After what was starting out to be a disappointing fall I became to turn my luck around and try to capture all the beautiful fall colors that are in this area. The Fall Colors In Washington 2011 album has gotten off to a rocky start and on my perceeding hike before I had already ran into six inches of snow further lowering expectations for this year. Luckily this weekend brought a major change to my luck finding fall color. On Saturday I aimed to see the beautiful larches in the Teanaway that looked to be finally out in full force. Then on Sunday I was going to be bring a couple of new hikers up to their first summit in an area known for having incredible fall color from the berry bushes. Luckily for me everything worked out pretty much perfectly.
Not Hinkhouse Peak – Saturday
Zephyr and I were looking for a good place to spot some awesome larches in the Teanaway Region. Last year we struck gold when we climbed up Fortune Peak, home to a number of great larch groves. We were a little late in the season but at least we got a sense of the beautiful larches in the region. Our idea this time was to hit basically the same region but go after Not Hinkhouse Peak and then try for Ingalls Lake as well. The day before in the mountains some areas had received 6-10 inches of snow making some of the ordinarily fun Class 2 and 3 scrambles very dicey. Add to the fact that there was way to little snow for ice axe self arrest and we knew that we were going to have to be cautious if we were to be successful and safe for this trip.
We pulled into the parking area and were greeted by a zoo of hikers, all with the intended destination of Ingalls Pass and Ingalls Lake to see the larches. We could see all the snow on Esmeralda Peak and on Fortune Peak and knew that if there was any tough scrambling that this would probably be the worst time to do it. Know all of that we decide to go for Not Hinkhouse and see what our result was. There was definitely a crowd heading up the trail. Once though we hit the cutoff to head up to Long’s Pass the crowds cleared out and we had the trail basically to ourselves. At about 5500 feet the trail became quiet icy and I decided to put on my microspikes for add protection. It was also around this level that views really began to open toward Esmeralda Peak.
Soon we were at Longs Pass and looking right down the line to Not Hinkhouse Peak. We could see that it was mighty snowy heading up to the summit but it did look very doable. So we decided get off-trail and follow the ridge to Not Hinkhouse Peak. We took it slowly over the first ridge due to the snow and some of the ice on the rocks. Luckily for us the snow was really beginning to soften up. We stay on the ridge as it first rose 300 feet then drop 150 feet then rose again to the summit. In the small col between the false summit and the true summit we had to make one somewhat interesting maneuver around a rock. With the icy conditions and the steepr drop-off to the right of us this made us a little nervous. But we committed ourselves to get through the section which turned out not to be nearly be as scary as before.
Once past the col we when straight up the 30-35 degree slope to the summit. At this point the snow was a little deeper and we were able to get footing on our way up to the summit. As we rose higher and higher the views really began to come out. In fact often we had to stop just to take in the amazing scenery. It is amazing what just a little bit of snow-cover can do to the mountains. Once on top we got to look around. Below us was a nice grove of larches. We could see Ingalls Pass but it looked quiet dicey to get down there safely. We decided to head down a little ways to see if things were better as we got closer. Unfortunately they looked much worse so we decided to bag the idea of Ingalls Lake and just headed on back the way we came.
On the way down we noticed a bunch more sets of beautiful larches. Their colors were in full peak and each larch was lit up in full yellow. I felt completely fulfilled on my reason on heading up to the Teanaway and am glad to finally get some great pictures of some alpine larch. From the gap we quickly made our way back to the parking area. Ironically we made it back to the parking that many of the other people on the trail did. Almost all of them commented on seeing us on the summit of Not Hinkhouse Peak as if they were amazed we made it. That kind of made Zephyr and I feel kind of special. From there we headed on out and back where I was going to set up round two of the foliage.
