Forum Index > Trip Reports > Most Remote Point in the Pasayten, Oct 24-25, 2020
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostTue Oct 27, 2020 9:13 pm 
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Most Remote Point in the Pasayten Wilderness (aka Tarn 7045)

55 miles, 11,000ft gain

3am Oct 24- 3pm Oct 25 (36 hours continuous moving, mostly breaking trail through snow)

Iíve been interested in visiting very remote points around the world for a while, having done mountaineering expeditions deep in northwest territories and nunavut, Canada and western mongolia. Here in Washington one of the most wild and remote areas is the Pasayten Wilderness in the northeast cascades. I thought it would be a fun challenge to try to visit the center of this region, theoretically one of the farthest points from civilization in the lower 48 states. But where, exactly, would this point be, I wondered?

Conveniently Greg Slayden on peakbagger has determined the most remote points of the largest wilderness complexes in the US. The definition he uses is to draw the largest circle possible completely inside the wilderness boundary, and the center of the circle is the most remote point. This is not necessarily the point farthest from a road, but is still the point farthest away from where a road could be legally constructed. This is because the forest service is allowed to create roads in national forests for logging, but not in wilderness areas.

The boundary of the Pasayten Wilderness
The boundary of the Pasayten Wilderness
The route
The route
Determining the location of the most remote point (image from peakbagger)
Determining the location of the most remote point (image from peakbagger)
Satellite view of the location
Satellite view of the location

It turns out the most remote point in the Pasayten is on the northeast corner of a small tarn unofficially called tarn 7045, which is just below and to the west of Dot Mountain and Ptarmigan Peak. I was surprised that it was at such an interesting location, on the very shore of an alpine lake at the edge of treeline. It could have easily been on the side of a hill down in the trees, but wasnít. In 2018 I had come close to this point when I traversed from Dot Mountain to Ptarmigan peak on a bulger-bagging trip, but didnít realize its significance.

In early October Matthew flew up from California for the weekend and we planned to hike to tarn 7045 and camp exactly on the most remote point. We started at the Canyon Creek trailhead and made it about 30 miles in to lease creek by about an hour before sunset. There was no snow and we were making good time on the trails. On the quad maps there was a trail #470 labeled that followed lease creek all the way up to lease lake, and the trail came within a mile of tarn 7045. We had planned to take that trail up, but when we got to lease creek we couldnít find any sign of a trail. There was just a maze of fallen trees from an old forest fire.

It looked like a pretty challenging bushwhack, and we didnít want to be bushwhacking 5 miles in the dark, so we modified our objective to camp at the Pasayten airstrip instead, which did not require bushwhacking. We hiked out the next morning and I vowed to return some time to get back to tarn 7045.

The next weekend I planned to hike in again, but this time from Slate Pass, a much closer trailhead. I drove up Saturday morning trying to arrive after a major rain event Friday night. However, shortly before reaching slate pass, just beyond Deadhorse Point, my tire pressure sensor light went off and I had a fast-leaking flat tire. I had a donut, but no full size spare. So I quickly pulled over, put the donut on, and then slowly drove back down. I spent the rest of the day getting new tires (including a full size spare) at the Twisp Les Schwab, and had to change objectives since there was no longer time to hit tarn 7045. (I ended up hiking some 7,000ft peaks near Tiffany Mtn)

Turning around near lease creek in early october
Turning around near lease creek in early october
Lots of mountain lion or lynx tracks on the hike in
Lots of mountain lion or lynx tracks on the hike in
First hints of dawn
First hints of dawn

Two more weeks passed and I still wanted to make it to that tarn. It was only getting more difficult, though. Slate Pass had already been snowed over and was likely not reachable by car. Then Oct 23 a major snow event was expected with 1-2ft of snow falling in the mountains and reaching all the way to the valley floor. It was forecast to be followed by clear skies but record cold.

I figured conditions would only get more difficult as it got closer to winter, so I might as well give the trip another try. This time I would plan to start at the Robinson Creek trailhead, which was low enough I could probably still drive there. Mid week I got a minor running injury that I thought would keep me city-bound for the weekend, but by Friday morning my knee had improved enough for me to give the trip a try.

I left town that evening and drove through the snowstorm on a very snowy and treacherous highway 20 down to Mazama. There was about 6 inches of unplowed snow on the road in Mazama, but I was able to drive in to the Robinson Creek trailhead and go to sleep in the back of the forester by 10:30pm.

Saturday morning I packed up my overnight gear, snowshoes, and started up the trail. Gear selection was a bit interesting for this trip. I considered skiing, but the snow was fresh and unconsolidated enough that I would probably scratch up the skis, even though the route would be snow covered the whole way. So I brought snowshoes. I hiked in my evo nepal boots because of all the snow and predicted cold (forecast to hit -10F on the summit of Ptarmigan saturday night). I had never put that high mileage on those boots (55 miles), so was a bit concerned about blisters. I brought a 0F sleeping bag and a winter single-person tent, planning to camp on the edge of tarn 7045, which might be too windy for a bivy sack.

