Ascent of Larch Mountain on 2008-03-16

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Sunday, March 16, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Larch Mountain
    Elevation:2660 ft / 810 m

Ascent Trip Report

There are actually two candidate summits for this prominence: Larch Mtn itself is 2660', but Capitol Peak about 1 mile S rivals it at 2659', and a thorough prominence-bagger should bag both summits.

I had originally planned to approach from the W, and I was armed with eight pages of topo maps showing the route S from McLeary and E along Porter Creek. At a point still about 5 to 6 air-miles from the peaks, and about 1 or 2 road-miles farther than that, I was greeted by a sign saying that the road was closed and a row of two-ton boulders blocked further progress on the otherwise totally driveable road. I had to consider an approach from the east, but I was ill-prepared for an approach from this direction, my topo maps showing the terrain for less than one mile away from the peak in this direction. I had to revert to DeLorme, use my head as best I could, and pray that I would guess correctly.

I worked my way around the S side of the range on US-12, eventually reaching the tiny town of Littlerock, which can also be reached by driving about 3 miles W of exit 95 on I-5. From Littlerock I headed due W, then NW, entering the Capitol State Forest after about 3 miles, and then reaching a T-junction about 2 miles after that. Here I turned L on Sherman Val Rd. Note or zero your odometer here.

At 1.3 miles, I passed Noschka Rd (signed as a dead end) on the R, staying on the main road which veers slightly left before the pavement ends about 0.1 mile later. The road was in good condition except for some sections that were plastered with chuckholes, and at times it was difficult to avoid them all. At 3.3 miles I made a sharp right turn uphill. At 4.3 miles I made a sharp L turn uphill. At 5.0 miles I encountered a fork; the elevation here is about 1700'. The right fork soon became covered with snow; after investigating the left fork, I decided to park here and hike the right fork, which headed toward a tower complex on a summit that appeared to be about 1000' above me. I surmised that the towered summit was Capitol Peak.

The road traversed a steep slope (up on L, down on R), ascending slightly. After about 20 minutes' hiking time, the road ended and a well-maintained trail continued beyond. After about 20 minutes on the trail, I arrived at a 4-way junction, which was well-signed but none of the destinations were familiar to me. I decided to turn left directly up along the crest of a ridge, thinking I was headed up to Capitol Peak (though I could no longer see the towers I could see before).

After about 400' elevation gain, I reached a smooth, well-graded road that could easily accommodate any street-legal vehicle. After consulting my map, I could find nothing anywhere near Capitol Peak that matched the road and terrain where I was, but I did find such a place immediately SE of the center of section 1, about 2/3 mile E of Larch Mtn. I turned left (SW) on the road, and after about 10 minutes I reached a junction where a snow-covered road turned sharply right from the main road. I surmised that this was the spur road to the summit of Larch Mtn. Just to be sure, however, I continued on the main road a few more minutes, where I expected to find a junction at a saddle. Sure enough, the junction was there, roads all converging at the correct angles, traversing the sides of the ridges as expected. The towered summit that I had thought was Capitol was actually about ½ mile E of Larch.

With new-found confidence that I knew where I was, I proceeded back to the spur road and hiked it toward the summit of Larch. I left the road where it makes its last turn before the towers E of Larch, heading W on a logging road across a clearcut, around a slash pile, and up to the edge of a still-standing forest. Where the road entered the forest it was blocked by some downed trees, but these were easily circumnavigated and a much narrower snow-covered road continued uphill through the forest to the summit of Larch. The forest consisted of small, closely spaced pine trees and the ground was completely covered with hard-packed snow. The highest ground under the snow is anyone's guess, so I walked around a bit, stepped onto the top of any mounds, verified that the ground dropped away in all directions, and called it good.

I then returned to the saddle between Larch and Capitol and continued SW and then E on roads to the summit of Capitol. The highest ground is somewhere around the central cluster of towers; the ground was mostly covered with snow, so I circumnavigated the fence, stepping onto any high earth, boulder or snowdrift that looked like it might cover a rise, and called it good.

My map showed a trail heading down the E ridge of Capitol, and based on distance and terrain I had hiked N from my truck, I estimated that it would take me very close to my truck (though I couldn't tell for sure because it ran off of the map). I located the trail without difficulty and headed down the ridge. When I felt I should be getting close to the road grid below, the trail intercepted a well-graded road, which led down to the road I had hiked from the truck, only about 3 minutes' hiking time from where I had parked my truck. A hiker intending to climb my descent route should do as follows: about 0.15 mile from the junction, make a sharp left uphill; this road quickly gains the crest of the ridge, from where the trail that climbs the E ridge of Capitol can be found.

I departed the Larch/Capitol area via a direct route to Olympia. A person approaching from this direction would follow the following road directions. From US-101 about 2 miles from I-5, exit Black Lake Road, zero your odometer, and head SW. At 4.2 miles, turn L on Delphi Rd. At 6.4 miles, turn R on Waddell Creek Rd SW. At 9.1 miles, reach the junction with Sherman Val Rd and continue the directions from the zero-odometer point above.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:980 ft / 298 m
    Total Elevation Loss:980 ft / 298 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Snow on Ground
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:980 ft / 298 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:Molly's Loop
    Start Trailhead:Capitol Peak Rd  1680 ft / 512 m
    Time:2 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:980 ft / 298 m
    Distance:3 mi / 4.8 km
    Route:Capitol East Ridge
    End Trailhead:Capitol Peak Rd  1680 ft / 512 m
    Time:1 Hours 30 Minutes

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