Ascent of Mount Phelps on 2014-06-21

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Edward Earl
----Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, June 21, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Hi-Clearance Vehicle
Peak:Mount Phelps
    Elevation:5535 ft / 1687 m

Ascent Trip Report

Phelps is the prominent-looking dome-shaped peak on the Cascade skyline due east of Seattle and the Eastside suburbs. I look at it frequently while running errands around town, and after a failed attempt in 1999 when I didn't get very far at all, I sometimes thought it was taunting me--this peak had been on my list for a while and it was time to get it.

Despite how close it looks, it is actually quite remote to access. Edward and I took almost 2 hours to drive to the trailhead from the Eastside, and an hour of that was the 23 miles of the North Fork Snoqualmie road from North Bend to almost as far in as you can go. The road apparently had some major issues with washouts and bridges being out back in about 2008-2010 or so, but it seems everything is repaired now. The road is still gravel and full of potholes, but a hi-clearance vehicle can make it to the Blackhawk Mine TH on Spur 5736 with no major problems.

Edward parked his truck just before the last creek crossing on the road, but he could have driven farther, but we also didn't mind the extra 10 minutes of walking to where a short, steep, and overgrown road (labeled "4WD" on the USGS map) heads uphill. This reaches the Blackhawk Mine site, and here some red tape on branches helped us locate a faint path heading uphill into a recovering clear-cut.

This climber's trail was not too bad--someone had recently flagged it with red tape very thoroughly, and cairns on stumps helped show the way, too. It was certainly steep and easy to lose in places, but overall a reasonable way to climb up about 1400 feet mostly through logging slash. At about 3500 feet it entered old growth forest that was a bit brushy, and the trail was a bit more obscure. But we stayed on it to a large rock outcrop at 3800 feet where we rested.

Our trip reports said to traverse left to the Phelps-McClain saddle, but the flagged trail stayed on the ridge, so we stayed on it until about 4200 feet on the south ridge, where the flagging and footway seemed to disappear. So we traversed left from here, heading downhill a bit through brush, crossing a talus field marked with cairns, and then some unfortunate steep sidehilling over tiring ridgelets to the saddle. We stayed to high at the end of the traverse, we realized.

From the Phelps-McClain saddle we headed uphill towards Phelps on steep slopes of brush--there was not much of a trail at all. There was a minor gendarme to pass on the left, and then some nice open forest with snowpatches, and above that the terrain opened up and was almost entirely steep snow. It was a bit hard still, so it was some effort to kick steps. We wound around some low cliff bands and crossed some brushy/heathery benches, but mostly just step-kicked up the 30 degree or more slopes.

After one last moat and a short scramble up some jagged rocks, we suddenly found ourselves on the summit--our vector had somehow aimed right at it. There were two rocky summit areas with a big dome of snow in between them, and the far (N) summit was a bit higher and held an official Mountaineers register. I leafed through it and saw that from 2001 to about 2007 there were lots of entries, many from large Mountaineer parties (a "Scramble Peak"?), but since about 2008 or so the peak was seeing only 2 to 4 ascents per year, likely due to road closure issues during that time.

Views were of Rainier, Adams, Stuart, Glacier Peak, Index, many other peaks, the Tolt Reservoir, and the skyscrapers of Seattle and Bellevue. We rested on top for 40 minutes before heading down. The steep snow had softened a bit but we still downclimbed carefully, often face-in, since we were still in a very remote spot and care seemed prudent. We were soon down in the forest and uneventfully brush-bashed down to the saddle. From there we purposely aimed lower that our earlier traverse and bushwhacked to the talus area and its odd cairns before angling downhill to the flagged trail, near the rock outcropping.

It was then easy hiking down, the only real annoyances where occasionally losing the flagged footway, the inevitable slips on steep loose dirt or wet logs, and the constant sound of gunfire from some yahoos target shooting like crazy near the mine site. We yelled and shouted as we got near the road, and they stopped for us for a bit--they were off at the end of the main road and we never saw them as they peppered the forest with hot lead. Just another summer weekend out in the North Fork valley, I guess.

Overall, this was a enjoyable outing, especially for those who live in the shadow of this peak and who can afterwards gaze at it with some pride. It is a long drive on a potholed road, and it is pretty brushy most of the way, but the climber's trail is OK and there were no major cruxes in either routefinding or terrain. It is a shame it does not get climbed much these days.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:3355 ft / 1022 m
    Elevation Loss:3355 ft / 1022 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2, steep snow
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:3355 ft / 1022 m
    Extra Loss:200 ft / 60 m
    Trailhead:FR 5736  2380 ft / 725 m
    Time Up:3 Hours 55 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:3155 ft / 962 m
    Trailhead:FR 5736  2380 ft / 725 m
    Time Down:2 Hours 35 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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