Zig Zag Fuel Truck

“I was able to take this picture before the truck caught my scent and fled back into the forest

Took the short, reasonably steep hike up to see the old truck on top of Zig Zag mountain.

The trail is in decent shape, though a pair of loppers and a hand saw could be put to some good use in sections.

Snow began at about 3300′ and soon become continuous to the truck. The snow was easily navigated without spikes or snowshoes however. It was snowing intermittently at 4000′.

Mountain Goats were out doing their thing!  One goat was seen grazing on the slopes of Middle Mountain Mountain (MMM Ridge) and a group of four was encountered at the hairpin corner at around 3300′ on Zig Zag. 

No other hikers were encountered on this trip.

Passing under the old Milwaukee Road


  • Trail is snow free to about 3300′
  • Goats were encountered.
  • A pair of loppers and a hand saw could be useful to clear overgrowth and blow down. 
  • Zig Zag is part of a large collection of homebrew trails and old logging roads. Lots of room to wander! 
  • 3mi to truck, 2800′ gain
Squint your eyes and use your imagination. Voila! Goats!

    Happy Trails!

    Surprise Gap Snowshoe 


    Weather predictions were promising for the weekend, though you’d never be able to guess by looking out of the rain spattered windshield as Nealbob and I drove by Skykomish.

    In little time we were at the Surprise Creek trailhead, a few cars were parked near the kiosk. Wandering patches of rain and chilly spring temperatures persuaded me to throw on my rain gear.

    Right off the bat I was wondering how long I’d be giving my snowshoes a piggyback ride up the hill, but before long the grade gave way to boot packed snow. I happily untethered the snowshoes from my bag and kept them on my feet the rest of the trip. They’d be totally indispensable later! 

    Avalanche heaps bedecked the open slopes of the lower Surprise Creek Valley and a particularly large one reached down the eastern slope far enough that the footpath was forced to cross it’s undulating surface. 

    Beyond the slide we passed two parts of a single party with about 15 mins in between them. Both had turned back at/or around the climb up the outlet stream. Another party we encountered along the way said they’d been to Surprise Lake and not much further beyond.

    The climb up the hill was straightforward, but required crossing some decaying snow bridges and skirting a drop off or two which kept it fun. 

    At Surprise Lake (4508′) we consistently started hitting deeper snow that made travel without snowshoes very difficult, which limited the further travels of Nealbob on this outing. 

    Home is wherever you find it.


    Adequately traveled for the day, we set up camp in a patch of trees near the outlet of the lake. 

    After boiling up a bit of hot tea and some post hike conversing, I donned my snowshoes again to see if I couldn’t catch a break in the clouds up at Glacier Lake (4806′). Nealbob’s canine companion Dora decided to join me on the relatively short journey. 

    In about a mile over crusty forest snow, the dog and I arrived at the north end of the lake. Conditions had improved to reveal views to Surprise Gap (5800′) but with a constant cloud cap right around the 6200′ level. 

     Jack London Calling


    The night was cold, but after throwing on all my layers and wrapping tight in my 30°F bag, it wasn’t unpleasant. 

    Above me, transient morning clouds were glowing with the promise of a sunny day as I fired some water for coffee to get the day caffeinated. 

    Snores were coming from Nealbob’s tent as I ambled out of camp on my morning tour. Dora wasn’t far behind. 

    Glacier Lake was the first destination and made for some stunning scenery as the clouds had now broken and let the blue of the sky tantalize us earthbound mortals.  

    Trees are the view so saith the bumper sticker

    Dora and I trammeled the untouched snow along the east shore of the lake, snapping pics and plodding along in the general direction of Surprise Gap. 

    In a clearing we encountered a set of weathered ski tracks, the only tracks I’d seen since Surprise Lake, but opted not to follow.

    Breaking out of the trees and into the vast avalanche bowl at the head of the valley, the change in contrast was blinding. 

    I plopped my butt down near some squat trees right at the base of Surprise Mountain and took in the views and some nourishing trail sustenance. Dora tried to eyeball me out of my mixed nuts and granola. “I already gave you my jerky!”

    Surprise Mountain slide


    Refueled and rewatered, the two of us set off up the gap. The scenery grew wider with each crunchy step up the hard frozen snow. 

    Along the east side of the bowl I again noticed the set of ski tracks, a small avalanche had covered a portion of the otherwise unbroken line. 

    We headed for the shady side to make our ascent, crossing the ski tracks as they switchbacked to the top.  

    At the top of the gap a light wind was blowing from the south, it felt good after the trudge. The ski tracks curiously continued on down towards the Deception Lakes. 

