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!”



(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


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!


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!


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.


Little Heart Lake 4204′

Little Heart Lake
Little Heart Lake

To get to Little Heart Lake you’ve most likely passed Copper Lake, and while extremely diminutive by those standards, Little Heart is nonetheless an alpine gem and a destination unto itself.


Little Heart Lake can be reached by taking the West Fork Foss River Lakes Trail #1064


There is a gap high above the south end of the lake which could be used to reach the remote north west arm of Big Heart Lake.

from the NE
from the NE

Camp Robber Peak is also attainable via this route.

Note: You may have to get wet…


I can personally vouch that there are Cutthroat Trout in this lake.

Wide open and reasonably accessible boulder shores in the north-east corner of the lake provide ample room for fly-casting.


There are a few established campsites at Little Heart Lake and along the trail that connects it to Copper Lake.

There is little opportunity to camp between Little Heart and Big Heart.

Campfires are prohibited at Little Heart Lake and at any point over 4000′ along the trail.

Other regulations may apply.

All kinds of talus!
All kinds of talus!

McClellan’s Butte 5162′

Ol’Mac looms…

If you are driving down the I-90 and spending more time looking out the window than on the road, McClellan’s Butte is hard to miss. It’s the big rocky spire, sorta looks like the Matterhorn from some angles.

Anyway, most rubbernecking hikers probably fall into one of two camps:

A: Man! I gotta climb that thing!


Hanging out along the ridge
Hanging out along the ridge

B: There is no F$%#ing way you’d catch me up there!

Well guess what? Ol’ Mac’s Butte is a win-win!

The prominent rocky spire doesn’t disappoint those looking for an airy scramble, and allows some decent bragging rights the next time you’re rubbernecking down the ’90.

Alternatively, if exposed scrambling isn’t your thing, the Butte provides a challenging enough hike and great views from a slightly less lofty perch just below the imposing monolith.



Distance: 9-12 miles RT

Elevation gain: 3700′ ft (1128m)

Difficulty: YDS-1 hike, YDS-3-4 scramble

Licks to get to it’s center: The world may never know…


Spittin’ Image!

McClellan’s Butte is named for General George B. McClellan, a civil war era general and moustache aficionado which history seems to hold in mixed regard.

In 1853, George was here in the Washington territory surveying possible routes for the coming railroad.

Ultimately, he came to the conclusion that Yakima Pass near Tinkham Peak would be the best option for the rails, however no one else of consequence shared his opinion and Yakima Pass was never used.

McClellan’s efforts were however recognized, and his name was bestowed upon the butte, perhaps, some speculate, due to their uncanny resemblance.

Later Ol’ George even made an unsuccessful presidential bid against the incumbent President Abraham Lincoln.

In the end McClellan died of a heart attack in Orange, New Jersey at the age of 58.


Biggest trees on the '90!
Biggest trees on the ’90!


We start out just off the Tinkham Road exit on the ’90. The trailhead is just a little way south of the interstate up a dirt road.

(There does however exist cheaters parking area further along the FS 9020)


The trail briefly winds along through forest, then beneath power lines, meandering along old grades. Early along there is a split, either way you’ll end up at the John Wayne Trail (Old Milwaukee Road)

Heading west at the split along an old grade will take you along the “official” trail.

Reaching the Milwaukee Road, you’ll likely hear Alice Creek to your left and might see a bicyclist or two scoot on by, to continue up the butte trail, look to your right.

Off trail scrambling
Off trail scrambling

It’s within this next section that one can find the “old” trail which ambles past the Alice Claim , where one can view a handful of mining relics from an earlier era.

The next grade crossing is that of the FS 9020 (the cheaters parking area), not a lot to see here but a gravel road, and usually some parked cars. Press on!

You may have noticed by now that there are some pretty impressive trees along the trail. Somehow these giants were spared the lumberjacks unforgiving sawblade, while their less fortunate brethren are now only massive stumps.

These are some of, if not the largest trees along the ’90, so feel free to plop your butt down and view them with reverence and awe.

Lotsa big ol' trees
Lotsa big ol’ trees

The trail now begins to climb, and soon, at about the halfway point, the next and most dangerous landmarks will appear…


As is evident from the lack of trees (or most anything but rock and snow) avalanches regularly thunder down these gullies when conditions are right for it.

