Bootjack Mountain - Highchair Mountain
Neither Gary nor I had hiked up
Icicle Creek in several years. We wanted to do a trail that neither of
us had been on. Our choice ended up being Blackjack Ridge. The weather
was marginal and we hoped this trip would be far enough east to miss any
rain. It was raining at Stevens Pass and the dark clouds continued much of
the way towards Leavenworth. The weather was better there but we still had
a 19 mile drive up the Icicle and back west again. It was very cloudy when
we reached the trailhead but we decided to stick with this hike anyway. The
trail is listed as abandoned and is not on most maps. We were prepared for
the worst and very pleasantly surprised by the reality. The plan was to scramble
up Bootjack Mountain and if time and weather allowed, go for Highchair Mountain
as well. After a 3 hour drive from home we arrived at the trailhead and were
on the trail by 9:30.
The abandoned trail is in better shape than many
maintained trails I have been on. Best of all, it is covered with thick
duff. This makes it very easy on the feet. It needs to be because the trail
gains 3250' in just 3 miles to where it crosses the ridge and the ridge
scramble begins. The trail is so well graded and makes so many short switchbacks
that it does not seem like it gains almost 1000' per mile. There were a
few logs down across the trail but none proved difficult to go over or around.
We climbed higher and higher through the forest until the grade eased and
the switchbacks turned to a trail along the ridge. The forest gave way to
the silvered remnants of a burned forest with grass and flowers beneath.
Lupine and paintbrush were dominant with many other flowers as well. The
route continued to gain elevation until it soon reached the top of a ridge.
This spot was a blaze of color. Scarlet Gilia grew everywhere here with paintbrush,
lupine, and many others. This was a nice place to take a break and photograph
all the colors.
We could see Bootjack Mountain in the clouds at the
high point of the ridge we were on. The ridge curves around to the left while
steadily gaining elevation. The trail dropped rapidly down the other side
of the ridge. We began to ascend the ridge, at first through more silvered
trees of the burn. Quickly we picked up a faint boot path though one is
really not needed. Many more flowers presented themselves as we slowly worked
our way up the ridge while stopping often to take photos. The ridge presented
no problems. The last part was rock and steeper but the scramble was very
easy. It was about 12:30 when we reached the summit. The clouds were lifting
a little but the summits of Stuart, The Cradle, and Cashmere were all in
the clouds still. From the summit we could see a lower summit on the ridge.
We could also see where the ridge turned to the right for a long knife edge
appearing section then run right up to the summit of Highchair Mountain.
With Bootjack out of the way, we debated if we still had enough time to reach
Highchair, ridge route allowing. At 1:05 we decided to make an attempt of
Highchair. Since I had scrambled The Cradle I hoped to get a close up view
of it's seldom seen east side from Highchair.
We had not heard any reports of the route from Bootjack
to Highchair along the ridge so we did not know if the route would go.
That just added to the adventure. Dropping down the south ridge was easy.
We went almost over the top of the lower summit and continued on the ridge
top. There were some trees and more silvered forest. The route proved to
be very reasonable. We dropped off the ridge top in a few places but quickly
regained it. After dropping about 600' we reached the knife edge. This section
proved to be much easier than we expected. Every difficult spot provided
a ledge or a ramp to allow us to continue. We were able to stay on or just
below the top all the way across. The way was not difficult but it was not
very fast either. Where the ridge goes steeply up a high bump made up of
an enormous pile of rock we exited to the left into a heather basin. At
6200' we were about 850' below the summit. This place was an unexpected
delight as it contained a tarn and many spring fed creeks meandering through
the heather. Pine, fir, and larch trees were interspersed. Of course, the
flower show continued with shooting stars now joining in.
