And now for something completely different...
Central Washington could use some more entries here on summitpost. So I present to you Steamboat Rock.
Steamboat Rock is an island (or near island with an isthmus) of basalt in Grand Coulee's Banks Lake. The mesa of rock stands a full 700 feet above the surrounding lake (1,571 ft) but is only even in altitude with the distant walls of the coulee. The flattish summit area is quite large, larger than it appears from below, and is comprised of two tables separated by a minor "valley." It took me an hour to walk around from one table to the other in search of cliff-edge views and the highest point. It is because of Steamboat's separated character that the formation can be considered its own mountain. I only wish it had a more unique name. How many Steamboat Rocks are there in the U.S. much less the world? Try typing "Steamboat Rock" into the USGS query form and you'll find out.
It should be noted that Banks Lake didn't always exist (in modern times) and at one point Steamboat Rock was nothing more than a landlocked mesa. With the construction of Dry Falls Dam at Coulee City at the southwest end of the coulee, Banks Lake was formed. (Dry Falls Dam is not the power-generating type; it is merely a retaining wall.) The old highway running along the coulee was then mostly submerged thus necessitating the construction of a new highway (SR-155). Segments of the old highway can still be seen above waterline. The easiest place to do so is a couple hundred yards from the new highway inside the entrance to Steamboat Rock State Park. The approach road crosses old pavement cutting across a tilled hay field (I think it's hay, could be wheat). When I initially crossed it I thought it odd that the old pavement was curving away toward the lake. Upon later investigation (you can drive the road) I discovered it dipped into the lake, gone forever like a road to Atlantis. Another place to see the old road dipping into the lake is on Fordair Road near Dry Falls Dam.
Of further interest is what became of Grand Coulee in the last ice age (in the late Pleistocene Epoch around 17,000 years ago). Ice flowing south out of the Okanogan (Okanogan lobe of the Cordilleran ice sheet) eventually blocked the usual course (and present course) of the Columbia River. The usual/present course is north then west from the northeast end of the Coulee (at Grand Coulee Dam). With the blockage the river was forced down Grand Coulee. And with the Missoula Floods (glacial outbursts called jökulhlaups) during those gelid times, Dry Falls came to be the famous "imaginative" attraction it is today. The southernmost extent of the ice sheet came to be on an equal latitude to Dry Falls and the resulting terminus came to be termed the Winthrow Moraine. Glacier erratics can be found near there. They look quite odd pockmarking the georgic landscape. Erratics are also present atop and beside Steamboat Rock, as is evidence of jökulhlaups. At times, Steamboat Rock was overran (covered) with ice.
An outstanding and thorough examination of Steamboat Rock is treated here and is worth a read for those interested in such things. Much of what I've said above can be attributed to this link.
Steamboat Rock was used as a landmark for hundreds and thousands of years. It is easy to understand why. A roadside historical marker states the following (Grant County Historical Society):
Indians, fur traders, military expeditions, and settlers traveled [through here]. A major Indian trail passed at this location. Alexander Ross passed here in 1841. John Works, Hudson's Bay Company was here in 1825. The famous botanist David Douglas was here in 1826. Lt. Johnson of the Wilkes Company explored here in 1814. Lt. Arnold passed this point in 1853. Old Camp Chelan--Fort Walla Walla Trail passed near here. Ferguson-Ladd stock crossing used in 1880 passed south of here. Old trail on west side of coulee was named Okanogan Trail. American Trail was on east side.
Ice Climbing Note
The Banks Lake area (and presumably the shaded north sides of Steamboat Rock) is popular among ice climbing enthusiasts--at least those willing to make the long drive. Since I have not ice climbed there I hesitate to provide information. However, I welcome information from anyone who has. I will incorporate it into this main page.
Steamboat Rock is in Central Washington about 90 miles due west of Spokane and 70 miles northeast of Wenatchee. The nearest towns of significant size are the trio of Electric City-Grand Coulee-Coulee Dam 12 miles to the northeast and Coulee City 17 miles to the southwest. Highway 155 runs between Grand Coulee and Coulee City and is the only approach road to the formation. So, first find yourself in one of these towns then drive Highway 155 to your destination.
Traveling SR-155, the entrance to Steamboat Rock State Park is located 11 miles from Electric City and 16 miles from Coulee City. You can't miss it (Steamboat Rock that is). The park entrance is south of the formation and uses the connecting isthmus for access.
The Trail to the Top
A trail goes to the top of Steamboat Rock. There is an obvious break in the southeast side of the formation that provides a convenient conduit to the summit. A trail starts from the center of three pedestrian areas situated on the right side of the park road. There is a sign for the trailhead. It's pretty obvious where it is. The center pedestrian area is for campers. Day-use folks have to drive on to the last pedestrian area where the boat launch is. There is a sandy side trail from this third area that connects up with the main summit trail just below the break in the cliffs. It only takes 5-10 minutes to walk from car to break.
The rough, rocky trail up through the break is the crux of the climb (Class 2+). You may have to put your fingertips down for balance once or twice otherwise it's not a problem. Albeit, if wet with rain it would be a little more frightening. Tykes should be carried or cared for intently. There is fall potential.
Once up through the break the trail continues on though numerous "spur trails" can be confusing. Essentially, keep going up, bending slightly left to the upper valley. At some point the trail comes to a junction. Leftward goes toward the upper valley. A dirt trail then climbs up to the southern table. Rightward goes to the northern table and the location of the true (2,312-ft) highpoint.
Time: Give yourself 20 minutes to get to the top of either of the tables; give yourself the better part of another hour to walk around up there from one table to another. The summit area is quite large. What looks like a 5-minute stroll will be more like 15.
Gain: 700 feet + minor ups and downs.
Caution: Watch out for rattlesnakes. Also, beware of loose rock near cliff edges. While it might be nice to get closer to the edge for a better view, the view won't look real good as you're accelerating to your death. Moreover, keep a close eye on children and pets.
Steamboat Rock resides entirely within a state park. You will need to pay a day-use fee ($5) or a camping fee/multi-day fee.
When To Climb
Year-round. It might not be so great to climb in the rain. It also might be wearisome in the scorching heat of summer (take a sunshade?). In this regard, a spring, fall, or winter climb might be best.
There is a campground on the park premises. I don't know the fee or popularity. I imagine it gets pretty full in summer months, even the more so since there is a boat launch and Banks Lake itself as a destination. Steamboat Rock can be visited and climbed on the way through the area in 2-3 hours. There is no visitor center at the park to keep one occupied much longer than that.
Camping info can be found on page 2 here.
Electric City Weather Forecast (nearest town)
Views from the Steamboat Gunwale
Postcards from the Edge?...
- Geology of Steamboat Rock (Crosby & Carson)
Go to Page 3 in the PDF file.
- Ice Age Floods in the Columbia Basin
- Steamboat Rock State Park campsite info
The Washington State Parks Department has this two-page site for Steamboat Rock State Park camping information. Be sure to click on "Page 2" on the upper-right corner of this first page to see all of the info.
- Steamboat Rock on TrailsNW.com
Trail description and photos of Steamboat Rock, WA.
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