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Ascent of Fool Hen Mountain on 2019-10-06

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, October 6, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Fool Hen Mountain
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8168 ft / 2489 m

Ascent Trip Report

Nine Washington Top 200 Peaks in a weekend: Andrew (8,301ft), Amos (8,259ft), Fred (8,080ft), Sheep (8,274ft), Two Point (7,955ft), Bauble (8,025ft), Skeptical (7,949ft), Fool Hen (8,168ft), Fool Hen SE (8,055ft)

Oct 5-6, 2019

Eric Gilbertson

Saturday – 38 miles, 13,000ft gain, 4am – 10pm
Sunday – 38 miles (31 hike, 7 bike), 8,000ft gain, 4:30am-6:30pm

I wanted to get deep into the wilderness and see some larches in peak fall color, and the Pasayten Wilderness of northeastern Washington fit the bill. I was also kind of tempted to bag some Washington top 200 peaks, since I’d already done the top 100. Interestingly, it appeared a group of nine of these peaks could be strung together in a big ~75 mile loop. This would even hit Sheep Mountain, which I’d been eyeing as one of the peaks farthest from a road in Washington (it’s about a 25 mile hike in on the US side).

It would be kind of tough, though, since the loop would be mostly off trail and the area had seen up to a foot of fresh snow a few days earlier. And the parts on trail were in recent burn zones, so the trails might be difficult to follow. The loop would start at the Andrew’s Creek trailhead and end at the Lake Creek trailhead, which were about 7 miles apart by road. I planned to bike this section to speed things up.

One of the major off-trail sections would be between the summit of Fool Hen Southeast and the Lake Creek trail. I figured it would be faster to bushwhack downhill, so decided to do the loop counterclockwise and then bike back from the Lake Creek trailhead to the Andrews Creek trailhead. The weather forecast was supposed to be rain/snow ending mid morning Saturday, so I also figured it would be better to hike a trail section in the early morning Saturday in the rain/snow then be bushwhacking in those conditions.

Friday after work I drove for about 6 hours to the Lake Creek trailhead, dropped off my mountain bike in the woods, then drove over to the Andrews Creek trailhead. I was asleep in the back of the car by 10:30pm.

Saturday I was up at 3:30am and moving by 4am. I had thought about gear selection quite a bit for this trip. I wanted to go as light as possible to put on all the miles carrying overnight gear up and over most of the peaks while bushwhacking and postholing. But I couldn’t skimp out too much since it would be wintery conditions. I ended up wearing my shoulder-season leather boots (instead of trail runners + mountaineering boots), and took my bivy sack + tiny 30F sleeping bag instead of tent and warm bag. The low was supposed to be in the lower 20s F, but I figured I’d wear all my clothes and make it work to save weight.

The Andrew’s Creek trail had been cleared by trail crew back in June and was smooth cruising for four hours up to near Andrew’s Pass. I left the trail just before the pass, as the snow line started. I bushwhacked up the southeast ridge of Andrew’s Peak, through mostly open forest and gentle slopes. The morning light was hitting patches of bright yellow larch trees that had somehow escaped the previous years’ fires. Otherwise much of the terrain was full of dead and burned trees.

It snowed briefly on me and the summits above 8,000ft were still socked in the clouds. I eventually ascended into the clouds and followed the talus ridge in a whiteout. It was windy and the snow was deep. Scrambling on the ridge was a bit treacherous because the snow only partially filled in the gaps in the boulders. I could either tiptoe on the tops of the boulder, which was slippery, or posthole through the snow in between. But every once in a while I would sink in to my knee or waist in a gap.

I soon tagged the top of Andrew, then scrambled down the north ridge to the Amos-Andrew col. There the wind died down a bit and the boulderfield ended. I quickly hiked up to Amos. I got some views of Cathedral and Amphitheater to the east, and in the distance Sheep Mountain was still socked in the clouds.

