Marble Mountain Snowpark

Jumpoff Sunset

North face of Mount Index's North Peak in winter
Summit of Mount Index's North Peak in winter
I stayed closer to home this weekend and decided to check out the potential for a new spot I found via Google Earth. Gunn Peak, Merchant Peak, and Baring Mountain are the most recognizable peaks in the Skykomish River valley foothills. Due to their prominence, they can capture and reflect the golden light of sunset. The valley in this area is fairly narrow with some level of terracing. During my searches with Google Earth, I spied a small hill in a clearcut that appeared to be easy to access.

It was only a 25 minute drive so I gambled with Saturday’s sunset to check it out. I haven’t spent much time in this area, mostly because of a controversial gate issue associated with a Forest Service Road (FS Rd 62). It’s a public road but one that provides access to the checkerboard of private ownership that exists in some portions of the central Cascades of Washington State. The timber company who owns these in-holdings expressed concerns to the Forest Service in the past about the danger to its employees from (illegal) target shooting. To the dismay of many, the Forest Service allowed the timber company to eliminate public access to one of it’s own roads.

Gunn Peak and the Lewis Creek Basin
Baring Mountain and Klinger Ridge
Anyways, in the last year or so, the interim gate closure was finally eliminated and access has been restored. I have to admit, though, that I’m still a bit leery of the gate and still feel the idea of being “locked in”. I went for it anyways, and was soon parked at the gate to the secondary spur road that I would be walking up to reach my destination. It was an easy 10-15 minute walk and I was soon greeted with a nice, expansive view of the valley below me.

On my far right was the impressive north face of Mount Index’s North Peak. The left side of my panoramic view was highlighted by Jumpoff Ridge and it’s most notable summits- Gunn and Merchant Peak. Finally, the sloping summit of Baring Mountain and Klinger Ridge were visible further up the South Fork Skykomish River valley. It was quite breezy and clouds were shading Jumpoff Ridge when I first arrived. I was on site about an hour before sunset so I had plenty of time to wait for conditions to change.

Panorama view of Jumpoff Ridge. Gunnshy, Gunn Peak, Heybrook Ridge, Merchant Peak (left to right)
Last light at sunset on the summit of Mount Index's North Peak
Luckily, they did change and the sun broke through the clouds as sunset drew closer. This particular sunset was only a six on a 1 to 10 scale but I really only wanted to check the spot out; anything beyond that would have been pure gravy! As summer gets closer and the days get longer, I might be visiting this spot more since it is so close and easy to visit..

Sunset colors over the logged slopes in the Proctor Creek vicinity
Last color of sunset over the logged slopes in the Proctor Creek vicinity

Frog Mountain and the Upper Beckler Watershed

Having studied the weather forecasts, Saturday was projected to be a dry day as a lull between storm systems. The snow level would also drop so I figured some early snowfall shots might be in order. During my visit last week, I noticed a mountain just east of Jacks Pass which had red tinted meadow slopes near the summit. The mountain is named Frog Mountain and, from looking at maps, it could be scaled halfway on a series of abandoned logging roads.

On my way to Jacks Pass, I could see that portions of the very top did have fresh snow and the weather seemed to be clearing out more. I was hoping that some visual navigation would be possible once the old roadway faded away. The first challenge was finding the entry point of the road. From Jacks Pass, the old road begins clearly but that leads to a huge open area littered with way too much target practice debris- shell casings, clay pigeons.

Frog Mountain from the upper slopes of the San Juan Hill ridge line
Traveling along the old logging road on Frog Mountain
This made me very nervous because I didn’t want to be heading back only to be BEHIND some people firing guns. Anyways, I found the entry point which had grown over, making it less obvious. Once on the old road, however, it was still fairly well defined. Young alders are filling in the road surface but the going isn’t too bad. Without signage, some decisions had to be made at a few of the road spurs but I made good time along the road section.

I reached what I decided was the end of the road in short order but was not encouraged by what I saw. Above me, the more mature forest above the regenerating clearcut I was in was pretty thick, and there was no direct line of sight to the upper slopes. Being alone and without my GPS, I thought better of continuing. After that decision, I did spy a road spur that continued further upslope. I determined that one spur dead ends in a clearcut but the second spur is promising. I will have to check it out some other time.

