A Little South of Bessemer Mountain

Not so much a mountain climb, rather a long, long mountain walk. Even moreso on snowshoes!


  • Approx 12mi RT, 4000′ gain
  • Snowshoes handy after 3500’ish
  • Trailhead is basically a gate with barely anywhere to park.
  • Beautiful views, few people!


There was only one vehicle parked at the trailhead when I arrived. Two sets of footprints headed up the gated road.

A little more than a mile out, the road hits the old CCC road. Here I followed the CCC road right for around a quarter mile. At that point I turned uphill, while the CCC road continues into the forest.

Not long after, a scale house for a small quarry appears on the right. The road makes four switchbacks after this bend before making a long line northeast.

Frozen puddles and sparse, crunchy snow progressively transformed into powder as the steps went by…

At about 3200′ I broke from the main road and followed the tracks up what is marked as a 4×4 road on the maps.

When I got up to 4000′ I broke off onto untrammled snow in the direction of a borrow pit approximately in between South Bessemer and pt. 4965. Had a bite to eat and considered heading towards pt. 4965, but the pre-stomped trail going up South Bessemer was a little more appealing.

Speaking of those tracks, I ran into their creators not long after my stop at the borrow pit. Met them at about 4300′, where the following transpired:

“You’ll see the tracks split up ahead; Go Left! We went right and ended up scrambling steep snow to the top. That’s when we noticed the easy way down. Go Left!”

Indeed, just a few hundred feet below the summit at another snow covered borrow pit, the traveler’s tracks split. I took their advice and went left.

Wind was blowing pretty good at the top, so I didn’t hang around too long, but spun around enough to take in the vast Middle Fork views.


Brrr! It was getting cold, but luckily it got a whole lot less windy coming down.

The snow covered trees and icy hills began to glow in golden light as the sun disappeared behind the cold haze of the horizon.

The light gave up the ghost with a few miles left to go. I draped my headlamp around my neck, but never turned it on.

A sliver of moon and the twinkle of stars glinted off the frozen road way; a ghostly, guiding iridescence in the indifferent cold of winter…

“Oh hey, headlights! Woot!”


  • Snowshoes were very handy, if not required.
  • A mountain bike could be used to reduce some of the walking time.
  • Many more miles of snowy road to explore, Pt.4965 appears to be a good snowshoe objective as well.


A Discover Pass is currently required to park at the sparse trailhead.


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…

      McDonald Mountain (Trip Report)

      Enumclaw, King County, WA: Weather-wise it was one hell of a weekend here in the great Northwest. The air was stiff with cold, but the usual sky blanket of gray had been swapped for one of bright, glorious blue.

      Might as well go climb a hill, no? 

      Oh boy, logging roads!


      I honestly had no idea this was a legitimate hike until after I got back and read some trip reports. 

      My adventure began when I had nothing better to do and noticed a couple of lonely radio towers up on Ol’McDonald’s tree covered slopes.

      I found a wide spot to park along some country backroad near the hill and started into the woods. It looked like Mad Max out there! 

      Dead cars, mud pits and auto parts littered the sparse woodland; clearly these woods had been a braffing course until fairly recently. 

      I headed up through this mess, managing to find a rough hewn trail leading up a hogsback that put me on an old logging landing topped with a decaying slash pile. 

      This was a great place to perch and take in the views before I began to navigate the maze of snow covered logging roads to the top. 

      Not unlike my hairline.


      No sign of other humans, aside from a weathered pair of tire tracks cast in the snow, indicated that anyone was out there but me. 

      I was by no means alone though; deer, coyote, bobcat and various birds and rodents were abundant, their presence betrayed by tracks pressed into the snowy white. 

      The road led up to sort of a plateau at the 2100′ level, where it intersected a well stamped trail of human tracks coming in from the north. 

      I thought it’d be a good idea to follow them up. 

      Better logging roads!

      GOING MY WAY? 

      Slowly but surely the multitude of human tracks began to dwindle until only the tracks of one intrepid snowshoer remained… 

      I followed those bold prints before I headed straight up for the ridge. I met up with the tracks again at the radio tower after a brushy ridge walk. 

