Humpback Mountain

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 more appealing.

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.


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Trips - 2006