of Azurite
East summits of Azurite
Hidden cairn in  the afternoon
Hidden cairn in  the afternoon
Cooling off in the river
Cooling off in the river

Exit Hike – The Purple Haze
On the morning hike out, I frowned again at the hidden cairn as I passed by.  The fireweed glowed under a misty hazy sky.

Hidden cairn in the morning
Hidden cairn in the morning
Purple Haze
Purple Haze
Brush & fireweed along the trail
Brush & fireweed along the trail
Fireweed by the river
Fireweed by the river
Cascade asters & fireweed
Cascade asters & fireweed
Fireweed & blackened forest
Fireweed & blackened forest


The Exit Bike Ride

The bikes made for an easy run downhill, but my arms were sore from wrist to shoulder from clenching the brakes around the steeper parts.  Lower down, the bike coasted along smoothly.

Brake, steer, brake, balance, brake, swerve, brake, bounce, brake, pray, brake….
Brake, steer, brake, balance, brake, swerve, brake, bounce, brake, pray, brake….

Beyond Lost
On the way out, we saw Beyond Lost’s gate and stopped to say hello.  Generous-hearted Bob was covered in dust helping sand a neighbor’s house, but took a break to give us a tour.  I wondered how I could have missed seeing his distinctive gate sign on the way in.  Turns out it had just been put back up that afternoon, after being damaged by a delivery truck.

Regarding List-Driven Climbing
If I weren’t trying to finish the Washington Hundred Highest list, I doubt I’d ever have gone to Azurite.  I certainly wouldn’t have gone there on a hot, hazy weekend, except that I wanted to get closer to the finish of the list.  For me, working on the list is beneficial when it motivates me to visit distant corners of the Cascades that I wouldn’t otherwise have explored.  It would be detrimental if it kept me from exploring places that aren’t on the list.  So far I think I’ve maintained a balance that works for me.  I made steady progress on the list this year, but I also committed my biggest trip to exploring a place not on the list (Picket Pass).  Even this weekend, I would have gone on a lake-bagging trip if work hadn’t become too busy, and then I plugged in Azurite instead.  So I’m glad the list got me up another peak that I probably wouldn’t otherwise have tried, but I’m also looking forward to having my schedule free for exploring other kinds of destinations soon.

Additional Route Info
Klenke has good photos of the summit gullies.  Bongi has a good diagram of the traverse from the ridge to the west face gully.

Contrary to several guidebooks, you cannot easily combine this trip with Ballard and approach via the Azurite Mine trail.  The trail has been consumed by heavy brush.

You could make a more scenic approach by taking the PCT from near Hart’s Pass.  Better views, but more ups and downs (1000 up, 3000 down), which means 3000 up on the way out.  The ideal might be a loop coming in via the PCT and exiting via West Fork Methow.

Location of the Azurite Pass Trail junction: Hiking westward, the junction is about 60 feet from the end of a large meadow.  It may be marked by a cairn on a rock about eight feet off on the south side of the trail.  After the meadow is a narrow band of forest with a stream.  Then a smaller meadow, with a trail angling downhill to Horse Heaven Camp.  Then a larger forest, and the junction with the Mebbe Pass Trail.  After you locate the cairn, the pass trail begins as a narrow track heading north.  It’s confused by game trails at first, but goes up to the first band of woods above, and is fairly clear beyond that.  Look for tread that is flat and hard-packed by boots, rather than chewed up by hooves.

Water:  There is no year-round water above 5800 feet where the Azurite Pass trail crosses Jet Creek for its final time.


Statistics
Approach hike: 10 miles, 1800 gain, 5:30 hours.
Summit:  5 miles round trip, 4000 gain, 5:30 up, 0:45 summit, 3:45 down.
Exit: hike 4:30 hours.

97/100

My thanks to cartman for accompanying me up an awkward peak on such a hot weekend.

--------------
“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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BeyondLost
Crazy Bob



Joined: 07 Jul 2007
Posts: 3511 | TRs
Location: Mazama, WA
BeyondLost
Crazy Bob
PostTue Nov 04, 2008 8:28 am 
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Enjoyed the pics. Stop by again anytime.  smile.gif Maybe next time I will be cleaner.  hockeygrin.gif
Bob
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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks



Joined: 13 Feb 2007
Posts: 6021 | TRs
Location: Stuck in the middle
puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks
PostTue Nov 04, 2008 11:08 pm 
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I'm reassured that the list hasn't distorted the very reasons that you like to hike in the mountains. It's the reason I haven't adopted a list as a goal -- I'm not sure I could keep that balance.
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Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot



Joined: 30 Jan 2007
Posts: 4032 | TRs
Location: Shoreline
Matt
Tea, Earl Grey, Hot
PostWed Nov 05, 2008 1:04 am 
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BTW, in cartman's poll, I'm the one person who voted for "the brush is very photogenic."
Indeed, the fireweed amid the blackened forest was beautiful, diffusing into an ethereal purple haze amid the stark black trunks.

--------------
“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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BeyondLost
Crazy Bob



Joined: 07 Jul 2007
Posts: 3511 | TRs
Location: Mazama, WA
BeyondLost
Crazy Bob
PostWed Nov 05, 2008 10:07 am 
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You were too late for them but there are areas along the West Fork Methow burn where there are gorgeous fields of tiger lillies in the early summer.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Azurite  8/15-17/08
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