      The road continued along south of the small facility. Delightful, untrammled snow covered the path. 

      Earlier in the day from down below, I had taken mental note of a clearcut some distance away from the tower and sure enough this road led right to it. 

      The views from the clearcut, and from points along the ridgewalk were fantastic on this freezing, sunshine day. 

      Heading out mostly the way I came in, I took a short side trip to the lower antenna array to catch the last rays of light. 

      The upside is a wide open view.

      I didn’t see anyone this time around, so sadly there isn’t any juicy trail gossip to report. 

      Snowshoes were very handy today, and a total lack of boot prints at the top spoke about that. 

      Looking at a map, I couldn’t help but notice a few interesting things in the area. One of which is another radio tower further along the ridge but…

      There seems to be a lot of private property out in these parts, so know before you go!



      While I can’t actually vouch for these, since I came up another way, I’d say WTA is good for it: 

      Take the Kent-Kangley road east from Covington. Stay on it past Route 169. Six miles beyond that intersection the road will arrive at a sign saying that the road will end in two miles. Just beyond that sign you will see a blue DNR gate. Park here. There is very minimal space for parking cars here, maybe 5 or 6 cars worth on the side of the road. -wta.org


      AIARE 1

      Upward and onward!

      A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

      We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

      Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

      The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

      Witchcraft, clearly.


      Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

      We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

      It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

      In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

      If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

      Life and death right there. Seriously.

      “And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”


      Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

      Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

      We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

      Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

      With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

      Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

      Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

      Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

      Through the woods

      As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

      Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

      Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

      If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

      Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

      “This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

      Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

      Sadly, some kill year after year.

      Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

      Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

      I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

      Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

      I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

      Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

      Would you take this course again in hindsight?


      Der Rutschblock

      Do you know avalanche terrain?

      Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

      Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

      Do you know?

      I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

      If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

      If you get dug out…

      Happy Trails!




      Bitter Creek: The Finale

      A lot nicer without those pesky clouds

      Ok yeah, I’m starting to sound a little like a broken record.

      Initially I wasn’t planning on heading back up to Bitter Creek so soon, but I gave the Greek a call and it just so happened he was looking to take some friends on a moderate snowshoe.

      “You don’t say. Hmm, you know I might have just the place”…

      Plus, with the weather on Friday, the views were sure to be there.

      La pared de hielo

      01JAN2016 New Years Day

      I got to Index half hour early or so, the wind was just screaming up the US-2 corridor.

      Fortunately Heybrook Ridge and the Gunn Peak Massif blocked pretty much all of the wind in the North Fork Sky valley.

      The Greek and his friends showed up a little after nine and we were off.

      There were fresh footprints along the track, but they fell off at the shooting range.

      Really, there isn’t too much to report. The track is solid all the way up with heaping portions of peace, quiet and solitude.

      By the time we got up into the cirque some of the party was running out of steam and they stopped for lunch.

      The Greek and I continued up towards the ice wall, but the pull of cheese and sausage was too much for him and he fell off and descended back to the feast.

      Sausage eaters

      Wind slab from high above was a slight concern and we’d seen a couple small releases on the way up, mostly powder rivulets. In the cirque itself, surface hoar was abundant. (Always check NWAC)

      Alongside Bitter Creek, a gully had run out, and high on Jump-Off Ridge the crisp lines of recently released slabs were visibly glinting in the sunlight.

      Views were fantastic. The wall and other ice features seemed to glow dimly in the shade of the cirque. High above, the ridge lines were laced with golden light.

      The North Fork Sky valley was framed perfectly by the walls of the cirque, and approximately in the middle were three human shapes, bonding over sausage.

      The trip down rewarded us with warming sun and rapidly evolving views of the jagged visage of the Index-Persis complex across the way.

      I placed a quarter near the bottom for a size comparison.


      All in all I think it took our group 3 hours up and 1.5 or so down.

      Now that the route has been brushed and a trail well stomped in, it’s golden, just waiting there for you.

