Joe Erickson aka Unkle and I set off for Red Mountain North of Cle Elum in the Salmon Le Sac area and bordering the northern part of the Kachess Ridge area and North of the French Cabin Mountain area. This Red Mountain is not to be confused with the one in the Commonwealth Basin area of Snoqualmie Pass and adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail, nor Red Mountain West, in the North Fork of the Snoqualmie River area – all three belonging to the Home Court 100 group of peaks established by Jeff Howbert:
We prepared to set off from Seattle, being well prepared Mountaineers, having packed the evening prior, made coffee, breakfast, cars pre-loaded, etc for a soft departure from Seattle targeted at 7:30AM, giving us plenty of time to drive past Roslyn and to the trailhead at Salmon Le Sac by 9:30 AM affording time for a Starbucks stop for an additional espresso. As Unkle arrived at my place, I let him into my parking garage and quickly transferred all gear to my trail car for the trip. As we readied for departure, I could not find my car keys – three trips up and down the garage elevators, building elevators, searching three cars, backtracking my route bathroom to the closet to the bedroom, living room, dining room – searching multiple gear duffel bags and surveying by habitude which now more resembles REI’s Garage Sale than a residence, Unkle decided to search the side pocket of the passenger door of his car – somehow as he picked me up, in my excitement to see him and climb, I let the key slip from my hand, landing in the most obtuse and unlikely of places. The day was saved, we did not need to schlep gear from my car to his, and we hit the trailhead at 10:30 sharp!
Unlike Snoqualmie Pass which had snow from the night before and all peaks from North Bend to the pass which were dusted in fresh white powder, the skies above Cle Elum Lake were party sunny and there was no evidence of fresh snow.
We ascended the forested trail, which was part trail, part snow patch, part slide alder, and part steep dirt. We followed tracks when we could spot them, but otherwise made use of Daniel Mick’s GPX track found on PeakBagger and just made a direct line following the ridge. The path from the trailhead to 4000 feet consistently had more dirty snow to hike. At 4000 feet we donned our microspikes as the snow was mostly covering all of the ground, and was firm and crunchy. In retrospect, I would have just switched to my 12 points here to cruise uphill faster, as the forest floor became increasingly steep. We encountered a small plateau around 4500-4600 feet, then pushed on uphill.
Around this time, dark clouds had rolled in, and the winds began to whip up a bit. We opted to keep to the left of the ridgeline to our right, about 20 feet below the ridgeline to avoid the brunt of the gusts that rolled over the ridge. Light snow began to flurry, which only increased as we approached 5000 feet. The winds were blowing and snow was flowing. Visibility continued to decrease and we wondered if the conditions were going to worsen as we pushed upwards. We switched into crampons and used an ice axe from here for the remainder of the ascent.
Climbing the ridge was magical – drifts undulated along the ridge and flowed down across the large bowl, as if someone took a large spreading knife and carved swirls and gentle humps and patterns into the snow. As we continued our ascent, the wind picked up, moving the clouds swiftly across the ridge and the summit of North Red Mountain (not the true summit). The clouds broke as I gained this false summit and the sky was saturated with a bright blue which was uncanny in the brightness and vividness. Perhaps it was the contrast to the black and white clouds, which suddenly yielded to a world of color – one color – blue. The color ebbed and flowed with the wind as we made our way along the ridge to the true summit.
Although the ridge appeared to be corniced, most of it was snowdrifts, which had a safe run out to the left, and to our right was a mostly solid rocky ridge. We reached the true summit, searched to no avail for a summit register, and enjoyed the surrounding peaks of Red Mountain and the Kachess Ridge area to the south, many of which we visited the prior year. The ridge continued on, and as I understand housed a former lookout. Connecting this line to the Kachess Ridge area and other peaks is a trip report I have read from Gimpilator who connected some 12 peaks: http://www.nwhikers.net/forums/viewtopic.php?p=1024487. Most impressive!
This hike/climb is actually one of the best ridges I have ever hiked. The scenery in winter is amazing above 5000 feet and the options to explore the bowl and ridge are boundless. Unkle and I made our way down the mountain, amusing ourselves with the small snowballs and spirals that would roll down with our footsteps. At about 4500 feet we heard a swooshing sound and out popped a skier who we somehow missed on the ascent. We nearly had the entire mountain to ourselves for the day.
We wrapped the day with a visit to Basecamp, an awesome restaurant, bookstore, and general supply store in Roslyn, and enjoyed hot soup and burgers on the backside patio next to large, and hot outdoor firepits. This is a relatively short hike with some modest gain and I highly recommend exploring this part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and Home Court 100 objectives.