Two weeks ago while on the ridge of Pratt Mountain
I looked over to the northwest ridge of Humpback Mountain. I mentioned to
Suzanne, Bob, and Kolleen that I have been meaning to scramble up it for years.
It is a low avalanche danger forested ridge which is great for snowy winter
days. We have had over 50 net inches of snow at Snoqualmie Pass in those two
weeks. Suzanne suggested we give it a try and Bob and Kolleen were in as
well. The Seahawks were playing in the NFC Championship Game at 3:30 so we
left early so as to get home before the kickoff. We arranged to meet at the
Denny Creek exit but our wires were crossed and Suzanne and I headed down
Tinkham Road hoping the others were ahead of us.
Tinkham was mostly snow covered with tire ruts down to dirt in most places.
We drove down to the first left and then uphill in deepening snow. At a wide
snow covered area we turned around and parked. Just a minute later Bob and
Kolleen were backing down the road to meet us. Our starting elevation was
about 1900' We were soon packed up and on our way just before 8:00 am. The
road was snow covered but deep tire ruts allowed us to boot it up the road.
We soon passed under the trestle of the Iron Horse Trail. Hansen Creek was
on our right as the road climbed up the valley. We soon saw a set of very
recent ski tracks which avoided the ruts.
The road turns to the left and soon after we put on snowshoes. The tire
ruts ended here as well. We soon reached a road heading straight ahead while
the main route turned right and headed back up the valley. The side road
is one way to reach the northwest ridge of Humpback. We chose to stay on
the main road until reaching the upper road. The road was still easy walking
as the snow was mostly firm. We reached the upper road on our left at about
2900'. The top of the yellow gate was still visible. There were no ski tracks
and the snow was now very soft. The leader sank in with every step. The going
was slow but the road climbs very gently. We packed down a nice deep trench
making it easy for the last people in line.
It is just short of a mile to the nose of the ridge. That point is at about
3200'. Clouds were low and visibility was minimal but at least it was not
raining. At this point things became much more interesting. I found seven
or eight trip reports online. Most were in the summer but a few were
in the snow. Most talked about fighting through dense trees and brush on the
ridge above the road. One report talked about continuing along the road to
a "stand of tall trees" and then going straight up. This was steeper but sounded
We trudged down the road in deeper and deeper snow. We now sank to our knees
and the pace turned glacial. A not so short distance later we saw tall older
trees above the road. The problem is that the very dense smaller trees are
just above the road all the way along. We couldn't find a way to get started
up the steep slope through the very deep soft snow and through the wall of
smaller trees. We tried several spots and it was impenetrable. We were about
ready to head back to the ridge when I tried one last spot. Through a combination
of grabbing branches and kicking steps over and over in the same place I made
it up far enough to get into the older trees.
This was by no means the end of our troubles. It was only the beginning.
The slope was very steep and the snow not firm at all. Using branches to pull
yourself up was the only way in many spots. These trees were still very close
together. Between brushing by snow laden limbs and pulling on them I was
constantly bombarded by falling globs of snow. It went down my neck and between
my back and my pack. No problems with overheating. The only way to make any
progress was via the path of least resistance. Left, right, or straight up
made no difference if a small gap could be found between the trees.
I had hoped we would reach the ridge top within 500' vertical feet but after
gaining 650' the ridge top was nowhere in sight. The slope eased then steepened
once again. By this point reaching the summit was getting less and less likely
but I was hoping to reach the ridge and drop down it rather than slip sliding
back down our ascent route. At long last we topped out on the ridge. We were
now at about 4000'. That was 800' up from the nose of the ridge on the road
and about 1175' short of the top. It was now about 11:50. We had plenty of
time to reach the summit and descend before dark but not enough time to get
up and down before the game. Football won out and we chose to head down.
Although we had not been on the ridge before and had no defined route the
consensus was to follow it down. There is supposed to be a route hacked out
along the crest of the ridge with flagging but we did not find it under the
snow. There are plenty of small trees mixed in with larger ones making for
interesting snowshoeing. We zigged and zagged to find the easiest route while
staying in the vicinity of the ridge top. The first few hundred feet of descent
was easy. Soon it grew a bit more challenging. We were back in the land of
small dense trees with branches all the way down to the ground. It was similar
to our ascent route but less steep. In a few spots the only choice was to
sit down and slide to the next flat spot. Great fun overall.
Much sooner than I expected we burst out of the trees and dropped back down
onto the road. We were a little west of the nose which was off to our right.
The descent took about 1/5th as long as the ascent. Although the snow level
was forecast to be 2000' it seemed very warm all day. The nice firm trench
we built in the morning was now soft and we sank in our own previous steps.
More Stairmaster exercise on the way out. The rest of the way down was an
uneventful slog. We did see one skier coming down and a jeep up to his undercarriage
in the deep snow on the road.
This proved to be a fun snowshoe trip. I learned what route I will take
next time I try Humpback. As unappealing as the dense trees seem at the nose
of the ridge, that is by far the best way to go. At least when there is two
feet of soft snow. The ridge going up at 4000' looked very good for snowshoeing.
I think we would have made good time from that point on up. So far this has
been the winter of almost summits and this was another. Still it has been
lots of fun to be out in many feet of soft snow. I do want to get up to the
summit of Humpback on a sunny winter day.