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
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.