Where There’s Smoke…

This is it. I’m declaring Blog Bankruptcy. I’ve gotten so behind with summer travel and outings that I can’t possibly dig out of the hole. So here’s what I did this weekend. I may go back and cover selected trips from June-August, highlights of which included 2 weeks in Turkey and Romania, summer skiing at Mt. Rainier, and backpacking near Glacier Peak.

Mt. Howard and Mt. Mastiff

7063′ peak elevation

12ish miles

6000′ gain

7:40 car to car

DATELINE: Chelan, WA. After one of the driest springs and summers on record and with a minuscule snowpack, Washington is burning. Lake Chelan, the Methow Valley, and Mt. Adams are ablaze and the Okanogan Complex is the largest in the state’s history. With the North Cascades Highway closed due to fire, the options for getting in the high country are more limited than usual. Looking for a fun summer scramble, hiking pal Becca and I settled on a doubleheader near Stevens Pass, hopefully sparing us most of the smoke: Mt. Howard and Mt. Mastiff. Mt. Howard happens to be a 2000′ prominence peak, a nice bonus.

On the drive in we noticed a puzzling haze in Monroe – it couldn’t be smoke, could it? We were 100+ miles from the closest fire. As we continued along US 2 it became evident that the forecasted NW wind hadn’t materialized – Easterly wind was pushing the smoke our way. Despite the potential for disappointing views, the smoke wasn’t thick enough to irritate our lungs or eyes so we elected to do the trip as ash fell from the sky like a dusting of snow.

Howard-Mastiff Loop

Our plan was to do a loop route starting and ending from the Merritt Lake Trailhead, climbing Mt. Howard first before continuing on to Mastiff and descending off trail on Nason Ridge. Fully half this route is off trail, so decent routefinding and navigation skills are definitely required.

The Merritt Lake trail has nice efficient switchbacks through mostly shade. The Nason Ridge trail though needs some work – it’s brushy and loose in places but easy to follow. It continued through a looong traverse over to Crescent Lake including several hundred feet of elevation loss (beware to those doing the counterclockwise loop!) There are several little bowls that look like the S. face of Howard – make sure you’re in the right drainage (ie. not Royal Creek) before you head upward.

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake is big and shallow. It looked like elk bed down in the long grass nearby – comforting, as we had just been startled by some sort of large mammal in the woods and we were really hoping it wasn’t a bear. We filled up water and started up the South face of Mt. Howard (about 2000′ vertical) off trail. We took the talus field at the head of the lake (directly below the obvious cliff band) then brush bashed through some woody plants without too much hassle before reaching an upper talus field where we drifted right to get around the cliff. There are several gullies here – we picked the one we thought was easiest and it was easy but loose, dirty class 3. I wouldn’t want to have to descend this part if I could help it.

Above this crux band of 100′ or so it was easy cruising on talus and dirt climber’s trails to the summit. Continue reading Where There’s Smoke…

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