I had done some research and concluded there are no online reports of anyone visiting tarn 7045 or hiking up lease creek. That trail was most likely abandoned after the 2006 tatoosh complex fire, and all thatís left is a wild bushwhack. Given that Saturday was forecast to be sunny, my plan was to hike in to lease creek, then follow a decent trail up to tatoosh buttes and follow the ridge past ptarmigan, then drop down the ptarmigan-dot col to the tarn. This would avoid all bushwhacking and give excellent views above treeline. Then sunday morning I could retrace my route or try to bushwhack out.

Nearing Robinson Pass
Nearing Robinson Pass
Looking down into the middle fork pasayten valley
Looking down into the middle fork pasayten valley
looking up towards buckskin ridge
looking up towards buckskin ridge

This plan had the advantage that if the weather were bad Saturday I could always bushwhack in and keep the entire trip below treeline. There exist more direct options to access tarn 7045, such as hiking through the caru-lago pass down to lease lake, or hiking up and over lago and running the ridge to dot, but these all require good weather and have no backup option if the weather turns out bad. My route was long (55 miles round trip), but seemed doable no matter what the weather.

I was pretty familiar with the Robinson Creek Trail, having made three trips up to Robinson Mountain in the winter. This time I saw something new, though Ė sets of fresh mountain lion tracks in the snow for the first half mile. They might be lynx, but in any case were a large cat.

As I continued up the trail the snow got deeper, though not enough to put on the snowshoes yet. After a few hours I crossed Robinson Creek near Porcupine Camp and saw a huge canvas tent set up in the woods with a metal chimney sticking out. I think it was some hunters staying up there long term.

Shortly afterwards I broke out at the edge of treeline and it finally started getting light out. The snow got deep enough I broke out the snowshoes and broke trail up to Robinson Pass by 9am. It had taken 6 hours to go 9 miles, which was less than half the speed Matthew and I had hiked just a few weeks earlier. But we were in trail runners on dry trail then, and now I was in mountaineering boots breaking trail through shin- to knee-deep snow, so I guess I wasnít too surprised. I was a bit worried, though, about making it 27 miles in to the tarn before dark.

The next 11 miles were mostly downhill, though. I took a short break at the pass, then descended down to the Middle Fork Pasayten. Back at the valley bottom the snow got shallow enough I took off the snowshoes and continued on foot. The sun was starting to poke out, but the peaks were still stuck in the clouds.

Looking up towards Pt Defiance
Looking up towards Pt Defiance
shortly before the bushwhack started
shortly before the bushwhack started
typical log bushwhack jungle gym of lease creek
typical log bushwhack jungle gym of lease creek

I cruised down the trail for a few hours, but then got slowed down by lots of fresh blowdowns. Matthew and I had hiked out this trail three weeks earlier and it was completely clear, so a lot of trees had fallen over the past few weeks. Eventually by 2:30pm I reached the lease creek crossing and had to make a decision. The summits were still socked in the clouds and it was starting to snow. So much for the mostly-sunny weather forecast. I really wanted to hike over Ptarmigan Peak to avoid bushwhacking and get a good sunset view. But it just seemed like too high a risk of getting caught above treeline in the dark in a whiteout in a snowstorm. Plus it was supposed to be windy and drop to -10F up there overnight. It would be much safer to just stay below treeline, even if it was more difficult.

So I reluctantly decided to bushwhack up lease creek. I followed the Tatoosh Buttes trail up a quarter mile as it paralleled the creek, then I started my bushwhack as it started switchbacking up. The terrain started out not too bad. The area was devastated by the 2006 fire but luckily the fallen trees were sparse enough I could get through them without too much trouble. The snow was about shin deep, but powdery enough that it didnít make sense to wear snowshoes.

I made a descending traverse down to the edge of the creek, and actually saw one ancient sawed log. That was the only evidence of the abandoned trail, though. Soon the bushwhacking got much more difficult. A beaver dam flooded the valley and I was forced up on the side. Then the fallen logs got much denser and more numerous. It was a jungle gym labyrinth crawling over and under so many logs, balancing or scooting across streams on logs, and pushing through dense bushes. My poor snow pants suffered lots of rips, and I broke one of my hiking poles.

This was probably in the top five most difficult bushwhacks Iíve done, perhaps compounded by me carrying a winter overnight pack and postholing through snow. I vowed to hike out the above-treeline route if at all possible. After four challenging hours I reached the outlet stream of tarn 7045 and started bushwhacking up the hill below Dot Mountain. The terrain steepened as darkness came and it started snowing harder. I had unfortunately moved too slowly to reach the tarn before sunset.