From Amos I descended directly down the southwest slope to Glory Creek, where I stopped to refill my water. I was
in a basin below Fred’s Mountain and Peepsight, both on the Washington top 200 list, but I had already climbed Peepsight with Katie on a backpacking trip back in June. So I skipped it this time and headed for Freds. I followed some larch trees up the northwest slope, the scrambled up 3rd class terrain in a snowy gully. Interestingly, I actually triggered a few foot-deep wind slabs, one of which nearly knocked me off my feet. But they were so small they only slid a few feet.

I popped out at a cairn on top, and finally all the surrounding peaks were free from the clouds. I could see Sheep Mountain in the distance, and it still looked far away. I wasn’t sure exactly how far I would get that day, but was carrying all my overnight gear with me over every peak, so could camp wherever I wanted (I had a small stove to melt snow for water, and snow was everywhere).

From Freds I followed the northwest ridge, over Van Peak, and eventually dropped below snow line around 6,000ft. It was tricky crawling through all the deadfall in some dense bushwhacking sections, but I eventually met up with a trail at Spanish Creek.

I followed the trail down the Ashnola River to the north, then crossed over at 5,000ft. I was too lazy to take my boots off, and tried to tip toe across a small log, but slipped and got pretty wet. I followed the surprisingly well-maintained boundary trail up the slopes for a while. At one point the forest seemed very open and I was frustrated with the slow ascent of the trail, so just bushwhacked straight up to bypass a huge switchback.

The trail eventually popped out into alpine meadows with only occasional trees, most of which had escaped the burns. I topped off water in a stream, then left the trail around 6,900ft headed for Sheep Mountain. I reached point 7491 on the southeast slope and ditched my pack in the snow. It was 6:15pm by then and darkness was soon approaching. I had briefly considered bivying on the summit, but with my skimpy sleeping bag and summer bivy sack and the cold and windy conditions it sounded like an effective way to get zero sleep.

Before heading up I took in the amazing panoramic view around. The last rays of light were hitting Cathedral peak to the east, and Jack mountain and the Craggies to the west were getting partially stuck in clouds. Interestingly, I found wolverine and wolf tracks in the snow up near that point.

I soon started up trying to move fast and light, but the deep postholing slowed me down. At the very least I would have tracks to follow down if the visibility deteriorated. And indeed, as I reached the summit plateau I became stuck in a whiteout just as the sun set. I took a quick summit video, then noticed that the battery on my phone was basically empty. So I turned it off.

I briefly paused to consider how truly remote I was. I was on a mountain about 25 miles from the nearest road in the US, probably 25 miles from the nearest person, on a trail-less peak, in the dark, in a whiteout, in winter-like conditions, with no gear, and my GPS had just died. But I never completely rely on the GPS, and navigation back to my pack would be easy enough on the ridge, so I wasn’t too concerned.

I quickly turned around, followed my tracks in the snow along the ridge, and got back to my pack. From there I descended in the dark to Peeve Pass. The reasonable thing to do would have been to camp at Peeve Pass that night, since it was sheltered from the wind. But this was only about the halfway point of my planned trip, and it had taken me 16 hours. At that rate the next day, I would be getting back to the trailhead very late. I really wanted to get back to Seattle at a reasonable hour Sunday night since I had to be in to work at 6:30am Monday morning ready to give a lecture. But the trailhead had taken my 6 hours to drive to on Friday.

So instead of going to sleep I pushed on hiking farther into the night. I hiked south, postholing on a barely-visible trail past Sand Ridge and Crow Lake. It was tough navigating the above-treeline sections in the dark and blowing snow with deep postholing and an invisible trail. By 10pm I reached Larch Pass at the base of my next planned mountain, Two-Point. I was tired out from the 18 hour day and decided to sleep right there.

I threw out my bivy sack under a tree, melted some snow to cook some ramen noodles, then threw on all my clothes and went to bed. My shoes were soaked and I worried they would freeze solid overnight, but my sleeping bag was too small to fit them so I just left them on the ground and was asleep by 11pm.

