Not to be daunted by its seemingly insignificant place among all these more impressive peaks, Mt. Bretherton lays claim to a few its undeniable virtues. The mountain is, along with Lena, the setting for two gorgeous alpine lakes -- Upper Lena and Milk Lake. While Bretherton may appear small from more lofty vantage points, it is more impressive from these watery jewels that adorn its lower slopes. Though there is enough beauty at the lakeshore to enjoy indefinately, if one has the ability and time to scrambly up a little bit of moderately exposed terrain, the best of Bretherton's qualities is easily realized -- it is as fine a front row seat for the battle mentioned in the first paragraphy as anyone could ever hope for. Not being in the fray itself -- though surrounded by it -- it gives the climber an opportunity to view other peaks from a commanding perspective. Though its summit is a good 500-1500 feet lower than many of the larger peaks, its placement is such that one's views are not obscured by its more massive neighbors.
According to the book Olympic Mountains: A Climbers Guide on page 55, Mt. Bretherton is named after some zoologist guy from the Oregon Alpine Club who accompanied Lieutenant O'Neil on his 1890 exploratory expedition of the range. Among the missing information is the first ascent. If anyone has this info (which I could not find on the internet either), please share it.
The rock Mt. Bretherton is the typically loose sedimentary stuff found througout the Olympics. Due to the looseness of the rock one should be judicious about route selection. Just because the chipmunks are climbing 5.12 on this peak doesn't mean you should. Thankfully, there are some relatively safe scrambling routes up the mountain. There is a significant low elevation permenant snowfield in a north facing cirque on the peak's east side. Who knows, given a long series of La Nina winters it could even convert back to glacier, but don't get your hopes up too much.
Getting ThereThe standard approach is via the Lena Lake Trailhead. Driving north on Highway 101 about 13.5 miles north of the town of Hoodsport, WA turn left on Hamma Hamma River Forest Service Road 25. The road is well signed and the trailhead is about 7.7 miles from Highway 101 to the Lena Lake Trailhead. The parking area, as large as it is, is often over crowded but most will be here for Lena Lake. Take the Lena Lake trail and hike the wide, well graded trail for about 3 miles. Shortly before Lena Lake, find the trail marked for Upper Lena Lake on the left and continue on towards Upper Lena Lake. The trail begins to steepen here and does not let up much until you reach Upper Lena Lake. Distance and elevation from trailhead to Upper Lena Lake is about 7 miles 3900 ft elevation one way.
An alternate route could be achieved via the Putvin Trailhead. Where the Putvin trail makes the final crossing of an abandoned logging road to head to Lake of the Angels (see Mt. Stone) keep heading east on the road and create your own route as you cross the washout created by Boulder Creek to gain access to Bretherton's south ridge which is hidden by dense forest at this elevation. I'm unsure what would motivate someone to take this approach, but it is worth mentioning. The vast majority of summiters will use the Upper Lena Lake route.
Red TapeDue to the strain of population growth and the correlating increase in the use of this area, it is no longer collectively feasible for the freedom of the hills to be totally free. As a result, the past decade and a half have seen the emergence of bureaucratic considerations that, though at times seem inconvenient, spare the wilderness lover the inconvenience of having to look elsewhere for a genuine wilderness experience.
To park at the Lena Lake Trailhead, you will either need a Northwest Forest Pass ($5 per vehicle per day or $30 for a year) or an Interagency America the Beautiful Pass which can be purchased online or at any National Park or Forest Service Ranger Station.
Fore overnight camping in Olympic National Park, you will need to pay a Wilderness Use Fee for a permit which you must display on your tent. The permits are required from May 1 through September 30. The fee is $5 to register and then $2 per person per night. Another option is to get an annual pass for $30 (then $15 for each additional household member). The permits can be picked up at the following ranger stations:
Main Wilderness Information Center (WIC) in Port Angeles in person or by phone. The WIC is located within the Olympic National Park Visitor Center. Phone: (360) 565-3100
Quinault Wilderness Information Center located at the South Shore Lake Quinault Forest Service Ranger Station. Phone: (360) 288-0232
Olympic National Park/Olympic National Forest Recreation Information Station in Forks. Phone: (360) 374-7566
Staircase Ranger Station near Hoodsport. Phone: (360) 877-5569.
Or you can get a self-registration permit at a registration box at a trailhead. The form has instructions on how to mail in the fee and make it all legit. One downside to this, as convenient as it may seem is that sometimes the box can be out of permits, or there may not be any functioning writing instrument with which to fill out the form. But a kind backcountry ranger can always assist you -- they have their own camping spot at Upper Lena Lake.
Camping[img:770006:alignleft:small:Campsite at Upper Lena with Bretherton's false summit behind.]Hardy peakbagger types my want to do this trip in a long day, dispensing with lesser pleasures like wildflowers, waterfalls, huckleberries, and mosquitos. Yellow jackets can still be enjoyed by anyone, however, no matter how summit-focused that person may be. If you do miss out, though, then once back at Upper Lena Lake, literally drag your feet as you trudge up the short bath to the ranger's tent site and you will find them quite readily.
For those who wish for a more well-rounded mountain experience, it may be advisable to camp a night or two. The most obvious place to camp would of course be in one of the 10 campsites at Upper Lena Lake (within the national park). There are 2 bear wires to hang your food from, which is awefully nice of the park service to provide. The place is popular so get an early start from the trailhead. Click THIS LINK for a map of the camping areas around Upper Lena. There is a way trail that takes off beyond the inlet stream (not the one from Milk Lake) in the direction of Mt. Stone that makes for some delightful meandoring in between summit attempts.[img:770007:alignright:medium:This tarn is along the way trail on the way to Mt. Stone. A branch from the trail goes to the summit of Mt. Lena.]
Another option for those who are loathe to leave the crowds, if not the creature comforts, of civilization behind, is to camp at the often crowded Lower Lena Lake, some 4 miles closer to the trailhead. It really is a nice place, it's just that it's hard to get the wilderness feel when you see someone arrive at camp carrying a cooler full of stuff. For the most part, it does maintain a genuine feel of wildness and people are generally respectful of that feel. It's just a little too easy for that feel to be jeopardized.
One benefit to the lower lake, though, is the opportunity to use it as a base camp to bag the peaks around Upper Lena and The Brothers all in the same trip.