It’s Always Sunny in the Teanaway

This labor day weekend called for clouds and showers all over the Puget Sound. Lacking a partner to tackle the remote peaks of the Pasayten Wilderness like I had originally hoped, I opted for a safer, less remote hike through the mountains of the Teanaway.

Situated north of the city of Cle Elum, east of the Cascade Crest, the  Teanaway River watershed is protected by the rain shadow of the range to the west. This means that it has consistently better weather than other areas of the Central Cascades. It is full of great non-technical scrambling peaks. I’ve visited this area several times before and it’s one of my favorite areas in the state.

My plan was to camp overnight on Friday and do a mostly off-trail loop combining as many peaks as I could in a one day push. Traveling alone, I wanted to avoid anything with much exposure of difficult scrambling. My list included Judi’s Peak, Mary’s Peak, Bean Peak, Devil’s Head, Bill’s Peak, Teanaway Peak, and Iron Peak, although I figured I wouldn’t get to all of those. Here’s a map of the trip I actually completed:

The whole loop
~5500′ gain
~8-10 miles
5 “named” peaks

I walked in the night before and found a campsite about a half mile from the car, just prior to the Bean Creek turnoff. I should note that the Beverly Creek trailhead is accessible by a pretty rough road – I engaged my AWD system in a couple of spots. I was fine in my CRV (fake SUV) but those with Priuses should probably consider whether a couple of nasty spots are doable or not.

Judi’s and Mary’s Peaks

My day started out with these two minor peaks, anchoring the western border of the Bean Creek basin. I left camp, crossed Bean Creek, and almost immediately left the trail and proceeded straight up the fairly open southwest ridge of Judi’s Peak.

Easy travel

Routefinding here consisted of the “just go up” strategy. I tried to stick to the top of the ridge but dropped off to either side in a few places to avoid some scramble steps (in the interest of being conservative on  a solo hike).

Southern plains from Judi’s ridge

After about a mile and 2500′ of elevation gain, I reached the summit of Judi’s Peak and kept moving along the ridge to Mary’s. Continue reading It’s Always Sunny in the Teanaway

Making the tough call on Mt. Daniel

Mt. Daniel is a perfect target for a summer climb. At 7960′, Daniel is the only county highpoint “twofer” in the state of Washington: it is the highest summit in both King County and Kittitas County (it straddles the Cascades Crest, and hence the county line).

Respecting the late summer melt off, we chose the non-technical SE ridge to avoid glacier travel. With something close to 5000′ of elevation gain, Mt. Daniel can be summited as a very long day, but we chose to camp one night instead to shorten the summit day.

We headed East on I-90 from the Seattle area on a Friday evening, stopping in South Cle Elum for some Smokey’s BBQ (will be a fixture of all my following trips over Snoqualmie Pass I think) before continuing north on the Salmon La Sac road to Tucquala Meadows trailhead. Under the light of the moon and headlamp, we made our way to the intersection of the Pacific Crest Trail near the turnoff for Peggy’s Pond. After stumbling around in the dark trying to find the spur trail to the pond, we gave up and found a very nice campsite right there.  Overnight, there was a bit of a drizzle and we awoke to unsettled clouds.

Morning view of Daniel’s East side from the trail to Peggy’s Pond

The four of us made it to Peggy’s before a pair chose to stick around and spend the day exploring the area instead of going higher. Two of us continued on the climb. To the west of the pond, there is a maze of “social” trails in the grass, and we missed a key turnoff and ended up climbing a creek and ending up in the Hyas Creek Glacier basin before traversing back to the south to rejoin the ridge (which we managed to do without losing too much elevation). The next section was marked by cairns, which helped us navigate in the poor visibility conditions. After gaining close to 2000′, we made it above the cloud ceiling and the views really opened up.

Gap in the clouds from low on the SE ridge

This portion of the ridge is pretty fun – it’s Class 1/2 walking for the most part with careful route selection and we moved efficiently toward the bend in the ridge heading north.

The views to either side of the ridge are simply spectacular. It really feels like a remote part of the Cascades.

Circle Lake
Cruising on the upper SE ridge

When the ridge takes a bend toward the East Summit, the rock quality becomes really broken and poor. We found ourselves dropping down ~50′ off the ridge into a gully with loose scree. Taking a tumble here would be pretty uncomfortable.

Venus Lake

Unfortunately, the route description calling this ridge “a walkup with a couple of Class 3 spots” doesn’t quite capture the seriousness of some of the scrambling steps. We were stopped in our tracks right below the false summit at the biggest gendarme on the way to the East Peak.  Our path crossed a very awkward rock step over thin air. A fall here would have been a 40 foot slide down a slick slab and would have been quite serious, likely fatal, especially considering the remote location.

The rock was slick and wet from the previous night’s rain, so we elected not to continue past this point. We saw a foot trail right on the other side, so it was clear that we weren’t off route – I wonder if we just didn’t see the right move or if a key foot placement had broken off or something. The pictures really don’t do it justice.

So close, yet so far...
So close, yet so far…

I think we were being cautious but we tried to scope out the move for a long time and didn’t get quite comfortable with it.

Roughly where we

Reviewing trip reports later, it seemed as though many parties choose to traverse the snow slope below which would have been a much easier and safer option if we had crampons with us. I’m not sure exactly where one would access the snowfield from low on the ridge but evidently it’s straightforward.

