Humpback Mountain

Suzanne took Friday afternoon off work and I joined her for a hike. We left Seattle just after 12:00 heading east. Our choice for the day was Humpback Mountain. The previous year we failed in very deep fresh snow then came back with better conditions and summited. The last 75 feet proved to be very challenging with hard snow and no crampons. This time we brought snowshoes, crampons, and ice axes. We had no idea just how far we would be able to drive up the logging road.

We exited at Denny Creek, turned right, then right again. A left turn took us uphill. We passed the railroad trestle near where we started the first time last year. We rounded the switchback where we parked the second time. If fact we drove all the way to the gated upper starting point. The first left road goes to the lower starting point. Snow blocked the main road beyond where our road turned off left.

I grabbed my boots and Suzanne grabbed...oops! No boots! There was no way she was doing a snow hike with slip on shoes. Well we could go down the valley and do the railroad grade. No, Suzanne had a better idea. We drove back to North Bend and at the outlet mall she picked up another pair or boots. Back we headed to the trailhead. Her dog Sadie was mystified as to why we drove down a dirt road and turned around. Now we were back at the trailhead once again.

It was now about 2:50 as we finally got on our way. Still, it is a short distance and we had plenty of daylight left. The road had snow at first then it was bare. Soon we were back on snow. The snow on the road will likely be gone within a week or two. At the nose of the ridge we easily found the trail heading straight uphill. The start was on bare ground. Snow covered much of the way up though there were numerous bare spots. It was not very thick but it was hard and a bit slick.

Suzanne managed to keep us on track all the way up. Pink ribbon marks much of the lower route but it peters out higher up. A few ribbons do appear nearly all the way to the top. While driving up we could see that recent snow coated the tops of the trees high up. I expected that with the temperature above freezing that the melt would rain down on us. It did but not as much as I figured. It was 55 degrees in North Bend but only 37 at the trailhead. my cheap thermometer read around 32 high on the ridge.

The trail begins in an old clear cut with many small trees. Part way up we entered the older grown. There is much less undergrowth here. The wide ridge finally narrowed down and the steepest section began to moderate. The ridge was still snow covered but we were often on boulders and slabs. We were careful not to posthole into deep voids in the rocks. On the slabs a few inches of snow would slide and we had no traction.

All in all, the going was still not very hard. We soon had an open view of the summit. It was close but a steep 125 or so feet above us. The ridge became too steep and we moved over to the right side. Part way up the ridge we began to get into some new snow. At first it was just a dusting, then a few inches. As we moved into the open it was 4 to 6 inches deep. Underneath it was a very hard icy crust. We took out ice axes and continued.

I went first and found the snow to be very soft. I could kick down to the crust easily but the snow slid off the crust. I found the footing good enough to continue climbing. I soon had the summit ridge right above me. It took two or three plunges to get my axe to break through the crust. It was slow going. Sadie soon ran right by me to the summit. Since I was so slow she decided to come back down. Then she ran right back up. The last 10 feet were very soft and I walked right up.

Suzanne followed me and soon we were both on top. There was a high overcast but we could see Silver Peak, Granite Mountain, Kaleetan Peak, McClellan Butte and most of the close by summits. Annette Lake down below is still snow covered. There was some wind and it was very cold on top. We saw no signs of any boot or ski tracks anywhere on our climb. Nobody else was up here recently.

The last time we were up there the snow was so hard it was a very slow decent with half a dozen kicks to get each small foothold. This time it was much different but far worse. We put on crampons and hoped to just descend face in for the first 100+ feet. I started first on the soft first 10 feet and it all slid out from under me. It caught me very much off guard. Only a fast ice axe plunge into and through the crust stopped me before hitting a group of trees. Now much more carefully I started down again.

The steps I used coming up collapsed on the way down. I had to kick through the soft snow to get my front points to stick. It was a slow and uncomfortable descent. When I was down Sadie ran down and Suzanne began her descent. When Suzanne reached me we had more soft snow but were able to plunge step down. Once back on the ridge top the hard part was over.

From there the descent was pretty easy. I buried my gloveless hand numerous times in the snow on my slow initial descent and now my whole hand was numb. I have been out in much colder temperatures and have never had that happen. Once back in a dry glove it hurt like heck as it warmed up but it soon was back to normal. The rest of the descent was no problem. The hard icy snow on the lower ridge had warmed up a lot in the time we were higher. It was a little slick but easy to kick steps in. We managed to follow the trail all the way down.

Once back on the road the last mile went fast. We took nearly 3 hours going up but only an hour and a quarter to come down. I checked the distance and elevation at home. It is about 1 mile with 400' of gain on the road. From there the ridge climb is about 1 1/8 mile with 1900' of gain. It does get just a little steep. We were on the road by 7:00 and home before dark.

Even with the boot problem and the crappy snow up high this turned out to be a good trip. In hindsight if I realized the descent would be so bad I would not have ascended the last 125 feet. It was not worth the risk. We made it down okay but it was at the edge of our comfort zone. I was home by 8:20 and back at Suzanne's place at 7:00 am the next day for our next hike.

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Trips - 2007