Ascent of Buckskin Mountain on 2020-05-16

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, May 16, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Buckskin Mountain
    Elevation:8124 ft / 2476 m

Ascent Trip Report

Buckskin Mountain (8,124ft)

May 16, 2020, Eric
42 miles, 6,500ft gain, 12:00am – 3:45pm

I had considered tagging Buckskin onto my trip last weekend but ran out of time. On that trip I approached the area on the Chiwawa River Road and skied nearby Chilly, Ice Box, and North Spectacle Butte. I took some pictures of Buckskin and noted that the next valley over, the Entiat River valley, was almost completely melted out. That was a big contrast to the Chiwawa River valley, which was completely full of snow. The difference was the Entiat River area had all burned within the past few years, and with no tree cover to shade things the snow had melted sooner.

There was a tight weather window predicted, with storms supposed to roll in late Saturday morning and last through the weekend. But Friday night was supposed to be clear. Back in April I had actually hiked/skied in the Entiat River area and remembered the trail would be great for a mountain bike approach. I reasoned, with an early start and a mountain bike to speed things up, I might be able to squeeze in the big day in the tight weather

window. As long as I summitted before the weather hit I would be ok with hiking/biking out in bad weather.

One critical decision was I planned to leave the skis at home and instead bring snowshoes. Satellite images showed more than half the approach melted out, which met my threshold for not hauling skis on my back.

Friday night I drove out and made it to the Pope Creek gate on the Entiat River Road. I was expecting this gate to be closed, since it was closed two weeks ago when Fred and I climbed Cloudcomb and Pyramid. This meant a 6-mile road approach to the trailhead, and basically zero chance of seeing any other people on the trail. I managed to fall asleep around 9:30pm in the back of the forester, then woke up just two hours later and was moving by midnight.

The sky was clear and I was the only one out. I made quick progress the first few miles until road turned to gravel and numerous blowdowns slowed my progress. I got pretty efficient at carrying the bike over the fallen trees. Interestingly I saw other fresh bike tracks, and I learned from the trailhead register two other hikers/bikers had been there a few days earlier. I continued biking up the trail in the dark. The blowdowns got more annoying, but it still made sense to bring the bike since there were plenty of long open sections to make good time.

By 2:30am I reached the wilderness boundary and locked my bike up to a tree. I knew it was very very unlikely anyone would be out there and steal my bike, but I had just had my previous mountain bike stolen back in april after hiding along another trail unlocked. So from now on I’m hauling a u-lock in and locking my bike no matter what.

I continued up the Entiat River, making good time until I hit snow around 4,300ft near Aurora Creek. There I tied my trail runners up in a tree so no animals would steal them (it’s happened before), and continued in my big mountaineering boots. This was another critical decision – comfortable hiking boots or trail runners plus big mountaineering boots? I expected to be doing some steep frontpointing near Buckskin’s summit, so had gone for the more hardcore mountaineering boots.

Surprisingly, by 4:45am it was light enough to turn off my headlamp. Clouds were starting to roll in but I soon got a good view of Buckskin getting hit by sunrise. I rounded the corner into Entiat Meadows and took a break at the bottom of a big open avy slope on the south face of Buckskin. The cirque was pretty neat, with Maude, Seven Fingered Jack, and Fernow looming above. They were all capped by clouds on their summits, but Buckskin was short enough to still be in the clear. I hoped it would last.

I dropped the snowshoes, which I hadn’t even need since the snow was so firm, and started up. The first few hundred feet were melted out, but then I needed to put on crampons to get up the icy snow. I soon reached the east ridge at 7,200ft and started up towards the summit. The ridge proper had huge cornices and some tricky gendarmes, so I ended up traversing, ascending, and traversing. The snow was steep and icy enough that I did a lot of front pointing, sticking my whippet dagger in for solid placements. I kind of wished I’d brought a second tool, though.

At the biggest gendarme I traversed below, then front pointed steeply up. About then the clouds rolled in and it started snowing. It turned into a near whiteout and I considered bailing, but I was only 500ft from the summit and navigation was easy, so I continued. By 8:30am I reached the top, a short melted out scramble above the icy slopes. I couldn’t find the register, and guessed it was buried in the snow. I had hoped to get a good view down to Holden, the most isolated town in the lower 48 states, but there was no view to be had.

I soon retreated, carefully following my steps back down the snow. Navigation would have been quite difficult if I didn’t have my steps to follow. At some points they had gotten filled in by fresh snow, but I eventually downclimbed back below cloudline, then plunge stepped down to the valley.

In the valley the snow had changed to a cold, miserable rain, which would persist for the rest of the day. I had expected this, though. I bundled up, packed up my snowshoes, and started the 20-mile hike/bike back out. I reached my trail runners at the edge of snow, and after putting them on started jogging down the trail to help warm up. I eventually made it to my bike, and then the fun really started. This was the first real test of my new mountain bike on trails and it was very fun. The 29? wheels and hydraulic disk breaks were a definite improvement over my 15-yr old former bike. Unfortunately the trail was overgrown enough with bushes that every inch of me got 100% thoroughly drenched. My knuckles got a bit banged up blasting through all the bushes, and it was tricky carrying and throwing the bike over all the blowdowns. But the long open sections definitely made it all worth it.

I eventually reached the trailhead, then blasted down the road (except for all the blowdown sections there). By 3:45pm I cruised back to the car. I was surprised to see a bunch of other cars there now. I think some of them were people who had cabins just up the road. But at least five cars drove up to the gate and turned back around as I unpacked, obviously not expecting the gate to be there. This time of year, though, it’s best to expect most trailheads to still be unaccessible, and to come prepared with a mountain bike.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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