With weather on the west side of the Cascades looking decidedly unpleasant, we opted for the rain-shadow effect and chose Esmeralda Peak(s). There appears to be some dispute as to the actual location of said summits, on the Green Trails Map (Mount Stuart, WA - NO 209) there are clearly marked Esmeralda Peaks, at 6477 ft, about a mile southeast of a higher, unnamed point, at 6765 ft, which overlooks Gallagher Head Lake. The latter was the location directed to by our guidebook and the one we would aim for.
To our surprise our car was not only the first at the trailhead at 8:30 and but we would not encounter a single other hiker all day, when we returned around 2:30 there was one other vehicle but we never saw any of its occupants. In over ten years of hiking in the Cascades I don’t think I have ever, my climbing partner aside, been so alone on such an accessible mountain. The hike up the De Roux Creek trail was pleasant and uneventful, with only a minor route-finding issue involving a fallen tree blocking a junction sign.
meadows along the De Roux Creek trail
After about two miles the trail became completely snow-covered and we followed a boot-path that looked to be maybe a day or two old for the rest of the hike. Where-ever the summer trail jumps the creek we never found out and took advantage of a few all-too-narrow logs to cross; this would prove problematic when, on our decent that afternoon, the creek had risen noticeably. From there, at about 5500 ft, we began our accent.
Snow conditions once we left the forest were tolerable, a few inches of wet slush with firmer snow underneath, kicking steps was easy enough but occasionally we would fall through to our thighs around boulders and tree-wells - a bit startling but not injurious. From the creek we climbed to a small bowl and then a notch that at appeared to be the peak but turned out to be a false-summit, the true summit was about 300 ft higher to our north-west.
false summit from just above the creek
In order to avoid a heavily corniced ridge, so corniced and ready to break that small crevasses had appeared along parts of it, we traversed the south-west slope and reached the summit at around 12:00. The views of Mount Stuart, Hawkins Mountain and others were excellent and although clouds seemed to be constantly blowing toward us from the west they only intermittently obscured Hawkins and we had blue skies above us for most of the day. As I have come to expect, the wind made the actual summit rather uncomfortable and so we descended a short ways for lunch.
view of Mt. Stuart from the summit
Instead of following our route exactly we decided to glissade down the south-west slope and then make our way south to our tracks and then down to the creek. All of which went very well until we realized that the mid-afternoon snowmelt had caused the creek to swell, partially submerging one of the logs on which we had crossed. I foolishly turned down my partner’s offer of one of his trekking poles and crossed with only my ice ax, which almost sent me head first into deep, swiftly rushing, icy water not more than 50 ft upstream from a waterfall when the tip of my ax slipped off the log to my right. Luckily I was able to stabilize myself and half-step-half-leap to the other side. The hike back to the trailhead from there was a pleasure, the ground covered with glacier lilies and lots of other flowers of which I don’t know the names and the air smelling the familiar sweet pine scent of summer.
Overall the hike was a good one, but very definitely a hike, rather than a climb as I had hoped. Technically it can be considered a scramble, as there is no marked trail from De Roux Creek to the summit, but in the winter, or in the spring in this case, it hardly matters.
All photos by my climbing partner and father, Andy Smith.
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