Forum Index > Trip Reports > Flora Mountain, March 2-3, 2024
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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostTue Mar 05, 2024 9:00 pm 
Flora Mountain (8,323 ft) March 2-3, 2024 16 miles biking, 9 miles skiing, 9kft ascent Eric and Paul 72/100 Winter Bulgers
On the summit ridge
On the summit ridge
The route
The route
On the ferry
On the ferry
Snow conditions were not great over the weekend, but it looked like the area around Holden village was going to be rain shadowed with minimal precipitation. I have a handful of Bulgers in that area that I still need in winter, and Iíd previously figured out a low-angle route up Flora Mountain that would completely avoid avalanche terrain. That looked like an ideal option for the weekend. The standard route up Flora is to take the ferry up Lake Chelan to Stehekin, then hike in and climb from the north. Iíd previously climbed Flora in the summer with Katie using this route. In the winter, however, access is more difficult. The ferry schedule is very limited, and the only option for a standard 2-day weekend is a Saturday afternoon ferry up lake and a Sunday morning ferry back down lake. I have a zodiac boat that could work, but it only goes about 5mph. Stehekin is 30 miles up lake from the closest put-in point (25-mile state park, which is closed in winter but theoretically accessible for a zodiac boat). That would make for a long 6-hour trip up lake and the same returning. Lucerne, another potential access point for Flora, is 20 miles up lake. Iíve made that trip before in the zodiac. From Lucerne, there is an 8-mile stretch of road before accessing my planned south route on Flora. Ideally Iíd bike that section. The zodiac is a bit too small to fit two people, two bikes, and skis and gear. Also, I recently had motor trouble on Ross Lake which resulted in paddling 12 hours up lake and a similar distance down lake. I think Iíve fixed it, but I need to get more miles on it before I trust it on another major trip. So, the only option would be the ferry with limited schedule. But it seemed like there might just barely be enough time on the ground between drop off and pick up to squeeze in the peak, if we didnít sleep Saturday night. The ferry would drop off at 2:30pm Saturday and pick up at 11am Sunday. That would give 20.5 hours on the ground, which we estimated might be sufficient. There was a bit of uncertainty in the road condition up to Holden. Iíd heard that a bus runs between Lucerne and Holden on a few weekdays to coincide with the ferry, though it doesnít run on weekends. That meant the road might be plowed, though perhaps still icy and snowy. It was unclear if it would be bikeable the whole way or skiable. Or maybe just too muddy for either. We decided to bring bikes just in case and try to make it work.
On the ferry
On the ferry
At the Lucerne dock
At the Lucerne dock
Biking up the switchbacks
Biking up the switchbacks
Paul has a few dirt bikes, and that would make for a nice quick ascent up the road. He called up the ferry, but they donít allow dirt bikes. The issue is the exit at Lucerne is a small staircase that would be difficult to carry a dirt bike up (~220 lbs). Electric bikes and regular bikes are allowed, though. For future reference, an electric mountain bike would be the ideal tool for the job for that approach. Iíve heard it is easy to hook up an electric motor to a regular mountain bike, and I might try that in the future. So the plan was to take the ferry to Lucerne Saturday afternoon, then immediately bike up to the south route on Flora. Then ski the route and bike back without sleeping, hopefully catching the Sunday morning ferry out. We defintely couldnít miss that ferry, though, since it was the only one all day. There are two ferry companies that operate on Lake Chelan, and we would be taking the Stehekin Ferry. This is the only one that operates on the weekend in winter. Saturday at noon we met up at Fields Point Landing, strapped our skis on our bikes, and went down to the dock. It turned out there were only two other passengers on the ferry besides us. Iím kind of surprised it still operates every day in the winter with such low demand. Iíve previously taken it on a day in February when there were no other passengers. We departed on schedule at 1pm and made fast progress up lake. By 2:30pm we were unloaded at Lucerne. There were patches of snow on the ground but the road was bare and not too muddy. There were a few mining trucks parked at the dock and one USFS truck, but we were the only people around. We soon started pedaling up the road. The switchbacks were steep, but luckily the road was in good condition and not muddy. After nine switchbacks the slope eased and we continued up the north side of Railroad Creek. Occasionally we got off to walk the bikes and get our heart rates down, but mostly we biked. By the four-mile mark the road got snow covered, but it was well-packed and easy enough to bike on. It looks like it gets plowed after big storms.
Past the switchbacks
Past the switchbacks
The snowy section
The snowy section
Skinning through the trees
Skinning through the trees
By 5pm we reached the eight-mile mark and stopped to transition to the skiing phase of the journey. We stashed our bikes in the woods and opted not to lock them. It was more likely that a lock would get frozen than someone would steal the bikes in that area. Snow coverage was good, several feet deep, and we started skinning up the slope. The planned route was a climb from 3000ft to 6500ft up a tree-covered slope with slope angles less than 35 degrees. The terrain started out bushy with blowdowns down low, but soon opened up for easy skinning. Darkness soon hit, and we could occasionally see the lights of Holden Village below. We took 30 minute shifts breaking trail, and the snow started firm and icy but soon changed to nice powder. We made steady progress, reaching the 6500ft saddle a few hours later. From there we dropped down gentle slopes to the north to reach Riddle Creek. Luckily the creek was melted out in a few sections, though it had 8ft snow walls on the sides. I had the perfect trick for this situation. Iíd brought a small section of paracord and I tied the lid of my nalgene to one end and the other to the end of my hiking pole. Then I went fishing for water. I chucked it in the melt pool, pulled it around a bit, and pulled up a liter of water. This saved a lot of time over melting snow, and we didnít have to make any sketchy downclimb into the creek. With the water topped off we crossed over to the south face of Flora and started up. Again we stuck to low angle slopes, eventually working our way up to a saddle at 7600ft on the southwest ridge of Flora. From here I expected the ridge to be scoured down to rock since the prevailing winds are southwest and the ridge faces southwest. Indeed, it was all rocks as expected. Thatís bad for skiing but great for stability.
Fishing for water
Fishing for water
On the summit
On the summit
Moon rising on the descent
Moon rising on the descent
We ditched the skis there, switched to crampons, and marched up. The final summit ridge had a big cornice on the east side, but we stuck to the rocks on the west. By 1:30am we reached the top, and snapped a few pictures. It was very cold and windy and I was happy to not have to rope up for anything. The forecast temperature for that time was around 5F and I believe it. In the southeast we saw a faint orange glow starting to appear, and that must have been the moon starting to rise. We soon turned around and descended to the skis. From there it was an amazing ski back down through the powder. Once across Riddle Creek we switched to skins. We had intentionally set a low-angle track on the way in, and we were able to re-use this track to skin back up to the 6500ft pass. From there it was another amazing ski descent 3500ft back down to the road. We skied fun powder up high, then technical icy terrain through bushes down low. By 5am we were back to the road and soon strapped the skis back on the bikes. We bundled up as much as possible for the descent, and it was frigid. We didnít really have to pedal at all, so werenít generating any body heat, but there was quite a bit of wind chill. I would have to ride one-handed warming up one hand at a time by curling my fingers into a ball in my mitten. I would alternate every few minutes. Gripping a cold bike handle and brake with wind chill is not super comfortable.
Back to the bikes
Back to the bikes
Back to Lucerne
Back to Lucerne
Ready for the ferry
Ready for the ferry
By 6am we finally cruised back in to Lucerne, just as twilight was starting. We had a full five hours to spare before the ferry came! I had planned ahead for this unlikely situation and had stashed a sleeping bag, pad, and bivy sack under the dock. I soon set up the bag next to the Lucerne sign and went to bed. Paul did not have a sleeping bag, but he managed to find some shelter nearby to squeeze in a quick nap. I got in a few hours of sleep, then packed up to get ready for the ferry. It arrived just after 11am as scheduled, and this time there were ten other passengers! I suspect people might take off Friday and make a long weekend trip to Stehekin, returning Sunday. Our schedule was a bit more unusual. By 12:30pm we were back to Fields Point and soon driving back home.

