Ascent of Mount Bonaparte on 1992-08-09
|Date:||Sunday, August 9, 1992|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Motorized Transport to Trailhead:||Car|
| Elevation:||7257 ft / 2211 m|
Ascent Trip ReportMy plan for the day was to climb Mt. Bonaparte (7297 feet), what I thought at the time was the highest mountain in Washington State east of the Cascades (much later I realized it was actually #3). Then I would see what the weather was doing--if it was going to be nice for a while, I would head to Glenn's place near Seattle to hook up with him for our planned Mt. Rainier climb. I had my DeLorme Washington atlas, showing back roads in great detail, which I would need to find and climb the low, wooded, and remote Bonaparte, and it seemed to suggest that it be approached from Bonaparte Lake, north of WA 20 east of U.S. 97.
First, though, I stopped at a gas-station mini-mart in Oroville, WA, where I bought some good junk food at a real mini mart, nice after suffering through a week in Canada. I didn't buy gas, though, since I figured I had enough to get to Bonaparte and back. I then drove south to Tonasket, WA, and turned east on WA 20, which, after twisting around like crazy in what was almost an Arizona-like desert, led to the road to Bonaparte Lake. I was amazed that it was paved, since most mountain roads out west were not, and it led to the lake after a few narrow miles through forest.
Here I could not find a trailhead, though, even though my atlas indicated that there was a trail that started near the south end of the lake. I drove back and forth a few times and saw nothing except a campground "resort" on the lakeshore, so decided to check in there. I went to the office/store of the Bonaparte Lake Resort, which was very crowded with campers paying, checking in or out, and making reservations, and got in line. I finally got a chance to ask the kid there if he knew where the trail was, and he seemed genuinely happy to give me a complex set of directions while everyone else in line fumed about how I was wasting their time. It seemed that the quickest route from the road was a trail that began around on the north side of the mountain, beyond Lost Lake. I got the basic idea of what he said, if not the details, and thanked him--he said he rode his horse up to the summit a lot--as I left the crowded room.
Using my map, I found my way to Lost Lake on roads that became dirt, but not too rough, and looked around the public campground there for a trailhead, but found none. I then took the main dirt road around to the north, and just as I was maybe thinking I had better forget it, I saw an obscure sign pointing uphill to my left through the woods toward "Mt. Bonaparte". This road was pretty bad, basically a steep one-lane logging road, and after passing a landmark brook crossing on my map (the scale of which was too large to be of much help for the type of navigating I was now doing) and chugging up a rutted slope, I found a wide spot in the road and parked off to the side.
I went through my pre-hike ritual while sitting under the car's tailgate: fill water bottles, change my sneakers for hiking boots, throw extra food and clothing into my daypack, daub on massive gobs of sunblock, and check the map--in this case the almost useless atlas page, which I didn't even bring along. I then set off up the dirt road, wishing I had a four-wheel drive vehicle so I could drive what I was hiking. I suppose I could have driven further, but at a certain point the risk of damage to my low-clearance station wagon outweighed the advantage of a shorter hike.
The road climbed gently uphill for a mile or so, turned sharply left, and slabbed around to a brook, all in forest that allowed occasional glimpses of the wooded hill of Bonaparte up ahead. The trail had gotten awfully flat, and after a bit came to a junction with a road heading right, towards the still-distant summit, through a recently clear-cut area. The main road was clearly not going to the top, but the side road petered out in the clear-cut tract, after I had to climb over many dead trees and logging debris such as branches and logs. There was no way forward without plunging into deep woods, even though I could see the summit ahead on this clear, very hot afternoon.
I rested, checked my compass (clearly a sign that I'm lost), wandered about the clear-cut area, then returned to the main road, which went downhill in the direction I hadn't taken. Therefore I returned the way I came, checking my compass and even drawing sketch maps in the sand to help me figure out where I was, but without a good map I was clueless--it seemed that the path shown in my atlas didn't exist. Disappointed, I resigned myself to a wasted couple hours as I hiked back down, carefully looking for a path off to my left uphill.
And, at the sharp turn in the road only a mile from my car, I noticed something I hadn't seen before--a high, hidden sign for the Mt. Bonaparte Trail. Annoyed for having missed it, I started uphill on the path and rested a short ways up it, to decide if I wanted to climb the mountain given the time and sweat I had already wasted. I finally decided to go for it--having turned back three times already on climbs on this trip in Canada was a factor, as well as a desire to increase my aerobic capacity for Mt. Rainier.
The trail was longer than I thought it would be--a Appalachian style hike, through thick forest with no views and occasionally steep uphill. At the start there were also more logging clear-cuts. I hiked as fast as I could, sweating up a storm, as the trail just kept on climbing, sometimes in long switchbacks. I passed an unsigned junction, where I think the much longer trail from the Bonaparte Lake joined in, then went up even further and further through more forest--each time I thought I saw the trees thinning out it was just a mirage, and I recalled the guy at the resort saying something about it being a killer of a hike. It wasn't quite that, just wearying.
I finally came out to a more open area of low trees, and with a final push I hiked through the scrub to the summit clearing, crowned by a fire lookout tower and other associated outbuildings. While catching my breath and walking around the area, a guy from up in the tower shouted down to me that I was welcome to come up. I had never seen a fire tower that was actually manned before, so he surprised me, but I accepted his invitation.
A couple flights of stairs brought me up to the sturdy one-room cabin atop the tower, surrounded by a porch. Inside I met the guy, middle aged with a longish beard, his wife, who lived there with him, and a backpacker, hiking his way from Montana to Seattle. The guy and his wife stayed in their summit lookout all summer--he said that last season, he didn't go down for over 100 straight days. He showed me his maps, sighting table, binoculars, and other stuff while I talked to everybody there--the backpacker was a real hippie stoner type dude, but the lookout guy was pleasant and informative. The view out the four glass walls of the cabin was expansive, and the day was crystal clear. Dominating the view to the west was the massive Cascade Range, but since most major peaks (Rainier, Baker, etc.) were to the west of the main divide, Glacier Peak and the Bonanza/Logan group were the only snow-capped monsters visible.
While hanging out here, talking a little about myself during the course of the conversation (the guy and his wife said they got about four visitors per week, so two in one afternoon was rare), a radio weather report came in from the official fire-lookout radio network, saying what the view told me: it was going to be clear for the next few days as high pressure stalled over Puget Sound. I decided to drive directly to Glenn's place tonight, since it seemed like a nice window of good weather was upon us.
I said goodbye to the people in the lookout, took some pictures, and then left the summit of Mt. Bonaparte, at about 3 P.M. The downhill hike was easy, but, as always, longer than expected, as I marvelled at my ability to come up the terrain I had to downclimb. I was a little hungry and thirsty, since my wrong turn earlier had sapped the little food and drink I brought, but after an hour or so of fast downhill hiking I came out to the road, and a sandy mile or so of cruising down that brought me to my car, intact on the shoulder. I hadn't seen a soul on this road or trail all day, except at the summit.
My drive down to U.S. 97 in Tonasket was marked by extreme nervousness on my part over my lack of gas. Since I had only planned to go to the lake, and not circumnavigate the whole mountain on dirt roads, I hadn't bought gas earlier, a mistake. I didn't return via the lake--instead, after wrenching my poor car down the logging road to the main dirt road, I headed west, which after a bit brought me to a paved back road that led downhill 21 miles to Tonasket. My fuel gauge needle was pinned at E as I went down this road, but I still made it. I filled up in Tonasket, it taking more than 14 gallons (in a 15 gallon tank) (I also noticed I had gotten more than 30 mpg on my tank), then headed south on U.S. 97, bound for Seattle.
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