July 1, 2007

Three Queens Mountain: Middle Peak (6640′+)

——————– Summary ——————–

Starting Point: Mineral Creek Trailhead

Way Points: Kachess River & Mineral Creek  (hike)

Summit: Three Queens: middle peak (climb via Southwest Slope—South Chimney)

——————– Full Report ——————–

I’ve been intrigued by Three Queens Mountain for a good 30 years.  I can’t entirely explain why.  Perhaps it’s the alluring name, or the way the three peaks neatly line up in a progression of “tall,” “grande,” and “venti” sizes.  Whatever the reason, they’ve long infatuated me.  When I drive west on I-90, I always try to sneak a peak at them through the trees at Milepost 68, as they stand guard at the head of Lake Kachess.  And anyone who knows me knows that I always put three (not two or four) queen-size olives on my salads.  My experiences with the Queens over the past 20 years have not diminished their stature.

On a cold October day in 1986, I climbed the West (smallest) Queen with some former Hanford coworkers.  I’d taught them how to rock-climb a couple years previously, and they repaid the favor by hauling me up the final pitch, which features Class 5.7ish climbing on questionable rock with sketchy protection.  To this day, I recall that as the scariest crag pitch and rappel I’ve ever done!  But maybe I just don’t get out enough.

On a mild September day in 2001, I climbed the Main (largest) Queen with Laura Z.  It was the somber and eerily quiet weekend immediately following 9/11 and my mom’s funeral.  We found the elder Queen to be sufficiently challenging and therapeutic that day.

I felt the need to provide a little personal history in order to justify why I set out to climb the relatively unheralded Middle Queen last Sunday.  Because the Middle Queen is neither the highest nor hardest, its climbing appeal is probably limited to just being part of an interesting alpine triptych.

Starting from the Mineral Creek Trailhead, I waded across the Kachess River and hiked 1.7 miles up to the trail crossing of Mineral Creek.

Three Queens From Trail

I didn’t want to ford this busy little stream, so I trundled some small logs into position to serve as a crude bridge.  Another mile up the brushy trail, at a point directly below Three Queens, I dove into the vine maple and soon popped out at the base of a long talus slope.

Three Queens From Talus Slope

This started out as an easy stone highway but got steadily steeper and grungier as I ascended.  Eventually, I arrived at the Main-Middle notch, from which Beckey says “there appear to be no special problems” reaching the middle summit.  Forget it, pal;  the ridge leading upward quickly turns into a Class 5  knife-edge!

Chockstone At Main-Middle Notch

I doubted that the Middle-West notch would be any better, but I thought the south face might offer something reasonable.  After descending a bit and traversing around on a broad ledge, I was able to climb up to a rock gable 150 feet below the middle summit.  The final obstacle was a Class 4 chimney straight up the face.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t tackle something like this solo, but I’d brought a “panic rope” (ala Fay P.) that I thought would get me back down safely.  The chimney turned out to be a really fun climb with solid rock, and I was on top at 3:00pm (4.9 hours from car).

South Chimney Of Middle Queen

There was a summit cairn but no register, so I left one of mine.  All of the Queens offer spectacular views of Spectacle Lake (an apt name) and the nearby Alpine Lakes peaks.

Main Queen From Middle Queen

Chikamin Peak To Chimney Rock From Middle Queen

Prying myself off the summit might have been the crux move.  Two 60-foot rappels got me down the chimney, then a long talus descent and 2.8-mile hike got me back to the car (3.6 hours from summit).

Jim On Middle Queen

For the third time in three decades, Three Queens provided as much as I cared to handle at the moment.  It’s interesting that the feistiness of these three peaks progresses so neatly in inverse proportion to their height and bulk:  the easiest route on the Main, Middle, and West peaks are full-on Class 3, 4, and 5 climbs, respectively.

Now….where are those olives?

Stats (car to car): 10 miles RT, 4600 feet gained, 9 hours.

————————– Route Map ——————————–

Middle Queen Map

————————– Photo Gallery ————————–