Stuck on Daniel

The clouds dropped back a bit to make the views on our trip down a great consolation prize.

Benefits of turning around: being intact to see views like this


We even got a little peek of Peggy’s Pond on the way down, though Cathedral Rock was cloud covered the entire day.

Peggy’s through a gap in the clouds.

After reuniting with our friends lower down near the PCT intersection, it was a quick and pleasant trip back to the cars. The clouds parted even more and it turned into a beautiful sunny day.

It looks like a big mountain from down here!



Mason Lakes Triple

This weekend I wanted something easy enough I could do it solo without worrying too much about getting hurt, and something close enough to home that I could justify burning the gas to get one person there. That narrows it down to pretty much  just I-90. Luckily, there are some great spots for solitude and easy peakbagging, even in the summer.

I drove to the Ira Spring trailhead (located around 30 miles from Seattle) and took off up the nicely graded trail, reaching the pass to the Mason Lake area in just over an hour. It was a perfect, clear day with great views of the southern Cascades peaks, including Rainier.

Not a bad Rainier view

I chose a campsite right next to beautiful Mason Lake, set up my tent, and dropped my overnight gear before taking off uphill towards Mt. Defiance.


The trail was well-maintained all the way until breaking out onto a slide path/talus field about 300 feet below the summit. Continue further than you think you should, and an informal trail will appear on the right. I was impatient and headed straight up the beargrass and dirt clods of the open field (a mistake).

The view at the top is surprisingly awesome: much better, in my opinion, than the more frequently visited Bandera Peak. Continue reading Mason Lakes Triple

Vesper Peak and Mt. Dickerman

After starting up the new job and sorting out my living arrangements here in Seattle, I’ve gotten a bit behind on the blog, so here’s a twofer:

Vesper Peak

August 3rd, 2014
4100′ gain
Class 2/Steep Snow

Vesper Peak is located in the Mountain Loop Highway area, in the southern part of Washington’s North Cascades range. The area has fascinating geography. A far cry from the crumbly, volcanic rock often found elsewhere in the state, the MLH peaks often expose large granite faces perfect for technical rock climbing. That was not our objective today: we were happy with the normal hiking route. However, in typical Washington fashion, we knew to expect snow in the upper reaches of the mountain, so we came prepared with ice axes for steep snow and helmets for a couple areas of loose rock. The helmet was probably not necessary, but we were glad to have the axes in several places.

Near the Stillaguamish crossing

The hike starts out at the end of the Sunrise Mine road, and passes through a lower stretch of forest with several lovely creeks and rivers. The Stillaguamish River crossing was no problem at this time of year; we crossed with dry feet.

Wirtz Basin

The next portion of the hike criss-crosses the scree and talus field of Wirtz Basin. The trail is quite easy to find through the boulder field on the way to Headlee Pass at the head of the basin. This section was actually quite hot on this August day.

Headlee Pass from the bottom

The trail ascends steeply up a narrow gully to Headlee Pass. We didn’t see anyone close above us, but had there been, we would have donned the helmets for rockfall.

From the top of the pass, Vesper Peak is finally visible. Traversing the shoulder, it is not far from the pass to Lake Elan, in the basin between Sperry Peak and Vesper.

First sight of Vesper

It was clear that we would have some snow climbing to do near the top. But first, the trail winds its way through a brushy meadow. Because of the snow melt, the trail is full of running water and slick mud (probably the only spot where we fell on the entire trip).

We used axes instead of poles once we hit the snow; either would have worked, except that we ended up off route on 40 degree snow. The surface was soft enough to kick steps in hiking boots, but it would have been a potentially fatal slip and fall down the snow slope onto the rocks below.

We should have traversed further left (foreground in the photo above) where some exposed rocks provide easier passage to the summit (wasn’t visible from our spot).

Summit view

A few more steps on the summit rock pile and we were there! The summit itself is pretty pointy – not an easy one to stand upright on. The view to the North and West is spectacular: an alpine lake bounded by steep walls and Mt. Baker in the background.

Ruggedly beautiful Glacier Peak

With all the rocks melting out, glissading would have been a poor move, so we heel stepped down the softening slope, avoiding the steep section from earlier.

Descending with Sperry Peak in the background

We had considered combining Vesper with Sperry Peak, but Sperry’s normal route was still covered with steep snow (visible in the above picture) with a horrible runout (at least spotted from afar – a slip would send you over the cliff). It’d be a nice excuse to say that’s why we didn’t attempt, but we were also not in a peakbagging mood. We elected to take it easy at Lake Elan before heading home. Good choice.


The mesmerizing blue ice of melting alpine lakes is one of my favorite features of the Cascades.

Lake Elan

Mt. Dickerman

July 26, 2014
4000′ gain
Class 1 (Walkup)

Some friends and I hiked Mt. Dickerman on a beautiful Saturday. The trail was pretty packed, and the summit was even worse, but I’m impressed so many people were attempting this formidable day hike. I hiked up with them, then ran the descent and back up to meet them on the switchbacks (didn’t make it very far – they’re fast hikers and I’m a slow runner!)

Good views on a physically challenging, yet very approachable trail.

Big Four
First view of Dickerman’s summit
Great running on the upper bench
I’m a sucker for Glacier Peak

I did fall one time when I got caught up in some brush – even though the trail is nicely graded, it is pretty rugged for a trail run.