Avalanches don’t always happen when you might expect!

Even during a nice, sunny spring day, so long as there is snow in the upper reaches, a slab of white death can break off and before you can say “Kalamazoo!” you’re history.

Just food for thought…. be aware!

Always check the Northwest Avalanche Center website for current avalanche conditions. (…and donate!)

Post thaw avalanche chute
Post thaw avalanche chute

Avalanches aside, these gullies can also be dangerous to cross for the unprepared as when they are snow filled they can be extremely steep.

Furthermore they can be undermined by flowing water and a simple posthole could potentially put you in the drink, or worse.

Carry the right gear, and know how to use it.


So after the avalanche gullies, the trail continues up and up.

Eventually you’ll round the south end of the ridge and sparse views of the FORBIDDEN lands of the Cedar River watershed will appear.

The trail does a large sort of U-Turn and soon you’re traversing the west side of the ridge.

The forbidden lands
The forbidden lands

(Note: this is a good place to jump off trail if you wanna scramble the whole ridge)

Here is a nice pleasant respite from the singularly upward direction of the trail prior to this, and with westward views and mountain meadows to boot!

Soon you’ll find yourself passing below the large rock walls of the ridge  before turning upwards, just below the summit block itself.

A steeper rocky section of trail is the last little bit to conquer before finding yourself at the landing beneath the imposing, monolithic block that is Ol’ Mac.

Ol' Harry up on the block
Ol’ Harry up on the block


As you will certainly see, the block is pretty exposed.

Climbing out onto it, you might think that exposed is an understatement when you discover that the block essentially terminates into oblivion, and any resultant falls from here would likely result in death, or worse.

Stay within your comfort zone, this isn’t a place to screw around.

That being said, the block isn’t technically difficult, and affords many hand and footholds that have been tried and tested hundreds of times before. (Never hurts to double check)

I read somewhere that at one time there existed an aviation navigational light at the top of Ol’ Mac, part of a system of lights that guided aircraft to Seattle.

“The Closer” ascending the block

In those times there was also a handhold and more of a path to the top. (At the moment my book collection is in storage,  so I’ll get back to you all about the specifics)

Along the scramble you can occasionally spy remnants of those days etched into the rock.

Once on the top you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your efforts (weather permitting) as you are standing upon one of the best viewpoints along the I90.

360º of unobstructed views!


In Cascade Alpine Guide vol. 1, Beckey describes a couple different routes;

One of them is ascending to the summit ridge via the upper south slopes by way of the second avalanche gully as a moderate winter or spring snow climb.

This one I can vouch for, as a couple friends and I took it one spring without knowing it was really a route. The slopes here are steep, but if you keep your wits about you, the ascent to the ridge is a piece of cake. Some light class 3 scrambling is the worst of it.

Ascending the south slopes
Ascending the south slopes

Keep in mind however, there are a lot of loose rocks, and you are climbing directly above a fairly popular trail.

Another is the East Spur, which I gather is essentially taking the first avalanche gully directly to the summit, I’ve looked at it and intend to give it a try someday, appears to be a long class 2-3 scramble.

The NORTH BASIN is more of a climbing route, popular when the basin is snow filled. I have read that the rock near the upper reaches is pretty loose and crumbly and may have been a factor in a 2005 fatality along this route.


McClellan’s Butte has a little something for everybody, and while a popular destination, thus far never seems too crowded.

Besides the summit block, the entire trail is YDS class 1, however, McClellan’s Butte, or any mountain should never be taken lightly; Steep Slopes, avalanche chutes, and George McClellan’s ghost are just a few hazards one may encounter while treading upon it’s flanks.

The ’90 snaking across the land


There is often water available along the route, so bring a filter etc and fill up along the way.

Anyway, be prepared, leave it better than you found it, see ya there

Happy Trails!

Jack "The Bulge" at the summit
Jack “The Bulge” at the summit


Take exit 42 West Tinkham Rd. and head south, you’ll pass a WSDOT facility and a gated road on your right before coming to another road veering up and right to the trailhead. Sometimes this is signed, other times not. Either way it is a very short drive from the freeway offramp, so if you can’t find it, you probably went too far.