    Wonder where they were headed…

    Descending the gap


    By the time Dora and I returned to camp, Nealbob had already broken down his kit and was snapping pics of the much improved scenery. 

    I put on one last pot of coffee as I started packing my little home back into my bag. The light of the sun was now filling the entire Surprise Creek Valley, and turning the snow into mush. Glad I had my snowshoes! 

    Just after descending the steeper section of the route, we passed a determined fellow headed up the hill in a pair of shorts and high tops. 

    “How far is it to the lake?”, he asked. 

    Oh, ya got maybe another mile or so and a bit of gain.” we answered “Good luck!”

    With that, he postholed through the slush and off into the trees…


    • Trail is snow covered for most of its length. 
    • Snowshoes were helpful, and necessary for travel beyond Surprise Lake. (Unless you love to posthole)
    • Beware decaying snow bridges. 
    • Be mindful of ever changing snow conditions.
    • Avalanche is a very real danger in the mountains, educate yourself before traveling in avalanche terrain.
    El lobo y el lago


        A camp site conversation touched on the possibility of adding instant apple cider mix to some oatmeal. Nealbob and I agreed it could be a winner.

        Happy Trails…

        Big Four Avy Watching

        Nealbob and the Mountain

        Took an easy trip to the base of Big Four Mountain this weekend with ol’ friend and fellow blogger Nealbob from http://www.nealbobwalks.com/ to spy some spring avalanches careen down Big Four’s impossibly steep slopes.


        With the current gate closure at Deer Creek, the hike began on the snow covered Mountain Loop Highway.

        A little over a mile and a half of easy walking on snow was punctuated by the stark contrast of great mountain vistas and vile heaps of decomposing (dog?) feces along the path. 

        In little time we arrived at the Ice Caves Picnic area parking lot before embarking on the pleasant woodland walking of the Ice Caves Trail. 

        Path through the timber

        Luckily there were no serious blow downs or other obstacles along the grade, but snow was continuous from the Stilliguamish River crossing onward. 

        We arrived to discover we had the entire basin to ourselves. 

        Throughout the morning, periodic rivulets of snow tumbled down until a real doozy broke loose around 10am. 

        … and it was quite the show!

        A light stream of powder soon became a torrent of white doom as it rained down into the broad avalanche fan for several minutes. The air echoed with the brilliant chaos that a few tons of cascading snow tends to create. 

        Avalanche fans in the west basin

        HEADIN’ OUT

        Late morning steady drizzle signaled our time of departure. Just before the last glimpses of the avalanche basin were lost behind our steps however, another hefty heap of spring melt was liberated from the 6161-foot tall block of rock. The distant chorus of muffled impacts resounded through the conifers. 

        Apparently the sound carried all the way to the trailhead as both a pair of hikers and a pair of Forest Rangers we passed on the way out asked if we’d been witness to the spectacle. 

        “Yeah man, we were there…”

        “Uh, what do you supposed snapped these trees?”


        • Snow covering much of trail
        • Gate closed at Deer Creek, requires an extra 1.5mi+ walk to trailhead
        • Lots of dog poop
        • Approx 6.5mi RT
        • Extreme avalanche danger

        Road closed to vehicles at Deer Creek, snow currently covering most of the road to trailhead. Much of the trail is also snow covered with the exception of bridges and boardwalks.

        A hard packed footpath of snow exists most of the way to the avalanche zone. Traction devices advised. Waterproof footwear highly recommended. 

        Travel into avalanche area NOT recommended.


        • Avalanches kill. Keep a safe distance or don’t go at all.  
        • Please bag AND pack out your dog poop.
        • Road closure keeps the crowds down for the moment. Good time to take advantage of this very popular hike.


        Many lives have been tragically cut short due to the inherent natural hazards at the Ice Caves area. 

        Avalanches, falling ice or other debris, collapsing ice caves and many other hazards exist at all times of the year, but are especially heightened during certain seasonal conditions.  

        Know before you go. Stay safe, stay out of the avalanche area. 

            All in all about 6.5mi round trip

            *Disclaimer: The activities and actions described on this website are for entertainment purposes only. 

            HAPPY TRAILS!

            Cross-blog! (Trip Report)

            All I can think is Castlevania

            Roslyn,WA- This weekend harrybipedhiking.com joined forces with Exploring History in your Hiking Boots for an opened ended day of snowshoeing. 

            Sufficiently crappy weather led us to abandon a previous plan roaming around in the west side woods, instead opting for the lands eastward… but not too east.

