July 27-30, 2018

Mid-Summer Climbing Trip No. 16:  Thunder Mountains

Mount Logan (9087′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northwestern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: High Bridge Guard Station (Stehekin River Road)

Way Points: Tumwater Camp & Bridge Creek Camp & Park Creek Camp & Two-Mile Camp & Park Creek & Five-Mile Camp & Buckner Camp & Park Creek Pass & Fremont Glacier Saddle (hike & climb)

Campsites: Buckner Camp & Fremont Glacier Saddle & Two-Mile Camp

Summit: Mt. Logan (climb via Fremont Glacier—South Ridge)

Approximate Stats:  39 miles traveled; 9600 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————-

For our 16th Annual Mid-Summer Climbing Trip, three of our long-time team members—Eric, Jon, and Todd—chose Mt. Logan as a destination.  I was good with that choice, as it had been many years since my previous Logan climb.  We were also joined by a new member—Alex—who was game for pretty much anything.  Going into the trip, we felt that the biggest factor would be the weather; temperatures were forecasted to hit the mid-90s most days, and there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms for the first few days.  It turned out that weather was a major issue, but not a governing factor.

Day 1 – Fields Point to Stehekin to Buckner Camp: 

We left Fields Point at 9:20am on the Lady Express boat and arrived in Stehekin at 11:55am, with just enough time to get a backcountry permit from the National Park Service lodge before boarding the 11:30am shuttle bus to High Bridge Guard Station (after a brief but mandatory stop at the Stehekin Bakery, of course!).

Jim & Alex & Jon & Todd & Eric At High Bridge

At 12:45pm, we began hiking up the Stehekin River Road/Trail in sweltering heat.  We stopped in the shade at Bridge Creek Camp before continuing on to Park Creek Camp/Trailhead (3.8 hours + 1000 feet from High Bridge).

Park Creek Trailhead Sign

As we headed up switchbacks on the Park Creek Trail, the sky clouded over and thunder claps occasionally sounded.  By the time we crossed Park Creek on a less-than-substantial footlog, the temperature had plummeted and thunder showers had thoroughly wetted the trailside vegetation.  We were now all mildly cold and soaking wet.

Crossing Park Creek On Narrow Footlog (photo by Jon)

Around 8:00pm, we sloshed into Buckner Camp (7.2 hours + 2700 feet from High Bridge) and stopped for the night.  Reportedly, this camp had been damaged by a previous storm and has only recently been reconstructed.  We found the camp to be quite adequate, although Jon discovered that he’d inadvertently left his sleeping bag at home.  Good thing the nights were warm!

Mt Buckner From Buckner Camp

Day 2 – Buckner Camp to Fremont Glacier Saddle:

We awoke to clear skies and were on the trail at 8:30am.  By the time we reached Park Creek Pass (1.8 hours + 2050 feet from Buckner Camp), it was quite hot, so we sought out a shady nook for a rest stop.  Park Creek Pass is a very long, flat, rocky trough—almost a geographic coulee—that separates gorgeous bouldery meadows on each end.  Being 16 miles or more from any trailhead, it seems to entertain very few visitors.

Upper Park Creek Meadow
Park Creek Pass Trail

The summit of Mt. Logan is not visible from the pass, but two prominent rock spires (Point 7760+ and Point 8546) bracket the Fremont Glacier saddle—a full 2 miles distant.

Point 7760 (left) & Point 8546 (right) From Park Creek Pass

We hiked down the western side of the pass for about ½ mile before heading off to the right on a climber’s path that cuts through a flat meadow.  This path makes a gently rising traverse across heather slopes for 1½ miles before coming to a broad talus slope, which we then slogged up to gain an 8000-foot saddle at the edge of the Fremont Glacier.

Traversing Talus Slopes Toward Fremont Glacier Saddle

Within this broad saddle, we made camp on some rock outcrops (7.1 hours + 4150 feet from Buckner Camp) with running water nearby.

High Camp At Fremont Glacier Saddle

It was now only mid-afternoon, giving us time for a run at the summit, but the 90-degree heat had boiled off our zeal.  Therefore, we spent the rest of the day resting, rehydrating, and preparing for a summit climb in the morning.  Views of the Boston Glacier and associated peaks across the valley provided visual entertainment despite a heavy haze in the air.  (We later learned that lightning strikes had started several forest fires in the region.)

