Wapaloosie Mountain

After our backpacking trip up Thirteen Mile Creek to start the long holiday weekend, Kim and I headed over to Sherman Pass. From the 5575' pass we dropped down the east side to a right hand switchback where a nice big gravel road goes off straight ahead. It is signed "Road 2030". This nice road follows below the Kettle Crest. After about 3 or so miles we reached the Wapaloosie trailhead. Lots of parking for horse trailers and for hunters in the fall. Although it was a holiday weekend we were the only vehicle there.

The map shows about a three mile trail climbing up to the Kettle Crest. It intersects that trail some seven plus miles from Sherman Pass. Wapaloosie Mountain is only a few hundred feet above the trail here. Clouds were covering most of the sky though it was still fairly warm. The trail begins on an old road. It crosses the creek on two bridges and begins to climb.

The forest is littered with downed trees. In places there are dozens of small trees which have been cut and removed from the trail. The route itself is in good shape. The trail is never very steep though it climbs relentlessly. We came upon a number of good sized rocks in the forest. They undoubtedly came crashing down from high on the mountain long ago. There were some flowers in the deep forest, violets especially. We could hear an occasional crack of thunder that had us a little concerned.

The trail continued to switchback as we climbed up the side of the mountain. At last we come out of the forest into a hillside meadow. It contained the usual larkspur and paintbrush but also desert bluebells. Most unexpected. The trail soon went back into forest. After a short way it again emerged into meadows. Kim first pointed out the sagebrush. "Sure" I said, going along with her joke. Except it was no joke. The hillside was covered with lush green sagebrush. I've seen lots of it in the desert of central Washington but never in a meadow at 6400'.

The sagebrush made up most of the ground cover. There were individual fir and pine trees interspersed with sage and desert flowers. We saw ball head waterleaf, and yellow arnica. There were more bluebells and bitterroot. Easily the most diverse group of flowers I have seen in one place. Is it desert or is it forest? A little of both. The rain began to pick up at this point. Kim forgot her rain coat but she did have an umbrella. As warm as it still was an umbrella was the best way to stay dry.

Kim then saw a faint rainbow below us. It began to darken and grow. It became quite bright and formed one complete ground to ground arc. The occasional claps of thunder began to grow more steady. Eerily they came from all sides. Ahead then behind then off to the side. The weather was really unsettled. Through all the thunder we did not see any flashes of lightning. We were now in open meadow with zero cover. We went a little higher and stopped to reconsider our situation.

Our altimeters showed us to be only 600' below the summit of Wapaloosie. The thunder was getting more than a little concerning. The rain was now steady. We decided to turn around. After a quick descent of 100 vertical feet the thunder seemed to be getting farther away. Another stop and conference. This time we decided to turn around again and go higher.

With some adrenaline still flowing from our thunder induced descent we picked up the pace. We could now faintly see some snowy peaks through the clouds. A few minutes later we could see almost all of the peaks. As we turned from the east to the south side of the mountain it was a bit clearer. The sage meadow above us gave way to open grassy slopes. We were now just 250' below the summit. I broached the idea of climbing straight up to the top but we chose to continue on the trail.

We could now see the main Kettle Crest and were not very far away from it. Snow appeared just before we reached the ridge. It was not very deep though it did cover all the ground. We found the sign for the Kettle Crest trail and stopped. The rain had now almost stopped and there were even a few shadows. My altimeter showed us only 160' below the summit of Wapaloosie. The summit was lost in the mist and we expected to have no views if we continued up.

Still, 7018' is a high mountain and we were so close. As we started down it was time for another change of direction. We turned uphill and headed for the top. Although there was some snow and small trees it was possible to pick an easy route around it all. As we neared the top I saw a small summit rock cairn. The broad flat top was still a little ways away and we then saw another small rock pile. The actual top still seemed to be ahead and low and behold we found the top. Not hard to mistake the real summit as it has a five foot tall rock cairn marking it. What a huge summit cairn!

The clouds had lifted a little and we could now see some of the other peaks of the Kettle Crest. As we were set to leave I took a quick look between the summit rocks and was surprised to see a container. There was a summit register after all. The register had about 20 signers since it was placed in the late summer of 2005. Not many for a short easy walk up from the Kettle Crest trail. Maybe many folks did not find the register at the top of the cairn.

With all our thunder and lightning concerns and changes of direction we did succeed in reaching the top of Wapaloosie. The descent was much quicker than the ascent. On the way down we did take a number more photos of the strange desert meadow at over 6400'. We saw a small alpine larch tree surrounded by sagebrush. That would be an interesting sight in October when the larch would be golden. We had a little more thunder on the way down and near the bottom one big flash of lightning.

Back at camp we set up our tents and got busy with dinner. Darkness was fast approaching as we finished eating and dove into our tents. Within a minute it began to rain and the intensity grew. By 10:00 pm it was a torrential downpour. By far the hardest rain I have ever camped in. I was wishing for my Akto instead of my tarptent. At first I had the back vent open as usual but when I felt the steady drip of water I quickly velcroed it closed. There was still a slow drip at the bottom of the window. I'll need to apply some more sealer.

Thankfully the Rainbow is plenty wide as some water did come through the netting. Not enough to get to my down sleeping bag though. While it seemed like water was coming in all over in fact I weathered the storm very well. My down bag was still dry in the morning. I finally fell asleep sometime after 1:30. The rain was still coming down hard then. By morning it was cold but dry. I had no desire to get up. Kim was up much earlier than me. She had left her cook pot on the picnic table overnight. We measured almost 2 inches in it in the morning. That is a heck of an overnight storm.

All that was left of the long weekend was the drive home. We managed to take a 25+ mile dirt road "shortcut" and only got lost once. It all worked out well. It had been a long time since I was in the area of the Grand Coulee. It turned out to be a memorable weekend. We saw more flowers than I could have hoped for. The Cougar Mountain Loop was some first class ridge running. I saw my first wild rattlesnake and finally crossed the North Cascades Highway. I finally explored a part of the state I had never been to. All that and good company made for a great time.

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Trips - 2007