            COAL COUNTRY

            In the Roslyn/Cle Elum area, coal mining was king through the first half of the 20th century. In the hills surrounding the town, the scars of that era are evident as huge tailings piles, dilapidated ruins and open pits turned braffing tracks.

            On the USGS maps, some of these former mining areas are clearly marked, and naturally had caught our collective eye for history. 

            Modern Art

            THE OL’ NUMBER SEVEN

            The topo showed the #7 mine surrounded by pick axe symbols and “open pits”, as well as being in reasonable walking distance. 

            Across sparse vegetation and under high tension wires we plodded along toward the site.

            A search of the area turned up little at first, but just a short trip uphill and I was startled by a modern and inhabited house! (Was not expecting that!) Well below the house stood a handful of concrete ruins, presumably the ol’ number 7.

            It was certainly the ruins of something. Of what… the jury is still out. As we milled about the site, an idea came from the ether…

            “It’d be pretty cool to snowshoe the cemetery

            “Yes. Yes it would”, was the correct response to that, and so down the road a few miles we went!


            If you’re a cemetery fan in Washington, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Roslyn Cemetery. If you aren’t a cemetery fan, the Roslyn cemetery might make one out of you. 

            (I’ll save the detailed write-up for another day! )

            Snowshoe trails amongst the trees and tombstones conspired with fog and falling snow to paint a surreal landscape. 

            Snow seems to lend a silence to the land, and sometimes silence can give voice to the silent: 

            I sat down and suddenly locked eyes with a woman across the way.  She was born some years before my great grandma, yet there we were, probably about the same age, looking across time. 

            The silence spoke to me a little, and remembered my great grandma’s face.

            I was reminded of the importance of appreciating the living while we all yet dwell in life, and departed to rejoin my friends. 

            Not unlike an apparition

            DUST TO DUST

            I rejoined Kevin and Julie from www.exploringhistoryinyourhikingboots.com for a picnic complete with hot tea, cheese and smoked salmon atop one of the cemetery’s hills…

            When I was a kid, my family used to picnic in cemeteries with some regularity. We’d walk around looking for the oldest dates or unusual inscriptions. Pretty sure we never knew anyone there.

            Not much has changed I guess, except that this time I was wearing snowshoes. Gotta say; cemetery snowshoeing. Personal first. 

            (Well except that one time when out hunting and found a small graveyard behind a collapsed cabin on the Gulkana River. Remind me sometime, I’ll tell ya)

            We tied up our unusual tour of the Roslyn Cemetery just as the late daylight began to peek through the clouds. 

            Stigmata moss?

            TRAIL HEARSAY

            Obviously not a lot of juicy trail tidbits on this journey, but I should mention that the vast former mining area of “The number 7” seems to be a large private (but open to non motorized public use) mountain bike park or something. Er, future park. 

            I’m definitely thinking about coming back with my bike in less snowy conditions. 

            Oh, there may have been a rumor started about future crossblog adventures, so, stay tuned! and…

            HAPPY TRAILS!

            Explorer Falls (Trip Report)

            I feel a cinematic sequence coming on…

            Lake Roesiger, Snohomish County, WA- Today was a respite in the recent cold snap we’ve been having here in the Great Northwest. Not by much, but it was above freezing most of the day. 

            Under my feet was a mixed bag of ice and packed snow but mostly gravel. No blowdown or obstacles to speak of, clear to the falls…

            Except for one point where the road is replaced with a big trench and a bunch of logs shoved around at odd angles to make it as annoyingly obstructive as possible!

            It’s either an avant garde homage to World War I era trench warfare or they’re trying to keep the vigilante motorists out. Either way you’ll have to contend with it. 

            Sprinkle on some Ice-Melt and that scramble is as right as rain!

            EXPLORER FALLS

            Despite the balmy 35°F day, the waterfall was still wonderfully frozen. 

            Impressive ice formations grew on anything they could within the spray radius of the falls, including the mysterious “Hobbit Hole”.

            The trail to the top of Explorer Falls was clear of any significant impediment or serious traction issues. 

            Does this look like the Virgin Mary or is it just me?

            TRAIL HEARSAY 

            King County Search and Rescue was conducting field training along the Explorer Falls route. 

            For anyone hiking out to the falls today, it would have been impossible not to notice the curious two person teams with their plastic coated maps in tow. 

            I stopped to ask one plucky, yet perplexed looking pair what they were up to:

            ME:”Hey, you fellas part of a search party or something?”

            FELLA#1:”Yessir, we’re here on a training scenario with King County Search and Rescue!”

            ME:”That’s cool! What you looking for?”

            FELLA#2: “His water bottle.” 