Getting back on the ridge would have required climbing
up steep talus. A better choice seemed to be to cross the basin to another
ridge heading to the false summit south of the actual summit. That ridge
looked to be much easier. We continued on with a rising traverse to our
left through larch, heather, flowers, and cascading creeks. I did not expect
anything like this. We crossed one snow field and were on the ridge about
400' below the summit. The ridge was moderately steep at first but the footing
was good and the going was easy. It soon moderated and we topped out on
the false summit. From a distance the summit ridge of Highchair appeared
to be nearly level. In reality there were a number of spires and the east
face dropped off sharply. We dropped a little on the west side and were able
to avoid the crud on top. A few ups and downs and we were under the real
summit. From there it was an easy talus hike to the top. It was about 3:00
when we summited. In the 2 hours it took us to cross from Bootjack the clouds
had lifted dramatically. Cashmere was still mostly in clouds but The Cradle
was out along with Stuart from time to time. Sixty Six Hundred Ridge was
nearby as was Mt. Harding to the south. Below us on the west was a big meadow
with a tarn. Ingalls and South Ingalls plus Fortune were visible. Most of
Icicle Ridge was open. Even Three Queens came out of the clouds. All the
peaks to the south were showing their north sides, still cloaked in their
winter white. The panorama from 7016' was very impressive. This is one of
the best viewpoints I have been on. The wind was blowing from the west. The
mountain had blocked it until we reached the summit ridge While the wind
was cold the sunshine made it bearable. I would have like to spend a few
hours on top. Unfortunately, we were already running late. It was 3:30 when
we packed up and headed down.
From the top we could clearly see what we were unable
to see from the bottom. It is not difficult to head straight down from
the summit. In less than 15 minutes we were off of the rock and back in
the sloping trees and heather. On top we discussed what would likely be
the fastest route back to the trail on the gilia filled ridge. We know that
the trail dropping down from the ridge continued through the valley below
the mountain. We also knew it was not on our maps and that experienced scramblers
had reported losing it numerous times as it disappeared due to lack of use.
We already knew the ridge route was slow and now we would have to gain back
650' as well. We decided to attempt to traverse around Bootjack on a level
traverse until we intercepted the trail. As we followed along below the ridge
we actually found a trail. There were even a few cut logs. Unfortunately
we lost it. After a little searching with no results we continued on with
a level traverse. We had to make a number of climbs around downed logs so
it was not really level. The grassy terrain was continuously covered with
more wildflowers. Along with all the others we saw some elephant head. I
had not seen any in years.
Each time we rounded a bend hoping to get a view
back to our target ridge we were disappointed. The ridge top seemed more
and more to have been a better choice. When we were right below the summit
of Bootjack we rounded one more corner. It looked like we would have to
drop way down into a valley and climb up the other side. This was seriously
depressing. We stopped to scout out a route when Gary spied a zig zag on
the far side of the valley wall. It sure looked like a trail. We aimed
right for it and dropped down. The descent proved to be far less than it
appeared. In short order we were down and across and, low and behold, back
on a real trail. We climbed up then across a flat spot and had one
more 200' descent. We soon moved out of the trees and had a clear view up
to our target ridge. After 5 hours off trail and 5400' gained that last
200' was tough. We topped out on the ridge at 5:55, almost 2 1/2 hours after
leaving Highchair. The final 3 miles and 3250' loss went very fast. In only
1:18 we were back at the car.
I was greeted with a $50 ticket on my windshield.
To make it worse, I had a forest pass in my glove compartment. After a 3
hour drive I had forgot to take it out. In a final piece of unlikely good
fortune a ranger drove by exactly at that moment. I ran over and got him
to stop and showed him my pass. That took care of that. To find a ranger driving
by at 7:30 on a Saturday night was almost a miracle. That done, we took off
and reached the 59er Diner for dinner and a shake at 8:30, half an hour before
they closed. This proved to a much better trip than either Gary or I expected.
The abandoned trail was a real gem. The flowers were way beyond expectations.
Bootjack was a nice summit but it proved to to an appetizer for a much more
interesting Highchair. The scramble route was lots of fun and the view from
the top was outstanding. The scramble was not technically difficult but
it featured a long distance off trail. It's a long drive from Seattle
but I need to do more hikes in this area.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Gilia And Lupine
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2004