Four great-looking Top 100 peaks lie close together up the Entiat River valley: Cardinal, Emerald, Saska, and Pinnacle. And – music to my lazyass bones – mountain bikes are allowed up Trail #1437, which brings you close to all four peaks. Better yet, no motorized bikes are allowed up there. So in the heady days of spring, I first conceived of this as a four-bagger day trip, facilitated by a bike approach and taking advantage of the long summer days.
What foolishness. By the time I got around to this trip it was late summer and the days were getting short, leaving Pinnacle – the most remote of the four mountains – out of reach. Then reality hit in the form of my congenital routefinding deficiencies, leaving no time for Saska. And we still came out in the dark. Well, Pinnacle and Saska will still be there next year.
I talked Chris P. into joining me for the day. On previous bike rides and runs Chris has always left me gasping for air. This day, however, Chris was handicapped by a bike from the stone age. Really, his bike must be the first mountain bike ever made. It should be in a museum, if only they can find a platform strong enough to hold its weight.
So when we started up Trail #1437 at 7:00 am Chris was expending a lot more energy than me. Six miles up, at the intersection with the Fern Lake trail (#1436), he cried uncle, and shortly thereafter we stashed the bikes behind a tree and continued on foot. Things still were looking swell.
For Cardinal, the route descriptions say to head east from the trail and up a broad gully. We did this, only to top out on a south summit approximately 200-300 yards from the true summit. It looked like a lot of other people have done this too, as there is a boot path and a bivy site on the false summit. The gap between the summits looked too sketchy for guys in bike shorts, so we faced two options: either downclimb about 800 feet and circle clockwise around to the left (north) to find the gully in the route description, or drop down to the little lake high on Cardinal’s east side and hope to find a way by circling counter-clockwise around the true summit.
Naturally we chose the harder one. From the true summit it is apparent that the counter-clockwise circle goes easily. But we decided to play it safe and drop down toward the normal route. By this time Chris had had enough of this mountain, so he waited below while I scrambled up a small gully and eventually reached the summit crest.
In a description I read somewhere on the web, Paul Klenke describes the route up Cardinal as a 4th-class scramble – at odds with the description in Summit Routes. As I clamored up my second gully on Cardinal I began to see what Klenke meant. It was ok, just more narrow and steeper than I expected. Later, coming down the mountain I found the easy gully. This was reassuring, as it suggests – but does not prove – that even Klenke is capable of picking harder lines than necessary.
Cardinal’s summit area offers short but enjoyable scrambles along a few high points. Fortunately, the summit cairn is on one of the easily accessible high points.
Coming down, I found the easy gully described in Summit Routes, and hooked up with Chris along the trail. We then headed north along Trail#1433 to a beautiful meadow at the base of Emerald.
Once again, we scrambled up too far to the right and topped out within sight, but not within reach, of the summit. Having done this twice in one day, Chris had had enough of this silliness, but I scrambled down several hundred feet and around to the west to access a better line to the summit. Emerald’s summit also is a delight, with an airy traverse over to a slightly lower summit. I now wish I had scrambled over there, but at the time I used the late hour as an excuse to hurry down.
The smoke from the Domke Lake fire created more and more haze through the day, and by late afternoon it completely blocked views of mountains we had seen earlier, from Cardinal.
By this time our impeccable route finding had left us little time to descend. So we hustled down to the bikes and rode to within three miles of the car before having to don headlamps. Riding out those last three miles was a new experience, as every root, rock, and bump on the trail caused the light on my helmet to bounce, shifting my field of vision in constantly surprising ways. We slowed down, and ended up coasting most of the way out.
On the drive home Chris had the inspired idea of buying a couple pints of ice cream. I don’t know why I had never thought of that. It was a delicious way to get some calories back into the old body.
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