Ascent of Strawberry Mountain on 2014-04-06

Climber: Craig Willis

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, April 6, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Strawberry Mountain
    Elevation:5863 ft / 1787 m

Ascent Trip Report

Some of the peaks which I have found to be amongst the most rewarding are those for which I have successfully tried a new route approach. Strawberry Mountain is one of those peaks. With very little beta available for the peak, and with no roads or trails officially leading to the summit, I had been considering trying a new approach for a while.

Two weeks prior to my visit, I had wanted to scout out Aeneas Valley Road but was stopped by snow and mud. Two weeks later... no snow and only a little mud. Unfortunately, the mud patches on the road prevented my car from getting too far beyond the Okanogan National Forest boundary. I made it through one mud patch but did not care to chance the second one. This forced me to do an additional road-walk of 1.2 miles each way. It was unfortunate, too, as there were no more mud patches the rest of the way to where I left the road, and my car could have made it there.

When I started hiking in the morning, I could see impenetrable cliffs looming above to the south and I wondered if my approach would work. I had a less desirable backup plan further down the road, though, if needed. I departed the road a short distance prior to where Aeneas Valley Road veers south. The initial slope led to a flattish area, from which the slope became a super-steep slope of brush and downed trees. The climb up this slope was slow-going... until by chance I encountered a well-defined dirt animal path at approximately 2700'. This animal path was so well-trodden that it looked like an official trail of sorts, albeit the steepest trail I have ever been on.

After approximately 3000' the slope became more favorable. I was shocked how much ground growth and downed trees were everywhere. I continued following the animal path as it led up the slope, occasionally losing the path and trusting my own instincts (up was generally correct). Eventually, I reached my first highpoint of the ridge at Point 3887. This is where I consider the start of my ridge hike.

The ridge has a lot of ups, downs, and turns. I started seeing small patches of snow just prior to Point 3887... I could not believe how much snow had melted in the area in only two weeks! The snow patches were mostly avoidable until approximately 4000', at which point the snow became more consistent and I put on my snowshoes. I intersected a road at 4250' but soon left the road to continue along the snowy ridge. I encountered another road at 4600', which I followed up and down a ridge until reaching an apparent road-bend at 4700'. I continued up an open snow slope inter-sparsed with evergreen trees. I crossed another road at 4950', after which the slope steepened.

The slope gains approximately 700' in 0.5 miles between the previously-mentioned road and the northern false summit of Strawberry Mountain. After dropping down from the northern false summit, it was another 0.75 miles to the true summit of Strawberry Mountain. The summit ridge was gentle-sloped and easy to traverse, perhaps the most enjoyable section of the entire route to snowshoe.

The old steel tower from 1936 was still standing at the summit area, albeit missing some windows and some metal was twisted. It is really enjoyable to see these past relics of culture. Tall trees surrounding the summit prevent most views but there are a couple of spots with great views of nearby Moses Mountain.

Some thoughts:
-> I think I hit good conditions at the right places for this approach. The beginning super-steep slope had no snow, otherwise it would have been very difficult and dangerous. Most of the upper ridges were covered in snow, which was a blessing in disguise because I did not realize how many downed trees would be scattered everywhere and the snow covered most of them. I just wish the snow was more consolidated.
-> Trust what the animals do. The native animals that live in this area know the terrain and conditions better than humans do. If there is a path leading around highpoints or seemingly following a ridge, it is probably a safe bet to trust it. The dirt animal path for the super-steep path was a major find.
-> Bring your GPS... and use it. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of ups, downs, and turns along this ridge approach. Most of the forest and terrain looks the same and it would be easy for a person to lose his/her way. This route should not be attempted by people who do not have good routefinding skills.
-> This is not a technically difficult approach... but it is not recommended for novices, either. As mentioned, routefinding might be an issue for some people. Also, this is not a route for slow hikers; plan for this to be a full day trip. There are very few minor slopes where a snowslide could happen but each of those areas are easily avoidable. I brought my ice axe and microspikes but did not need them; different conditions than what I experienced might have warranted a need for either or both of them. The steepness of the super-steep slope near the beginning of the approach is not for everyone, and extra caution is needed for the descent. If I had waited another few weeks, the ground growth and downed trees would have potentially been problems along this route, as would the bugs. But this is only speculation on my part; it is also possible that progress would not be impeded too much by the ground growth and downed trees.
-> Overall, this was a very rewarding hike and snowshoe outing.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:4713 ft / 1435 m
    Extra Gain:600 ft / 182 m
    Distance:14.4 mi / 23.2 km
    Route:North Ridge
    Trailhead:Aeneas Valley Road  2350 ft / 716 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Snowshoes
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:0 Days 6 Hours 45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:0 Days 5 Hours 0 Minutes

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