August 11-13, 2018

Banshee Peak (7400’+)
Central Cowlitz Chimney (7421′)
Main Cowlitz Chimney (7605′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Southern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Fryingpan Creek Trailhead (Sunrise Road)

Way Points: Fryingpan Creek & Summer Land & Fryingpan Lakes & Panhandle Gap & Panhandle Flats & Banshee Basin  (hike)

Campsite: Panhandle Flats

Summit: Banshee Peak (hike via West Slope)

Summit: Central Cowlitz Chimney (climb via South Face)

Summit: Main Cowlitz Chimney (climb via Southwest Face—South Chute)

Approximate total stats:  16 miles traveled; 5800 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For Eileen’s first post-injury climb, we chose the Cowlitz Chimneys in Mt Rainier National Park.  This turned out to be a good choice; it had lots of side-hilling, plenty of loose scree, and just enough semi-technical climbing to really test out her physical and mental condition.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Panhandle Flats:

We parked at the Fryingpan Creek TH and hiked up the Wonderland Trail to Summer Land, stopping to admire the old stone shelter there (3.6 hours + 2150 feet from TH).

Footlog Over Lower Fryingpan Creek
Historic Summer Land Shelter

We then continued up the rocky trail, past Fryingpan Lakes, to 6800-foot Panhandle Gap (5.7 hours + 3000 feet from TH).

Hiking Past Fryingpan Lakes
Wonderland Trail At Panhandle Gap

From there, a well-defined boot path led us over to Panhandle Flats, where we found a nice campsite on a 6650-foot gravel bench (6.3 hours + 3050 feet from TH).  The weather had been cloudy all day, and it finally started to rain just before dark.

Camp At Panhandle Flats

Day 2 – Banshee Peak and Cowlitz Chimneys:

After a night of moderately heavy rain, we awoke to a cold, foggy marine layer shrouding all of the local hills.  We delayed our departure until mid-morning, in the hopes the clouds would dissipate—which they eventually did.

The ascent of Banshee Peak involves a long hands-in-pockets stroll up a beautiful arctic tundra.

Hiking Up Tundra To Banshee Peak
Eileen On Banshee Peak Summit

We reached to summit in late morning (1.1 hours + 730 feet from camp).  Our next two objectives—Central and Main Cowlitz Chimneys—were clearly visible to the east.

North & Central & Main Cowlitz Chimneys From Banshee Ridge
Main Cowlitz Chimney From Banshee Peak

We descended about 400 feet to a saddle, then scrambled up the Central Chimney via Class 2 ledges.

Eileen On Summit Of Central Cowlitz Chimney
Mt Rainier & Banshee Peak From Central Cowlitz Chimney

The Main Chimney towered above the intervening ridge—a dirt hogback that probably represents an eroded volcanic dike.

Main Cowlitz Chimney From Central Cowlitz Chimney

We traversed across the crest of the hogback, then dropped down loose talus slopes to the right until able to wrap around and under the southern face of the Main Chimney.

Traversing To Main Cowlitz Chimney
Looking Up Route On Main Cowlitz Chimney

When directly below the “solitary spiry fir” (per Beckey), we traversed out to the east on a Class 3 face.  There, we roped up and climbed back to the west, crossing over a black rock rib.  Two short pitches of exposed Class 4 rock ended at the hanging gully, which we ascended to a ridge crest.

Eileen Belaying On Main Cowlitz Chimney
Scrambling Toward Summit Of Main Cowlitz Chimney

Several hundred feet of Class 2-3 scrambling along the crest and up a slot gully got us to the summit in mid-afternoon (6.5 hours + 2000 feet from camp).

Eileen On Summit Of Main Cowlitz Chimney

The colors and textures of the layered volcanic rock surrounding us were quite intriguing.

Central Cowlitz Chimney From Main Cowlitz Chimney
Tamanos Mtn From Main Cowlitz Chimney

A new register in an aluminum geo-cache tube had been placed on the summit only a few weeks earlier.

Register Tube On Main Cowlitz Chimney

We descended via our up-route, using running belays at the exposed rock rib.  On our way back to camp, we encountered a very large herd of 40+ mountain goats on the hillside beneath Banshee Peak.   It was the biggest herd either of us had ever seen.

Large Goat Herd In Banshee Basin

After contouring around Banshee Peak, we made the easy descent to camp, arriving shortly before dark (4.0 hours + 600 feet from Main Chimney summit).

Mt Rainier Above Panhandle Flats

Day 3 – Panhandle Flats to Trailhead:

Once again, marine fog pervaded our camp in the morning, but it had started to dissipate by the time we were packed up and moving.  Between Panhandle Gap and the trailhead, we passed dozens of day-hikers and Wonderland Trail loop hikers.  Although this was a Monday, it seemed to be high-season in the park.  We reached our car in mid-afternoon heat (5.9 hours + 200 feet from camp).


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–