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Ascent of Mount Maude on 2021-01-18

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Monday, January 18, 2021
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Maude
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:9040 ft / 2755 m

Ascent Trip Report

Seven Fingered Jack (9,100ft) and Mt Maude (9,040ft)

Probable First Winter Ascent of Seven Fingered Jack

Eric and Fred

Jan 18, 2021, 1am – 11pm

17 miles on foot, 46 miles snowmobiling

A rare low-avy-danger day lined up with a sunny day and a holiday weekend day, so we decided to go for some Bulger peaks that required stable snow. Unfortunately low avy danger does not necessarily mean good skiing, and based on conditions on Saturday we expected icy snow or breakable crust below 7,000ft after a major storm had rolled through on Tuesday.

I was interested in a few 9,000ft peaks in the Entiat area – Seven Fingered Jack and Mt Maude. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any record of a winter ascent of Seven Fingered Jack, despite it being one of the tallest peaks in the state. There have been a handful of winter ascents of Mt Maude, though, generally from people skiing the steep north face. This area is pretty remote in the winter, and I believe has one of the farthest trailheads from a plowed road for a winter Bulger Peak. We planned to approach from Phelps Creek, which is about 23 miles from the nearest plowed road at the Fish Lake sno park.

These peaks had been off my radar in previous winters because it would take basically a full day just to ski in to the trailhead. But with a snowmobile the Phelps Creek trailhead is now accessible in just a few hours. I’ve realized a snowmobile is not quite necessarily a guaranteed ticket to all trailheads, though. If the road is ungroomed and untraveled by other snowmobilers it can still be very tricky to get in and can be very easy to get stuck, especially when carrying a rider and a bunch of gear. Luckily the road to Trinity had just been groomed on Jan 9, though this was before the big storm Tuesday so it

could have returned to being in tough shape. The grooming calendar for the trail to Trinity is lacking information for January online, and I should probably just call them up to ask about the schedule, but luckily we noticed on Friday they had groomed again halfway, to Finner Creek.

That meant fallen trees would at least be cleared to there, and the route should be passable. I hoped other snowmobilers may have ventured to Trinity since Tuesday to pack down the road. There was still a 2.5-mile side road to the Phelps Creek trailhead that never gets groomed, but I was optimistic that over a holiday weekend perhaps someone else would have ventured up there. Monday looked like clear weather and low avy danger so we decided to try a big day trip Monday.

For gear we made the interesting decision to use both skis and snowshoes. Fred had found very sketchy icy conditions Saturday up high and we expected skiing would be difficult. Snowshoes would be able to get up any breakable crust or ice, though, and if it got too steep we could just use crampons. However, the first 3.5 miles from Phelps Creek to Leroy Creek were basically flat and we figured even if that were icy it would be much faster to ski. So the trip ended up involving many different modes of transportation – snowmobile, ski, snowshoe, and crampons.

Sunday night we met up at the Fish Lake sno park and agreed on an early start. By 1am we had the snowmobile all loaded up with gear and headed up Chiwawa River Road. I’d become very familiar with this road in early May 2020 when I’d mountain biked and skied in 15 miles from a gate to Phelps Creek and then skied North Spectacle Butte and some nearby peaks. This time the terrain moved by much faster. Unsurprisingly we were the only ones on the road at that hour. The road started out with huge washboard bumps from all the weekend snowmobile traffic, but then got smoother all the way to Finner Creek, about halfway to our destination.

After Finner Creek it got rough with lots of bumps and a narrow packed section, but luckily it had seen enough traffic that we could make progress. At one point I had to squeeze under a tree with 2 inches of clearance, but didn’t need to get my ax out. By 3am we reached the turnoff to the Phelps Creek trailhead and the route got considerably rougher. That road never gets groomed, but it looked like perhaps two snowmobiles had recently gone up it. I was too nervous about tipping to have Fred sit on the back so we got out some webbing and rigged up a tow system so I could tow Fred like a water skier.

Unfortunately my towing setup wasn’t that great. I think it was too short and could use some improvements. The road was so rough that I had to go extremely slow to not tip over and to let Fred hold on. That resulted in the motor overheating and we stopped to wait for it to cool down. With those conditions and my tow setup, towing didn’t seem very efficient and riding two on the sled wasn’t going to work, so we agreed I’d carry all the gear to the trailhead and Fred would skin up fast and light.

