Van Epps Peak is the mountain just south of Van Epps Pass in Washington's Central Cascades. It has an unusual viewpoint rarely viewed by mountaineers. That's because, while the approach trail is actually quite easy, the road to get to the trailhead is one of the worst high-clearance 4WD roads anywhere, any state, any country. Imagine driving up a river bed. That comes close. If you manage to make it to the trailhead, it is a delightful hike to a pass and a steep aesthetic ridge climb to a great summit. Weirdly enough, though, Van Epps Pass is accessible to ATV's, and while there may be people driving up there in summer, these are not likely the kind of people who will make the steep ascent to the top of the peak.
Ingalls Peaks from Van Epps Peak
Drive I-90 East from Seattle and get off at the Salmon La Sac exit #80. Drive north through the towns of Roslyn and Ronald, and continue on the Cle Elum River Road. Take the right fork towards Fish Lake, passing the guard station. After approximately five miles on dirt road, look for Fortune Creek going under the road in a culvert. Next, there will be two roads off to your right. Be sure to take the second road (#160), which is actually in better shape than the first. If you want to save your car, or don't have high-clearance 4WD, park here on the Cle Elum River Road and walk three miles up the road 160 to Fortune Creek trailhead. Otherwise, be prepared for very, very rough driving for about 2.5 miles. At the point where Road 160 and the other road merge (Elevation 4000 feet, Just beyond crossing Fortune Creek), there is good parking,. Park, and then take the left road fork upward, walking another 1/2 miles to the Fortune Creek Trail, which heads off to your left.
Mt. Stuart from Van Epps Peak
The trail is actually quite steep, gaining 2000 feet in just two and a half miles. At about one mile up the trail (5000 feet), cross the North Fork Fortune Creek. This crossing is dangerous in the extreme unless attempted in late season or in total snow cover. There is really no way to cross it other than trusting some very dubious slippery rocks or logs. At around 5500 feet, the trail will peter out. Head right through stands of growth to find the trail again. Do not head straight up, or you will miss the trail. This will not be a grave error, however, as the County Line Trail runs parallel to the Fortune Creek Trail about 300 feet above you, and it will also take you to Van Epps Pass, 6000 feet, 2.5 miles from the Fortune Creek Trailhead. From Van Epps Pass, see the ATV roads crossing over the pass. If you have one of these ATV's, you can drive right to the pass, and continue further all the way to Gallagher Head Lake.
Climb directly up the north ridge of Van Epps Pass 1000 feet. The actual summit is the East Peak (there are three distinct summits up there). Stats: 7 miles roundtrip from the road intersection at 4000 feet, Class 2, 3100 feet elevation gain.
Summit Ridge of Van Epps Peak
North Fortune Creek
This is an unprotected area. No permits are required for parking or for entering the area.
Looking down North Ridge of Van Epps Peak
When to Climb
Best Climbing time would be Spring and Autumn. Summers in this area can be very, very hot. Spring would provide the advantage of abundant snow and water. Otherwise, this area is very dry. There are fire rings present at Van Epps Pass, so camping must be common. Since there is need to carry water, most campers are almost certainly driving vehicles.
Al Bundy on the East (true) Summit of Van Epps Peak