            Yeah, yeah I know, these writers are terrible! But hey, you get what you pay for!  This is a proudly B-list site! 

            I like that they went with the “Chainsaw Massacre” trail signage motif


            Take the Snohomish-Wenatchee exit off I-5 onto Highway 2 in Everett. At milepost 10 turn left onto 100th St SE (Westwick Road). Just past the French Creek Grange, the road bears sharply to the left (north) and becomes 171st Ave. Continue on 171st Ave SE to a 4-way stop; turn right onto Dubuque Road (36th SE) go east on Dubuque Road for approximately 6 miles; turn left onto S Lake Roesiger Road; bear right at the Y to continue on S Lake Roesinger. Drive 2.3 miles take a right onto Monroe Camp Road. Drive 1.3 miles and then bear left at the Camp Edward (formerly Camp Brinkley) sign and follow the road to end. Do not go up the logging road on the left, stay on the pavement. There is a yellow gate blocking you from going any further and an area to park on the left-wta.org

            All together I pranced around for 3.5 miles.

            Happy Trails!

            Tenneriffe Falls (Trip Report)

            North Bend, King County, WA-

            I took a little hike up to Tenneriffe Falls on this clear, cold January day. Ice and shallow snow cover the grade from about the parking lot onward. 

            Getting to the waterfall didn’t require me to don any extra traction but doing so certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea. If you wanna get any further, like up to the top, you’ll certainly be needing something more than just boots on your feet.


            For the moment Teneriffe Falls has congealed into a big, blobby, block of ice, so it’s a great time to come visit and soak in some winter wonder. 

            A steady supply of ice cubes causally rained down as I stood there watching. Every now and then, something larger would break loose, setting off a shower of ice balls of all sizes. 

            Standing directly below the waterfall is probably not a good idea. 


            I ran into a young fella who said he had spent the night near Teneriffe summit, then hiked over to the Talus Loop to catch the sunrise. Above and beyond man!

            A gal who traveled past  the waterfall and onto the ridge reported that she ran into thigh deep postholing.

            Anyway, guess that’s neither here nor there…


            From I-90, take exit 32 (436th Avenue SE). Turn left (north) over the freeway and drive 0.5 miles to SE North Bend Way. Turn left (west), and in 0.25 mile turn right (north) on SE Mt Si Road. In approximately 3.5 miles (past the Little Si and Mt Si trailheads), you will reach a small parking area on the left (directly across from 480th Ave). A Discover Pass is required to park here. -wta.org

            I screwed around for a total of 7 miles

            HAPPY TRAILS! 

            Al Lake 4750′

            I don’t know who Al was, but he’s got a lake named after him high up in the Necklace Valley.


            Challenge: “fishermen’s trail” yds-2

            Distance: (from Necklace Cabin) <1mi

            An established fisherman’s trail can be found near the Necklace Cabin heading off in the general direction of Al Lake.

            Al from the air!

            ♫♪OH GIVE ME A HOME…♫♪

            A peninsula at the north end of this little lake offers an established camping site that can hold a few tents. 
            This is also one of the best overall vistas to think of influential Als in your life.

            Like Captain Lou Albano or Al Bundy.

            FLOGGING WATER

            I can’t definitively say that this lake is without fish, but if there were some, they were awfully quiet. 

            Instead of fishing you could try scrambling pt.5243 which juts out above Al’s north eastern shore. Some hippie with dreadlocks told me there are a handful of rusting relics up top. No joke!


            A self issued backcountry permit is required for travel in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

            You’ll need a NW Forest Pass to park at the Necklace Valley trailhead.

            For more info visit: http://www.fs.usda.gov/mbs/


            USGS Big Snow Mountain

            Beyond the Mailbox: “The HI-90”

            The air at 5200′

            Ever been to the top of Mailbox Peak?

            Maybe, maybe not. But if you hike near Seattle I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Probably even on your list.

            Around here it has achieved something of a mythical status, whether that is deserved or not is up to you, but hell, there is a freakin’ MAILBOX on top!

            Funny how location can make something as ubiquitous as a mailbox suddenly so alluring.

            There’s even a warning label!

            MAILBOX PEAK 4841′

            Ye Olde Route

            There really isn’t much to say about Mailbox that hasn’t been said before.

            The olde route is reasonably steep and muddy, but it’s fierce reputation might have a LOT more to do with its proximity to the ever burgeoning population of Seattlopolis than it does about the mountain itself.

            That being said… If one could see the invisible mounds of discarded hubris laying all over this hill!

            The first 2/3 or so of this hike is through forest, but you’ll break out and find yourself in talus and heather.

