It's in the Bag (or so I thought)Malcolm Mountain
Elevation Gain: 3800 feet
Oh yes. Boy when I began this trail I was extremely confident. We talked all we about this being a conditioning hike and when I ask to bring an ice axe, they advised not to do it, I felt that this mountain was going to be a very quick three hour hike to obscure summit. With only ten miles and only 3800 feet elevation gain I thought to myself how hard could this be. Plus I have lost a good amount of weight and hike at least 130% to 150% of my speed from a year ago.
The Jungle Creek Trail was a well paced and a fairly moderate uphill climb as it followed Jungle Creek about a mile and a half up until turning into a number of switchbacks up to the to the ridgeline. Along the way a number of views toward Teanaway Butte popped up as well as a close up of the rocky Peak 5220 (Johnson Peak). This part of the trail was very easy and all of us were making great time on the trail. The more I went up the more confident I was becoming. Finally as we approached the ridgeline, I expressed my confidence for hike by telling the group "It's in the bag".
We hit ridgeline and ran into another trail (I believe the Way Creek Trail). This section is where I quickly received a nice wake up call. On the way up we were hike on the south side where little snow is left from the passed winter. Unfortunately for us the north side was quiet different. What would be a very easy hike in summertime was now halfway covered with snow. The snow was packed down but in some places it was very icy. Also walking on somewhat slippery snow along the side of a steep ridge (though mostly tree covered is not one of my strongest suits. I quickly traded my trekking poles or my friend’s ice axe, while he wanted the trekking poles for more speed. The snow itself was not consistent enough to warrant traction devices (i.e. crampons, yak traks) but often was a major annoyance if not a major hazard in another. At one point just after merging on to the Koppen Mountain Trailhead, Magellan took a 30-foot slide down to a bunch of small rocks. He escaped with just some blood blisters and scratches but he was a little shaken up. Obviously this little hike WASN'T IN THE BAG.
On and on we went often using goofy humor to ease or mind. We could see Malcolm Mountain getting closer but at times we (ok really me because I was being very cautious on the slippery stuff) had to go slow due to the constant changing from packed snow to regular trail. Once we hit the ridge we veered left and headed for the summit. We passed by a well-stocked hunters camp roughly a quarter mile from the summit. Then came the last climb, which was basically walking up packed snow and ice. We finally made it to the largely snow free summit where a remnant of a large cornice still lies along the east side of the summit.
There we all sat down and took in the view. Though the day was mostly cloudy there were still decent views of the Enchantments, Mount Stuart and the Stuart Range, Earl Peak (all to the north and west) and Teanaway Butte to the south along with some of the other eastern foothills of the Cascades. We sat up top, posed for the camera a couple hundred times and then all took a nap for an hour on the summit. At one point I woke myself up from snoring only to hear the others snoring in stereo.
After getting a good nap we decided to head down, this time a different path. This path, the Way Creek Trail, was to have a lot more southern exposure and therefore less hazardous travel. We basically followed the same boot path back to the Koppen Trail where this time instead of worrying so much about following the Koppen Trail we decided to stay along the snow free parts of the ridge. After about a mile we ran into the Way Creek Trailhead. At first it looked like prediction was going to be wrong. In fact we cross one section where the trail went across a very steep section of the ridge and it was completely covered in pack and slippery snow. It was slow going over these steep snow gullies but once we got past these sections the trail became a lot easier. The trail eventually became an ATV road and then became a little stepper of a downhill hike. It was a little painful on the knee but overall not too bad. We then hit the Way Creek trailhead and walked down National Forest Road 9701 back to our car.
Overall this was a great hike. I would recommend making this a good late May hike on a low snow year and mid June on a high snow year. The snow really made what was a very easily mountain much more of an adventure. Special thanks to Magellan, Curt and Bryan for having me on this trip.