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!



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