In Washington State we have had everything late. We had a long winter in the Cascades followed by a late and dreary spring. Summer here did not even really start until August but last well into late September. So now it time for us to look for some good fall colors. The berry bushes and larches were two weeks late and looked to be ready this week for some good fall colors. This is going to be the grand week for fall colors. Knowing that, I was going to go to one of my recent stomping ground, Mowich Lake in Mount Rainier National Park and go for an Irish Cabin Peak or two.
Because it was a Thursday I was limited on who to invite so in the end I went with one of my most reliable partner JordanH. We have been able to do quiet a number of good hikes and scrambles over the summer despite my crazy work schedule and we work very well together on finding routes, scaring off wildlife and bagging peaks. It looked like we hit a good weather window and with that good news it was time for us to head out and hit the mountains.
Once we arrived at Mowich we quickly realized that we were going to have to alter our planned. It had snowed a lot in the mountains above 5500 feet an there was even a little snow at the trailhead. Instead of going for a number of peaks, we shorten our trip to focus on the mountain that was only listed as a walk-up Fay Peak. It looked be a proven mountain and as always my goal was to head up until safety became a serious issue and then if that became the case then I was turn around.
We started on the Mowich Lake Trail, which quickly lead to Knapsack Pass boot-path behind the ranger station. This “boot-path” must be well used because in many spots it is as wide as a path and is actually pretty well put together in stops. We continued up a little way up the boot-path where we were supposed to find the boot-path to Fay Peak by a small creek. On the way up we ran into three other hikers all shooting for the same goal. One of the hikers totally missed the turnoff to Fay Peak and settle for a smaller sub-peak. The other group of two stopped at high point on the ridgeline. None of this sounded like good news. So for us we were just going to go up as high as we can and find out what the deal was with this mountain.
We continued up the boot-path to Knapsack Pass. Quickly I realized that we had made the same mistake as the one the guys. It turned out that the boot-path looked a lot more like a stream than a boot-path from the cutoff point. Once I went to an open area about 5500 feet up I realized we were going to have to cross a scree field if we were ever going to get back to the boot-path to the summit of Fay Peak. We decided on the scree field and slowly and carefully went around the scree and talus field which was cover with three inches of slippery wet snow. We took it slow across the field and despite the wet and slippery snow made it to the boot-path where we could spot the footprints from the other hikers. From there we followed the boot-path all of the way to near the ridgeline. We actually continued to follow the other hikers’ boot-path to there little summit area as well only to find that it did not lead to a safe way to attain the ridge to the summit of Fay Peak. So we head back a hundred feet and got back on the snow-covered boot-path and stayed on the boot-path.
Not A Place To Fall!
From there we continued up the boot-path. By this time there was six inches of snow and the boot-path was beginning to be hard to spot. I believe about one hundred feet from the summit we lost the boot-path for a bit. I was growing a little concerned that we were potentially going to hitting tougher terrain so I decided to put on a helmet just in case of a fall of some sort. This was not the time or the place to be falling a ways. Slowly the path up started to give way to an exposed scramble. At first this was not to big a deal. We would maneuver over a couple rocks and then we were just continuously heading up.
But toward the top we had hit an interesting section. Being literally 30 feet from the summit we had to make a choice, go up a moderately exposed Class 2+ move on wet rock (felt like Class 3 but I think the snow was playing a role here in the difficulty), try another way or ditch it so close. Jordan and I decided to go for it, and this time despite being a little shaken up I am very glad I did. Jordan here was able to find a number of great steps in the rock and I was able to follow his lead here all of the way to the true summit. There was one step where literally if we misstep we may have survived the fall but suffered some sort of serious injury on the way down. Without Jordan’s lead here there would have been no summit and not the amazing views waiting for us on top.
On The Beautiful Summit
This peak has views like every other Irish Cabin Peak I have ever been on, amazing and beautiful. In fact with the snow on all the peaks the views here were simply amazing. Unfortunately today was not going to be a good fall foliage day but it was going to be an excellent early winter summit. Views on Fay Peak included Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier and Mount Saint Helens. I was still a little nervous from the scramble so I wasn’t really ever able to take a deep breath here, but internally I was happy to able to enjoy yet another beautiful summer on what has become a brutal year for me in so many other ways.
Moreover I was very thankful for Jordan for leading the way on the more difficult sections. Clearly he has developed a great strength in scrambling and is now very competent and comfortable in it. As stated before with his lead I might have not made it to the true summit on the wet and snow-covered rocks. In summer I know that little scramble I did would have easy but with the snow it was a little dicey.
After about 20 minutes of enjoying the heavenly views on the summit it was time for us to head on down. We were both afraid that our tracks were going to start getting slippery and the first little bit of the terrain required concentration in order to make it down safely. Hitting that scramble going downhill was an interesting experience. Again in summer this would be no problem but at this time with the snow and wet rock you really had to be carefully where you put your foot. Jordan again led this section and helped me out figuring out the best way down. I will assume that this not the normal boot-path way but from what we could see it was the best way down the mountain.
From there the scrambling became easier and soon we were back in safer terrain. We could see the sun going down and the clouds moving in at a good clip. We made our way quickly down the mountain. Heading down the boot-path was much more was much more obvious. It was interesting continuously getting a different perspective of the mountain that the one we had seen earlier in the day. We continued down the boot-path all the way to where it ran into the Knapsack Pass boot-path where we could now saw where the turnoff was located. From there we continue down the Knapsack Pass boot-path all the way to the Ranger Cabin. From there it was starting to get dark but we still had enough time hit the Mowich Lake Trail and were quickly back to the car.
It was great to get off another wonderful adventure despite a stressful working schedule working two jobs. My climbing partner Jordan has really developed into a very good climbing partner and someone I now value as a good friend in the mountain. Without him there would be no summit and not many excellent pictures of this great summit. I was not able to see much in the way of good fall colors but at least I was able to enjoy another great adventure in the mountains and take in some amazing views. I will though continue my quest for finding those excellent fall colors.