July 28-31, 2016

Mid-Summer Climbing Trip No 14:  Stehekin Area

Bowan Mountain (7895′)
McGregor Mountain (8122′) attempt

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northeastern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Stehekin Bakery (Stehekin River Road)

Way Points: Rainbow Creek Trailhead & Rainbow Bluff & Rainbow Creek & Rainbow Meadows & Rainbow Lake (hike)

Campsite: Rainbow Lake

Sidetrip: Bowan Pass (hike & scramble)

Summit: Bowan Mountain (climb via East Ridge)

Sidetrip: Rainbow Pass & McGregor Ridge (hike & scramble)

Summit Attempt: McGregor Mountain (climb to 7600-foot ridge saddle via Sandalee Glacier)

Approximate Stats: 30 miles traveled; 11,800 feet gained & lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For our 14th annual Mid-Summer Climbing Trip, Jon, Todd, Adam, and I spent a long weekend in the Rainbow Pass area above Lake Chelan.  We were chased out of the Lake Chelan valley last year by the Wolverine Creek forest fire.  Thankfully, there was no such drama this year.

Day 1 – Fields Point to Stehekin to Rainbow Lake:

We took the Lady Express up to Stehekin, followed by a bus up to the bakery, from where we launched our trip.  After a ½-mile road walk from the bakery, it was 1:00pm when we began hiking up the Rainbow Creek Trail in full sun and uncomfortably hot weather.  Every creek crossing demanded a long stop to cool off and rehydrate.  McGregor Mountain, our main goal for the weekend, was plainly visible from the lower trail.

McGregor Mountain From Rainbow Trail

We rolled into Rainbow Lake shortly after 8:00pm (7.3 hours from bakery) and immediately headed for a swim.  The lake served as a base camp for three nights.  Although our campsite was in dense forest, we found a nearby rock outcrop that made for a fine dinner spot with a terrific view of Tupshin Peak.  A slight breeze here helped to quell the annoying mosquitoes, flies, and gnats.

Tupshin Peak From Camp

Day 2 – Bowan Mountain Climb:

After the heat and exertion of Day 1, we were happy to have a relatively easy climb of Bowan Mountain the next day.  We hiked up the trail ½ mile, then headed straight uphill to a 7300-foot saddle south of the peak.

Heading Up Bowan Mountain

From the saddle, Rainbow Lake and a cluster of upper lakes sparkled in the sun.

Rainbow Lakes From Bowan Saddle

We traversed around to Bowan Peak’s east ridge, then scrambled up a shallow gully and over several false summits to reach the true summit (3.0 hours from camp).  I expected to find a register here, but none was found even after overturning every summit stone.

Group On Summit Of Bowan Mountain

Bonanza Peak stood out to the southwest…

Bonanza Peak From Bowan Mountain

…while Boston Peak, Mt. Buckner, Mt. Goode, and Mt. Logan stood out to the northwest.

Mount Buckner, Mount Goode, and Mount Logan From Bowan Mountain

Of more immediate interest was McGregor Mountain, rising closely to the west.  But not that closely.  Its 2.5-mile-long east ridge looked awfully rugged, and the Sandalee Glacier was split up by numerous rock ribs.  We knew tomorrow would not be an easy day.

McGregor Mountain From Bowan Mountain

Day 3 – McGregor Mountain Attempt:

In contrast to our usual “country club start,” we got a reasonably early start for our McGregor Mountain attempt.  The hike up to Rainbow Pass was in pleasantly cool morning air.  We then followed a bootpath westward up through beautiful meadows of green heather and white rock.

Hiking Up McGregor Ridge

From atop the first knoll above the pass, we got a close look at our intended traverse route along the north side of McGregor’s long east ridge.  There were lots of scree and talus slopes, multiple rock ribs, and five or six glacial cirques between us and the summit.

McGregor Mountain From Lower Ridge

We dropped into the first cirque and traversed over to a major rock rib at 6000 feet.  A cliff on the other side required a drop of 450 feet to get around the buttress.  From there, we made a long rising traverse to the next rock rib.  Some exploration of the rib revealed an easy crossing at a 7000-foot col on the left side of the large rock horn shown in the photo below.

Crossing East Sandalee Glacier

After crossing through the col, we donned crampons and traversed across another small but steep glacier. A 7400-foot notch in the next rock rib looked like a good crossing point.

Middle Sandalee Glacier at 7400 Ft Col

We scrambled up to the 7400-foot notch, expecting to find an easy walk-off to the next glacier.  Instead, we found a near-vertical 100-foot cliff.  Yikes!  McGregor’s summit pyramid—with its prominent radio tower—taunted us from this impasse.

West Sandalee Glacier and Summit From Notch

We were running out of time for a summit climb.  As a last gasp, we climbed up to a 7600-foot saddle at the top of the glacier (7.1 hours + 3400 feet from camp).

Ascending Middle Sandalee Glacier

Unfortunately, the high saddle still did not provide easy access to the final glacier.  Instead, we could see that several small horns would need to be circumvented in order to reach glacial ice.   From there, it appeared that the summit was a ½-mile traverse away.  Not having adequate time for the trip over and back, we chalked this up as a good reconnaissance and headed back along our up-route.  We reached Rainbow Lake (4.4 hours + 1000 feet from saddle) with just enough daylight for a quick swim.

McGregor Mountain Summit From 7600 Foot Saddle

Day 4 – Rainbow Lake to Stehekin to Fields Point:

Before 7:00am, we were packed up and on the trail back to Stehekin.  Cool morning air succumbed to summer heat before we were halfway down.  Several hours later, as we sat on the rear deck of the Lady of the Lake and admired the rugged outline of McGregor Mountain, plans for a return trip were being drafted up.  We all sensed that the ridge traverse had all the trappings of a classic alpine route.


——————– Route Map / Sketch ——————–

Sandalee Glacier Route

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