Mileage: 6.1 miles RT
Elevation Gain/Highest: 3300ft/6030ft
Map: Wenatchee Lake, WA No 145, my GAIA
Favorite Eats After Hike: Wallace Falls Café
This was a Mountaineers scramble, something around the S3,T3 range. Best done in the winter months when snow is on the ground. Rumor has it you can take a forest road up most of the way to a clear cut below the summit (the westerly Henry Creek approach), but that is DEFINITELY not what we did today. This climb is no joke, 3300ft in 3 miles and the first mile is FLAT. You do the math.
The weather forecast had not been promising and it was snowing when we came over the pass making us feel like we had skipped summer and were right back to November again. All we were hoping for was to be able to make the summit, most of us are students needing a successful trip to earn our badges. But, any day out in the mountains is a good day.
We parked on the shoulder of the road turnoff for the maintenance station, there was room for about 3 cars. After gearing up, we walked west along HWY 2, crossing Nason Creek and across to the other side of the road and onto a forest road (687) just after the bridge (on the south side).
We started up here at 8:30 am and followed the road as it parallels Nason Creek to where it hits the railroad tracks about 12 minutes later. There were power lines to walk under and large runoff filled
lakes puddles to maneuver. We then followed the railroad tracks to the left another 15 minutes and at 1 mile from HWY 2 began our ascent from 2700ft by scrambling up a bank.
From here to where we hit the snowline at about 3700ft and 50 minutes later, it was a steep, wooded climb up. We kept a southern bearing for the ridge above us, having plans to hit it at the eastern end and walk the ridge up to the summit. We passed a little blue blaze and yellow signs marking doomed trees for logging as we made our way up around downed logs and debris, rock and brush. I noticed a very faint trail making long switchbacks up the slope, hard to tell if it was a game trail or boot path from long ago. No time for that, we were traveling more directly today.
At 3700ft the snow began to cover the ground, most of it hard and icy. That cupped snow littered with debris that is so common this time of year. We took care to avoid post holing around spring poles and downed logs buried just under the surface. There were 9 of us and a few volunteered to help kick steps as we continued on up the mountain; those with microspikes put them on. There was light snow falling but being in the trees it was negligible. Every once in a while we would step out into a clearing to have it fall gently on us. If it wasn’t May, it would have been quite magical. However, most of us are over winter and ready to move onto summer!
We reached the ridge at about 4800ft at 10:55am and turned our direction more westerly to make our way towards the summit. The views began to open up and we could see peaks just under the cloud line. Hope started to rise that we wouldn’t be socked in at the crown, tiny patches of blue sky appeared teasingly.
The ridge was covered with a few inches of fresh snow from the night before on top of an icy, wind swept layer. The first 300ft of gain from here was a steady ascent but at about 5100ft it became much more steep. We were careful to stay clear of tree wells and cornices as we made our last push, our ice axes in hand but snowshoes stayed on packs. Not knowing what we would have at the top, there were several stops for pictures along the way.
Just about when I commented that I hadn’t thought the ridge walk would be as long as it was, we reached our goal about 12:20pm, a little under 4 hours from the highway. Oh, happy dance, a successful summit! After last week’s Kendall Peak attempt, it felt good to complete a trip.
This is why you don’t always stay home with a poor forecast and wait to see how conditions are when you get there. There was just enough clearing to see the closer peaks in the distance like Rock Mountain. I’ll have to come back on a nicer day for views of the Chiwaukums and Labyrinth. We took time at the top for pictures, lunch and savoring what we had attained but it definitely wasn’t warm so we headed back down at 1pm.
Our descent was made a little bit easier with the later hour and plunge stepping was possible in most spots until we here back at 3700ft. We had been a little worried on our way up because most of us had left our spikes in the car in exchange for snowshoes based on a report from another scramble the day before on Denny Mountain. Below the snowline and down to the railroad tracks was a mixture of cutting small switchbacks on the slope and tree hugging. At least for me anyway because I hadn’t brought my poles on the trip. Live and learn…
Dropping back to the railroad tracks, we came out a bit to the left of where we went up on an old forest road. This turned out to be a smoother route and I would take it up if I return to Arrowhead. Our final mile had sunshine and high spirits at yet another fun outing with the Mountaineers. Nason Creek was running high as we crossed back over HWY 2 and we were back to the cars by 3:20pm, tired but already talking about our next adventure!
Directions: Drive east on HWY 2 to Stevens Pass. Drive past the ski area about 7 miles after where the highway division ends. If you come to the TH for Rock Mountain, you have gone too far. Park in the pullouts just east of the Nason Creek crossing. No parking pass needed but make sure to watch for No Parking signs. From the pullout, cross the highway and walk west to FR 687 just west of the Nason Creek bridge.