Currently a NW Trailpass is required for parking.




Beckey, Fred, Cascade Alpine Guide vol.1 Columbia River to Stevens Pass. The Mountaineers Books, 1973










Mt.Teneriffe 4788′

Kamikaze Falls in the alpenglow
Kamikaze Falls in the alpenglow

I’ve been up Mt.Teneriffe many times, with many people. It’s been a favorite of mine since I first trudged up it’s steep slopes, if not for the views and the challenge of getting to the top, then certainly for the lack of crowds.

I hadn’t been here in a couple years though, and was surprised this time around to see that some pretty significant changes have been made, namely a new trail to the summit.

Right this way...
Right this way…

While those in the know have for years known that an alternate to the Kamikaze route existed, slogging up old logging roads and faint boot paths between Mt.Si and Teneriffe, as of late summer 2014 the WA DNR turned it into an official trail.

How about that?

Great right!? A steady moderate grade on a nice even surface as compared to the stiff hike and light scrambling it used to take to get to the top, I’ll bite!

Hell, I can even loop it with ease now, and I do love a good loop.

Well all is not as it seems, for what the new trail offers in easy grade, it doles out distance in spades.

The new trail is 7 miles to Teneriffe summit! Yowza! That’s compared to the steeper old path which is only a couple miles from trailhead to mountaintop.

Well lets throw on some boots and see what this thing has to offer…

The Teneriffe trailhead is little more than a dirt turn out a little ways further down the road from the much more popular Mt.Si trailhead. While the Mt.Si trailhead is tantamount to a Wal*Mart parking lot, the Teneriffe trailhead really can’t hold more than a dozen vehicles at best.

Thems a lot of trees
Thems a lot of trees

There are “No Parking” signs along the road and I understand that the neighbors WILL call the towing company.

During peak season, the strategy here is to get in early, or get lucky, oh and a Discover Pass is required to park.

The trail begins uneventfully enough down a DNR road passing through young forest, most likely logged in the early 80s. The road comes to a fork that until very recently wasn’t marked.

You’d just have to know which way to go, but now there is a shiny new sign directing hikers to bear right to “Teneriffe Falls”.

The left fork as of this writing is still unmarked, this is the “new” trail between Mt.Si and Mt.Teneriffe.


Heading left, the trail continues along the DNR road passing little rivulets cascading down the mountainside before climbing up into denser forest.

Nice wide trail
Nice wide trail

The grade is mostly modest but long. However it does travel through pleasant forest and every so often slight views will open up in thinner stands of trees which breaks up the monotony a bit.

When I was passing through, the forest was alive with the songs of black-capped chickadees and Varied Thrush, which made me wonder why in the hell anyone wears headphones while they hike, I mean really!

Lots of green
Lots of green

Just about then a trailrunner jogged by with headphones on, eh, to each their own I guess. Which reminds me, I imagine this would be a great trail for trailrunning as the grade is mostly very even and the path is broad.

Ahem…. So after about four miles or so of long switchbacks the grade relents a bit and the views start to be revealed.

Teneriffe Summit
Teneriffe Summit

A fork will appear in the road around this time. As of this writing it is marked with a blue ribbon, but really it’d be impossible to miss whether or not that shred of plastic was dangling there.

Going left will result in arriving at Mt.Si in a half hour or less, while going right is approximately another three miles to Mt.Teneriffe. Alright, come on, my legs are aching too, lets keep going….

The Haystack
The Haystack

Thankfully the grade remains mostly light and/or level for awhile giving you a chance to recuperate. The views here really start to open up as well, including an interesting view of “The Haystack” jutting forth from the conifers, seemingly eyeballing you like an immense and hungry Golem.

Up along the top
Up along the top

The tread seems to go on forever until finally reaching a viewpoint to points northward, the first views of such available thus far.

Take a minute to rest up because the trail begins to climb from here yet again.

The switchbacks begin immediately through the upland forest, and you can’t help but feel like you are really getting close now. Then you gain the ridge and start up! Yes, finally, almost there….er, or not. Nope, instead we find ourselves atop the high point more or less northwest of the Teneriffe summit.