Summits socked in the clouds. So much for mostly sunny weather
Summits socked in the clouds. So much for mostly sunny weather
At the most remote point after sunset
At the most remote point after sunset
GPS location of most remote point
GPS location of most remote point

I struggled up the hill, then the terrain eased a bit and the snow got deeper so I put on snowshoes. I marched up the side of the small drainage in the dark and low visibility, and eventually reached the edge of tarn 7045 at 7:30pm. I walked along to the northeast corner of the lake and took a break at the exact most remote spot in the Pasayten Wilderness. It had taken me 16.5 hours to get there, and it certainly felt remote. It was pretty neat to visit an area that likely very few other people have ever been to, so deep in the wilderness. Somehow the more difficult a place is to access the more I enjoy the adventure of getting there.

Unfortunately I was second-guessing my decision to camp there, though. It was on the edge of treeline and pretty windy. It was also snowing and kind of a whiteout. My thermometer registered 9F and it was only going to get colder, probably below zero.

I was prepared for all that, but then I started thinking about how Iíd get back to the car. Much of my hike in had been downhill, so it could take longer hiking back out breaking trail up. Much of my broken trail could have drifted back over by now. If it took, say, 20 hours to hike back out, Iíd have to leave around midnight if I wanted to get back to Seattle by midnight. It seemed unlikely I could hike out above treeline in those miserable conditions.

I also really wanted to get home before midnight. I was giving a statics exam early Monday morning and couldnít jeopardize missing that. So given the uncertainty in my speed I decided to just forego sleeping and hike straight back out. Then I could take a nap at the trailhead if I got back early enough.

I quickly layered up, snapped a few pictures, and rushed back down into the trees. The bushwhack I had hoped to not repeat was about to get repeated. At least I had my tracks to follow in the snow, though, so I wouldnít have to worry about navigating. I descended back to lease creek and then started back through the jungle gym. It was actually an excellent full-body workout crawling over and under literally hundreds of logs from knee-height to chest-height. My clothes suffered new rips, though.

Sunrise back at the middle fork pasayten valley
Sunrise back at the middle fork pasayten valley
looking back down the valley
looking back down the valley
Robinson Pass
Robinson Pass

By 1am I staggered back out to the trail. I still had 20 miles of trail breaking back to the car, but it felt like I had crossed a major milestone finishing the bushwhacking. I took a short food break and then started back up the trail. At this point I was on cruise-control, simply following my tracks through the snow, not worrying about navigation at all.

It also felt pretty good not needing to rush. On the way in I was kind of rushing to beat sunset, but at least on the way out now I was not rushing to get back home before too late. It was kind of mentally relaxing, though physically very much not relaxing.

I hiked for a few hours and then realized no matter how hard I pushed myself I could no longer generate enough body heat to stay warm. I tried forced shivering and jogging through the snow, but it didnít work.  The temperature was around 10F. I think I had reached some critical limit of exertion, sleep deprivation, and cold that my fat reserves could not keep me warm.  I had never exactly experienced this before. On any other trip if I just pushed harder I would warm up. On this trip I had been exercising pretty hard almost nonstop for the past 24 hours in the cold. This was probably on the more extreme end of trips Iíve done.

I stopped to eat some snacks and then almost immediately warmed back up again. I would follow this schedule for basically the rest of the hike out, stopping every 2 hours for a 5-minute break to scarf down as much food as I could. At one point at a stream crossing I quickly boiled some water in my jet boil and ate my two packs of ramen Iíd packed for dinner.

Eventually by 7am it became light enough to turn off my headlamp. I soon reached the intersection back towards Robinson Pass, and slowly snowshoed up. My tracks coming down were spaced far enough apart that I still had to break trail up to the pass.

I reached the pass at 10am and finally the sun was out and the summits were just starting to clear out. Apparently the sunny weather forecast for saturday had gotten delayed until sunday. I took another food break, relieved that at last it was all down hill back to the car.

Hiking down from the pass
Hiking down from the pass
Looking up towards Robinson Mountain
Looking up towards Robinson Mountain
Snow melting out down low
Snow melting out down low

My tracks near the pass had drifted back over so I broke trail back to treeline. Amazingly, despite having hiked 47 miles up to then in my mountaineering boots I didnít have any blisters. But that would soon change. As the snow depth decreased I took off the snowshoes and continued on foot.

At porcupine camp I noticed the big tent was gone and the trail from there down was broken by horse tracks. This seemed great at first, but then the snow started getting thin enough that it was melting down to the rocks. That got difficult to walk over, and I soon started developing blisters.

