Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 10 | TRs
|September 30, 2018, 4:15am Ė 9:15pm
50 miles (42 miles hiking, 8 miles mountain biking), 11,000ft gain
Iíve been working on tightening my completion time window for the Bulgers, and just finished climbing Abernathy and the Gardners on Saturday evening. It was raining when I reached my rental car at the trailhead at 6:30pm, and I quickly loaded up my wet gear and got driving.
I needed to climb Oval Peak to shave another few months off my completion time, but unfortunately the standard approach to Oval Peak from the east was closed due to fires. However, the trails on the west side of Oval Peak in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness had just opened on Sept 29 and provided a backdoor access opportunity. The closure boundary had also been reduced so Oval Peak and the surrounding vicinity to the west were back open. It would be much longer trip the back way, though. I planned to start at the Crater Creek trailhead, and it would be about 40 miles round trip, which I planned to do in a day. I had a secret weapon, though Ė a mountain bike. The trail from the Crater Creek trailhead to Boiling Lake is a popular mountain biking trail and I figured I could bike at least 15 of the 40 miles to speed up the trip.
The approximate route
Cooney Lake with fresh snow. I ditched the mountain bike here.
Looking down at Cooney Lake from Angel's Staircase.
Online resources said the road was to the Crater Creek trailhead was open, but I encountered a road barricade. Apparently road work had been delayed from Sept 15, and had just started. I quickly formulated a backup plan to start from the Foggy Dew trailhead. It looked like it would make the trip about 10 miles longer, and I wasnít sure if the trail would be mountain bikeable, but I figured Iíd already invested so much in the trip by renting a car and driving out there that I might as well give it a try.
I drove down to the Foggy Dew trailhead and saw a dozen other cars, half of which had mountain bike racks on the back. It indeed looked like a popular biking trail, which was great news. I scarfed down some food and went to sleep in the car around 9pm.
I got up at 3:45am the next morning and was biking up the trail by 4:15am. For the next few hours I alternated between pushing my bike up the trail and riding it, with most of my time spent pushing it. I encountered fresh snow on the bushes around 7,000ft, and just after sunrise I reached Cooney Lake at 7,200ft. The larches were at peak color and were covered in a dusting of snow, making the scenery amazingly colorful. There were several tents around the lake, and I decided to leave my bike there. My route would ascend a steep trail up and over Angelís Staircase, and I knew there was more good mountain biking terrain on the other side of the pass. However, I figured it would slow me down pushing the bike up to the pass (and back up and over on the return), and I could make up that time by trail running on the good section of trail.
On buttermilk ridge just below Oval Peak
Looking down from Buttermilk Ridge
Looking towards Star Lake from near Fish Creek Pass
I climbed up Angelís Staircase, passing two other hikers, then started descending the west side. I then hiked up towards Boiling Lake, and turned west on the summit trail to the wilderness boundary. The trail past the wilderness boundary had formerly been closed for fires, but is now open.
For the next few hours I jogged on the downhills and tried to hike quickly on the uphills. I encountered about an inch or two of snow on the trails above 7,000ft, especially near Star Lake. I reached Fish Creek Pass around noon, and then bushwhacked through the woods to a small tarn on the east side of Oval Peak, avoiding the closed trails. Technically I was completely outside the closure zone the entire trip. From there I ascended to Buttermilk Ridge, and climbed the south ridge to the summit of Oval Peak. Somehow I covered the last 1,200 vertical feet in only 30 minutes, which was much faster than Iíd expected given the slippery boulders. I reached the summit at 2pm, just as it started to snow.
I now just had 25 miles back to the car. After about 10 minutes I turned around and retraced my route. This time I tried to jog as much of the trail as possible to make up lost time. I reached the base of Angelís Staircase by sunset, and hiked through a foggy whiteout to reach my bike at 8pm.
The next 8 miles to the car were amazing. The trail was smooth enough that I could sit in the seat and coast most of the time, only occasionally navigating through rock gardens. Visibility was pretty bad in the fog at night, and I did flip over once, but didnít get injured.
I made it to the car by 9:15pm, and was soon driving back to Seattle. I made it back and dropped off the rental car by 2:30am, which gave me a few hours of sleep before I needed to be on campus at 6:30am.
Full trip report and pictures at http://www.countryhighpoints.com/oval-peak-car-to-car-the-back-way/