Even my legs are aching good now.

Next the trail winds about along a very steep, forested drop off and eventually begins to climb again.

Out of the trees for a bit
Out of the trees for a bit

This has got to be it… I think I see blue between the trees, yes it’s sky alright! Phew!

The trail breaks out of the woods and dumps you out about mid-point on the Teneriffe summit block. If you have any gas left a light scramble will take you the rest of the way up. You did it!

The summit is a nice perch offering great views in all directions.

WARNING: In snowy conditions Mt.Teneriffe can have a nasty cornice on top, if it gives way, or you slip, it’s a long ways down to your certain doom.

When it’s time to head down you can either go back the way you came for a 14-mile roundtrip, or cut down the mileage but increase the difficulty by heading down the old trail.



So beginning from the fork in the DNR road this time we bear right in the direction indicated by the nice, new and shiny Teneriffe Falls sign.

The road ambles along, crosses an ephemeral creek and starts gently climbing, becoming more and more of a trail the higher you get.

Small views begin to open up as you climb above the treetops before the road comes to something of an end marked with a sign. A boot path continues on along the road, but ignore it and head up onto the open talus above you.

High terrain along old trail
High terrain along old trail

After a few switchbacks the well built trail really starts to climb, and the T/A truck stop at the exit 34 really starts to become a fixture of your southern views. Try to look beyond it.

The trail continues to switchback up and up through conifer forest and talus with occasional views opening up along the way. This is a decent workout for most people, but every step is worth it when you finally reach Kamikaze Falls (Teneriffe Falls).

I first knew this place as Kamikaze Falls, I don’t know what the history behind the name is, except maybe that Kamikaze is said to mean “Divine Wind” in Japanese, and usually a divine wind does seem to issue forth from the falls.

Mt.Rainier looms
Mt.Rainier looms

Maybe it’s being changed because of Kamikaze’s WWII connotations, or maybe it was Teneriffe Falls this whole time, hell, I dunno. A rose by any other name I guess…

This is a great destination in itself.

During the summer you can indulge in a cooling shower beneath it’s cascading waters, or marvel at ice formations during winter cold snaps. Kamikaze Falls is incredibly photogenic destination any time of year.

With low mileage, open views and a beautiful waterfall at the end, Kamikaze Falls is a great goal for someone in kind of the low-middle range of hiking endurance looking for a new challenge and a huge reward.

Summit block winter 2011
Summit block winter 2011

At this point if you feel like trudging up to Teneriffe Summit be warned, the rest of this hike isn’t for the timid or out of shape. It’s steep, relentless and often nothing more than a faint boot path.

Look for a trail on your right, it’s a lot more well marked these days so you ought not to have trouble finding it.

The trail basically takes off like a rocket here, gaining the ridge in little time.

Get used to this grade, it’s the norm from here on out.

The route mostly follows the ridge spine, only deviating here and there. Occasionally light scrambling may be necessary up rock outcrops.

On the ascent!
On the ascent!

Most of the way you will find the trail is big on gain, but short on views. However that all changes rather suddenly as you break out of the trees. On a clear day the views are fantastic! Rainier dominates the south while the burgeoning Puget Sound mega-sprawl stretches along beneath the Olympics to the west.

Trail shot "Old Trail"
Trail shot “Old Trail”

Here you will find yourself on even steeper terrain, up mountain meadows and patches of trees before coming out near the bottom of the summit block.

During winter months it is advisable to bring some form of traction aid along with you, such as micro spikes or poles (or both!) it can be treacherous around here.

Takin' in the views!
Takin’ in the views!

The final climb is little more than a light scramble when snow free and offers ample room for all you summit apes to enjoy a picnic surrounded by 360° of the kind of stuff some people can only dream about.

Now that you are familiar with the Teneriffe trails, from here the world is your oyster, well, if you still have some gas in the tank.

Old trail-trail shot
Old trail-trail shot

Make it a loop, take a stroll to Mt.Si or come back the way you came!

As always, leave only footprints and take only pictures, oh take and any garbage you might find along the way too. Not to get preachy but just because orange peels and banana wrappers are “biodegradable” doesn’t mean they should just be tossed on the ground. If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in.

