Ascent of Ironside Mountain on 2013-08-11

Climber: Craig Willis

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, August 11, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Ironside Mountain
    Elevation:7811 ft / 2380 m

Ascent Trip Report

Before I begin with this TR, let me begin with stating that Edward Earl's directions, which are usually spot-on, were slightly off beyond the 7.9 sharp turn. After 7.9 miles, the road sharply turns and goes uphill (as stated by Edward). Then, at only 8.1 miles (not 8.3, as Edward had claimed), a small saddle is reached where FS-1684 continues straight but the more major-looking road (which is actually Bridge Creek Road) veers right. Thinking that Edward's directions were correct, I continued on the major-looking road for another 0.4 miles or so hoping to reach a different road intersection (there wasn't one). So then I turned around, drove back to the small saddle, and parked there.

I only parked at the small saddle because it was implied that the road beyond was too sketchy for my passenger vehicle. What I quickly learned, however, was that my car could have easily made it up that section of road. Certainly, there were a couple of sections with a long rut down the road way, but those sections could have been driven around or driven over (with middle of vehicle over center of rut). The road was one-lane, as well, with fewer pullouts than the previous roads. But in my opinion, I could have at least driven to the large open saddle near the base of the northwest ridge. It would have saved at least one mile and 20 minutes of hiking each direction. The last mile prior to the 7.9 mile marker seemed rougher than this section. With that said, several hunters I encountered were very surprised my passenger vehicle made it as far as it did. But on with the TR...

The drive to the small saddle (~5575' elevation) was a task in itself. Not because of the driving instructions, but because of the numerous road-blocking cattle. Those were some of the largest cows I have ever seen! It was bad enough that I was a tad tired from driving from Steens Mountain. Then, about 15 minutes after I arrived, while I was changing my clothes, I heard a strange noise coming from my engine compartment. It was a mouse, apparently trying to seek refuge and/or destroy some wiring. I started the car up and it quickly high-tailed out of there. A few minutes later, the noise started again. He returned! This time, I started the car as I held down the horn for a few seconds. He shrieked and ran away. Now I started considering my car the "Hantamobile".

Then came the hike. Rather than miles and miles of nonsensical road walking, I opted for the northwest ridge. It always looked like it would "go" (at least on maps) and George Burgess' successful attempt last year confirmed its viability as a route option. When I reached the large open saddle near the base of the ridge, I encountered some fire prevention vehicles and crew. From what few details I was provided, there had been a brush fire which started the previous evening during a major lightning storm, a few hunters reported it, and the crew came out and monitoring the fire all night. They already had contained the fire and were hoping to have it put completely out soon. Plus, it was not going to impede my trip.

From the large saddle, I had the option to continue straight along a dirt track which led towards the ridge crest base, or to go a little bit (~150' or so) downhill and heading up at a seemingly easy-to-attain saddle. I chose the latter option, and it was easy. In fact, I followed several animal tracks leading up to the ridgetop. I soon left young forest for open sage along the ridgetop. I continued following the open/semi-open ridgeline. It was really that straightforward.

There are two major "hills" along the northwest ridge which are easily noticable by their large rocky tops. For both, I opted to travel around their west (climbers' right) sides rather than go over them. At ~6900' elevation, I encountered what looked like an old road-end coming from the east. I was not certain if this was the road-end described in Edward Earl's TR (I thought his was at the mountain saddle further ESE) but there were similarities in our observations beyond that point.

Between 6900'-7050', there was some (but not much) deadfall to either go over and/or around. Pretty simple stuff. Bushwhacking? None for me. In fact, I encountered little brush beyond 6700' elevation, and even at elevations lower than that I would not consider this route to have any "bushwhacking" in its true form. This ridge was just a straightforward walk-up.

Beyond the deadfall the slope got noticably steeper. At ~7350' elevation, the semi-open forest slope changed to full-on rock talus. I had two options: Go straight up and over this hill, or follow an apparent track gently rising along the west (climbers' right) side of the talus hill. I chose the latter option, thinking that a semi-established track, even a faint one, would be sturdier than going straight up loose talus. My assertion was proven correct a couple of times when I lost sight of the track and tried going straight up (with nerve-racking success). As is true many times, the descent was easier to follow the track than the ascent.

Eventually, I reached a small saddle on the other side of the talus hill, ~150' below the true summit. From the saddle was an easy walk-up with minimal talus. The summit register is/was in poor shape. Nobody had signed it since 2009 (four years ago!). Although many people do not sign summit registers for a variety of reasons (heck, I only sign about half of the ones I encounter), I suspect that the dried-up pen in this summit register may have been a big reason why there was a four-year gap between the previous entry and my own. Fortunately, I had brought an extra pen on this trip, left it with the register, and took the dried-up pen. But that is really not enough; this summit register needs a can or jar (the old one is very rusted and broken) as well as a new plastic bag to put the register in, too. I found the USGS Benchmark to be a tad amusing; it said "IRONSIDE 2"... probably in response to the decrepit thing located to its left which was probably the original "IRONSIDE" BM.

Overall, the descent was easy-going. I used extra care for the talus section, which (as mentioned earlier) was quicker and simpler to follow the tracks through it than during the ascent. From the summit, I had noticed some sort of track at least going to the top of the talus hill, but being solo I did not care to press my luck because I knew my route very well and could trust it. When I finally reached the large saddle, the fire prevention crews were still working but had already gotten the fire out. They deserve a lot of applause for all of the great work that they do.

It took me exactly 2h0m from car to summit, and then exactly 1h30m from summit to car. I probably could have shaved off at least 40 minutes roundtrip if I had driven all the way to the large saddle, but at *maximum* six miles roundtrip it was still a quick and enjoyable hike.

1) To whomever reads this TR and plans to be the next summiter, please bring a jar or can, as well as a large Ziploc bag, to the summit for the register. A small pencil might be nice, too.
2) This route was awesome. If you have 2WD and/or low-clearance, this is a much better, quicker, simpler, straightforward, and scenic route than I suspect following the road would be.
3) Even in early August, I was glad to be wearing "hunter orange" for my hat and vest. There were multiple hunters in the area, claiming it was "antelope season." I am not a zoologist, but I know that true antelope only naturally roam wild in Africa and Eurasia... so I suspect incorrect terminology is being used by local hunters for some North American mammal.
4) Bring water, snacks, and hiking poles (for those who use them) for this route. Nothing else is needed. There is nothing technical for this approach.
5) This is a great peak. I really enjoyed my previous visit to (relatively nearby) Strawberry Mountain, but I thought Ironside Mountain was a more enjoyable destination than even that peak. This is a very underrated peak, or else it would get many more visits.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2536 ft / 772 m
    Extra Gain:150 ft / 45 m
    Round-Trip Distance:6 mi / 9.7 km
    Route:Northwest Ridge
    Trailhead:Saddle of FS-1684 & Bridge Creek Road  5575 ft / 1699 m
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:0 Days 2 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:0 Days 1 Hours 30 Minutes

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