Ascent of Echo Mountain on 2010-05-24

Climber: Michael Wanberg

Others in Party:Krystal Wanberg
Date:Monday, May 24, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Echo Mountain
    Elevation:5800 ft / 1767 m

Ascent Trip Report

(1)This peak's summit is listed as 5830' on the USGS 1984 series topo map.
(2)If summiting from Cone peak, it is inadvisable to attempt a traverse around either side of South Peak. It will (very) likely be less physically demanding and less time consuming to just go over the top of South Peak. The north side appeared very, very steep. See report below for the south side.
(3)We encountered a number of cornices, both on the NW side of the South Peak / Echo saddle, and on the summit ridge of Echo Mtn. Use CAUTION around these if you elect to climb this peak in the winter. If you collapse one, regaining the hundreds of feet of lost elevation will be the least of your concerns.

We first hiked South Peak (see corresponding TR for more info), then descended directly to the saddle with Echo and proceeded to ascend to the NW portion of the summit ridge. We then walked to the east side to tag the summit, which was buried snuggly beneath at least five feet of snow. Obviously, signing the summit register I've read about was out of the question. We admired the views up beyond the aptly named Crescent Mountain to the north, then were once again amazed by the unique Iron Mountain (I think it should be renamed Rhino Mountain - climb Echo, look to the SW on a clear day, and you'll understand) before moseying back across the ridge and beginning our return trek. It was about 4pm, and we still had just over four hours of light in the overcast conditions.
This is when the trip became far more interesting than I intended. As we made our way down to the South / Echo saddle, I offered the choice of traversing around the southern flank of South Peak (rather than re-summiting it) to Krystal. She'd pretty much had enough of traipsing about with only one snowshoe (poor planning on my part) and opted for whichever route included less climbing - the traverse. I was leaning toward returning the way we had come, but made the mistake of not following my (more experienced) gut.
Unfortunately the level traverse turned out to be about 10 degrees steeper than it looked (60ish). We got about half way across to the protruding shoulder of South Peak when we came to a section of rock made very slippery by the snowmelt. It was just steep enough, with a very long runout, to deter us from attempting to cross. That left us to either go up over South Peak to regain our ascent route or go down through the Slide Creek drainage basin and intersect US-20. Here again we chose the wrong option - down. We worked our way carefully down, the ground becoming more and inundated by runoff and the vegetation gradually becoming a thicket. All the while the slope remained constant at about 50-60 degrees. We came to a point where the ground was basically a bog, with our boots dropping into the curiously spongy soil about a foot with every step. By this time it was almost 6pm (daylight now a factor), and our route down via was beginning to look impassable.
We regrouped and decided - finally - to work our way back up to South Peak, find our ascent route, then follow it back down to the vehicle. We got up out of the drainage basin and back into the subalpine zone about 7pm, but were unable to find our ascent prints due to the fact that the snow at that elevation had almost entirely melted off. I took a bearing on the South Peak to determine our approximate location, decided on a heading for our route down, then called out (Verizon's coverage really is great!) to relay that info in the event anything happened on the way down (thicket, bog, nightfall, etc.).
I aimed us 15 degrees west of south, biasing slightly to the west of end of the gravel road that we had parked on, and we headed as straight in that direction as possible. Frequent prayer and compass checking brought us out onto the gravel road at about 7:40, and we made it back to the vehicle safely (and with a good story) about ten minutes later, less than 30 minutes of daylight to spare.

I took away a few lessons from this adventure:
(1) Assume a slope is steeper (and harder to traverse) than it looks.
(2) Always leave more daylight for the return trip than is thought necessary.
(3) A little extra gain for a known route is a better bet than an unknown, although more level, route.
(4) Bogs can occur on 60 degree slopes!
(5) If there's any snow at the top of a peak, bring a pair of snowshoes for each person.
(6) Trust my instincts (and my compass).
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:850 ft / 258 m
    Elevation Loss:2170 ft / 660 m
    Distance:2.7 mi / 4.4 km
    Grade/Class:Class 3 (descent)
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Snowshoes
    Nights Spent:0 nights away from roads
    Weather:Drizzle, Cold, Breezy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:450 ft / 137 m
    Extra Loss:30 ft / 9 m
    Distance:0.2 mi / 0.4 km
    Route:Direct ascent from South Peak
    Trailhead:Col with South Peak of Echo Mtn  5380 ft / 1639 m
    Time Up:45 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:2140 ft / 651 m
    Extra Gain:400 ft / 121 m
    Distance:2.5 mi / 4 km
    Route:Slide Creek basin and slopes of South Peak
    Trailhead:Road near Heckleman Creek  4060 ft / 1237 m
    Time Down:3 Hours 45 Minutes
Ascent Part of Trip: Echo Mountain (0 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Echo Mountain-South Peak2010-05-24 a
2Echo Mountain2010-05-24 b

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