July 15, 2017

Alpine Baldy Loop:  West Shoulder to East Shoulder

Alpine Baldy (5200’+)
Mt. Fernow (6190′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: North-Central Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Jennifer Dunn Trailhead (Beckler Peak Road #6066)

Way Points:  Beckler-Baldy Saddle & Alpine Baldy summit & southeast Alpine Baldy shoulder (hike via Beckler Peak Trail—cross-country route—new Alpine Baldy Trail—Road 6067)

Summit: Alpine Baldy (hike via South Slope)

Side Trip: 5050 Saddle & Jakes Lake; return via Point 5403 & 5050 Saddle (hike & climb)

Summit: Mt. Fernow (climb via South Couloir)

Approximate Total Stats: 11 miles traveled; 4700 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

On Saturday, Todd joined me for a climb of Mt. Fernow in the Wild Sky Wilderness. This peak had caught my gaze many times before, but I never made an attempt until now. Todd had climbed it 25-odd years ago while living in Skykomish and decided that a repeat performance sounded good. It turned out to be a scrappier
trip than I expected and he remembered, although that was largely of our own mis-doing. It was also a day of surprises and revelations.

Going on Beckey’s description for the “southwest route”, we drove up Road 66 without knowing what kind of road conditions we’d encounter. Surprise No. 1: This road has been maintained in excellent condition because it leads to the new Jennifer Dunn Trailhead. This trailhead had never hit our radar. Surprise No. 2 was the newly built trail that leads from here up Beckler Peak. Didn’t know about that either. Surprise No. 3: Road 6610 is blockaded at the trailhead, so there is no chance for motorized progress beyond, as was previously done.

We quickly shifted gears and started hiking up the new Beckler Peak Trail. At the 3900-foot Beckler-Baldy Saddle, we left the trail and headed easterly up steep forest. At 4700 feet, the dense forest opened onto a vast green hillside of ferns and huckleberry bushes.

Traversing Toward Alpine Baldy

In various places, the hillslope was ablaze with floral color. It appeared that we’d hit the wildflowers near their prime.

Wildflower Slopes On Alpine Baldy

We contoured around to the northeast until the forested summit of Alpine Baldy came into view. Then came Surprise No. 4: The unmistakable line of a trail could be seen cutting across the open face of Alpine Baldy. This trail was not shown on any map we’d ever seen.

Alpine Baldy Summit

We traversed over to the trail and followed it past the summit until close to Alpine Baldy’s southeast ridge. It had the appearance of being very new and nicely built.

Todd Hiking New Trail Across Alpine Baldy

Looking back whence we’d come, the trail could be seen ending abruptly in the middle of the open hillslope. This was all very perplexing! The vivid greenery was also strikingly beautiful! There is no doubt how Alpine Baldy earned its name.

New Trail Traversing Near Alpine Baldy

We soon left the trail and hiked northwesterly up to Baldy’s summit (2.6 hours from TH) and then down the north ridge. Although older editions of Beckey’s book describes this ridge as “easy”, we found that it quickly turns into a narrow, craggy crest with lots of Class 3 scrambling, none of which Todd remembered from 25 years ago (Surprise No. 5!). We were frequently forced to drop below horns and then climb back up. Although not really difficult, it was certainly tedious and time-consuming. On the positive side, Mt. Fernow showed itself clearly for the first time.

Mt Fernow From Alpine Baldy Ridge

We descended to a 5050-foot saddle.  Then, rather than continuing up the craggy ridge to Point 5403, we decided to descend 200 feet and traverse over to Jake’s Lake. This was an error; the side-hilling was slow and awful. It was a relief to get past Point 5403 and stumble across a fisherman’s path that led to Jake’s Lake (4.8 hours from TH). From the lake, things became much easier. We ascended 1000 feet in a rocky and heathery couloir on Mt. Fernow’s south face.

Heading Up South Couloir On Mt Fernow

At the top of the couloir, we turned right and continued a short distance on the ridge crest to reach the summit (5.8 hours from TH).

Jakes Lake From Mt Fernow Couloir

The summit is a cluster of large granite blocks that would make a fine bivouac spot. Surprise No. 6 was discovering that the summit register had been placed by Kevork, the well-known North Cascades National Park climbing ranger. I wonder what brought him this far south to a somewhat obscure peak?

Todd On Mt Fernow Summit

Mt. Fernow sits between three groups of major peaks: The Skykomish Mountains to the west …

Mt Baring & Merchant Pk & Gunn Pk From Mt Fernow

The Monte Cristo Mountains to the north …

Columbia Pk & Kyes Pk & Sloan Pk From Mt Fernow

And the Snoqualmie Mountains to the south….

Snoqualmie Mountains From Mt Fernow

I particularly liked the view of Cathedral Rock, Mt. Daniel, and Mt. Hinman from here.

Mt Daniel & Mt Hinman From Mt Fernow

One discouraging view was a high logging road that comes in from the Beckler River. It became obvious from the summit register entries that most people approach Fernow from this road, thereby cutting the approach distance to about one-third of what Todd and I had just done. But then again, we weren’t looking for the shortest approach.

At 4:30pm, we left the summit and descended to Jake’s Lake. Rather than repeating our terrible sidehill traverse, we followed a footpath up to Point 5403 (1.7 hours from summit; easy) and then scrambled along the craggy ridge back to Alpine Baldy (2.8 hours from summit; not easy).

Mt Fernow & Jakes Lake From Point 5403

We hiked down Baldy’s southeast ridge until intersecting the mysterious new trail, then—out of curiosity—we followed this trail down to the southeast. Surprise No. 7: The trail was unusually wide, with banked switchbacks like a mountain bike or motorcycle trail. At 4400 feet, the trail ended at a large, flat logging pad. There was a small track-hoe and some other earthwork equipment parked here—obviously being used to construct the new trail.

Road 6067 (or some spur of this road) began at the logging pad, so we followed it as it switchbacked downhill before making a westward traverse back to the Jennifer Dunn Trailhead. We finished this 4-mile-long road segment by headlamp, arriving at our car around 10:30pm (6.0 hours from summit) to end a surprisingly long and eventful day.

Postscript: A subsequent internet search confirmed our suspicions that the new trail is being built for mountain bikes. Although several years behind schedule, it will eventually become the Alpine Baldy Bike Loop. Should be nice!


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