July 2-6, 2010

Independence Day Climbing Trip: Stehekin Mountains

Main Riddle Peak (8232′)
Flora Mountain (8320′)
Black Tower attempt (7880′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Starting Point: Lower Tenmile Falls & Tenmile Creek Camp & North Tenmile Basin & Tenmile Pass return camp Tenmile Creek Camp (hike & bushwhack)

Campsites: Tenmile Creek Camp & Tenmile Pass

Summit: Main Riddle Peak  (climb via Southwest Slope—South Ridge )

Sidetrip: Upper Fourth of July Basin & North Riddle Couloir & North Riddle Col & Upper Riddle Creek Basin & Castle Creek Saddle & Upper Castle Creek Basin  (hike & climb)

Summit: Flora Mountain  (climb via West Flank—Southwest Slope)

Sidetrip: Tenmile Basin & Hilgard Pass & South Black Tower Couloir & South Black Tower Col  (hike & climb)

Summit Attempt: Black Tower attempt  (climb to West Ledge via Southwest Face)

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

This was the second year in a row that Beth, Fay, Eileen, and I spent five days over Independence Day Weekend hiking and climbing in the Stehekin Mountains.  We were joined by the father-daughter duo of Steve D. and Lisa D. for the first half of our trip.  Heading into the weekend, however, things looked a bit shaky due to unseasonably cold and damp weather.  Then, because of an “automotive snafu” in the early morning of Day 1, it appeared that Eileen and I wouldn’t even get our part of the trip off the ground.  But after much panic and logistical scrambling, we did finally get off the ground (quite literally) with help from Chelan Airways.

Airplane Ride To Stehekin

Day 1:  Fay, Beth, Lisa, and Steve met at Fields Point on Friday morning and rode the Lady of the Lake to Lucerne Landing, then took the shuttle bus up to Holden Village.  Eileen and I flew into Stehekin a few hours behind them (it would be too embarrassing to explain why), then we traveled to Holden via the Lady and the shuttle bus.  Making good use of their head start and clear weather, Fay and Beth hiked up to Tenmile Pass (6500’) and established a group base camp that evening. Lisa and Steve waited in Holden so that they could join Eileen and me for a shorter hike up to an interim camp alongside Tenmile Creek (4600’).

Day 2:  Working on information from other hikers, we four creekside campers hiked upstream approximately ¼ mile until able to cross Tenmile Creek on a large log (4750’), then we thrashed our way up forest and brush to intersect the hillside trail connecting Tenmile and Hilgard Passes.  We reached Tenmile Pass shortly after noon (4.3 hours from our previous camp) and quickly found our base camp.  

Beth and Fay showed up an hour later, having climbed Johnson’s Jonah that morning.  After pitching tents and eating lunch, we all headed off for Main Riddle Peak (8232’) west of the pass.  

Climbing Up Main Riddle Peak

This proved to be a delightful ascent via the west face (easy snow) and south ridge (Class 2-3 rock).  

Summit Of Main Riddle Peak

The sunny summit (3.2 hours from pass) provided grand views of the Chelan, Entiat, and Stehekin Mountains, whereas the western Cascades were blanketed by a low cloud bank that spilled impressively over Suiattle Pass.  

Devore Peak, White Goat Peak, and Tupshin Peak From Riddle Peak

Steve, who had been away from climbing for several decades, enjoyed the scenery so much that he almost refused to leave.  We eventually returned to camp in early evening.

Day 3:  Following a gusty night, we awoke to dark gray skies and cold air—quite a change from the previous day.  While Eileen, Lisa, and Steve slept in, Beth and Fay and I headed down the snowy north side of Tenmile Pass.  At Elev. 5700’, we began a long traverse through alternating bands of forest and brush to reach a couloir north of Riddle Peaks.  

Along the way, we became separated in the woods, and Beth happened to encounter a solo traveler heading in the opposite direction.  This turned out to be the indefatigable Stefan Feller, whom we had heard was making a multi-peak sweep through the southeastern Stehekin Mountains this same weekend!  We could only imagine Beth’s reaction:  “Dr. Feller, I presume?”  After her unlikely meeting in the woods, Beth rejoined Fay and me as we completed our traverse to the snow couloir.

