I have been hiking and climbing for many years and the one thing that I have learned is that the mountain will always have some sort of surprise in store for you. Sometimes it will come in trail conditions. Other times it will come in the weather. I have had a number of trip where it had either been rainy or foggy all the way to the summit only to see some sort of sky open or view break out for a brief period. Other times I have actually been able to walk above the clouds. Today was a little combination of both with the end result being some of the best scenery I have seen all year.
The forecast all week was stating that the weather was going to be quiet bad for the weekend. I pretty much wrote the weekend off. That was until Friday when all of the sudden the forecast changed and they called for partly cloudy skies. With the new forecast my friend Zephyr and I were looking for a good peak with stellar views that did not require a whole of effort. As most of you know I presently work 80 hours a week or more between two jobs so finding a decent mountain that doesn't require a ton of effort is the only way for me to be successful in the mountain. If I wasn’t working two jobs you would probably be reading about Eldorado or Stuart but one thing I have learned in life is to take what you can get.
For my time constraints and need for energy the Chinook Pass and Mowich Lake have been plenty rewarding. We had no interest for I-90 and really want to find an obscure peak that contained the potential for good views but didn’t look to be overly difficult. Though until now there wasn’t much literature on the summit, Chinook Peak by Chinook Pass seemed to fit the bill. At 6 miles with 2000 feet of elevation but a total elevation of 6904 and the fact that it is off trail really appealed to us. So we went for the peak in order to potential get a good summit and get great views.
We were greeted at the trailhead with fog and a fresh coating of an inch of wet snow. This was despite there being amazing sunshine all the up to Crystal Mountain ski area. Driving the last bit up to the pass was getting a little slushy up there as we neared Chinook Pass and the higher we drove the foggier and colder it got. At the trailhead there was even a flurry or two falling while we were getting ready.
From the high trailhead we started out on the always well grated and well maintained Pacific Crest Trail. The traction on the Pacific Crest Trail was pretty good despite the inch of slop and slush on it. On the way up there we decided to go all the way to Sheep Lake. We would find this out later but Sheep Lake is about a quarter mile past where you normally want to turnoff to get to the summit Chinook Peak. It was pretty seeing Sheep Lake starting to get a layer of ice on it along with a fresh layer of new snow.
After taking a good look at Sheep Lake we decided to bushwhack all the way to the summit. Honestly this was not the easiest and for the conditions not the safest way up either. We did manage to find a game path. But as soon as we reached the heart of the uphill section the game path ended and we then had to find our route up the mountain. This was not much fun in fog and slippery and slushy conditions. At one point we were both thinking about turning around, especially after we were crossing the ridge fairly close to a cliff. We both knew that one bad slip despite us both wearing helmets could be our last. We continued to go slowly up the mountain picking our route carefully up the steep and slippery slope.
Once we got near the ridge we found a nice 40 degree gully to take up all the way to the summit. With a foot of more consolidated snow this would have been a joy to climb up provided I had an axe. Unfortunately it was only an inch or two of slush so going up this steep gully was no easy task. One thing we did notice though was that the sun was beginning to come out as we were getting closer to the summit. Though we were tired the knowledge that it was sunny on the summit and that there could be potentially a better way down the mountain really energized us.
Oh what a joy to be on the summit!
It was a struggle up but we were very rewarded once we made the summit. By the time we reached the summit the sun was completely out. The views on this day, from the low sun angle and the way the clouds sat on the mountains, were simply breathtaking. Among the mountains that were seen from the summit were Rainier, Adams, Aix and Stuart along with many others. The fog bank down below in Chinook Pass only added to the dramatic beauty of this landscape. Both Zephyr and I realized that we hit this summit at the perfect time and now we were granted our reward.
From the top we could also spot a much better way down the mountain. It was clear that we could easily make down to the gully with much less of an effort that we had going up to the summit of Chinook Peak. After seeing this on the map and getting a first hand look we realized this could potential be a much better route down. We decided that it would be a good idea to check out this route to see how save it was back.
Heading down we took the much easier way back. We decided to head back down this time heading over to the gentler ridgeline to the south. It was still steep but not nearly as bad as the way that we came up. The slope heading down there was much easier and safer to handle then what we went up. Once in the col between Chinook Peak and a sub-peak we actually found a decent boot path that went down the gully safely. From that boot path we could spot a cool looking cave along the side. I might actually head back up there sometime and explore this cave. We continued down this way at times losing and regaining the boot path. The snow at this point was actually hiding the boot path in spots.
Fairly soon though we made it back though to the Pacific Crest Trail and were on our way back. It was evening now and almost all of the fog on the mountain had cleared on out. Tahtlum Peak, Deadwood Peak and Yakima Peak looked quiet majestic with their new layer of snow and the other mountains in the area looked quiet impressive as well. We also the last of the fall up here in the berry fields. I would like to come here next year to see the berry field in there fall splendor. That being said it was an easy hike back to car and we yet again beat sundown in the mountains.
As always I want to thank Zephyr for coming on the trip, the ride, and help with the route finding. I have had a lot of success hiking with him and I plan on many more successful trips in the future. It was tough going up for that one section in the annoying slush but the views were something I will remember for a long time. This peak is a great peak and one I could see myself repeating in the future!