The Short View
Long Mountain is one of the principle summits* in the Mountain Loop Highway
region of the North Cascades. It isn’t really all that long of a mountain. Heck, it’s not even the longest mountain in the area. It’s only about two-and-a-half miles long from one end to the other. But it is a fairly straight-ridged mountain. And it does make for perhaps the greatest separation between major creeks for the entire highway stretch (Marten Creek on the west and Deer Creek on the east). Perhaps this is where the name comes from. The mountain was named in the late 1800s by local miners. In fact, the first ascent was probably done by prospectors. It is known that surveyor Louis Fletcher went up there in 1897.
Rock on Long Mountain is of the Chilliwack Group (the same rock that makes up the mountainous area near the Canadian border). In the Mountain Loop region, the rock is “a series of gray-black deformed phyllitic argillites and slates, distinctive ribbon cherts; as well as some limestone lenses (metamorphosed to marble), siltstones, and slaty arkosic sandstone.” (Majors & McCollum, 1977) Basalts are also present. The rock we encountered on the mountain top was quite fractured. It was the typical Cascade choss.
The lower ramparts of the mountain aren’t all that interesting: mainly forested slopes and slide areas and ravines. But the subalpine (the mountain barely makes “alpine”) is a different matter. The north and southwest ridges are precipitous on both sides. The southwest ridge contains a sub-summit that is as sharp as a sharkfin. But it’s not an impossible fin. It was presumably climbed by Mike Dungan and Joe Vance in 1972.
Two pyramidal towers reside on the lower east ridge. These are known as the Viking Horns. Both horns were first climbed in 1969. Dallas Kloke and Scott Masonholder climbed the 300-vertical-foot north side of the east horn in 1970.
Geographically, Long Mountain is located across the South Fork Skykomish River from Marble and Hall peaks. The erstwhile mining town of Silverton lies about halfway along its “long” southern base. Marten Creek on the west side was named over 100 years ago for an early prospector, S.J. Martin, who in 1891 was one of the first persons to stake a mining claim in the area. (It is possible the creek was named for the pine marten, thus explaining the difference in spelling.)
A large number of claims (40+) were placed up Marten Creek, as far north as Granite Pass. This mining activity explains the initial wideness of the trail. It was once a mine road all the way to the pass. It was bulldozed into existence in 1947. Before that, there was a “trail” that was put in sometime before 1917.
The south slope of Long Mountain was completely burned in 1897. The fire was started by sparks from a passing railroad engine. Nearly two decades later, an experimental coniferous forest was planted up the Marten Creek Trail, partially as a means to reseed the burned slope. This experimental forest can still be “encountered” about 0.7 miles from the trailhead. Douglas-firs from several locations in the western Cascade front were used for genetic variety. Old signs dating from 1962 can still be seen just off the trail. Those signs have been there almost 50 years and they are showing their age.
* Long Mountain may be one of the principle summits in the Mountain Loop Highway, but it is seldom climbed even though it is right there next to the road. It’s not a particularly high peak (5,113 ft) among more stately (and famous) neighbors like Big Four Mountain
and Mount Dickerman
. But what it lacks in height it makes up for in prominence: at 1793P it is among the Washington Top 200 by Prominence
, coming in at #190. Indeed, the summit is a good viewpoint…except for a pesky cornice that can obscure the eastward view from the tippy top.
Much of the historical information provided here was taken from “Monte Cristo Area: A Complete Outdoor Guide” by Harry Majors and Richard McCollum (1977). This book is out of print.
The Approach View
Drive Mountain Loop Highway nine miles past the Verlot Ranger Station. At nine miles is Marten Creek. For the next 2+ miles on the left is Long Mountain. At 11.8 miles is Deer Creek. Use either of these creeks to approach Long on foot. Marten Creek is a trail hike. Deer Creek is a road walk unless it is snowfree in which case you can drive it to where you leave it.
The Route View
There are two routes to mention: the one from Marten Creek and the one from Deer Creek. It is also possible to traverse the ridge between Bald Mountain
and Long Mountain.
The best time to climb Long is probably in April or May when snow covers brush.