Flora Mountain Above Castle Creek Basin

A long but straightforward climb of this couloir ended at windswept 7100’ North Riddle Col (3.0 hours from camp) between Enigma Peak and North Riddle Peak.  We dropped 300’ towards a small basin, then traversed eastward into a larger basin before ascending to a broad saddle overlooking Castle Creek Basin.  From here, Fay headed north to climb Puzzle Peak (7660’) while Beth and I headed northeast to climb Flora Mountain (8320’) via the west cirque and southwest slope.  We reached the frigid summit at 2:20pm (7.0 hours from camp) and stayed for 45 minutes.  

Beth On Summit Of Flora Mountain

Flora is a technically easy ascent, but the mountain’s remote location in a wonderfully alpine setting certainly gives one an expectation of solitude.  For that reason, we were surprised to see that two solo climbers (Stefan and another man) had signed in the day before, and were even more surprised to spot two climbers coming up behind us!  We chatted with them briefly before retracing our route back to Castle Creek Saddle.  We were delighted to discover that Fay had arrived at the saddle only a few minutes ahead of us, thereby allowing us to join forces (and GPS units) for our long return to Tenmile Pass.  

After 8 miles, 6700’ vertical feet, and 14 hours of trekking in cold, windy weather, I was relieved to finally reach camp (6.1 hours from Flora Mountain) before dark. Eileen was waiting there with smiles and hot water;  Lisa and Steve had already headed back toward Holden.

Day 4:  The night was moderately windy again, but we awoke to sunny skies.  Our goal today was Black Tower, a 7880’ meta-igneous sugarloaf perched on the ridge above Fourth of July Basin.  Because we were approaching from Hilgard Pass, Beth and Eileen and I packed up camp so that we could later descend directly to Tenmile Creek that evening.  Fay, on the other hand, elected to maintain her camp at Tenmile Pass.  In mid morning, the four of us hiked down-trail to 5200’, stashed packs, and then headed up to Hilgard Pass.  Along the way, we had the pleasure of wandering through Tenmile Basin, which was ablaze with yellow glacier lilies.  It was so enchanting, we all made a vow to return next year.  

Tenmile Basin and Hilgard Pass

Farther up-trail, we hit snow cover before reaching 6600’ Hilgard Pass.  A debate ensued as to a suitable route up Black Tower.  We eventually decided to climb the southwest chute, which served as a snowy elevator to a 7400’ col at the southern base of the tower.  Incidentally, this chute and col would make an elegant route into Fourth of July Basin.  

Climbing Black Tower Couloir

From the col, we scrambled up to the left until stopped by a blocky face.  One roped pitch of Class 4-5 rock got us up this face to a higher ledge. More unroped but exposed scrambling up a shallow cleft finally ended with a decision to turn around, due to a combination of route uncertainty and waning daylight.  

Although somewhat disappointed, we called it a good reconnaissance for next year. Better yet, we were treated with a stunning view of Mt. Fernow across the Railroad Creek valley.  Wow! The “King of the Entiat Mountains” had never looked so good to me.  

Mt Fernow From Black Tower

We made one double-rope rappel down the face, then raced the setting sun back to our pack stash.  Darkness caught us at the stash point, where Fay started her ascent back up to Tenmile Pass.  By headlamp, Eileen and Beth and I began our plunge down jackstraw forest slopes to Tenmile Creek.  We crossed the creek by shinnying across a log, then stumbled the remaining 200 yards downstream to our campsite.  It was 1:00am by the time we finished dinner and crawled into our bags.

Day 5:  Spring officially ended sometime during the night.  We arose to clear skies and warm air and the smell of summer.  After a leisurely breakfast, Eileen and I packed up, hugged Beth farewell, and hiked down to Holden.  Fay and Beth wandered down later in the day, as each had separate plans for other peaks around Holden.  The rugged but inviting Stehekin Mountains will undoubtedly keep us all coming back again and again.

Approximate Total Stats:  15,000 feet over 5 days.

—————- Route Map / Sketch ——————-

Tenmile Pass Area

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