Happy Trails, Harry Biped

Badass old man sighted in his natural habitat
Badass old man sighted in his natural habitat






Baring Mountain 6125′

This isn’t a recent report, rather just some reflections and a general guide to one of the most recognizable behemoths off the highway 2, Baring Mountain.

Nik at the summit!
Nik at the summit!

The first time I tried to climb this beast, I wasn’t quite prepared. It was still early August 2012 I think. In most  of my other trips to the high country that summer, the snow was already long gone, and after all, the mountain didn’t look snowy…

USGS marker at the summit
USGS marker

So I’ll just take it from the top, the trip starts out at the Barclay Lake trailhead, which is really gaining in popularity, so parking can sometimes start a distance from the actual trailhead/kiosk/porto dumpers. A NW Trail pass is required to park at the trailhead, and vicinity.

Instead of heading down the Barclay lake trail, continue forward, over the gravelly berm and up what I imagine was probably an old logging road.

Here’s the trick now, you gotta keep an eye on the hillside to your right, sometimes the “trail” is flagged sometimes it’s not, really I use the term trail very loosely. Actually lets just go with route.

Looking across at Merchant Peak from "The Slog"
Looking across at Merchant Peak from “The Slog”

Eventually you’ll see the narrow boot swath near a rivulet coming down the hill. Things become immediately brutal from about this point onward.

It’s pretty difficult to describe the route with any great detail, sometimes there is a worn boot path, sometimes it disappears, I guess it’s best to say it goes up, and damn does it ever.

Looking down at Barclay Lake from the summit
Looking down at Barclay Lake

You are trying to gain the west ridge extending from doppel-lith that is Mount Baring, and unless you are a decent routefinder, it’s best to go with someone who has been up there before. Although there is only a bit of  light scrambling along the way, it’s a steep, often muddy, thigh destroying slog up to the ridge. Coming down can even be worse, especially in the fading light, not the kinda place you wanna be hiking down in the dark.

First view of "The Gully"
First view of “The Gully”

Once you finally gain the ridge, you begin heading east toward the summits. This part of the route actually has a followable trail along much of it’s length, and although there is elevation gain, after what you went up through to get up here, it feels like a walk through woodland paradise.

However, then steep gain starts again, this time switchbacking up and up, at one point you’ll pass the remains of an old camp, marked with a coffee can.

My ugly mug about to head up!
My ugly mug about to head up!

Eventually you’ll end up crossing into a large bowl and the alpine terrain finally begins to open up. The initial view is breathtaking, and possibly terrifying for some. After that long, long slog… you have the colossus looming before you. Really though I find this next bit less exerting, and I think it’s because the views are so vast.

Looking up "The Gully" in snowfree conditions
Looking up “The Gully” in snowfree conditions

I like trees, don’t get me wrong… but for me there is just something a little more rewarding and less tiring about sweeping, majestic views. Maybe it’s because you really feel like your toils are resulting in real distance gained, or maybe it’s because those airy regions have a pain killing effect, whatever the reason, on to our next section.

Baring the Sundial
Baring the Sundial

Depending on the time of the time of year you’ll immediately notice either a huge snow filled gully seperating the two summits, or a huge boulder and talus gully performing the same act. The first time I came here it was the former, but it was breaking apart and quick.

You’ll need an ice axe here. The moment I saw the gully, I realized this, and realized my journey was pretty much at an end. I decided to amble over just to check it out and have a little fun in the snow along it’s lower regions. However, the snow field was dotted with large pits, some fairly deep. Even with an ice axe, it wouldn’t have been the best time to try and scale the thing.

Climbing "The Gully"
Climbing “The Gully”

So…..I came back a month or so later and the gully was ice free! The talus scrambling wasn’t the best, lots of it loose and pretty steep, but made it up. At the notch there is a minor scramble to get onto Baring’s north peak. There is a trail here in place and really only light scrambling the rest of the way to the summit. I was surprised really, I thought it’d be a lot more airy and exposed. You can get all the terrifying heights and exposure with just one glance off the north face though.

It's a long way to the top!
It’s a long way to the top!


