Iron Bear & Jester Peaks

Gary was free for a mid holiday weekend hike. John was out but that changed when his electricity was out for multiple days. We tossed around a few ideas and settled on Iron Bear Peak. Recent reports showed a good wildflower display. It would be in the low 70s but not eastside summer hot. This time of year the crowds are thick and the parking is limited. We met at Eastgate at 6:25 am and headed east. It was my turn to drive. Traffic was fairly light with this being the middle day of Memorial Day Weekend. We left I-90 for Highway 970 and that turned into Highway 97. Two miles beyond Mineral Springs, we turned left onto the Iron Creek Road. The road was a bit bumpy but not too bad. There were many groups camping along the road. There were 3 or 4 cars in the small lot just before the creek crossing. The creek was running but with my 8.5" of ground clearance we made it across just fine. There is one big rock to go over and a low clearance car might have trouble. I parked in the lot just across the creek. There were several cars already there.

It is just a short walk up the road to the small lot at the actual trailhead. There were no cars there. We reached our parking spot at about 8:00 am. We were on our way at 8:08 am. Once up the road, we started on the actual trail. There is one creek to rock hop across near the trail start. The ones above are even smaller. The route starts in forest. When we started to break out of the forest the flower show began. This is right around the usual peak in the flower season here. Much of the way gets plenty of sunshine. There was no snow left. Arrowleaf balsamroot was the first big flower display. They were at or a bit past peak but were looking good. Orange Indian paintbrush and ballhead waterleaf were soon seen. There was even some vanilla leaf and false Solomon's seal in bloom. Rain or dew had much of the brush down low soaking wet.

Penstemon were the next flower seen. Much of the big bunches were below the trail and hard to photograph. As we ascended we began to hear the sound of a brass instrument. Whoever was carrying it was stopping to play it too. It was not what we left the city to find but it was not too awful. We saw few larkspur next. Not as many as I expected. We looked all day for some scarlet gilia and saw none. There was a pretty good variety of wildflowers but not the profusion that is usually seen. The wind was light and I manged to get some focused shots of prairie star. Even a very gentle breeze has them bouncing back and forth. A few red paintbrush were mixed in with the orange variety. We also saw death camas in several places. We caught and passes the horn player. A group was already heading down. We nearly caught another group near the pass. We were rapidly accounting for most of the cars in the lot.

There is a large balsamroot display near the pass. We reached the four way junction at Iron Bear Pass at 9:03 am. We had hiked just about two miles in 55 minutes. We passed two groups at the pass and continued on. The ridge becomes bare and narrow. This is where most of the routes bitterroot can be found. We saw the leaves but the buds were closed. This is normal. We expected to find many in bloom on our way down. The trail takes some long switchbacks as it climbed to Iron Bear Peak. It was starting to warm up. Mt. Rainier came into sight. It was quite clear as we had blue sky overhead. Higher up the trail enters forest and slips a month behind. Now we had earlier spring flowers in bloom. There was a good display of trillium and some yellow violets and more ballhead waterleaf. Then the glacier lily and spring beauty started appearing. The snow has not bee gone long, as some glacier lilies are right at their peak.

We reached the top of Iron Bear Peak at 9:51 am. We beat the crowds. Mt. Stuart stood out with a coating of snow. Earl and Navaho Peaks were clearly seen. Miller Peak is the closest one. It was almost snow free. We took a food and water break. It was still well before lunch time. I had breakfast at 5:30 am and was plenty hungry. Soon the crowd began to arrive. Groups of 2, 3, or more joined us. It was about tome to move on. Len had posted a photo of a blooming steer's head just a couple days earlier. I had seen one here one time. Other times I looked and found none, even when recent photos were posted. They are tiny and hard to see. We looked where I had seen that one before and found nothing.

Next we headed on and down from the summit. The trail drops to a flat ridge and passes some larch trees. Lots of bright pale green needles. At the junction with the County Line Trail we turned left. We soon left the trail for the short hike up to the top of Jester Peak. As expected, there as nobody there. A group of motorcyclists went by soon after we left the trail. It was time for a long break on top.  We arrived at 10:37 am. It was still pretty early. We now had views out to the east. Looking back, we saw the top of Iron Peak Peak with Mt. Rainier above it. Though nearly half a mile away, we could hear voices on Iron Bear. The first thing I noticed were all the bitterroot leaves/arms on the summit. There will be a very colorful display in a couple weeks. Each of us walked around the meadows and returned to the summit. Gary mentioned all the glacier lilies below to the east. We all took a look. Lots of green grass with many blooming glacier lilies. Spring beauty were mixed in. It was worthy of some photo time. We hung around on top until 12:13 pm when we headed down. We had more than 1.5 hours on the summit.

As we started down we ran into Janet Putz. I did not expect to see someone I knew off trail this day. She came up from the Bear Creek side in the Teanaway. It is a bit longer but very lonesome trail. We talked for a while then continued down. Back at Iron Bear Peak the crowds were still arriving and leaving. After a short break we went back to looking for the elusive steer's head. Again, we had no luck. As we were starting down I heard a couple women whooping it up. I headed over and asked if they had found a steers's head. Yes they did. Thanks to them I have one more of a very few sightings over 40 years. We all took several photos. Now it was time to head back. We saw quite a few groups heading up as we dropped back to the Iron-Bear Creeks junction. Janet had met up with us on Iron Bear and we hiked down this section together. There were not a lot of bitterroot in bloom and they were very small but the bright colors made for a mandatory photo stop. After that we reached the junction and bid goodbye to Janet. The last two miles were pretty easy hiking. It was not getting much warmer. I was in shorts and short sleeves and found it fine.

We saw a few bitterroot in bloom lower down whose flowers were closed in the morning. The trail goes in and out of forest minimizing the heat. At one spot we saw a lone white card far below. It turned out to by mine. I was ready for the end of the trail. The upper parking lot now had 3 or 4 cars. A few minutes later we were back at my car. Our hike ended at 2:36 pm. We spent 6:28 on the trail. For the day we hiked just under 8 miles with about 2300' of gain. This is never a steep trail. The drive home was easy. With one more sunny day forecast few folks were heading home early. This is as longtime favorite spring hike. The flowers are usually great at the end of May and the southern exposure melts out early. I was surprised to see that I had not done it since 2017. In 2020, John and I did the Miller Loop with the Jester to Iron Bear to Bear Creek section done but not he Iron Creek Trail. It was a fun day for an easy hike with good wildflowers and solitude on Jester Peak.

Gary & Balsamroot
False Solomon's Seal
Orange Indian Paintbrush
More Paintbrush
Prairie Star
Desert Parsley
Death Camas
White Flowers
John On Trail
Balsamroot Flower
Sliver Crown
Big Group
Big Patch Of Penstemon
Ridge Top
Ballhead Waterleaf
Mt. Rainier
First Glacier Lilies
Mt. Stuart from Iron Bear
The Larch
Near Jester Summit
Bitterroot Leaves
Adams & Goat Rocks
Jester Peak Summit
Terrific Glacier Lilies
Glacier Lily & Sky
Spring Beauty
Lilies & Spring Beauty
Nice Colors
Puffy White Clouds
Heading Down
Jim, John, & Gary
Steer's Head
Iron Bear Summit View
Best Bitterroot
Big Patch Again
Red Paintbrush
Into The Forest
Last Bitterroot
Horn Man
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2023