August 16-18, 2013

Snowgrass Mountain (7993′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: White Pine Creek Trailhead (White Pine Road)

Way Points: White Pine Creek & Wildhorse Creek & Lower Grace Lakes & Grace Creek Rib & Wildhorse Creek slope & Wildhorse Creek return  (hike)

Campsite: Lower Grace Lake

Sidetrip: Upper Grace Lake  (hike & climb)

Summit: Snowgrass Mountain (climb via Northwest Ramp—East Slope; descent via East Slope—Northeast Face—North Notch)

Approximate Total Stats: 20 miles traveled; 7000 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

Eileen and I picked Snowgrass Mountain as a destination for our second annual “boys trip” with Derek and Luke.  We felt that this was a suitable step up from last year’s trip to Chikamin Peak.  It also gave us a nice opportunity to see Grace Lakes, an appealing cluster of three lakes that sit on the western flank of the Chiwaukum Mountains.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Grace Lakes:

We started hiking up the White Pine Creek Trail, then took the left fork up Wild Horse Creek.  We followed the well-maintained trails for 7 miles or so to the crossing of Grace Creek (the Grace Lakes outlet stream).  Rather than heading straight up from here, however, we continued another ½ mile to a point where Eileen’s I-phone topo map showed a spur trail cutting back northward to the lakes.  Because Green Trails maps and Topo software maps do not show this spur trail, we doubted its existence but figured it was worth trying to find just in the name of science.  There was no visible trail junction at the designated spot, but after hiking cross-country upward for 100 yards, we found something that looked like a well-beaten sheepherder’s trail traversing northward.  It continued across open terrain for a while and then abruptly switch-backed up a grassy draw before depositing us on a gentle ridge closely above Lower Grace Lake (7.1 hours from car).

Hiking Up Sheepherder Trail To Grace Lakes

We set up camp on a gentle rib between Lower Grace Lake and adjacent “Little Grace Lake.”  During our hike up, between about 4000 and 5500 feet the blackflies had ranged from annoying to infuriating, but–thankfully–there were none at the lakes.  This is really shaping up to be an exceptionally bad year for blackflies–one of the worst in recent memory.

Little Grace Lake
Evening At Lower Grace Lake
Lower Grace Lake Inlet Stream

Day 2 – Summit Climb:

Although the forecast had been pretty favorable, the morning sky was dark and threatening.  We gathered summit packs and headed up steep green slopes to Upper Grace Lake, then continued traversing around steep talus slopes.

Camp At Lower Grace Lake
Hiking Around Upper Grace Lake

Cold wind and fog engulfed us just as we reached a moraine below the daunting northwest face of Snowgrass Mountain.  Fortunately, I’d been able to scope out a right-slanting ramp that looked as though it might get us up the face.  We pushed on through the fog and teased out a Class 2-3 route up the ramp, which ended at a 7750-foot notch in the northwest ridge.

Scrambling Up Northwest Ramp In Fog

Not wanting to summit in the fog, we hung out at the notch for 45 minutes in hopes that it would ease up.  This strategy paid off;  the fog gradually dissipated, and we were able to climb the chossy east slope in clearing weather, summiting in early afternoon (4.3 hours from camp).

Climbing Upper Slope Of Snowgrass Mountain
Derek, Eileen, and Luke On Snowgrass Mountain Summit

From the summit, we could look straight down at all three Grace Lakes.  Our tents stood out as little yellow and orange dots between the lower lakes.

Big Chiwaukum Peak and Grace Lakes From Snowgrass Mountain

Rather than descending the exposed northwest ramp, we tried traversing northeastward below Point 7955 and then crossing over the sharp eastern ridge closely beyond the point.  I took this opportunity to scramble up Point 7955 to get some photos of Snowgrass Mountain and Big Chiwaukum Peak.  The ruggedness of the Chiwaukum crest can be seen to great advantage from here.

Snowgrass Mountain From Point 7955
Big Chiwaukum Peak From Point 7955

The most difficult part of our descent route was down-climbing into a small notch in the north ridge of Point 7955.  I pulled out our 40-foot panic rope and belayed Derek, Eileen, and Luke down this very exposed Class 4 pitch, then I down-climbed with a prusik sling on the rope.  It was barely long enough to reach over the crux moves!

Eileen Downclimbing To North Ridge Notch
Jim Downclimbing To North Ridge Notch

At the notch, we got a view of the impressive north and northwest faces of Snowgrass Mountain.  The metamorphic rock (Chiwaukum schist) that comprises this mountain creates interesting textural features.  The jointing planes form sheer, near-vertical, layered faces, whereas the mineral lineation (“grain”) forms irregularly stepped diagonal ramps.  The intersection of these two fracture surfaces creates impressive horns and spires along the ridge crests.

Snowgrass Mountain Summit From North Ridge Notch
Northwest Face Of Snowgrass Mountain

From the small notch, we traversed around another series of horns and then crossed through a col, which led into the Upper Grace Lakes cirque.  It was early evening when we reached camp at Big Grace Lake (4.2 hours from summit).

Day 3 – Lower Grace Lake to Trailhead:

We awoke to cool but clear weather, indicating that yesterday’s cold front had moved past.  To provide the lads with a more adventurous exit day, Eileen led us on a traverse across the beautiful meadowy slopes north of Grace Lakes.  We found segments of old trail contouring around several ribs and basins–always staying at an elevation between 6000 and 6200 feet.  The vegetation, topography, geology, and trail segments in this area are very reminiscent of the Clark Mountain High Route.  It is easy to imagine that sheep were formerly run through these meadows for grazing.

Hiking Sheepherder Trail From Grace Lakes

The clear air gave us nice views into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and north to Glacier Peak.  Across the valley, the Bull’s Tooth and other granitic peaks were especially visible.

Mt Daniel, Bulls Head, Bulls Tooth, and Bulls Hoof

Once down on the Wildhorse and White Pine Creek trails, we passed numerous trail-maintenance folks heading up toward Frosty Pass.  They told us that this was their first day of a two week work party.  Anyone heading up these trails after August can reasonably expect excellent trail conditions.


——————– Route Map / Sketch ——————–

Grace Lake and Snowgrass Mountain Map


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