The next time I went up Baring was in late June, a friend of mine wanted to go and it was a beautiful day to boot. This time we were prepared with crampons and ice axes. The route was totally snow free by that time until you enter the bowl beneath the huge gully.

I gotta say, this is the time of year/conditions you wanna take this beast on…

Unusual batteries near summit... Aliens?
Unusual batteries near summit… Aliens?

The climb up the gully was so much better on the snow, and with the contrast of green trees and blue skies makes it just that much more satisfying. There is however an added obstacle that comes with snow being left on the mountain…

Pretty alpine trails
Pretty alpine trails

At the notch there is a snow wall instead of a scramble, and depending on the time of year this thing can be pretty damn big so I’ve heard. When we got there, it was dauntingly steep but not as tall as I have read it gets. We didn’t have too much trouble with it, but I’ll tell you it is most definitely perilous. It’s sharp grade would put you in a severe world of hurt or worse if it got away from you. Certainly not for novices.

After the snow wall the rest of the route is cake, even on snow. When we got up to the summit, the block had long been melted out and provided light scrambling to the summit.

Going up the snow wall
Going up the snow wall

There are not a lot of views like the one from Baring Mountain, especially like the completely vertical drop down to Barclay lake. Wave to all the campers! I get a kick at looking down at Der Baring store (a favorite breakfast stop) from over a mile above. It really is a spectacular perch.

Looking up the last section
Looking up the last section

Baring Mountain is a great trip for those that are starting to move away from the more trodden trails and want a more mountaineering sort of experience. It offers much, but also demands much, it is not for the timid or out of shape, but for the alpine hiker, it is an unforgettable experience.

Happy Trails, Harry Biped

Looking down at "Der Baring Store"
Looking down at “Der Baring Store”

Mt.Pugh 7201′

Meadows high on Mt.Pugh

Mt.Pugh is a beast. That pretty much sums it up, thanks for reading…..

Really, that is all one needs to know about this behemoth, at 5300′ of gain in not much more than five miles it’s a thigh burner to say the least. It’s also not a place for acrophobics, the upper reaches are abundant in dramatic drop offs, airy perches and scramble routes snaking along impossible looking rock.

Forested slopes
Forested slopes

The Mt.Pugh trailhead is found at the very east reaches of the Mtn Loop Hwy, and a NW trailpass is required to park.

Strange fungi
Strange fungi

There isn’t much of a parking lot to speak of, but that being said, it shouldn’t be impossible to find parking. The road in, at the time of this writing, is more or less suitable for all vehicles.

It’s easy to miss the trailhead if you’ve never been here before, so keep an eye out for other cars and if there are none, a trailhead kiosk on the right after taking a wide left bend in the road.

The trail gets going through fairly dense forest, modestly climbing up to Lake Metan. It’s not much of a lake, and has very limited shore access.

Lake Metan
Lake Metan

The waters are still here and of a dark tea color, the result of tannins leaching from the fallen coniferous debris. I think Lake Metan is an endorheic lake and it’s waters have a distinct taste, even when filtered. It is however your last chance for water until much later in the hike, and that is only if you know where to hop off the trail to get some snowmelt.

More fungi
More fungi

Lake Metan also affords some established camping spots if you poke around.

Leaving Lake Metan the trail begins to climb in earnest, switchbacking beneath the tall trees and mixed brush. There isn’t a whole lot to do or see along this section but climb, though keeping an eye out might yield some mushrooms.

After what probably seems like a lot longer than it should have taken you’ll break out into a large boulder and talus field, the “knife edge” ridge looming above you. I always kind of think of this as the first part of a trick the mountain pulls on you,

Stujack Pass
Stujack Pass

“Oh, well I guess thats not too far to the top”…..

The trail continues up and to the notch to the north, across mixed talus and boulders, some of them loose and infested with evil screaming Pikas. Don’t let them get in your head man, they’re waiting for you to roll your ankle, then they’ll strike!

Evil Pika!
Evil Pika!

You’re heading up toward the grassy gap in between a pair of rock buttresses, this is known as Stujack Pass. As far as passes go, I don’t know what ol’ Stu Jack was trying to pass here. He could have just saved a lot of time and elevation by going around the mountain.