Mt Buckner & Boston Pk & Forbidden Pk From High Camp
Sunset From High Camp At Fremont Glacier Saddle

Day 3 (AM) – Summit Climb: 

We awoke at the unusually early (for us) hour of 5:00am and were heading up the Fremont Glacier by 6:30am.

Climbing Fremont Glacier On Day 3

Upon reaching a snow hogback at the uppermost edge of the glacier, we roped up and climbed a Class 3-4 rock pitch to a left-slanting ramp on the western side of the summit ridge.

Climbing Above Snow Hogback
Ascending West Side Ramp To Crest

This ramp constitutes a weakness in the rock–possibly a geological fault or eroded dike.  It leads to a slot in the ridge crest and continues onto the eastern flank as a series of wide but exposed Class 2-3 ledges.

Traversing East Side Ledges

When the ledges terminated at a moderately inclined talus slope, we angled upward and rightward until gaining a small U-notch between the imposing summit tower and a nearby south horn.

Summit Tower From South Horn

One long Class 3-4 rock pitch ended at the tiny summit, which we all reached just after 10:00am (3.4 hours + 1200 feet from high camp).

Final Rock Pitch To Summit
Our Group On Mt Logan Summit (photo by Alex)

No register was found, and the hazy air limited our views of surrounding mountains.  Compare the current photos below with those taken during my climb of Mt. Logan on a snowy day in September 2000.

McGregor Mtn & Mt Goode From Mt Logan Summit
Mt Logan Summit View In Sept 2000
Jack Mtn & Crater Mtn From Mt Logan Summit
Pano From Mt Logan Summit In Sept 2000

We did a belayed down-climb of the summit tower, then retraced our steps back along the east-side ledges, over the ridge crest, and down the west-side ramp.  A rappel down to the snow hogback seemed necessary, but Eric managed to tease out a reasonable scramble route instead.  By early afternoon, we were back in camp (3.1 hours from summit).

Day 3 (PM) – Fremont Glacier Saddle to Two-Mile Camp:

Once packed up, we began our 2-mile traverse back down to Park Creek Pass.  The combination of blazing sun, hot air, annoying gnats, and aggressive blackflies made this an unpleasant afternoon task.

Traversing Toward Park Creek Pass

It was a relief to finally plod into the late-afternoon shade of the pass (3.4 hours from high camp).  With only well-maintained trail ahead of us, our goal now was to reach Two-Mile Camp before dark.  We romped past Buckner Camp at 7:40pm and continued onward through the cool dusk.

At 9:40pm—in the waning moments of twilight—we came to the Park Creek footlog.  This crossing had been slightly uncomfortable in daylight two days before; now, in near-darkness, it was by far the most nerve-wracking aspect of our whole trip!  We each attacked the narrow footlog with our own technique and all managed to cross with white knuckles but without incident.  Once across, we strode a few more yards into Two-Mile Camp (7.5 hours from high camp) and crashed for the night.  (Actually, we stayed at the old location of Two-Mile Camp; we found out later that the camp was recently moved to the other side of Park Creek.)

Day 4 – Two-Mile Camp to Stehekin to Fields Point: 

Knowing that we needed to catch the noon shuttle bus at High Bridge, we were all up early once again and on the trail by 6:40am.  The cool morning air made for a pleasant hike down to Park Creek Camp, where we chatted with a ranger who was just heading out for another day of trail maintenance.  We thanked him for the log removal and brushing that they had just completed on the Park Creek Trail.

The next 8 miles down to High Bridge became increasingly hot, as the afternoon temperatures approached 95 degrees.  We kept a steady down-valley pace, except for a short detour to investigate the road washout that occurred in 2003.  It was our professional opinion (three of us being geotechnical engineers) that a repair of the road here would be very difficult and expensive.

We marched into High Bridge Guard Station shortly after 11:00am, giving us time for a dunk in the cold Stehekin River before heading down to Stehekin on the shuttle bus and down to Fields Point on the Lady of the Lake.  Despite the heat, the blackflies, the gnats, the thunderstorms, and the hazy air, it had been another fabulous mid-summer climbing trip!


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