Marten Creek Route
The trailhead is at 1420 ft. Beer can be stashed in the creek under the bridge. Hike the trail for about 2 miles to 2600 ft at the first major gully that fully crosses the trail (map
). There are a couple of pseudo-gullies/open areas before the one you want. Don’t be lulled into taking them. If you can see cliffs above you, its not the correct one. The correct one doesn’t have any cliffs in view. You’ll know you’re at the correct one if you have a view west across Marten Creek to a looming Gordon Ridge.
Leave the trail and hike up the open gully if it is still snowcovered or in forest right of the gully if not snowcovered. After about 400 vertical feet the gully narrows and there is a short step. The left (north) side of the stream is an avalanche-mangled swathe. It is probably easier to go right of the stream in forest. Continue up the gully, crossing it as necessary, until an open area is encountered around 3600 ft. Basically, continue up. Eventually, you will arrive at the basin west of the summit and most of the trees will end. If it’s not socked in you’ll see your quarry above. The summit is at the apex of the wide far right gully.
Bear toward the rightmost gully. Go up a slope between or through a cluster of trees to the gully. At its head at the small headwall of the final summit, go either left up a steep snowfinger (after the snow is gone, this is probably bare rock scrambling) or right up a steep snow wall to notches on either side of the summit. Now scramble an airy spine of loose rock to the top. We encountered one awkward Class 4 move on the north finish (snowfinger route). Otherwise, it was just chossy Class 3.
Gear: I suppose one could take a 30m rope to get on and off the summit. This might be more appropriate earlier in the season when the loose rock is snow covered, in which case a snow arête will have to be climbed. There are scrub pines near the summit with which to anchor to. Ice axe. Lastly, crampons or snowshoes (depending on snow conditions).
My partner and I took 3 hours, 15 minutes to make the ascent on May 16, 2009, which included about 15 minutes of breaks. We did not use technical gear so we were not slowed down at all with terrain issues other than some sloppy snow in the basin. For the descent, with the snowcover, we glissaded 1200+ vertical and got back to the trail in 45 minutes and back to the car in an hour-and-a-half from the summit. Round trip time was about 5 hours, 15 minutes, which included 40 minutes or so lollygagging at the summit.
Deer Creek Route
This route is best to do when there is snowcover.
From the switchback at 2834 ft, leave the road and 'whack through the trees lining the road then contour southwest across open slopes (slide alder after the snow is gone) for about a half-mile to the head of the basin where it steepens. This is at the center of Section 12. Turn left 90-degrees and head up the obvious forested rib that trends SSE toward the East Viking Horn. At 3800 ft begin bending rightward (i.e., more due south). At 4100 ft make a hard right and cross the gully where it broadens into a basin below the West Viking Horn. Once across the gully-basin, turn uphill to the left and aim for the upper slope below Long’s NE side. Find a break in the cliffs and cornices somewhere right (north) of the summit, which has a 100-ft cliff for its NE Face. Note that the topo map contours for the summit area of this peak are a poor facsimile of what is there in reality.
The Camp View
Long Mountain is a day-hike. There are lots of camping opportunities on the mountain in the sub-alpine. But what for? Instead, camp down in one of the many campgrounds along the Mountain Loop Highway. For starters, there is a campground at the mouth of Marten Creek. Of course, in the height of summer these campsites can be at a premium. They might very well be occupied by those weekend squatters who neither climb nor fish. They sit there at their picnic tables all day yelling at their kids. You know the type.
The Tape View
The mountain (the summit, not the southern base) lies within the Boulder River Wilderness so standard wilderness ethics apply there. The trailhead is not in the wilderness but there is one of those lame Trail Park Pass signs there. I’m vexed as to why. There’s no toilet there and no amenities. It’s not even a parking lot but simply a gravel pull out for three or four vehicles. This is a clear example of the Forest Disservice in action.
The Weather View
Climb it when the weather’s good for the best view. Or climb it whenever you want. Unless there has been heavy snow, the mountain is accessible even in the dead of winter because the road is plowed all the way to Deer Creek. Avalanche dangers should be heeded—especially for the Marten Creek and Deer Creek routes.