Climbing up to Stujack, switchbacking up through steep meadow, the elevation disparity begins to increase dramatically. I imagine right around here is where acrophobics may begin to get uncomfortable. Near the top of the pass meadows give way to crumbling rock which will henceforth from here become common grade.

The trail then snakes up more steep meadow, alpine trees and rock until you begin to gain the “knife edge” ridge and get your first view of Mt.Pugh proper, or the second part of the trick I like to think,

Fall colors
Fall colors

“Wait…what the hell is that? We’re climbing THAT!?”

“We’re climbing that?!”

You’ll now begin to make your way across the “knife edge” ridge, which is full of those aforementioned dramatic drop offs, airy perches and snaking scrambles. To your right and about 1000′ below you is the boulder field you recently ascended from. In many places it would only take one misstep to get right back down there.

Alpine trails up high on Pugh
Alpine trails up high on Pugh

On your other side is a narrow glacier occupying a fault which bisects the mountain. I’ve read that this is known as the Straight Creek fault, and thusly, without any other proper given name, the glacier by default could be called Straight Glacier. Sounds good to me. It’s interesting to note the distinct change in the rock type when you cross the fault where the knife ridge and Mt.Pugh meet.

She blinded me with science! SCIENCE!

Knife ridge
Knife ridge and Straight Glacier

Not far into the ridge you might see some heavy bolts jutting out from the rock, and if you investigate the area further you’ll discover the remains of the old tram winch that used to supply the fire lookouts on the summit (both long gone) The winch spool is still fully wound with cable. Enjoy the history and leave it how you found it.

Across the Fault
Across the Fault

You’ll continue along the ridge, up and over rock, across perilously narrow paths with hair-raising drop offs and finally to the moment when you are looking across the fault, face to face with Mt.Pugh’s steep rock face.

Even right in front of you, the path is still obscured and the rockface unclimbable. With no where else to go, you cross the fault and then a scramble path, blown into the rock many years ago, reveals itself.

Author descending the mountain
Author descending the mountain

The scramble itself is not difficult and feels a lot more protected than some of the stuff you experienced along the ridge.

You’ll now begin to hike again along steep airy meadows, the Sauk Valley thousands of feet below. There is one more scramble section ahead, across a slab that isn’t too wide, but is often covered with loose rock. Be careful.

Looking down at knife ridge

The rest of the way is very pleasant, (unless you are terrified of heights) switchbacking up the heather and jutting rock as you make your way to the summit, on a clear day drinking up the incredible views of the Mtn. Loop neighborhood and beyond.

When you finally reach the summit you will be greeted by Glacier Peak dominating the eastern horizon, Whitechuck to the north and Sloan Peak to the south. The entire 360° panorama is amazing and is sure not to disappoint!

Steep alpine meadows
Steep alpine meadows

The summit is pretty spacious, providing much opportunity for your own little private picnic. There would be places to sleep up here with a bivy sack, and could probably set up a tent on the old Fire lookout platform. Maybe I’ll try that next time


TRIP REPORT: Monte Pugh en Otoño

More pics: Klick Hier

Vesper Peak 6221′

I dunno if it means anything to you reader, but I had intended to climb Sperry Peak this time around, a jagged looking scramble above icy lake Elan and across from the focus of this entry, Vesper Peak. As I crested Headlee Pass, and started across that long talus traverse though, like everytime before when I get that first glimpse at the wide open ivory granite slopes of Vesper Peak, it beckons.

First look at Vesper Peak after Headlee Pass

A lot of climbs can be arduous, some wild and challenging, but there are only a few I would actually call pleasurable without a shred of hesitation in my voice, from the foot of those long smooth slabs to the summit, Vesper Peak is mountaineering bliss.

That being said, this is not an easy hike. The gain is over 4000′ in 4 miles or so, and the trail can be rough and difficult to follow. As always, be prepared.

So our journey begins about two miles off the Mountain Loop Highway down the Sunrise Mine road. You’ll catch glimpses here and there of the stone giants surrounding you, Sperry, Del Campo, Morningstar, so many mountains, so little time.

At the roads end there isn’t much of a parking lot, but there is room to park on the roadside.

The trail begins winding through the forest, crossing mountain streams under tall stands of timber.

