Troublesome Mountain

Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
In 2008, the Wild Sky Wilderness was established by Congress after several years of grassroots lobbying. The areas set aside as wilderness lie largely in the southeast corner of Snohomish County and extend some of the protections that exist thanks to the Henry M Jackson Wilderness. The Wild Sky is comprised of three individual units- Ragged Ridge, Eagle Rock, and West Cady. The Eagle Rock and Ragged Ridge units are both characterized by steep and rugged terrain and the West Cady unit is characterized by miles of alpine meadows. The Eagle Rock unit is surrounded by roads (Index-Galena Road to the west & North, Highway 2 to the south, and Beckler River Road to the east) but lacks any easy access to its interior. Sure, logging’s historical infrastructure of now decommissioned roads provide some small amount of access but this area is devoid of any hiking trails. The creation of a trail plan was required when the wilderness was created but it will be several more years before any of the trails identified get constructed.

I’ve been interested in exploring the Wild Sky for a little while and finally got started this past weekend. I started with photographing Bear Mountain, which is in the northeast corner of the Eagle Rock unit. Using some of the existing forest service roads as a start, my final destination was the ridge line of San Juan Hill. During my research with Google Earth, it appeared to me that there were some open patches located around one of the high points on the ridge. The first thing I encountered on my visit was a decommissioned road. This was aggravating since I checked the Forest Service’s Motor Vehicle Use Map before leaving that morning and it is still shown as drivable. Guess I’d be hiking just little more than I had anticipated.
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness, Columbia Mountain (back center), Kyes Peak (back right) in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness
Since they are no trails, the directions were basic: climb uphill until it levels out. The steepness was pretty unrelenting. Many of the trees on the slope were almost J shaped due to the downward pressure that the winter snowpack puts on the trunks. It was a sweat filled 50 minutes to climb the 600 feet to gain the high point for this portion of the ridge but it quickly became worth it. The ridge top did indeed have several clear outcrops that looked both west and to the north. Even better, there were several weather snags that could be used as foreground elements for my photos.

The weather was certainly dynamic. There was a 30% chance of rain and, minute by minute, the amount of blue sky patches would change. It was perfect for a time lapse so I tucked my GoPro behind the base of one of the snags and fired it off. It was quite rewarding to get this peek into the wild interior of the Eagle Rock unit. The clouds did prevent us from enjoying views of Glacier Peak and some of the other more prominent peaks in the distance. Although we didn’t see any, there was evidence that mountain goats had spent some time up on the top (a few tufts of white hairs in the lower branches of a tree).
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (center) and Spire Mountain (left) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Bear Mountain (right) and Spire Mountain (center) in the Wild Sky Wilderness
After a healthy amount of time, I ended my time lapse and we packed up our stuff. We weren’t on the “true” summit of San Juan Hill but it wasn’t too far from us to the south. The ridge line is forested but travel wasn’t too bad thanks to the large amount of airy huckleberry shrubs. We even followed a faint trail or game trail for most of our traverse. We were close to the true summit but the point of diminishing returns had been reached. Neither of us felt particularly compelled to reach the highest point (it appears to be 100% forested anyways). The travel back down slope to the decommissioned road wasn’t as bad as our original ascent.

There was still some time left in the day and I decided that it was also high time that I visit the middle portion of the North Fork Skykomish River valley. It’s another place I’ve wanted to visit but haven’t been able to because the road (Index-Galena Road) had been closed to public access for several years due to flood damage. We made our way to the Troublesome Creek Campground. Across the road from the campground is a short nature loop trail along both sides of the creek. The water is clear and a brilliant shade of turquoise at times and the surrounding forest also has some interest as well. I thought there was a waterfall along Troublesome Creek but apparently it’s located along a different creek in the area. Oh well!
Bear Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness
Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
Boulder detail along Troublesome Creek in the North Fork Skykomish River valley
After coming home, I got a big scare- my memory card failed to read successfully. Oh god. Several weeks ago, I had a similar situation with my GoPro’s memory card. I turned to a card recovery program (RescuePro Deluxe) and it worked a miracle. Would lightning strike twice? Well- just about! I ended up losing a handful of images but I was able to recover the vast majority of them. After four years or so, I guess it was time to retire the memory card. There’s a lesson in there- retire your memory cards before you regret it!

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

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