Ascent of Aeneas Mountain on 2013-05-18

Climber: Craig Willis

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, May 18, 2013
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Aeneas Mountain
    Elevation:5167 ft / 1574 m

Ascent Trip Report

This trip report is dedicated to all fire lookout enthusiasts, prominence seekers, and any people who have been formerly thwarted by the aura of Aeneas Mountain and/or its residents.

Aeneas Mountain (pronounced EEN-eus) has long been a headache to peakbaggers. There is an active Department of Natural Resources (DNR) fire lookout at the summit, as well as a public-access DNR road leading to the summit. It sounds straightforward and simple, right? Wrong. Over the years, several of the local residents who have private property along the Aeneas Mountain Lookout Road (or adjoining roads) have shooed away and/or threatened potential peakbaggers. The prohibitive signage alone (such as "NO TRESPASSING" or "PRIVATE ROAD" or "TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED" or "IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU ARE IN RANGE") is enough to scare off most people wanting to go to the summit. I, myself, have even been rebuffed in an effort.

I have been eyeing possible alternative approaches for Aeneas Mountain for a while. I have a small pamphlet for Okanogan ATV trails which is usually not helpful but does show lines (presumably ATV trails) on the west slopes of Aeneas. While on a big peakbagging trip in Okanogan County, this weekend, I decided to investigate possible western approaches.

Approximately five miles south of Loomis is the headquarters for the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, managed by the Department of Fish & Wildlife. A local DNR representative directed me to speak to the person in-charge at the F&W facility. It was there where I met Dale, apparently the man in charge there and someone who had a wealth of knowledge of the area. I parked nearby and walked up to the house, where he greeted me. The visit was unannounced, but Dale was very attentive and cooperative.

When I mentioned about some private property owners trying to deter people from using the summit access road, even going so far as to mention my own experience and reading a couple of excerpts from others, he was taken a little off-guard. He walked back into his house and came outside a few minutes later. He verified that yes, as we had all thought, the approach road for the fire lookout is a DNR access road and the public is allowed to use it. In his words: "Taxpayers fund DNR lands and DNR roads, and as such the public is allowed to use those areas."

I asked Dale if there was any viable approach from the western side of the mountain. I mentioned the ATV trails I had read about, and he immediately speculated that those might be ATV trails which were illegally put onto the land through the wildlife area and any such ATV trails should not be used in any way. However, he did give me another route option... a route which he has even used, himself... originating northwest of the summit. It involves a DNR access road which briefly passes through private property, but Dale said the private property owner does not mind hikers passing through... but they must stay on the DNR access road. Also, no vehicles and no hunting. He also said that DNR owns most of the land on the upper western slopes of the mountain, so leaving the road system at a high elevation to make a direct ascent to the ridgetop would be OK.

Here is the northwest approach route for Aeneas Mountain:

1) Starting at Loomis, drive south on Broadway Street towards Conconully. This road becomes Sinlahekin Road.
2) After 2.9 miles (only 0.25 miles south of the "H20" DNR Work Center/Fire Camp), turn left onto an unsigned road. There is a F&W kiosk near the entrance.
3) Follow the road for 1.5 miles to the small gravel parking area at where the road meets a fence and gate (1800' elevation). Park here.
NOTE: The road to the gate is currently accessible for most vehicles, although DNR does not do any maintenance on the road and tall grass in the middle of the single-lane road will scrape the bottom of at least low-clearance vehicles.

1) Get through the fence/gate and follow the DNR access road. You are now entering private property, but Dale @ the Department of Fish & Wildlife says that only hiking is permitted and all hikers must stay on the DNR access road when crossing through the private property.
2) At nearly 2400' elevation, the DNR access road passes through a fenceline (open passage; no fence or gate blocking the road). One might interpret the fenceline as the exit from the private property, but DNR has many "Timber Sale Boundary" signs on trees much further up the road for where DNR land can be better realized.
3) The DNR access road continually switchbacks up the northwest slopes of Aeneas Mountain. Sometimes it feels like the road is going the wrong way, but it always corrects itself sooner or later. The DNR access road wastes no time gaining elevation, either.
4) The key to the DNR access road is simple, for the approach to the Aeneas Mountain summit. Wherever there are road intersections, the general rule is to continue on the rightside road. One such example is a "Y" intersection at approximately 3600' elevation, where summiters will want to continue the rightside road.
5) After approximately 4000' elevation, a leftside spur road makes a hard turn to the left. A short distance beyond this intersection, I left the main road and basically headed up straight up steep open forest slopes. I continued taking the route of least resistance.
6) The slope gained approximately 900' in only 0.4 miles(!), until reaching the ridgetop. While heading up the slope, I passed across 1-2 overgrown roads, so it is possible that the main road or spur road eventually ended up nearby but that would have added an unknown amount of time and distance.
7) Once on the ridgetop, I was shocked but delighted to find a well-defined path. Small sections of the path would occasionally disappear or be overgrown, but it was easy to follow because it basically followed the ridgetop. Regardless if it was an animal path, hunter trail, or old ridge trail, it led all the way to the summit (5167' elevation).

From car to summit, I estimate that the distance was four miles (one-way) or possibly a little more... with an elevation gain near 3400' in that span. It took me exactly two hours to reach the summit. During the descent, it was getting late in the day and I had to try hurrying before nightfall and storms moved in... so once I got to the road I jogged down much of it. I got back just as nightfall was starting and right before a major storm dumped massive rainfall in the area.

This was a very enjoyable route, and the views of the Sinlahekin Valley and western peaks were great. There were no houses anywhere, and no people to be seen. The route is basically twice the distance and elevation gain of the "standard" approach.

So future Aeneas Mountain peakbaggers and fire lookout seekers now have a choice to make:
1) Do you go to the summit via an entirely public-access DNR road route from the south... but with the possibility of being shooed away, threatened, and/or hassled by local private property owners who also live on or near the road?
2) Do you go to the summit via a combination of DNR access road and backcountry travel on DNR land from the northwest... but with the knowledge that for a short distance you are crossing private property (albeit supposedly allowed if on-road)?
As is always true, private property access can be disallowed at any time without notice.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:3367 ft / 1026 m
    Elevation Loss:3367 ft / 1026 m
    Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:3367 ft / 1026 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:DNR Access Road, Steep Ascent To Ridge
    Trailhead:Parking Area/Gate: Wildlife Area Boundary  1800 ft / 548 m
    Time Up:0 Days 2 Hours 0 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:3367 ft / 1026 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:Steep Descent From Ridge, DNR Access Road
    Trailhead:Parking Area/Gate: Wildlife Area Boundary  1800 ft / 548 m
    Time Down:0 Days 1 Hours 15 Minutes

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