Sperry Peak

You’ll break out into the first real elevation gain, switchbacking up open slopes of low shrubbery as you make your way up to Wirtz Basin. It’s good to hit this area before the sun really starts beating down, especially on a real scorcher.

Soon Wirtz Basin will open up before you, low brush and trees give way to open talus while you amble up between steep spires making up the basin walls. Looking up toward the head of the basin you might wonder how exactly are we going to climb out of here.

Heading up into Wirtz Basin

The trail starts to vanish when you hit the upper portions of the fractured talus, watch for cairns to help guide you up.

After working your way up and up the trail will reappear and so will the previously hidden Headlee Pass. The switchbacks here become steep and tight, so much so that if someone is just ahead of you, your head will be at eye level with their boots.

There are a lot of loose rocks along this part of the trail so be mindful of this in both your steps, and the steps of others. A cantalope sized rock to the cranium would not be conducive to continued existence.

When you reach the top of Headlee Pass a sign will greet you with the elevation. (4600′) Strangely for some, this is the end of the line. I wonder if they realize what awaits just a comparatively short ways away.

Hikers on the talus traverse from Headlee Pass

Leaving Headlee Pass you’ll soon find yourself on a wide talus traverse and also get your first glimpse of Vesper Peak. Depending on your overall constitution this view may either make or break the rest of the trip. (first picture)

A: We’re going up that!? or B: We’re going up that! Hopefully you’ll take option B.

While crossing the talus you may notice a few adits blasted into the steep rock across the way. This is the Sunrise mine. I personally have never ventured over there, and frankly it looks rather perilous, but hey, I ain’t gonna tell you how to do your job. If any of you do head over there, feel free to share some words and pics about it with me

Lake Elan outlet, Vesper Peak on the left

Ahem, back to our trip. Shortly along you will get to the outlet of Lake Elan, a great place to fill your water bottles for the trip up Vesper. You’ll notice here that the trail splits, off to your left the trail heads up, this is the way to go up Vesper, the trail to your right will take you into the bowl to the shores of Lake Elan.

There is room to camp in this area, but like the Forest Service says, use established fire rings and no raging infernos. The intrepid press on, overnight kit in tow, for a nights stay at the beautiful meadows just west of the summit.

Whatever your nights plans are, you’ll now follow the trail up through heather and diminutive trees to the base of Vespers polished granite slopes.

Base of Vesper’s slabs

From here on out it’s kind of a free for all, you could make it into a scramble, or for the most part, simply walk to the summit. It is a great climb, totally open, yet for the hiking acrophobic, never feeling too airy.

There is something of a route marked by cairns, it heads toward the middle of the mountain, before veering off towards the north and following that ridge to the summit.


The views are indescribable, perhaps one of the best perches in the Cascades.

I set up camp not far west of the summit, hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. Had a six pack of beer chilling in the snow and waited for nightfall.

♪♫When the lights, go down, in the sit-tay♪♫

I camped just behind a large rock that bore an aged, unintelligible message that you can view in the picture. Who wrote these mysterious words so long ago, and why? What do they say, and what do they mean? Tell you what, if you can decipher them I’ll take you out for burgers and beer, No shit, my treat.

My best guess is : YES KEEP CAMP GUN OMA KEH DOH…. cryptic to say the least. Perhaps one of the Cascades greatest mysteries.

Mysterious spraypaint-o-glyphs

Alas the northern lights never did show, but watching the sun cast it’s final rays on the ancient peaks to the east and the stars and moon taking their places in the sky was fantastic in it’s own right. Looking west I watched as little by little the lights of the Puget Sound “super city” came on until it was a sea of multicolored lights.

Sittin’ on top of the world

Sort of a surreal place to be, essentially isolated, 6000′ above and miles away from the sprawl of suburbia yet bombarded by it’s presence, while the lands to the east only bore the astral light that the universe gave them. I know, pretty deep, huh?

Whether or not you get lost in deep reflection sleeping on top of a mountain, or simply just wanna get outta Dodge for a few, a trip to Vesper Peak will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you’re anything like me, it may become one of those places that requires at least an annual pilgrimage.

Copper Lake
Vesper’s crazy north face
Backside of Big 4 mountain