Since hiking King's Peak a few years ago, I'd had Puzzle Mtn. on my mind. No-one I talked to had been up. So I sat down with the topo and Google earth, and picked a route. With some doubts, I settled on the most Northerly route in the Google Earth picture. More and better) details on route choice in photo album, on annotated gps track pic!
This was my thinking going in...
It was already warm (still warm?) when I got to the Elk R. trailhead. About 5km along the trail, I turned off and headed uphill. Note to YOU: Avoid leaving the Elk R. trail until after you've crossed both Puzzle and Volcano Cks. Open forest will be better than slide growth, including the dense head-high salmonberry, etc. For what it's worth, on the way down, I encountered new red flagging for about the last klick down to the main trail. I'm trying to find out if this goes to Volcano Lk. or to Puzzle.
The climb is steep; about 1100m in only a little more than the same distance, to the ridge. After a more reasonable snow year, I imagine the gullies would be full of snow. This would make it easier for those comfortable with steep snow, or more difficult for those not. Elk trails were somewhat useful. Please note that the northern detour at 600m is pure invention by my gps. There is a great little ascent/descent gully marked by the short track fragment at around 800m. You want to skip the part with the 'W' shaped track across the gully from it. You do want to hit/cross the creek around 700m.
Basically, stay in the gully, and where you have to get out, try to stay close to the gully, in the biggest trees you see.
On the way up, I stayed more right. On the way down, I found the bottom of the gullies better travelling.
This year, after a minimal snowpack, I found water running in the gullies right up to about 1200m. Water up there, because although there are a few pools on the ridge, they seemed a little soupy...good for dunking head, though!
The Elkhorn and King's Peak mock your sweaty self all the way up the gully. No, I won't call it a valley.
Once on the ridge, it is a pleasant ramble along and up the last 400m vertical to the summit. There are a couple of rock steps which look formidable from afar, but prove pretty easy once you actually get there. There is a faint track along the ridge; i think it shows a party or two's worth every few years. Or maybe just crazy elk...
Keep an eye open along the ridge - I am pretty sure those were marmot droppings I saw, and less sure I heard a marmot, too.
The last few metres before the summit was the best! The cairn comes into view (oh, thank goodness!), Colonel Foster and the Elkhorn loom in front of you, close enough that I heard somebody yodelling on one or the other! Yeah, who'd have guessed? The hills are
alive with the sound of music.
Then you see the Golden Hinde, too. You turn around. Volcano Lake lies below, saying, 'C'mon, you can get down this way, buddy. And wouldn't a swim be nice, hmm?'
There's Victoria Peak, and Warden Peak, and a whole sea of lesser and farther peaks...now that's
why I like hiking!
There are a few wind-blown hemlock trees at the summit, great for cowering in the shade!
I hiked at a moderate pace, including short breaks frequently taken because of the incredible heat that day, and made it from the parking lot to the summit in 9 hours. The return trip took only 5 hours, including breaks and the stop for an ice cold beer at the Elk R. liquor store (Special on Extra Special Bitter today: free!).
Tired, scratched-up, but ultimately triumphant and very satisfied. I won't be going again, though, unless that flagging turns out to be a good route to Volcano Lk. Puzzle Mtn. would be a much easier jaunt from there.