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
CHALLENGES: “climbers trail”, no trail, YDS-3 scrambling; route finding, snow and rock scrambling skills required
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′
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.
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.
SOUTHWEST RIDGE ROUTE
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…
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!
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”.
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!
Rhino climbs -lots of info regarding the naming issue, as well as a route description up McClain Peaks.