Mt. Daniel SE RidgeI headed north from my home in Medford, Oregon on Friday October 6, 2006. I had my eye set on Mt. Daniel the county highpoint of both King and Kittitas Counties and also the 34th ranked prominence peak in the state of Washington. The drive north was uneventful except for the state trooper on Hwy 97 who almost tagged me for speeding as I was entering the little town of Crescent. He pulled out, but just crossed the highway and pulled into a diner. I guess the blue plate special was of more interest than my speed.
I followed fellow SPer Dean’s directions , and after a 9 hour drive arrived at the trailhead for Cathedral Rock. By the way the last 12 miles of gravel road has been graded since Dean has visited the area and it isn’t a bad drive.
It was cloudy overhead and kind of cool. A little mist was dripping, but it wasn’t bad. I had read the weather report and it predicted clearing skies this evening. I hoped they were right, because this is a beautiful area and I wanted to SEE EVERYTHING !! I did get one quick glimpse of Cathedral Rock as the clouds parted for a few seconds.
I worked on my gear to get it ready for an early start in the morning and made myself dinner. My Tacoma is my home away from home and soon I crawled into my sleeping bag in the back of my truck. At least it was warmer in the bag. There was only one other car in the parking lot and I could here one party up the road at the Deception Pass parking area. It was kind of peaceful until there was a big commotion up at the other parking area. Some kid was crying and his dead started yelling for him to “SHUT THE F% UP !! He repeated this request several times before things quieted down again. Ah, the peaceful solitude of trailhead camping.
Soon, more activity in the area upset the calm. A couple cars pulled about 10:00 PM, and then a truck pulling a horse trailer. Of course the horses had to be unloaded and tethered. About midnight two more cars pulled in with about 6 teenage kids. They were having a good time. Lots of horse play, laughing, and shouting from this group as they tried to sleep on the ground in their sleeping bags. There was a big bright moon out and it was like daylight at the trailhead. It was getting cold now and the kids were taking turns starting their vehicles and running their car heaters to stay warm. Finally, about 3:30 AM they gave up, packed up their gear and headed up the trail. I stayed in my warm sleeping bag until a little after 6:00AM.
It was cold in the morning with frost on the car. I ate a quick breakfast of fruit and granola bars before I put on my coat and gloves and headed up the trail myself. It was just light enough to see without a headlamp, so I could make good time. I crossed the bridge over the Cle Elum River and entered the forest. This is a great trail that switchbacks up the ridgeline towards Squaw Lake. I made good time up this trail and soon had enough of a sweat going where I took my coat off and stuffed it into my pack. I think it was warmer up out of the valley anyways.
Squaw Lake came into view and I could see this would be a great place to camp. Very peaceful area. I continued following the trail as it turned more northerly following the top of the ridge. As the trail passes a few no name small pond like lakes on the right, Cathedral Rock came into view dead ahead. Wow !! This is going to be a spectacular hike. How do they climb Cathedral Rock anyhow? It looks pretty vertical to me. But, Cathedral Rock wasn’t my destination today. I was heading to Mt. Daniel.
At Cathedral Pass I got my first view of the terrain to the west. Very impressive! Deep Lake was down below. That must be East Daniel off to the right a bit. It’s still a long ways away and is that the ridge I have to follow? I pull out my topo and sure enough I have to climb that rugged looking ridgeline. I thought, if Dean climbed it, then how tough can it be? I continued over the pass and found the trail to Peggys Pond. This trail is more rugged than the trail I left. In places I was climbing through some brushy trees, over roots, and trying not slip on scree fields.
The trail leads to the little unnamed pond below Peggys Pond and I just kept going northerly. The trail kind of petered out here, but I could see a little ridge line ahead and wanted to get up there to look around. On the ridge I picked up the main trail again coming up from Peggys Pond and started following it west up the southeast ridge towards Mount Daniel.
This climbers trail is easy to follow up until it gets into a rocky area. Here it is more braided. I picked up the trail here and there but, generally just made my way up to the top of the ridge and over point 7020. This climb was much steeper than the trail up from the trailhead. I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. The Hyas Lake drainage off to the right looked pretty desolate and barren. I’m glad I wasn’t climbing down there.
I kept following the ridge as it climbed steeply towards East Daniel. The higher I went the more rugged the ridgeline became, but there was still a climbers trail and it was still easy to follow. It stays right on top of the ridge most of the way. After passing point 7662, I could now see both Middle Daniel and West Daniel ahead on the ridgeline. It looked a long ways away, but my GPS indicated it was less than a mile.
I took heart and descended a bit to the last little saddle before East Daniel. The trail here traverses on the southwest side of East Daniel and proceeds over to the saddle between East Daniel and Middle Daniel it is also where the Hyas Glacier tops out. I noticed there were 2 climbers standing at this next saddle. I wondered where they came from? I hadn’t noticed them on my ridgeline before.
As I started the traverse over to where they were standing, they started up Middle Daniel. Soon they were joined by 4 other climbers. I could hear them talking and having a good time. They must be the 6 climbers who left the trailhead 3 hours before I did. The traverse had lots of scree and loose footing. There were faint footsteps to follow and I quickly made the traverse without sliding down to Venus Lake far below. This might be a bit treacherous if it were icy.
At the saddle between East Daniel and Middle Daniel, I noticed the climbing party ahead of me had dropped some of their climbing gear including the rope they used to come up the Hyas Glacier. I climbed this last steep bit up towards Middle Daniel. This part is kind of loose scree and rocks and I was glad when I got to the top and plainly see Middle Daniel and West Daniel ahead. The party ahead was already on the summit, so I knew I didn’t have far to go. The climbers trail was easy to follow around Middle Daniel and over to West Daniel the highest point.
I climbed the rocky bit to the summit where the 6 other climbers were just finishing taking pictures and signing the register. I found out they were all students from Western Washington University in Bellingham. They were out celebrating their first week back in school after summer break. I tried to give them a bad time about keeping me awake half the night, but they were good kids and we all had a good time on the summit laughing about it. I never met anyone on any summit who wasn’t a great person. Is that caused by summit euphoria?
What fantastic views in all directions from the summit. I kept taking pic’s and took duplicates just because they were worthy of second pic’s. It took me about 5 ½ hours to get to the summit from the trailhead. I ate lunch and enjoyed the views before heading back down the ridgeline.
At the saddle between East Daniel and Middle Daniel, I passed the 6 college kids who were roping up to go back down the glacier. I traversed back across East Daniel and followed the ridge back towards Peggys Pond. About half way down the ridge, I heard voices coming from the Hyas drainage. I could see the 6 kids coming across a small snow patch and then down a gully to the bottom of the drainage. I was very glad I was on top of the ridge now. They were hours behind my already.
I took my time descending and actually met several hikers coming up towards Cathedral Rock Pass from the trailhead. When I got back to the trailhead the parking lot was full with at least 20 cars including a school bus. It looked like a couple teachers had about 10 of their students with them and they were camping at Squaw Lake. The entire hike took about 10 hours, covered 16 miles, and had about 5,400 ft of elevation gain. There are actually a couple uphill places from Peggys Pond back to Cathedral Rock Pass. What a great hike!!