      Lots of animal sign, but I think our group of four probably scared off anything within earshot because we didn’t see any critters this time.

      Oh, and just my two cents:

      Shooters, I like to shoot a gun as much as the next guy. I am not “anti-gun” or “anti-shooting”. What I am “anti” is you people leaving a giant f&%#ing mess wherever you go.

      Clean up your $#!t and maybe the Forest Service and outdoor enthusiasts will be a little more sympathetic to your outdoor usage needs.

      Frankly, you should be your brother’s keeper out there and pack out the crap your less considerate fellows left behind.

      I do it, I’m always picking up candy wrappers and water bottles that jackass hikers left behind.

      Love it or leave it, bruh… and I don’t mean leave your $#!t.

      Happy Trails!



      Bitter Creek: The Return(s)

      I thought this one turned out OK.

      I went up to the Bitter Creek Cirque “trail” again on Christmas Day.

      (UPDATE: Road is now periodically opened after Lewis Creek.)

      Not surprisingly mine were the only tracks heading up the snowy old road… well besides the deer and bobcat tracks.

      Just before the Canyon Creek crossing I ran into the deer.

      A Columbian Black Tailed Deer, no antlers. Looked pretty young.

      A touch of blue


      We eyeballed each other for a minute before he bounded, well kinda plunged. Sunk maybe? His technique needed practice.

      After the Nameless Creek crossing the snow became much more powdery, with frequent, sometimes deep wind deposits.

      By the time I was in the switchbacks, it was starting to wear me down.

      When I finally got to Bitter Creek I was out of steam.

      I didn’t have much time before I had to turn around for Christmas obligations, so I sat down, had lunch and drank from the creek like a wild beast.

      Christmas was calling.


      SUNDAY, 27DEC2015

      Boldly drove beyond the periodic road closure (and county maintenance), all the way to the trailhead in a 2WD Mazda, admittedly not the best idea for everybody.

      Immediately at the gate I was surprised to see someone had gone up the trail in my absence!


      They were on snowshoes, and occasionally skis, it would seem with limited success.

      I’ll level with you, the trip up was a lot easier on the ol’legs with a well beaten snowshoe track in place!

      Oh, and “someone” had remembered to bring a Corona saw this time and cleared a lot of deadfall and such along the grade.

      Snow started falling pretty regularly by the time we reached the switchbacks. I felt a slight twinge thinking about the car.


      At Bitter Creek most hopes for any real vast scenery were dashed by the constant snow.

      Homeboy’s tracks were still going, blasting right past my previous stopping point.

      Beyond the end of the road began treeless terrain. A beautiful waterfall lies just before the last couple dozen feet of elevation to the cirque floor.

      I continued on, following the tracks into the cirque but split ways as I headed for a high spot in the middle to get a look at the large icewall at the ESE base of the cirque.

      During my visit I got a chance to catch a few avalanches coming down from the SW wall.

      Towards the icewall.

      Long views were elusive this time around, but they’ll be there next time. We’d already surpassed our turnaround time so our stay was brief.

      The trip down was about 25% in the dark, exacerbated by that slight twinge I mentioned earlier about the car. At least a couple of inches had fallen during the course of our trip.

      There would be digging, of this I was sure.


      Really it wasn’t too much of a pain in the ass. I only had to dig to get us turned around, and again when we got a little high centered going up a hill.

      Can’t wait until my Subaru gets out of the shop!


      Prep work’s done, Jack: At least until the next storm cycle there is a solid snowshoe track well into Bitter Creek Cirque.

      Lotsa Wildlife: I’ve seen animals every time I’ve visited, still haven’t seen the bobcat yet though.

      No Crowds: Oh wait, except for the visitor on Friday or Saturday. Thanks for breaking the rest of the way!

      Beyond Me: I don’t know a thing about ice climbing, but that ice wall might be worth a visit.

      Anyway, shouldn’t have to tell you but: this is avalanche country!

      As always check NWAC before heading off into the mountains in these winter months

      Happy Trails!