Every year, I plan an ambitious backpack in July and then the realities of my not-quite-in-shape body protest and scream at me, “What were you thinking?” It seems that everything took longer and was harder on this trip than I originally thought. But it was still a success and gave me a chance to spend some time up on the alpine ridges.
I headed out late Sunday on the North Fork Sauk trail, only expecting to get partway in as I knew that the next day would involve a major elevation rise and some decent trail mileage. At the Mackinaw Shelter, the approaching evening and my sore feet told me to stop and not press on uphill to my ‘sekrit’ camp spot. And it took longer than usual to hike those 5 trail miles.
The next morning, before the sun could turn the lower canyon into an oven, I started the long trudge upward; switchback after switchback; hot in the avalanche swaths and cool in the forested zones. With a one-step-at-a-time grind, I made the last switchback and gained the high meadows where the marmots started whistling warnings about another intruder. With a long, long, rising traverse, the trail eventually brought me up to White Pass.
The views had only been getting better and grander as I continued to rise up the mountain side. This section also took much longer than anticipated. My objective, Indian Head Peak was staring me in the face as I continued south along the Pacific Crest Trail.
The trail stays near the crest, skirting the high bumps, and slowly loses altitude on the way. There was still plenty of snow up there in patches that required crossing to the next melted out section of trail; but nothing steep or dangerous and I never got out my iceaxe.
Eventually, I wandered to Indian Pass and set up a campsite in a pumice outwash. The welcome breeze kept the bugs away, but it kept pulling out my tent stakes and collapsing the tent. Luckily, I had brought some wide snow stakes that I could bury deeper into the loose soil for more holding power. I also guyed out another support line from the tentpole to brace against the wind.
Now, I got the bright idea of just ‘running’ up to the peak and returning for dinner. Hah! I must have been reading too many trip reports from younger, mesomorphic peak baggers. After one hour, I was barely over ¼ of the way up and fatigued. The day’s hike had already taken too big of a toll on me. But I had scouted out a good route up to the open slopes and resolved to return the next day completely rested. The red skies at night promised continued good weather and the full moon loomed large in the night sky.
The next morning, I left at 6:30am. A prominent animal trail led upward along a sharp ridge and then crossed a steep slope and finally dumped me into a snow filled pumice gully.
A gentle ascent on snow up the gully brought me to the flat area at 5600’, which would have made a wonderful campsite. Here, the open slopes led upward getting steeper and steeper.
Where possible, I followed marmot, goat, or deer trails uphill. As I started to get into scree, I put my hiking poles away and switched to my iceaxe. The terrain was becoming broken cliffs with scree between them. Earlier, I had spotted two deer above me traversing at a constant level and I became hopefully curious. Yes, at 7200’, there was an obvious animal trail traversing around the mountain.
Following this path brought me around a small spur and into very easy slopes to the top. Walking up, I gained the summit; just 2½ hrs from camp with 2500’ elevation gain.
The descent was quite fast, as I was able to slide in the scree, each step carrying me 5 feet downward. Down the steep vegetation and into the lingering snowbanks where I could boot ski another few feet with each step. 1 hour and 45 minutes later, I was back at camp pondering my next move. Originally, I had planned a longer loop trip, but realizing my limitations, I just decided to return the way I came in. The hike out was a slog. Going back to White Pass meant another 1000’ elevation gain and with a full pack, I was moving really slowly.
At one point, I badly needed to rest and eat so I walked over to a nice promontory with views and a little wind to cool me off. After drinking and snacking, I lay down to nap. 15 seconds later, I jumped up. Ants! Ants! Ants were swarming all over my body. I spent the next ten minutes picking ants out from under my shirt, under my hat, out of my armpits, and under my pants on my legs. Yipes! No rest for the weary. I did make it down into the canyon bottom that day and camped again so that I would have an easy morning hike out the next day.
7500’ elevation gain
-------------- "Be moderate in everything, including moderation" Horace Porter
Joined: 02 Mar 2003 Posts: 10981 | TRs | Pics Location: Going to Tukwila
Thu Jul 29, 2010 2:28 pm
Looks like a fun trip in a nice area. Thanks for the trip report and pictures!
-------------- "There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
Joined: 06 Mar 2007 Posts: 10705 | TRs | Pics Location: here now
Thu Jul 29, 2010 3:24 pm
Cool. Great pics. It's a lovely area. Oh yeah, there's some steep heather/rock slopes on that route. Your TR brings back some good memories of when Anita and did the traverse from Saul to IH a few years ago.
Good look at much of the Lightning Creek HR in this pic:
Yeah, I guess the mountaineering community is relatively small. I was surprised at how many names in the summit register I recognized. Of course, when NWHikers use their online names to sign the summit roll, it makes it easier to make a connection.
-------------- "Be moderate in everything, including moderation" Horace Porter
I didn't even see the summit register (at least I don't remember signing it); though I may not have done the true summit. There are 2 bumps, and I was too fagged to go over to the other bump and tag it, to be sure.....
-------------- "...Other than that, the post was more or less accurate."
The SW bump is definitely the higher of the two. We went and tagged the other one just to be sure but from both points the SW looked higher. I believe that that is where the register was as well.
Indian Head is a great hike and one I may have to repeat someday after visiting Saul. Unless I come in from that N Fork Sauk or via West Cady Ridge and then turn N might be nice too. Lots of scenic ways to get to this area.
You might have gone through Indian Pass on your way to the summit. Last week I was at the UW library attempting to find information about Surprise Creek/Gap/Mountain to see what the "Surprise" was to the early surveyor. John Stevens who is immortalized by Stevens Pass wrote in his reminiscences about Indian Pass. His boss, James Hill, gaved him the responsibility to find a route through the mtns between Stampede Pass used by the Northern Pacific RR and the Canadian border. Stevens writes "From Indian Pass I followed the crest of the Cascade mountains clear through to Snoqualmie Pass. I personally examined every nook and corner of that area which seemed to offer any prospect that might be worth consideration. C.B. Haskell...was my only assistant that summer. He [Haskell] blazed a name on a cedar tree 'Stevens Pass' and continued through the pass down the Skykomish." He writes further that "Indians & Whites crossing the mountains used either Snoqualmie on the south or Indian Pass on the north for the route of transit."
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