My pace slowed and I was supporting myself heavily with my hiking poles as I staggered down. I kept moving steadily, passing the beauty creek turnoff and stopping for another food break. It looked like tracks going up towards Robinson Mountain. That sounded like a cold summit for this weekend.

I kept moving and eventually reached the car at 3pm. It had been a solid 36 hours continuous moving, with no break much more than 5 minutes because of the cold. I chucked my gear in the car, changed out of my boots, and started driving. I had considered taking a nap at the trailhead, but was feeling good enough that I figured Iíd just drive straight home.

At the Mazama general store I stocked up on gatorade, M&Ms, jelly beans, and trail mix, which would all help me stay awake on the drive back. Then I queued up some podcasts and drove back over the snowy highway 20 back to Seattle by 8pm.

Link to more pictures
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Pyrites
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PostTue Oct 27, 2020 10:10 pm 
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Wow.

I wonder what the horse guys thought when they saw your tracks. Lucky they didnít get lapped.
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puzzlr
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PostTue Oct 27, 2020 10:20 pm 
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Great concept for a trip, and it looks like it was tough to execute. Congrats.

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Mid Fork Rocks ē flickr
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GaliWalker
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Have camera will use
PostWed Oct 28, 2020 9:49 am 
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You're crazy!  eek.gif  borank.gif

Pity there's no picture of the lake; probably frozen over though...?

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Stefan
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PostWed Oct 28, 2020 10:57 am 
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Interesting that many people have been near that location...but not at that location enroute from Dot to Ptarmigan.

You are crazy!  Moving so much!

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Art is an adventure.
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PostWed Oct 28, 2020 11:47 am 
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Thatís simply mind-boggling, Eric! Glad you achieved your objective and made it out alive! Last summer we looked for 470 as an alternate way to get over to the Pasayten Airstrip after coming off Buckskin Ridge, but we also found nothing but a huge mess.
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostWed Oct 28, 2020 7:39 pm 
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Quote:
Pity there's no picture of the lake; probably frozen over though...?

Yeah, I was disappointed to get there after dark with no view and not enough time to stick around til sunrise. I bet it would have been scenic! The lake was very much frozen over and covered in deep snow. This is about all I could get out of a picture in the dark and low visibility

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PostWed Oct 28, 2020 10:41 pm 
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But.... Eric.... not even one peak?
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carlb328
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 8:07 am 
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What an adventure. I have started threads on here before about what are the remotest or wildest areas in Washington. It's really more of a philosophical question than one with a definite answer, but the adventure is what really matters.
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 10:19 am 
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up.gif

I really like this idea.  I may do it myself next year, although I will probably take five days to do it and not use Lease Creek.

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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borank
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 12:50 pm 
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Here's what it used to look like before fire burned most of the trees off this side of Ptarmigan Pk.

Unnamed nr Ptarmigan Pk
Unnamed nr Ptarmigan Pk
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GaliWalker
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 1:22 pm 
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Thanks Borank!

It also looks like it has larches, so should make for a nice autumn destination.

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Tomlike
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 1:48 pm 
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Impressive.  Can't imagine what is more challenging on these trips, the mental or physical toll?

I have done some similar analyses in GIS looking for the most remote place.  Your report inspired me to quickly put this map together.  It looks like the spot you identified (the yellow star) is within the top quartile areas furthest from roads and trails (I used Canadian roads, but could not find a good Canadian trail dataset in my quick search).  You can also see the points with the max distances...perhaps motivation for more trips!


the other overlaping area
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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 6:44 pm 
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Canadian trail shown going up Lighting Ck to Thunder Lake at base of Lone Mtn. just N of the border. Maybe 2mi. to border.

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PostThu Oct 29, 2020 9:09 pm 
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Eric, your adventures never cease to amaze.
Eric Gilbertson wrote:
It was pretty neat to visit an area that likely very few other people have ever been to, so deep in the wilderness

In September  I did a lightweight version similar but much easier than your trip when attempting to reach Pt.Defiance ( site of a  forrner lookout) via the abandoned Pleasant Valley trail. Where I bivied was about two miles west of Tarn 7045'.
That night I mused that there possibly wasn't another person within ten or fifteen miles of me, kind of a cool feeling on this planet of over 7 billion souls.
However, even as I write I am watching a documentary called 'Alone Across the Arctic', the story of a young Canadian (Adam Shoalts) who did a solo crossing in 2017 of Northern Canada wilderness spanning  about 4000 km.
That's remote.
Made me feel like I was in the crowded September Pasayten.

Eric, perhaps you and Matthew could do a trip on foot and packraft to the most remote-from- road spot in Canada.
Just don't plan on teaching early the next morning after you finish!
Speaking as a (retired) professor, I believe your resilience after a very rigorous climb is remarkable, coupled with your ability to ignore ( or at least withstand) sleep deprivation...and then teach your classes!
Simply astounding.

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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