August 30 – September 1, 2014
It’s less than a week since our arrival from the amazing John Muir Trail in California. One would think that after 21 days and approximately 230 miles in the wilderness we might desire the comforts of civilization but the fact is that both Dave and I are twitching to get out on a trail again.
The forecast limits our options to Eastern Washington where it is supposed to shower on Saturday but partial sun is promised for the rest of the Labor Day weekend. We take that over the continuous rain that threatens the mountains West of the crest.
Our destination is set to be Mount Maude which together with its neighbors Seven Fingered Jack and Mt. Fernow forms spectacular headquarter cirque of the entiat River, one of the major drainages on the East side. The mountain can be approached from East via the Entiat River and Ice Creek or from West via Phelps Creek trailhead and Le Roy Creek route. The shorter West approach suits our itinerary.
Not much elevation is gained during the first 3.5 miles. The trail meanders on a gentle grade along Phelps Creek. Earlier in the season the trail crosses several smaller seasonal creeks here. Those usually dry by the time second half of August rolls in and only the larger tributaries remain flowing down the hillsides such as LeRoy creek at elevation 4,120 ft. Once we rock hop over its flow, a faint sign points us towards LeRoy Creek trail. It’s all uphill from here. The trail is not maintained well, washouts are frequent and sometimes the tread carves so deeply into the dirt that we have to use surrounding vegetation to pull ourselves a step higher.
Upper Leroy Creek Basin makes the effort worth it. We set up camp at the edge of a large meadow. Soon after we pitch we notice a doe with a fawn grazing nearby the stream and even though we don’t see them, marmots make their presence known by their loud high pitched whistling. The views are obscured by low hanging clouds but for what is hidden from us we are well compensated by the element of nature closer by. The soft overcast light makes the first autumnal colors shine. The wildflowers are past their prime but some still prevail in the area, the most presented one is a trumpet shaped deep blue gentian that grows in clusters of 4-5 blooms.
The rain comes in the early evening and we wait it out in the tent. We can hear voices of at least three groups scouting for sites nearby. When the rain subsides it’s time for dinner and while our dinner is rehydrating we say hi to our camping neighbors. Some of them we’ll meet on the route to Maude tomorrow, some came to attempt the slightly more difficult Seven Fingered Jack.
Sunday morning does not bring promised sunshine but the clouds are floating much higher and a danger of rain does not seem iminent. The route to Mount Maude first traverses a long hillside. Only two or three gullies hinder our progress. Earlier in the season they would be snow filled but at this time of the year we have to step to the very bottom just to climb back up on the other side.
A short uphill at the end of the traverse takes us to a saddle with a nice view of Upper Ice Lake. The lake sits on a small plateau encircled by rugged bare peaks. It would make a worthwhile destination on its own and we make a note to return and camp here in the future. Today we are on a summit mission. To gain the summit ridge we have to cross the crumbling slope above the lake on a faint climbers pass. It is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and even the short steep section to connect to the ridge which is the crux of the entire route is manageable if one places their feet atop the scree carefully.
From there it is a smooth cruising on a wide open ridge. There is a path in the beginning but the second half is choose your own adventure on a rocky slope leading directly to the summit where we arrive just as the clouds start rolling all around us. Once again the nature only grants us occasional peek-a-boo views when the clouds part for several seconds. And just like so many times before the clouds part when we reach our tent and the sun pokes out and stays shining for the reminder of our trip.
Total Mileage: 16.57 miles
Elevation gain: 7,362 feet
West Side Approach: Phelps Creek Trailhead – From Seattle head north on I-5 to Everett and follow US Highway 2 to the Coles Corner Junction with WA Highway 207. Follow Highway 207 until it crosses the Wenatchee River. Just past the bridge head north onto Road 62 towards Fish Lake. Follow Road 62 past the Grouse Creek Campground and continue onto Road 6200 as it parallels the Chiwawa River. This is a long rough road (just over 20 miles) that ends at the Trinity Gate where the Buck Creek Trail starts (elevation 2,900 feet). For the Phelps Creek Trail turn right onto FS 6211 at a signed junction just before reaching Trinity and switchback a couple times up the hill reaching the end of the road at elevation of 3,500 feet.
East Side Approach: Entiat River Trailhead – From Wenatchee, drive north on the highway west of the Columbia River (ALT Highway 97) 20 miles to the town of Entiat. Just south of town, turn west on the Entiat River road and follow it for 38 miles to its end at the Cottonwood Campground in elevation of 3,140 feet. This long road is paved most of the way and easily driven in typical passenger cars. Note that the road turns into NF Road 51 and NF Road 5100.