After the engine cooled I continued up, almost getting stuck and few times and then seriously getting stuck half way. I dug til Fred caught up, then he helped pull with a big bungy cord and I got free. Finally by 4am I reached the trailhead, turned the sled around, and unpacked. Fred soon arrived, and we started up the trail. The snow was so deep it smoothed over the trailhead kiosk so it was just a tiny bump barely noticeable.

The snow alternated between hard ice and breakable crust, but progress was still much faster on skis than it would have been on snowshoes. The trickiest parts were where branchalanches had fallen off trees into the trail and turned into ice. I was very careful getting around these, since last year I cracked a ski in half on something like this.

After two hours we reached Leroy Creek, ditched the skis, and continued on snowshoes. I had considered carrying skis up just in case the skiing were good above 7,000ft (snowline from Tuesday), but at best I could maybe hope for a narrow band between 7000-8000ft of good skiing since the top 1000ft of the peaks would likely either be scrambling, scoured to rock, or rime ice (based on my experience on other winter Bulger peaks). That seemed not really worth it, so I just planned to go up on snowshoes.

We actually made very quick progress up the steep icy slope since there was very little trail breaking. As we got higher Fred led the way up the trail and the snow eventually turned to powder at Leroy Basin. By then the sun had come out and we could finally see our objectives. We planned to start with Seven Fingered Jack and then tag Maude.

I led the way kicking steps steeply up from the basin in snowshoes. We’d both already climbed both peaks in summer and roughly followed the summer route up Seven Fingered Jack. I broke trail up to a bench just below the Maude – SFJ col and we then ditched snowshoes in a level area between a wind lip and a cliff. Then the slope steepened to around 40-45 degrees and we were happy to have very stable snow conditions.

We switched to crampons and ice axes and Fred led the way kicking steps steeply up. We climbed up, traversed to some scoured rock, and eventually scrambled up rock to the summit just before noon. There were clear views all around to the Entiat Valley below to the east and Glacier, Buck, Fortress, and Chiwawa to the west. It was pretty amazing up there.

Soon we retreated, scrambling and plunge stepping back to the snowshoes. I’d read in the Volken ski book there’s a way to traverse from the SFJ-Maude col on ledges and gain the north face of Maude. That sounded appealing to avoid elevation loss, but the ledges sounded sketchy if they were smoothed over with snow. So instead we dropped way back down to treeline on a bench at 6,800ft. From there we traversed until gaining one of the gullies on the west face of Maude. Fred had descended this gully in summer so knew it would work.

I started up steeply kicking steps in crampons, but then the slope eased so I switched back to snowshoes. I made it just about to the south ridge of Maude in snowshoes, but then the ridge got scoured down to rock. We continued hiking up the rock carrying snowshoes until just below the summit when it got steep and icy. There we switched to crampons and kicked steps up to the summit by 3:15pm. It was surprisingly windy up there, with spindrift blowing around. The views were great, though. I peeked over the north face and was pretty happy not to be skiing back down that. It looked really steep and icy.

We did some calculations and figured we might be making it back home by 3am at best, so we quickly started hustling back down. We plunge stepped down the west face in crampons, then snowshoed back to Leroy Basin and followed our tracks back to our skis as darkness set in. The ski out went pretty quickly since we could follow our tracks from the morning and we made it back to the snowmobile by 8pm.

I had joked that maybe a groomer would get bored and decide to drive up there, or maybe some other snowmobilers would come up and smooth out the road. But it appeared we were still the only ones who’d visited the Phelps Creek trailhead that day. We decided our plan of attack would be I go down first with all the gear and Fred would ski behind fast and light. That way if I got stuck he would be able to help me out.

I think my balance must be getting better since I only came close to getting stuck once. It actually got me pretty sweaty jumping around back and forth on both sides of the sled as I went down trying to not tip over. Fred actually reached the bottom of the turnoff only shortly after I did, and we were soon loaded back up and heading out. It looked like there were no fresh tracks all day out there, which was kind of surprising since it was a holiday.

Back at Finner Creek we stopped to adjust gear on the back of the snowmobile but then the snowmobile wouldn’t start up again. I got a little nervous that we’d have to ski out the last 11 miles but eventually after 15 minutes it started. I now realize the problem was that I’d been going so slow for the previous 12 miles in the rough terrain that the engine had gotten clogged up. I really need to rev it hard at least every 10 miles to clear out the clogs.

By 11pm we finally emerged back at the trailhead and unpacked. My throttle hand was surprisingly sore from so much riding with almost no stopping. I cruised around a bit more revving the engine to clear out the clogs and got it to start up no problem. I was soon loaded up and back home around 3am as expected for a long 27-hour day.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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