Somehow my sleeping system worked and I surprisingly didn’t wake up cold at all that night. I got up at 4am the next morning and was moving by 4:30am. I left my overnight gear at the pass, then postholed up the steep northeast ridge of Two Point mountain. I eventually scrambled up a plateau, then traversed west and reached the summit around 5:15am. It was still completely dark and I didn’t stay long. I was back to my pack 30 minutes later and started hiking down.

I followed trail 502 as the sun rose, then around 6400ft the good trail continued down Larch Creek and my intended trail east disappeared. I think it had been abandoned after a forest fire. I bushwhacked cross country to the pass just below Skeptical Butte. There I dropped my pack and continued up fast and light carrying

nothing. There were amazingly colorful yellow larch trees at the base of the butte. I postholed up to the northeast ridge, then scrambled up rocks to the summit.

I soon descended back to my pack, then bushwhacked up into the basin northeast of the pass. I kicked steps up to
7,600ft on Bauble Butte. There I ditched my pack in the shade of one of the few trees, and postholed up the south ridge to the summit of Bauble Butte. From there I could finally see all the peaks I had climbed and all the remaining peaks I was planning to climb.

My goal was to get back to the trailhead by 5pm, and it was currently 9am. But my remaining peaks, Fool Hen and Fool Hen Southeast, looked pretty far away still. I really didn’t want to waste any time, given most of the remaining miles were off trail, and there was a lot of uncertainty in my pace with the deep snow up high and blowdowns down low. So I decided to skip any intermediate bonus peaks (like Diamond Point and Foxy) and focus on my main objectives.

From my pack I made a gradually descending traverse to the Diamond-Foxy col, where I stopped to switch out of my long underwear. From there I skipped Foxy Peak, traversing around to the Foxy-Fool Hen Col. I scrambled up the northeast ridge of point 8107, then followed the north ridge to the summit of Fool Hen Mountain. There were beautiful alpine lakes below have frozen over and surrounded by snow and yellow larches.

I had one more mountain remaining, Fool Hen Southeast, and it was still far away. I followed the ridge south, which was mostly class 2 with a few interesting class 3 scramble sections. Interestingly my old map showed a trail on the ridge, but I found zero evidence of it. Maybe it was covered in the snow.

Finally by 1:15pm I reached the summit of my ninth and final washington top 200 peak for the weekend. I admired
the view for about 10 minutes, and thought it might actually be possible to get to the trailhead by 5pm as I’d hoped.

To descend I followed the easy northeast ridge down all the way to the confluence of Fool Hen and Three Prong Creeks. To that point the forest was mostly open, but below the creek the bushwhacking got difficult. I felt like I was on a boot camp training coarse, continuously crawling over, under, and around fallen trees. In between the fallen trees were dense bushes. Progress was much slower than I had anticipated.

It took 2 hours, but I finally reached lake creek around 3:20pm. My map showed a trail near the creek, and I bushwhacked steeply up the other side a few hundred feet. I had high hopes of hitting the trail and making fast time back to the car. But I was in for a big disappointment. I found the trail, but it was almost indistinguishable from the surrounding challenging bushwhacking. I think it has been abandoned since 2003 when the Fawn Peak fire burned the area.

Nevertheless, following the old trail was a little bit faster than bushwhacking, so I stuck to it. After an hour I reached the head of Black Lake, which was 4.7 miles from the trailhead. Luckily the trail was well-maintained from there to provide access to the lake. Somehow from that point on I found enough reserve energy to trail run back. It was a bit awkward in my hiking boots carrying an overnight pack, but it did buy me some lost time.

By 5:45pm I reached the Lake Creek trailhead, found my bike in the woods, and started biking. I biked down the gravel road to Chewuch Creek, then up the paved road to the Andrew’s Creek trailhead by about 6:20pm. I quickly threw the bike in the back of the forrester and headed out.

After a quick food stop in Winthrop I made it back to Seattle by 11pm.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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