Ascent of Switchback Mountain on 2018-09-15

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, September 15, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Switchback Mountain
    Elevation:8321 ft / 2536 m

Ascent Trip Report

Switchback Mountain, Martin Peak, Bigelow Peak, Hoodoo Peak, Raven Ridge

September 15, 2018

42.5 miles (40 miles hiking, 2.5 mile mountain biking)


Eric Gilbertson

A few trails had just been reponed from fire closures in the sawtooth mountains in eastern Washington, and it looked like I could hit five Bulger peaks I needed to reset my finishing clock. I was hoping to re-climb Switchback, Martin, Bigelow, Hoodoo, and Raven Ridge, and the most convenient trailhead to hit all five in one day would be the Crater Creek trailhead. Unfortunately, though, according to the forest service website road construction was scheduled to begin on that trailhead September 15, which was the same day the fire restrictions were lifted. So by all accounts I could tell, that trailhead would be closed.

My next best option would be to start from the summer blossom trailhead. That would make the trip over 40 miles round trip instead of closer to 30, but appeared to be my only option. I was getting pretty used to 40+ mile day trips over the summer, though, so it didn’t sound too bad.

I left Seattle Friday night, drove through Chelan and up some rough forest service roads until I reached the trailhead about 5.5 hours later. I was the only car in the small lot, and slept in the back of the car.

I got up at 5am and was moving by 5:30am. To increase my speed I’d brought a mountain bike, though I wasn’t sure how helpful it would be. I ended up pushing the bike up the first 2.5 miles of trail, then ditching it in the woods when the trail hit some steep talus. I hiked past North Navarre Peak, then traversed meadows and dropped down into the Prince Creek basin following dirt bike tracks. I then hiked steeply up the Angel’s Staircase trail and made the short scramble to Switchback Peak by 8:45am.

I’d been to the summit in late March a few years earlier, and it looked a lot different when not covered in snow. After a short break I continued scrambling north along the ridge and took another rest on top of Martin Peak. From Martin I followed the north ridge then dropped west at the Cheops-Martin col. I soon picked up a trail to Boiling Lake, and then traversed up the west slopes and scrambled to the summit of Bigelow.

Many people combine these three peaks in a day, and indeed I had done these three in a day in late March 2016. But I hadn’t read any reports of anyone also adding on Hoodoo and Raven Ridge for a 5-Bulger-day hike. I decided to try the route anyway and see if it would work.

From Bigelow I scrambled northeast just below the crest of the ridge and found a 3rd class route. I eventually crested the ridge and dropped down to the north. I wrapped around the east side of Point 8174, then regained the ridge and scrambled up to Libby Peak. I continued on the ridge north of Libby Peak. The ridge was mostly 3rd class, with one exposed 4th class section to overcome. One group left a rap anchor there, though it didn’t seem necessary in the conditions I found.

After the 4th class section an easy talus-hop led me to the summit of Hoodoo. I hoped to find my old sign in from a February 2016 ascent, but the register was gone. I quickly retraced my route back to Libby Peak, then scrambled east along the ridge to the summit of Raven Ridge for my fifth Bulger of the day. There aren’t too many places where it’s feasible to hit five Bulgers in a day. I’d done it in the enchantments in October 2017, and I’d done six Bulgers in a day in the Pasayten in July 2018. This was only the third place I’d done that many in a day trip.

As I was taking a break on Raven Ridge I noticed Bigelow and Martin were covered in the clouds and it started to
rain. It was 3pm, and I didn’t like the prospect of scrambling all the way back over wet talus in a rain storm. Instead I bushwhacked down to Crater Lake and decided to follow trails back. It would be longer, but it would be all cruise-control hiking instead of treacherous wet scrambling.

At the I hiked back down to near the Crater Creek trailhead, and I encountered a few mountain bikers there. That meant that trailhead was actually open! And the trail appeared to be excellent for biking, unlike the one I had approached on. I was frustrated to have done such a bigger trip than was necessary, though all information I had seen did say that trailhead was closed. I think my conclusion from the summer is to only trust a closure when you see a sign at the trailhead or a sign in the road, not any online resources.

I followed good biking trails to Cooney Lake in the rain, reaching the lake just after dark. After the lake I ascended to Angel’s Staircase, and the rain changed to snow. It was a whiteout at night on the crest, and I was happy to not be scrambling over talus off trail. I descended back down as the snow changed back to rain, and followed my ascent route. After a few hour the rain stopped, and I reached my bike at 11pm.

I was somehow able to bike down the entire trail I had pushed the bike up without crashing, even though it was very technical, very dark out, I had just hiked 40 miles, and my feet were blistered. I cruised back to the car just before midnight, and was asleep in the back about 10 minutes later.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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