            There isn’t any serious scrambling to speak of rather; mud, rocks, roots and occasional dog poop bags.

            The reward for your hard work is a photo op with the box and about 100 of your closest friends (on any sunny weekend)

            Admittedly I have not yet tried the new trail, but from what I understand it trades steepness for distance.

            Pick yer poison!

            “Birthplace of Kevin Costner’s ‘The Postman'”


            Elevation Gain: (with Mailbox) 7,000’+-?

            Mileage: (with Mailbox) 15mi+

            Challenges: No trail, YDS 3+ scramble, mountaineering skills req’d

            Standing at the box, a bootpath tempts some of us further along the ridge…

            Right off the bat there is some scrambling, which probably tempers a lot of people’s desire to go further.

            Much of the journey is the same; faint path, no path, rock scramble.

            So just where in the hell does this “path” go…?

            You have to fight a boss enemy before you can get to the forest stage

            DIRTY BOX PEAK 4926′

            Dirty Box summit is an unremarkable high point along the way to an open perch looking towards Dirty Harry’s Peak.

            This little perch is where I imagine most people do their summit lounging.

            Perhaps you can contemplate what it means to sit atop a suggestive portmanteau.

            Continuing down the ridge, signs of the “path” can be difficult to trace.

            At some point it will become apparent that you’ll have to drop a ways down the south side of the ridge to avoid impassable sections.

            Regain the ridge when you can, at its end you’ll encounter a class 3 down climb.

            There was one move that I didn’t want to do with my pack on, so I lowered it down with a rope.

            Without the pack the scramble wasn’t a problem.

            The afterglow of that small victory was short lived, however…

            From here doesn’t look so bad

            THE CRUX

            When I got to Dirty Harry I thought I was screwed.

            It’s pretty much a cliff. It’s a face. It’s DIRTY HARRY’S FACE.

            I shimmied up the first good looking crack but further up looked beyond my risk level, especially with a bag.

            I saw a precarious but promising hope; Another crack in the cliff with some evenly spaced trees growing out of it.

            Without the trees I would not have attempted this, and without the trees I think this is beyond the definition of ‘scramble’.

            (A much safer alternative might be to start from…)

            Where’s Waldo?

            DIRTY HARRY’S PEAK 4680′

            I followed the Dirty Harry trail down from the summit, watching for a good place to continue along the ridge.

            Stay high and head east.

            The ridge gives some revealing views down to the I-90 before dropping you near Dirty Harry’s Bathtub.

            There is often water available in this little basin and the tranquility here makes for a good rest.

            Looking back at Webb

            WEBB MOUNTAIN 5335′

            This is an exercise in talus, at least up it’s western bowl.

            One way or another you’ll be dealing with a lot of it. This can be mitigated by traveling the forested patches on the southern side.

            The ascent isn’t technical. Just aim toward the ridge, then stay below the chaparral up top, looking for a way in.

            A path through the brush leads to the top.

            Puny mortals and their cars

            PUTRID PETE’S PEAK 5220′

            Looking east from Webb the next highest point is Putrid Pete’s Peak (P3) named for legendary climber Pete Schoening.

            There are no obstacles besides the steep heather, slabby rock and wide open views.

            A short scramble puts you on top of P3 to make your mark in the summit register.

            Beyond Pete is more wide open ridge walking.

            Toward the eastern end as the trees start to cover the bare ridge, there are decent bivy sites but no real water.

            “Far have I traveled”

            MT. DEFIANCE 5580′

            Continue along the ridge working your way up and through the trees. A number of “paths” lurk around.

            You’re looking for the Thompson Lake trail. It’ll look like a freeway compared to what you’ve been on. Head east.

            This trail intersects with a spur up to Mt. Defiance if you feel the need to go up there for some reason.

            After all that nonsense though I’m looking for a place to rest my weary legs…

            …and I’ve been up there already anyway.

            Rainbow Lake


            Now you’ve got tons of choices: Mason Lake, Island Lake, Lake Kulla Kulla, Blazer Lake, Bandera Mountain (If you just haven’t got enough uphill!)

            These are reasonably trafficked lakes though, at least the ones on the main trail. Think early Friday.

            Take a load off, you’ve earned it!

            Pratt Mountain

            PRATT MOUNTAIN 5099′

            Continuing east on the trail there is a point where you’ll cross a boulder field which is sometimes marked with a cairn.

            This is the route up Pratt Mountain if you just have to bag it!

            The trail winds down the steep forested slopes above Talapus Lake and again the I90 can be briefly seen.

            Sooner than later you’ll come to a crossroads; one leads down to Olallie and Talapus Lakes (and back to civilization if you have to bail!)

