Having failed on my South Sister climb, and not having very many peaks for the year I decided to do a multi-peak climb. I decided to climb Iron Mountain, Cone Peak, South Peak, Echo Mountain, and North Peak. The weather has been mild and most of the snow is above 5,000 feet. I had actually assumed there would not be a lot of snow on any of these peaks, except north slopes. I planned to summit all of these within one day and move fast. My pack loaded up weighed in at twenty-three pounds. I decided to pack snowshoes just in case snow was deeper than expected. The plan was to park at the Iron Mountain trailhead, summit Iron Mountian, then come back down to the trial and on around to Cone Peak. Beyond that would be the other three peaks, and then I would have to re-summit Echo Mountain and South Peak. With my route mapped out, gear loaded, I would set out early in the morning.
February 17, 2010, I arrived at the turn-off for Iron Mountain off highway 20 near Tombstone Pass. The roads and terrain was free of snow. I felt good about the days climb. The road up to Iron Mountain from here is about 3 miles. When I got about a mile and a half up the road I encountered several inches of snow. As I progressed further up the snow became deep. My 4x4 was struggling to tear through the snow. About a mile from the trailhead I had to stop as the snow became one to two feet deep. I parked here and strapped on my snowshoes before heading up the road. This would add two additional miles round trip. I was now not feeling good about my chances. When I finally reached the trialhead, the parking area had two feet of snow on it. As I headed up the trail I found most of it to be free of snow.
Ascent of Iron Mountain
I reached the trail that headed up Iron Mountain. I began heading up Iron Mountain with snowshoes still on. I found the trail to be free of snow in one spot and then heavy hard packed snow in other spots. The higher up I climbed the more snow I encountered. The route up is made up of a trail that switches back and forth across it's south face. With all of the snow on the slope this trial just became an icy steep slope. I was wearing Denali Evo Ascent snowshoes which actually climb very well. I would normally want crampons on steep slopes, but I did not bring them. I was not expecting quite as much ice and snow and wanted to move fast and light. I felt I still could handle this terrain with my snowshoes. These snowshoes are great for traversing steep terrain. When I got within one-hundred feet of the summit, the snow became very steep and took a bit of effort to climb up. The view from the summit was good. I could now see all of the peaks I had to summit and the route I needed to take. I could also several of the Cascade Volcanoes. I was now surprised to see that the entire route from here was going to be on snow. Having already added on an extra mile I was looking at how I could shave off some time. To get to the next peak I would have to go back down Iron Mountain the way I came and then snowshoe all the way around it to Cone Peak. I weighed my options and then decided I would just descend the east face. This is a very steep, treacherous slope. There was plenty of evidence of snow wheels, fallen cornices , and wet slides. I began my descent, picking my path carefully. There was plenty of fall exposure here and crampons would have been nice. After picking my way around the cliffs, and steep snow I finally reached the more heavily treed ridge below.
Ascent of Cone Peak
Between Cone Peak and Iron Mountain is a ridge with a trail that follows along the south side of it. I initially did not see the trial since it was buried in several feet of snow. I ended up traversing the ridge. I soon saw the trail and dropped down onto it. The trail was actually free of snow as it wondered through the trees. I opted to leave my snowshoes on anyways. I finally reached an area where the trail heads towards the south away from Cone Peak. I started back up the steep ridge into a heavy thicket of trees, This was a pain with snowshoes on. Once above the trees I could see straight up the west face of Cone Peak. Most of the ridge up was free of snow and I decided to take the snowshoes off. I began hiking up the steep hillside, having to post hole in places. The slope consisted of hard snow, deep loose snow, scree, and small plants. I was able to make fairly short work out of the ascent and reached the summit. The summit had deep, hardened drifts on top. I took a short break, scoped out the route to South Peak, and began to descend Cone Peak's southeast face. I was able to do this in hiking boots.
Ascent of South Peak
As I reached the saddle between Cone Peak and South Peak I encountered deep snow again. I put my snowshoes on and continued. The slope up South Peak was steep, and consisted of deep, hardened snow. Near the summit the terrain became very steep with a good fall hazard on the north side. I was able to use my snowshoes as crampons and stick very well up the steep section to the summit. Once at the summit I scoped out the route to Echo Peak. The east side of South Peak's summit was all corniced. I could see where many of them had broken off and fallen down. I picked a route along the top edge of the steep east face and descended down into the saddle between South Peak and Echo. The saddle was forested and had plenty of snow. The temperatures were becoming warm and the sunny areas were becoming soft.
