After another sunny week the weekend
forecast was for another rainy weekend. Once again I headed east. It rained
from Issaquah all the way across Snoqualmie Pass to Hyak. The east side
was cloudy but not wet. I have done Esmerelda several times as a boulder
and scree scramble but not on snow. I was looking forward to a new experience.
I hoped there would be enough snow to cover lots of the loose scree. I
was out of the house at 6:15 and on the DeRoux Trail by 8:25. The trailhead
is at about 3760' and the summit is at 6765'. The Teanaway River crossing
comes up fast. Just across it was a grassy meadow covered in shooting stars.
There were more flowers than I expected. The lower section was lined by
trillium. Most were still at their peak. The trail is in great shape. Only
some chewed up sections caused by horses mar the tread. There was some snow
in the valley bottom in the first mile and I hoped that continuous snow
would not begin until much higher. That proved to be the case.
The trail mostly stays within sight or sound of DeRoux
Creek. The creek itself loses 800' in 2/3 of a mile. There are continuous
waterfalls and lots of noise. The creek path is mostly in a narrow gorge.
Soon after the intersection with the DeRoux Spur Trail I came upon a horseshoe
on the trail. Perhaps a good luck omen? It was gone when I returned. The
route is mostly in forest but there are a few openings. At the first one
I had a nice view of Iron and Teanaway Peaks across the valley. The snow
on their west sides is melting out fast. A little later I had a good look
at Koppen Mountain. The "sheep driveway" to it's summit is highlighted with
snow. It will be a few more weeks before that has melted out. At one point
I lost the trail at the first big snow patch. Heading up the snow I found
it again as it went back onto dirt higher up.
At about 4800' the trail became mostly snow covered.
The terrain was fairly flat through here. I just continued straight and
once again crossed right over the trail on a dirt stretch. It soon headed
back towards the creek and was mostly bare again. The trail rounded a bend
and entered the upper basin. Glacier lilies carpeted the hillside all along
there. I kicked steps across a few short snow patches right above the creek
and reached the crossing point. Now, where was that crossing log? The bad
news is the log I used just a few years back is gone. The water is about
as high as it gets. The creek is narrow, fast, and deep in spots and wider
and shallower in others. The hillside is steep and snow covered making it
difficult to go farther upstream. I went a little farther but there were
no logs across. Returning to near the trail crossing spot I figured I would
have to ford. I had one last hope of keeping dry boots. There is one spot
with a submerged log, a wet skinny log and some piled up branches anchored
in the middle. Using poles for balance I tightroped the skinny wet log, jumped
to the branches, and jumped again to a wet log near the other side. It worked
but it wasn't easy. Getting across is not too hard. Keeping your boots dry
is a challenge.
The trail winds farther north and again moves out
of the snow. Sun reaches here and nearly all the snow is gone. The creek
crossing is at about 5000'. The next part is among my favorite sections of
this trail. The route winds through bright green meadows never far from the
creek. Glacier lilies abound. There were several other varieties of flowers
I can't name. The trail soon begins two sets of long switchbacks. Each leg
crosses half a dozen creeks. Most of these were lined with more shooting
stars. This was one of the best shooting star displays I have seen. Up to
this point there were several logs down but none of them required leaving
the trail. A few could be stepped over and a few ducked under. They will
stop horses until removed but pose no problem for hikers.
After the final switchback the trail heads towards
Gallagher Head Lake. Deroux Peak was visible on the south ridge of the
valley. I turned off to begin the scramble where the trail reached a boulder
field above the trail. Low clouds were blowing in. I watched as an initial
view of Hawkins Mountain was quickly obscured in billowy white clouds.
A fast short scramble up boulders led to the lip of a large basin. I should
have been able to see the summit but it was lost in the clouds. This made
the route finding a bit tougher. I could see that there was plenty of snow
higher on the mountain. I crossed some snow and climbed another steep boulder
field. I crossed another snow field and climbed yet another boulder field.
At the top of this was solid snow. A ridge climbed to my right but it was
covered in small trees. In front of me was a snowy gully. I headed up the
gully. At this point I took out my ice axe. The snow was firm but soft enough
to give good traction. The gulley steepened and the snow got harder but was
still fine for kicking steps. The forecast was for wind gusts up to 40 mph
but so far they were not bad.
I still could not see the summit and the terrain
seemed much different than I remembered when under a blanket of snow. The
grade remained comfortable and the gully seemed to be going about where
I imagined I needed to be. I cut to the right through small trees and reached
the bottom of an open snow slope. I imagined I could see the ridge top through
the blowing clouds. Half way up this I could discern the pass between the
two western summits right above me. Once at the pass I was able to get onto
dirt and traverse to directly under the summit and then scramble straight
up. I didn't want to mess with the big cornice on the ridge top. I arrived
at the summit at 11:25, exactly 3 hours after my start. Esmerelda has great
views of Stuart, Hawkins, and myriad other peaks. This day my visiblility
was about 75 feet. The summit register was put up in August 2003 and had
only a dozen visits. I was the first to sign in this year. I couldn't even
see the other summit only a few hundred feet away. On the positive side it
had not rained and the wind was brisk but not even half of the forecast. It
was a balmy 42 degrees. I put on all my clothes and spent about half an
hour on top.
The first part of the trip down was fast. A combination
of plunge stepping and glissades had me down off the snow in no time. The
boulders and scree went slower. When I reached the trail again I considered
continuing on to Gallagher Head Lake but decided to take a slow trip down
instead, enjoying the multitudes of flowers. I enjoyed it so much I managed
to take over 100 photos in a six hour hike. I made it back across the creek
the same way again. After crossing DeRoux Creek I had a few minutes of
drizzle but that was the extent of rain for the day. While descending I
had seen some other footprint in the snow but they were heading down. Someone
had come up after me but had already turned around. At the trailhead there
was one other vehicle. For the day I covered about 8 1/2 miles with 3000'
of elevation gain. I saw exactly zero people. I had no views but it turned
out to be a really fun scramble.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
East Esmerelda Peak
Iron & Teanaway
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2004