            The other leads down into the Pratt Lake basin. My car is parked at Denny Creek so I’ve only got one choice.

            It’s a pleasant hike down to Pratt Lake, the trail comes in above the lake and passes by a day use site with shore access.

            The next landmark is Lower Lake Tuscohatchie, a beautiful waterfall roars from across the lake.

            Both can be reasonably popular lakes so if you’re going to stay don’t wait too long to find a space.

            Lower Lake Tuscohatchie

            THE FINAL PUSH

            Leaving the sights and sounds of Tuscohatchie behind, plod along towards Melakwa Lake at the top of Hemlock Pass.

            Above are the rough visages of some dramatic mountains; Kaleetan Peak, Chair Peak, Bryant Peak, “The Tooth”.

            Some of these can be scrambled despite their fierce appearance.

            Compared to some of the other gains you’ve made on this journey, Hemlock Pass is a cakewalk, IMHO.

            I wasn’t trying to be creepy, you two were just really cute sitting there

            THE MELAKWAS

            At the top of Hemlock Pass are the Melakwa Lakes and really the last good place to camp along the “HI-90” route.

            These are well loved lakes and for good reason; the scenery is world class.

            Stop for a minute, cast a line or spend the night. Whatever you decide to do, it’s all down hill from here!

            Hopefully the windows didn’t get broken out of my car!

            Oh boy, civilization…

            THE VERDICT

            This was a great tour all around!

            My only real suggestion is to avoid the Mailbox Peak to Dirty Harry section because of the dangerous climb out of the gap.

            …but for some of us that’s the appeal!

            I did this trip in two days and a night basically, and after subjecting myself to that I would suggest taking 2-3 nights minimum.

            Not only to save your legs but also to maybe squeeze in a side scramble or an off trail lake.


            THE PAPERWORK

            Mailbox Peak falls under the jurisdiction of the state DNR and as such there are prohibitions on certain activities such as camping.

            A Discovery Pass is required for parking, but I’m not sure about their rules regarding overnight parking.

            This could complicate using two vehicles… (I got dropped off at Mailbox after leaving my car at Denny Creek)

            KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

            Denny Creek is in the National Forest and requires a NW Forest Pass for parking.

            Traveling within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness requires a self issued backcountry permit.

            Just dropped in to say hello


            USGS Bandera, Mt.Si, Snoqualmie Pass

            HAPPY TRAILS

            Mt. Phelps 5535′

            Now the fun starts!

            Looking east from Seattle, the mountain minded are sure to eventually notice the bulbous, blocky visage of Mt.Phelps and think “I gotta climb that damn thing!”


            JUST THE FACTS MA’AM

            (From the Blackhawk Mine)

            MILEAGE: 1.5 mile-ish

            GAIN: 2855′

            CHALLENGES: “climbers trail”, no trail, YDS-3 scrambling; route finding, snow and rock scrambling skills required

            Phelps’ estranged east summit

            WHAT’S IN A NAME?

            If you’ve got a copy of USGS Mt.Phelps you might be a little confused.

            “…but it says Phelps is the more southern peak, pt.5162!”

            You’re right, it does! WTF BRUH?!

            In 1896 a survey of the area put the name “Phelps” on the ridge of pt.5162′.

            The confusion appears to have started in 1897 when the legendary publication “Mining in the Pacific Northwest” calls pt.5535 “Phelps”.

            In 1921 the USGS published “USGS Sultan” with pt.5162′ listed as “Phelps”, reaffirming the lower summit as the bearer of the name.

            The main confusion might not be from the maps at all, rather from local climbers who learned from other climbers that the big blocky one is Phelps.

            Beckey calls it Phelps, and to perhaps even add more confusion he calls 5162′ “Little Phelps!” (Personally, makes more sense)

            Finally in 1985, the Washington Board of Geographic Names, in an effort to finally quell the befuddlement, officially bestowed the name “Phelps” upon the 5535′ tall summit….

            The USGS either didn’t get the memo, or they don’t recognize the challenge to their nomenclature. Either way it’s still McClain Peaks on the map.

            So just what’s in a name? Over a century of confusion and counting!

            Just to be absolutely clear about which hunk of rock I’m talking about:

            Mount Phelps: 5535′
            McClain Peaks/ Lil’ Phelps: 5162′

            Little Phelps/ McClain Peaks


            Assuming you found your way to the Blackhawk Mine road (driving directions at bottom), follow it up until you see a narrower spur road heading sharply uphill to your right. Follow it.

            The spur ends at the collapsed adit of the Blackhawk Mine. Don’t get too excited, it’s definitely a landmark rather than a destination.

