Red Mountain

Two years ago I joined a big group which snowshoed up the Red Mountain near Salmon La Sac up the Cle Elum Lake Road. It was short and steep. Suzanne missed that trip. I had a good time and hoped to do it again. I joined Suzanne, Barry, and David for a return trip. We met in North Seattle and drove through Roslyn and on to the intersection of the Cooper Lake Road. There is parking along the side of the road. The vast majority are snowmobilers. We were on our way at 9:35 and some snowmobiles were revving up. The road had been freshly groomed and was easy walking.

It's about 1.6 miles to the Red Mountain trailhead. We hiked it in just over 30 minutes. It's only another 2 miles to the summit. It took a little longer to reach that. We had to drop down into a ditch then climb out to reach the start of the route up. The summer trail follows the creek into a high basin. Our route was just west and climbed steeply to the summit high above the basin. I had a vague recollection of the route and we had a map of my previous trip. The route is pretty much straight up. At first the snow was not very deep. We have not had much new snow in many weeks. There was a small dump early in the week. I did not expect much east of the crest.

In the forest the snow was very hard crust in places and soft snow on top of the hard crust in others. I had good traction on the crust but my snowshoes slid on the dry powder. It was slow and very tiring sliding back so often. I did not feel very good and David didn't get much sleep the night before. We fell behind Barry and Suzanne. Higher up the snow became deeper. Now I was really slipping. It took three of four kicks to get down to the crust to get any traction. It was painfully slow going.

On the positive side the slope was smooth with no cliffy areas. Barry did a great job finding the best terrain. It was only 30 degrees when we started. the first off road part was warm enough to have sweat pouring off me. Higher up it cooled enough to be comfortable. The slope finally narrowed down to a narrow ridge. Barry and Suzanne were up a short steep section taking off their snowshoes. The snow was deep here and it was easier to kick steps. David and I did the same thing at the bottom of the slope. Turns out that that little 20 vertical foot climb was solid ice. Should have kept the snowshoes on.

I was able to kick steps into the crusty ice. Four or five hard kicks broke the crust and provided a step. That had me wondering what the last 700 vertical feet of climbing would be like. We were able to follow Barry's steps in the deep snow up the steepest section just above the short steep icy crust. We did switch out one pole for ice axes. The route from there to the summit is along a forested ridge. The drop off the right side is near vertical and a long way down. We zig zigged in trees and around them when too thick. The snow conditions continued to frustrate me. Six inches of dry powder on ice at one point then a few feet later solid ice. It was like sand dunes at the beach. One step up and slide back down on the snowy parts.

What little energy I had left was rapidly disappearing. Once the ice reappeared we went back to snowshoes once again. I swear that was the hardest and slowest 700 feet I have ever climbed. I thought I saw the summit above and when I popped over the top I found the others having lunch. The summit was still another 80 of so feet above us. I was getting a little nervous about how to get down. Snowshoes would slide on the snow over ice for sure. I had crampons and the others had microspikes.

The first item was whether or not to try for the summit. It was more deep snow over ice mixed with crusty ice but steeper here. The others put on their microspikes and headed up. I thought about trying it with crampons but I figured the soft snow would ball up the crampons in seconds. What the heck, I put them on and gave it a try. With crampons I motored right up the slope. Much easier than the flailing I had been doing. It was 2:00 pm when we summited. Four and a half hours to climb 3500' in only 3 1/2 miles. That has to be the slowest I have climbed. I checked my other report from Red Mountain and that one took 3 1/2 hours. That one seemed so much faster but take out our lunch stop and it wasn't much slower at all.

The day had been very cloudy and our views were minimal. It was a little better than earlier though. We could see down to Cooper Lake and across to Sasse Ridge. Later Jolly Mountain came out of the clouds. Even close by Davis Peak was not totally in the clear. Two trips up here and clouds both times. I guess another trip is in order sometime in the future. Our summit stay was short and soon we were heading down. The snow was so dry I had no balling of snow on my crampons coming to the summit so I kept them on. In fact I kept them on all the way back to the road.

Going down proved to be much easier than expected. I was able to plunge step through the soft snow and get my crampons to dig into the crust. It was tough on tired legs pounding down 3200' but much faster than the ascent. At the bottom we had to cross the ditch again to get onto the road. The other three had no problem. I did. The ditch was more than waist deep so I had to bend my leg and kick a step into the wall. Instant pain! One serious cramp. Now what? I tried sitting on the wall and pulling myself onto the road. Arm cramp! This was getting ridiculous. I was stuck. The other just laughed and I couldn't blame them. It must have looked funny.

I finally found a snowy ramp that held my weight and allow for small steps without bending my leg much. Once out I couldn't reach down to take off my crampons. Talk about frustrating. On the positive side the cramps did not hit on the descent or I might still be up there. This is only the second time I have been hit by really painful cramps and I hope the last. I'm sure I was dehydrated after the long sweaty ascent. Well, I did finally get them off. The others were off on their way by then. It took us less than 1 1/2 hours to reach the road. Another half hour and we were back to the car.

It took four hours up and just under two hours down. The views were less than spectacular. The snow was "challenging" to say the least. Still it was a fun trip. As expected we saw nobody other than a few snowmobilers on the road. We did see snowmobile tracks on a road we crossed high on the mountain. This is in an area listed as a "voluntary no snowmobile area" at the trailhead. I'm sure I'll head back in a few years.

David's report are here: Nwhikers Report & Photos

Crossing Bridge
Cle Elum River
Freshly Groomed Road
Heading Off Road
Getting Steeper
Forest Thinning
Very Cloudy
Angle Of Ascent
Cooper Lake
Plastered Trees
Switchbacking Higher
Cooper Close Up
Jolly Mountain
Clear Cuts
Summit Ridge
Heading Down
Crampons Helped
Suzanne & David
Davis Peak In Clouds
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2009