I made it back down fairly quickly and still had most of the afternoon so I explored some of the other Forest Service roads in the area. Always good to know what’s out there for future pursuits!

Fresh snow on the upper slopes of Frog Mountain
Fall color along an avalanche track on Troublesome Mountain
Rugged slopes of the Troublesome Mountain massif
Fir seed cones
Boulder Creek
Waterfall on Boulder Creek
Waterfall on Boulder Creek

The next storm system starting making its appearance in the late afternoon and on my way home, I across two rainbows at two different locations. Pretty cool!..

Rainbow just outside of Gold Bar

Mount Saint Helens

The beginning of May is when I think about climbing Mt St Helens. The weather is a bit nicer and the snowpack is fairly consolidated which makes for one long ride down in some nice corn snow. Typically the “summer” climbing route on Monitor Ridge isn’t accessible due to the snow covered road and so the standard winter route begins at the Marble Mountain Snow Park at 2640 feet. You do earn your turns though- 12 miles roundtrip and 5500′ of elevation gain.

I’ve climbed Mt St Helens a couple times before but not since the dome building episode of 2004-2006. My last attempt was aborted below the summit due to wind and rain so I was anxious to experience the new view from the crater rim. There was a promising forecast for the weekend so I purchased a climbing permit and headed down on Friday. Yet another “unseasonable” storm during the week brought new snow to the slopes of Mt St Helens. The promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures brought something else- high avalanche danger.

Monitor Ridge (Summer route) in the center and Worm Flows at right center
If I was to be on the mountain, I needed to try and get an early start so that my descent would be before the peak temperatures and sunshine. I arrived at a quiet snow park late Friday afternoon. I wanted to take some sunset photos but hadn’t decided on where to taken them- up the trail near timberline or down the road off of the mountain. I decided the latter and so during the last hour of daylight, I headed back down a few miles to a clearcut which offered a nice view of the mountain. Quickly looking around, I saw this fallen tree and decided to use it as a compositional piece…

Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
The sunset wasn’t especially noteworthy and just faded away. Still, the setting light did accentuate the slopes of the mountain…

Sunset on Monitor Ridge
Sunset on the western slopes
After sunset, I headed back to the snow park where I sorted my gear for the morning went to sleep. I got up about 2:20am and hit the trail at 2:50am. I hadn’t paid any attention to the moon cycles so I was surprised to see that this particular morning was a full moon! It was already setting but did offer up a fair amount of light. After about an hour or so of hiking through the forest, I arrived at timberline and had my first good view of the mountain…

A moonlit Worm Flows from Timberline - 4am
The elevation gain begins in earnest from this point on. I do not consider myself to be a strong climber and so I opt for the slow and steady approach and utilize the climber’s breathing technique known as the rest step. Even with the warmer temperatures and sunshine, the snow did refreeze overnight and so I did have some latitude in my pace for the summit. In addition to food, water, snowboard & helmet, I was also lugging my SLR, 3 lenses, and my tripod. All of this starts to build after a number of miles!

View up from around 5,000 Feet
I plodded onward, taking the occasional extended break every 1000-1500′ or so. The weather remained clear and sunny with some increasing winds at the higher elevations. Crampons might have been good for piece of mind but weren’t required since there was an adequate bootpack in the snow on the route up. Once the sun’s rays started hitting the slopes, they slowly began to soften up.

Deceptively close - 2,000 feet to go...
A few clouds materialized during the morning but nothing too serious. It took longer than I would have preferred but just shy of 12pm, I topped out on the summit. A steady wind kept things cold and discouraged a long visit to the top. I was still very concerned about the avalanche forecast and so I only stayed long enough to take a couple photos before clicking in and heading down.

Panoramic view inside the crater
Crater Wall
After descending about 500-1000 feet, the snow conditions turned into perfect corn snow and I enjoyed smooth turns for 3000 feet. Below timberline, the snow was a bit slower but still rideable and I made it to within 1/4 mile of the trailhead before momentum finally ended. I was exhausted but I enjoyed sitting in the sunshine reflecting on a successful day.

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