            In the immediate vicinity of the mine you’ll likely see a somewhat established trail, it might even be flagged.

            Follow this up through the clear-cut. Yep, I know clear cut sounds pretty shitty, but it’s not that terrible.

            The trees are tall enough to provide some shade and there is a “climber’s trail” leading the way up through it. (Bring loppers!)

            The next distinct area is the older high timber. The trail is equally scarce through here and the flagging diminishes.

            Basically you are just heading up, so when in doubt just do that.

            In the high timber the path starts wandering into the drainage bisecting Phelps and McClain. Continue to gain elevation on the low hogback to its east side.

            Going up!

            BEYOND THE TRAIL

            Breaking out of the high timber near the base of Mt.Phelps’ south face, the “climbers trail” gives up the ghost.

            At this point there are a number of ways to the top, however I’m just gonna tell you the one I know.


            From about when the high timber gives way I started heading towards the SW ridge.

            Traversing a short patch of trees, I came to a snowy chute and traversed it with just a slight gain. (Looking back I MAY have been able to access the ridge higher via climbing the chute)

            After one more small chute I could see the lands west of Phelps so I started looking for a way to gain the ridge.

            After weighing a couple options, I decided to scramble maybe 20ft of easy rock which put me onto ‘moderate’ snow.

            The rest of the way was a pleasant, yet sufficiently steep snow scramble. (2016 Snowpack: 39% of normal )

            I descended the same way I came, but I oughta warn you that losing the “climber’s trail” was much easier on the descent…

            If you wanna see a shitty clear-cut, just bomb straight down to the road if you catch my drift…

            Not a soul in sight!

            TOP OF THE WORLD

            Phelps offers a fantastic juxtaposition of views.

            If you didn’t know better, to look east it’s easy to believe the mountains never end.

            Westward, millions of people go about their daily lives just below your feet, and the mysterious Olympics quietly beckon in their strange, subtle call.

            Perhaps best of all is the bizarre isolation.

            You’d likely be waiting up here a long time before you’d ever see anyone. Yet there you are, living and dying in front of close to 4 million people.

            Hell of a feeling, lemme tell ya!

            Just when you think you’re all alone…


            Take the North Fork road from North bend. You’re going to go quite a long way. (20mi+)

            Continue beyond the Bare Mountain turn off. You’ll pass a 4×4 road cutting back across the hill, continue. After some rough patches you’ll come to a second 4×4 road, this is the Blackhawk Mine road.

            At the time of this writing (May 2016) a vehicle with decent clearance could make it all the way up. If you don’t wanna risk your ride, park and bike up.

            Watch for a narrow road branching off to your right.

            I suppose you’d call this the “trailhead”.

            Crater Lake and Red Mountain. Yes and no.


            These are the lands of the Northwest Forest Pass, although enforcement might be far and in between, don’t say I didn’t warn you.


            USGS Mt.Phelps is the map ye shall need!

            Woot! Class of 2016!


            Rhino climbs -lots of info regarding the naming issue, as well as a route description up McClain Peaks.

            HAPPY TRAILS!

            Wilderness Navigation

            I’m going to try something a little different today and do this all on my phone!

            Heybrook Lookout

            FRIDAY 12FEB2016

            At some point in the very recent past I lost track of my compass. At this point I’ve concluded it’s either becoming one with nature or in the dark recesses of a forgotten pocket or stuff sack.

            Whatever, it’s gone. Life is about change and how we deal with it, so I bought a new compass.

            I was in a rush. I slipped in the door minutes before REI closed. It’s Friday, “Hey, I work for a living too!”

            I’m courteous, these people wanna go home. I’m moving my ass.

            Turns out in the mad flurry of all my ass moving, I left with a fixed declination compass, a Suunto A-10. Fantastic. Not an approved compass.

            OK, OK no problem. I’ll just draw the declination in with a marker, good, done!

            Happy campers

            SATURDAY 13FEB2016

            After an early, lethargic drive we arrived at the Mountaineer’s Heybrook Lookout parking lot. I guess there has been a problem with break-ins at the regular trailhead so they use their own instead.

            Oh, get this. I found my compass, it was in my backpack. Don’t judge me, we’ve all been there.

            The wilderness navigation class is a requirement for Mountaineers trips, as well as just a good idea before you try your hand at jumping off the beaten path.

            As you might expect, the students represent a wildly mixed bag of experience and physical fitness.

            The slowest person sets the pace.

            El bosque oscuro


            We all assembled at Heybrook Lookout to take a break and to split into groups.

            Get this! Some meth head stole the copper lightning rod from the Lookout!

