Aug 30 – Sep 1, 2013

Labor Day Weekend Climbing Trip:  Snoqualmie Mountains

Vista – Escondido Loop:  Vista Ridge to Escondido Lake

Summit Chief Mountain (7464′)
Escondido Point (6177′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Pete Lake Trailhead (Cooper Lake Road)

Way Points: Cooper River & Pete Lake & Lemah Meadow & Vista Lakes & Escondido Tarns & Escondido Lake & Escondido Creek & Pete Lake (hike)

Campsite: Vista Lakes

Sidetrip: Vista Ridge & Summit Chief Pass (hike & climb)

Summit: Summit Chief Mountain (climb via Southeast Face—Southwest Face)

Summit: Escondido Point (climb via Southwest Ridge)

Approximate Total Stats: 30 miles traveled; 7700 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For our Labor Day Weekend trip, Lisa, Fay, Eileen, and I headed into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to climb Summit Chief Mountain.  This peak had not crossed Lisa’s and Eileen’s radar screen before, and although Fay and I had separately climbed Summit Chief in previous lifetimes, it felt like a brand new summit for all.  To make matters even better, we had weather as close to perfect as one could hope for on LDW.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Vista Lakes:

From Cooper Lake, we hiked 4.5 miles up to Pete Lake (1.9 hours from TH), then continued another 8.5 miles up interminable switchbacks on the Pacific Crest Trail to reach Vista Lakes.  The upper lake (7.9 hours from TH) provided a beautiful campsite with warm swimming water, white sandstone slabs, and super views of nearby peaks.  There was even a 1960s-era “conversation pit” carved into the bedrock.  As an added bonus, the mosquitoes and blackflies that plagued us all summer were finally nearing extinction.

Eileen, Fay, and Lisa At Vista Lake
Three Queens Mountain From Vista Lake

Day 2 – Summit Climbs:

We awoke to blue skies and no threat of the rain that had lingered in the forecast all week.  After breakfast, we headed up Vista Ridge to Summit Chief Pass.  Morning alpenglow warmed the foreboding east faces of Chimney Rock and the fingers of Lemah Mountain.

Morning Alpenglow On Chimney Rock

Beyond Summit Chief Pass, the route to Summit Chief Mountain involved a convoluted series of traverses across sandstone and siltstone slabs, which were intersected by scores of slots and gullies.  The scrambling was a bit slow but never harder than Class 3.

South Face Of Summit Chief Mountain

Eventually, we reached the snowfields below the peak’s southeast face.  The lower snowfield led us to an upper snowfield that terminated at a small cirque in the face.  It was not clear where to go from here, so we climbed the first (left-most) snow finger leading to the south ridge.  This lower part of the ridge dead-ended at a deep notch, so we retreated and then climbed to the upper right corner of the snowfield, at which point we could exit onto steep dirt and scree.  After a short grovel, we gained a left-slanting ramp that led to a higher notch on the south ridge.

Climbing Snow Couloir On Summit Chief Mountain

From the upper notch, we curled around to the southwest face and climbed up more loose talus, scree, and dirt.  The final 100 feet involved Class 2-3 scrambling on highly untrustworthy rock.  In my estimation, the upper 500 feet of Summit Chief has enough steep dirt and loose rock to earn it an honorary admittance to the Olympic Mountains!  We topped out around 2:00pm (5.7 hours from camp).

Fay, Eileen, and Lisa On Summit Chief Mountain

The summit views made up for all of the unpleasant terrain.  Because Summit Chief sits near the middle of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, every peak from Three Queens to Mt. Daniel is wonderfully visible, as are Mt. Rainier, Glacier Peak, and Mt. Stuart.  There are also a dozen or so lakes that can be seen, including Waptus, Otter, Tank, and Williams.

Hibox Peak, Four Brothers, and Chikamin Peak Below Mt Rainier
Chimney Rock, Mt Thomson, and Overcoat Peak
Otter Lake, Tank Lakes, and Williams Lake From Summit

The summit register had been left by Stefan Feller just a year before—along with clear directions on how to position the plastic tube.   A few other parties had signed in since then.  It was tempting to stay for a couple hours, but we felt the need to get back to camp while the swimming was still good.  Moreover, Fay wanted to tuck in Point 6177 as a bonus summit.  We headed down at 3:00pm, closely following our up-route.

Descending Summit Chief Mountain

After returning to the saddle directly above Upper Vista Lake, Fay and Eileen and I branched off to climb Point 6177.  We traversed across loose scree on the north side of the ridge and then crossed over to the south side to gain the summit.  This certainly is not a significant peak, but its outpost location makes it a remarkable vantage point for the Snoqualmie peaks.  Summit Chief, Little Big Chief, Bears Breast Mountain, Mt. Daniel, and The Citadel were particularly striking in the late-afternoon light.  There was also a Stefan Feller register on this summit too!  He appropriately named this “Escondido Point” in reference to nearby Escondido Tarns.

Main Chief, Middle Chief, and Little Big Chief From Escondido Point
Bears Breast Mountain From Escondido Point
Mt Daniel and The Citadel From Escondido Point

Day 3 – Vista Lakes to Trailhead:

After a wonderfully warm, clear, summery night, we packed up and headed out.  However, rather than following the PCT directly back towards Pete Lake, we elected to make a loop trip of our return.  We walked the PCT past Escondido Tarns until able to descend the steep hillslope southwesterly to Escondido Lake.  A swim in this lake took the hot edge off of the next 8 miles back to the TH at Cooper Lake (7.8 hours from camp) to round out a splendid holiday weekend.


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