Noble Knob and Mutton Mountain - Sunday
Okay I knew there was a small possibility this trip might not work. The trailhead is at 5700 feet and the snowline on the last hike was at 5500 feet. I was also bringing along two people who have never hiked before, one is my boss at my job. Luckily he is very cool and I get along with him well. He had wanted to go hiking with me for a very long time and finally this past weekend we set up this hike. He brought along his friend with the same name who did have a little hiking experience before but had never been on a true summit. I did though pick this hike because of lack of difficult in terms of elevation gain and the reputation that this mountain has for views. At 7.5 miles and 1100 of elevation gain but two summits that have amazing views I knew this could be potentially a winner.
Heading Up to the trailhead from 410 was a little interesting. The road up could best be described as quiet rough and though a 4 wheel drive vehicle is not completely nessessary, my bosses Jeep Cherokee definitely was helpful on this road. Luckily for us there was no snow all the way up to the trailhead. In fact there was very little snow on the mountains as well from what we could see. It looked like this was going to work out quiet well!
I decided to take lead on this trip. In leading I wanted to set the pace at good pace where we were moving but the others in the group were not suffering or lacking. I listened for clues just gasping for air or others wanting breaks or falling behind. Hiking with my wife BearQueen as really helped me in leading other newer hikers into different terrain. On steeper uphill terrain I paced quiet slow so it would more enjoyable going uphill.
Mutton Mountain was our first summit of the day. This required about 300 feet of some off trail work up a very faint boot-path. In order to get to the boot-path we had to actually do some easy bushwhacking to find the faint boot-path. From there we slowly made it all to the summit of Mutton Mountain where excellent views of Mount Rainier, Norse Peak and many other summits in the area. For the both of them it was their very first summit. Luckily there was very little snow on the way here. As for the berry bushes they were in full peak mode. Noble Knob was only two more miles away but from the summit of Mutton Mountain it looked a lot further than that. But I talked it over with them and they were still happy to continue.
As we continued to Noble Knob we went to the west of an unnamed ridge. On the way there we spotted another set of very beautiful berry bushes. The vibrant colors of yellow and red really sparkled up the mountains. We crossed to the west of the ridge and then down to the col right before Noble Knob. From their we took the trail from the col and trailhead junction all the way to the summit. I decided to take this slow because I knew that the other two were getting a little tired. What I did was take a lot of pictures of the beautiful peaks, sub-peaks, and alpine lake. Noble Knob has always been famous and I finally now know why. This beautiful summit is an excellent destination. Though the true summit can easily be reached by trail there is a cool rocky area which features a nice 15 foot bouldering section. I will remember to bring my rock climbing shoes next time.
It was quite interesting watch the clouds bounce off the peaks when we were there. At one point one of the clouds hit right into the summit causing temporary of and low visability. For the other two this was only their second summit but they were both hooked on it, which of course is my ultimate motivation. After about 30 minutes we headed on back the 3.5 miles to the Jeep. On our way back the sun really was helping in making the beautiful berry bushes stand out more. The foliage made us stop at least 10 times to take in the beautiful bushes and the great views of Rainier. I now know why this trail can be quiet popular, though luckily not on the day I was there. Soon we made it back to the car where we it off to rough ride back to Route 410.
This weekend featured two hikes, each covering a different section of Washington diverse fall foliage section. It was great to see the contrast between the two hikes. One featured a great open and rocky alpine scramble with sharp mountain views and wonderful yellow larch. The other featured the multi-colored berry bushes beautiful lush alpine grassland and a softer more rounded environment. Both experiences I wouldn’t trade in for the world.
I want to thank Zephyr for joining me on the first trip as we went to see the larches. I have been on many hikes with him and as always the hikes are fun, successful, and most importantly safe. I hope to do many more hikes with him. I also want to thank both my boss Sean and his friend for coming out to Noble Knob, and Sean driving with his SUV up that road. That road was quite rough and I am glad he had a good SUV to make it. I also want to congratulation both of them on making their first two summits. Maybe soon we will seeing them on summitpost.com after they make a large climb. It was a great weekend and one of those weekends I will remember for a long time.