            What a world.

            Anyway, we marched beyond Heybrook Lookout to the vast, neo-ecosystem that is the high tension transmission wire easement.

            Humbly dwelling below a pair of the stoic, steel giants are number of rotting stumps, many with a letter or number placarded atop.

            The idea is to take nine sightings from three different vantages and compare your findings to the master key held by the instructors.

            A two degree discrepancy or less is desired.

            Some of us thought the wires were having an effect on our compasses.

            Maybe a sort of electromagnetic interference or something else reasonably sciencey sounding.

            One of the instructors said they had brought out science equipment in the past and detected no such sciencey sounding disturbance.

            I believe him, I think it was too much or too little caffeine.

            This sort of thing could have gotten you burned as a witch some years ago…


            After our lesson in stump location we were told we’d be leapfrogging.

            We split into teams of two and were given a bearing and a starting location.

            Your team member follows a bearing for a dozen yards or so, then you take their bearing, and they take a back bearing on you. If your findings are in agreement you move to them after which the process is repeated.

            It was fun, and it works. 

            It worked so well it led us all to the lunching spot; an abundant, but heavily clouded panorama spanning eastward to Baring Mountain and westward to Mt.Persis.

            After lunch we were told we’d be heading to the final exercise…

            A giant long fallen

            EXERCISE #3:”KILL-OMETER”

            “We were specifically told this wouldn’t be a death march!” 

            … And it wasn’t. Rather an easy mile or so up a snaggy, old logging grade. 

            The rain had been constant, but mostly light up to this point. Now it was really starting to come down.

            “Pick a difficulty ranging from mellow to challenging. You will then be assigned a bearing to follow for approximately one kilometer. You will travel as a pair, but work as individuals. If you complete this exercise without your partner, you will be failed.”

            Up to this point the only other way you could fail was by walking on the highway during the quarter mile or so from the parking area to the trailhead. 

             Things were about to get serious.

            Teams were launched about five minutes apart on their mission downhill and through the woods.

            The forest was mostly free of annoying shrubs, but there were a lot of windfalls and dead snags.

            There were also some monsters left over from the tree mining era just rotting away on the forest floor.

            I thought the “Kill-ometer” (btw that’s NOT what they called it) was a pretty good exercise to top off the day.

            If for some reason you doubt the utility of a map and compass, the “Kill-ometer” will easily put those thoughts in check.

            Gritty action shot

            THEN WHAT?

            Logically, the goal was also the assembly point and so there we all waited.

            Steadily our numbers grew until there was only one pair left descending the hill.

            The rain was coming down, and we’d been out in it for eight hours. Looking around you could see it in some people’s eyes. (Remember: all skill and fitness levels)

            Some folks were obviously a little under prepared to spend a full day under the faucet.

            However spirits remained high with laughter and conversation heating the body by warming the soul.

            The last two finally arrived and after a congratulatory speech we all marched out. Like an army at first, then dwindling into groups, pairs and loners.

            Our little group met a young family on their way up. Mother, father and the little one enjoying a walk in the February rain.

            On the way to the Mountaineer’s parking lot we had to walk through the Heybrook parking area.

            There was only one car there, probably belonging to the young family.

            One window was smashed in, glass was all over the ground. Their car was robbed.

            I can’t help but wonder if it was the same crackheads who stole the lighting rod.

            Tree mining


            Whether you are old hat or still drenched behind the ears, developing your outdoor navigation skills isn’t a bad idea.

            Taking a class isn’t necessary. If you are so motivated, these are all skills you could learn on your own or with a friend.

            Get yourself a copy of “Wilderness Navigation” (The Mountaineers),  a proper compass and a USGS map.

            You oughta do OK.

            Taking a class however has the benefit of instructors who can help you, novel exercises that you might not ever do on your own, and who knows you might even meet a friend.

            Classes probably exist in your area

            If you live anywhere near Seattleopolis, the Mountaineers offer their navigation course year round.

            REI offers a navigation course as well, so if you live within driving distance of one of those, that could be an option.

            The point is, there is probably something near you if you look.

            I developed many of these skills on my own over the years, and after finally taking a class I can honestly say that maybe classes aren’t such a bad idea after all…

            I’m not sure “Teenage Harry”, hiking the hills in ripped up jeans, a T-shirt and a duct taped pair of Chuck Taylor’s would still quite get it though, he was always learning the hard way.

            Anyway, however you learn, with knowledge and experience we can develop the foresight to keep the odds stacked in our favor in our adventures.

            So why sell yourself short?

            A blurry, hairy biped

            Happy trails!