Ascent of Echo Mountain
The slope up Echo Mountain was mostly steep hardened snow, with some soft areas. I was beginning to get a little tired at this point. It was a pretty good effort to get up the slope. Along the entire route I was seeing a lot of cougar tracks. This made me a little uneasy. I was carrying a small pistol and a knife on this trip. I arrived at the summit and took in the views. I could see a large number of peaks from here. Several feet of snow was piled up on the summit of Echo. Again, there were large broken off cornices along the east side. I took another small break and scoped out my final traverse to North Peak. I was very surprised to find a very steep and exposed ridge between the two peaks. There appeared to be a large fall hazard on both sides of it. Now I was wishing I had my crampons and ice axe. This would likely be the most difficult terrain that I will have crossed in snowshoes.
Ascent of North Peak
I carefully picked a path along the top of the steep slope to the start of the narrow ridge. The fall potential here would be a couple hundred feet down into the trees below. There was plenty of evidence of loose ice and snow wheels that had tumbled down in recent days. As I worked my way along the top of the narrow ridge, I kept kicking off snowballs and chunks of ice that would tumble all the way to the bottom on either side. The snow was hard frozen and for the most part I was able keep a good purchase to it. I was really wishing at this point I had crampons and ice axe. I slip here in snowshoes would have been nasty. I continued to work my way along the ridge, having to traverse around some large rock outcroppings. This would put me into situations with not much room for error, or any real way of arresting my fall if should slip. I finally get past the big rock outcropping at about the halfway point to North Peak. On the other side of this the ridge becomes packed with small fir trees. This leaves a small rocky, icy ledge overhanging a couple hundred foot steep slope. I carefully worked my way along here hanging onto trees on my left side and balancing my trekking poles on my right. This was tough with snowshoes on. Eventually I reached the slope up North Peak and worked my way through the now soft snow. I arrive at the summit, a little exhausted. I take a break and plan my route back. It took four hours to get to this point, and was about five miles from where I parked.
The Return Trek
So I decided I would re-summit Echo Mountain and South Peak. Then I would traverse around the south side of Cone Peak and then around the North and west side of Iron Mountain. I worked my way down North Peak and back onto the dangerous ridge traverse. I was able to stay more onto the north side of the ridge and avoid the tight ledge along the small trees. However, once at the rock outcropping I had to get right back on top of the ridge. The snow was now becoming softer and slicker. This was challenging and a bit dangerous to traverse in snowshoes. The fall hazard would be big with many rocks sticking out of the slope below. I eventually make it back up Echo Mountain, and the up and over South Peak. The entire route now was becoming softer as the temperatures got into the low forties. I could feel the reflecting snow baking me. When I got to Cone Peak I worked my way across it's lower south slope. It might have been easier to have just went back over the summit. The lower slope consisted of numerous ravines with water flowing through them and pockets of thick trees. This was a lot of work to traverse and was wearing me down. Again, numerous cougar tracks everywhere. I was a little worried about getting caught down in one of these ravines too long with the possibility of a cougar spotting me and thinking I was lunch. I arrive back at the north face of Iron Mountain. The snow here is deep. I work my way into the woods on the north side and find where the trail is. The trail works its way around to the west sde and eventually to the south side parking area. The entire trail was covered in hard packed frozen snow and wonders through the forest. I soon come back out at the parking area and continue to snowshoe the mile back down the road to my car, finally my seven summit climb is over.
DISTANCE: 9.4 miles
TIME: 8 hours 18 minutes
ELEVATION GAIN: 4700 ft
TOTAL SUMMITS: 7
BACKPACK WEIGHT: 23 lbs / 25 lbs with snowshoes
WEATHER: 32 to 45 degrees F, sunny
IRON MOUNTAIN 5,455 FT
CONE PEAK 5,646 FT
SOUTH PEAK 5,694 FT (climbed twice)
ECHO MOUNTAIN 5,830 FT (climbed twice))
NORTH PEAK 5,784 FT