ALW Hiker, Eric Hansen, Nancyann, jsb, SeanSullivan86, Waterman, wallorcrawl, Now I Fly, NWtrax, dave allyn, John Mac, tNguyen, reststep, RichP, LukeHelgeson, zimmertr  GaliWalker
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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks



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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks
PostTue Mar 05, 2024 9:29 pm 
Another great report. Thanks for including all the logistics for these trips -- I think that's almost as interesting as the climbing.

Mid Fork Rocks ē flickr

jsb, Eric Gilbertson
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Roly Poly
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Roly Poly
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PostWed Mar 06, 2024 7:21 am 
Wow, Iím going to have to back and read your other trip reports. No sleep and an ascent and descent all in the darkÖÖbrutal!

hikerbiker
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Stefan
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Stefan
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PostMon Mar 11, 2024 10:51 am 
skiing downhill in the dark....I am always amazed at that.

Art is an adventure.
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Worthington
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PostTue Mar 12, 2024 8:37 am 
Cool trip - there's an A-frame cabin with a wood stove down at the Lucerne dock you could have use.

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Stefan
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PostTue Mar 12, 2024 9:10 am 
skiing downhill in the dark....I am always amazed at that.....I wonder what you gonna do on March 16/17 with such a great forecast!

Art is an adventure.
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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostTue Mar 12, 2024 4:07 pm 
Quote:
Cool trip - there's an A-frame cabin with a wood stove down at the Lucerne dock you could have use.
Thanks! Yes, that's where Paul ended up sleeping. Dang, I wish I would have known! Next time...
Quote:
skiing downhill in the dark....I am always amazed at that.....I wonder what you gonna do on March 16/17 with such a great forecast!
I used to think night backcountry skiing was about the most extreme sport imaginable. But with a super bright headlamp going slow following up tracks it's not too bad. My Argonaut Peak trip last weekend with Nick was my last winter Bulger for this season (I just put a report up on cascade climbers). My school's spring break starts this weekend so I'll be out of the country. Looks like a good weather window coming up though!

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