Ascent of Ten-Four Mountain on 2009-06-23

Climber: Edward Earl

Date:Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Ten-Four Mountain
    Elevation:4384 ft / 1336 m

Ascent Trip Report

This was my second attempt on 10-4 Mtn. My first attempt, about 2½ weeks earlier, ended at 3200 because of drizzle, low visibility, and wet, slippery mud cliffs covered by heavy brush. I used the route previously used by Ken Jones and Eric Noel for both attempts, which approaches from the E.

Lat/lon coordinates in this report are not derived from GPS; they are taken from post-mortem reconstruction of the route on online topographic maps and overhead photos.

About 8½ miles E of the center of Sultan, US-2 passes under a RR bridge at a very shallow angle. 2.6 miles E of this bridge, I turned S on FR-62, which is well-graded gravel suitable for any street legal vehicle. The road climbs through clearcuts and forests. Just after a sharp right switchback is a rock with "3½" spray-painted on it; this is the mileage from US-2. Immediately thereafter is a fork; I took the R branch. After an additional 0.6 miles, the road crosses a bridge immediately before a sharp L turn. I parked at a wide spot just after the bridge. At the L turn in the main road, a gated logging road heads R.

I hiked the logging road, which traverses though clear cuts that provide good views. Then it begins to climb after about a mile. Then it switchbacks L, heading SW, and passes through the saddle S of Haystack Mtn. Soon after the saddle, I continued straight where a major side road went L. At (47.8131N, 121.6753W), the main road turns L and I went slightly R on a side road which is beginning to overgrow. A few minutes later the road crosses two creeks. The second of these is larger and is on a gravel bridge with a log on each side. A couple of concrete slabs that make good rest benches sit nearby. About 100 feet after this crossing, the main road turns 90° L and heads straight uphill. I continued straight ahead on an overgrown, undriveable side road. This junction is just S of the center of section 20. The road makes a gradually ascending traverse and is frequently eroded by water from melting snow above. The road became increasingly overgrown, occasionally blocked by a thicket of young tree trunks growing across it at a 45° angle.

The topo map shows that this road ends on the W side of section 20, but in fact it continues WSW until it reaches a switchback in a mapped road at (47.8133N, 121.6958W). It is very easy to miss this junction and continue climbing SW, but the intended route turns NW. I missed this junction on both of my attempts, even the second one, when I was aware of the obscurity of the junction and was looking carefully for it.

A few minutes after making the correct turn at the junction, the road crosses a creek and is badly eroded by the creek; the only way to cross is on a narrow ridge of dirt around the edge of a slumpoff. A few minutes after the crossing is an obscure junction in which the intended route turns shrply L. Although the roadbed is overgrown with annuals, the walking is slightly better because the brush was not as bad; the only impediment was an occasional leaning tree trunk. After about 5 minutes, the road widens and turns sharply R just before reaching an open clear cut. Within a couple of minutes after that turn, the road becomes so badly overgrown that it is useless for any more travel. I turned off of the L side of the road and began climbing SW up the ridge at the center of section 19.

The ridge was mostly open forest, and the going not too bad. After 20 minutes and 300' gain, the open forest came to an end, with brush on both sides and talus above. I began to climb the talus, then saw that I wouldn't be able to continue in this direction because of brush-covered mud cliffs above. I traversed R where the hillside was climbable but still quite steep. It was mostly brush but I got help from an occasional clear patch of talus. I eventually gained the crest of the ridge where the going became easier as the slope eased up and the vegetation changed from brush and devil's club to open forest.

The going was not bad as I headed S on the crest of the ridge E of Haleyon Lake, with occasional broken views of the lake 400' below. Eventually, however, the ridge ran into the steep N face of 10-4 peak itself, and my route was once again hindered by cliffs, brush, devil's club, and now, occasional snow. I traversed a short distance R to avoid a steep hillside of very thick brush and found myself on a snowfield at the base of a rocky cliff, often covered by wet moss with water dripping down from snow above. I traversed farther R, but soon realized there would probably be no way around the cliff in that direction. Then I spotted a point where I might be able to climb around the L side of the cliff. It was very steep and the brush was very thick, but the distance through the brush would be only about 50', and if I could just get through that, I would gain the forest above where it would be more open. So I traversed to my possible route, first on snow, later becoming a soupy mix of snow-covered talus and slippery mud. I began to climb through the brush, often using the branches to pull myself up. After a few more feet, however, I found I could not rely on the brush to hold my weight and the mud was too steep and slippery. To put it simply, the route was dangerous, and I could fall and be hurt too badly to get off the mountain under my own power. I had to find another way.

I retreated down to the snow and traversed L off the snow where I had come from, onto a little ridge where it was not quite as steep and the mud not as wet and slippery. Once again I pulled myself up by the brush (testing it by yanking before trusting it to hold my weight). After a few brushy pullups, I gained a clear spot on the edge of the open forest. I had finally found a way to the top of the cliffs which had vexed me for some time.

Though the forest here was not as open as the forests where I had been below, there was still comparative relief. That relief was short-lived as I encountered yet another band of cliffs. I studied the map that showed the route used by Ken Jones and saw that he traversed L here, so I did the same. After a few minutes I encountered a large open area of snow and talus. I saw a possible way into the forest above, traversed the snow and talus to it, and began climbing into the forest along a large fallen log. It was very steep and the mud became slippery toward the top end of the log, but somehow I managed to scale it. A minute later the slope eased up and I found myself in open forest on the crest of the broad, gentle summit ridge just E of the summit. I was finally going to nail this mountain! An easy 3-minute stroll brought me to the summit, which is crowned by a tree growing out of a 4' dirt pile. A glass jar register was wedged in the dirt between the roots.

I had made the summit, but I was concerned about getting down; my climb up approached the line from determination to foolishness. There were several places on the route where I could have been hurt badly enough that I wouldn't be able to get off the mountain by myself, it would be days before I'd be noted missing, and years before my remains would be found. I was also concerned about being able to find the way back to a couple of key spots around the cliffs, even though I had memorized one of them. I had my mobile phone and was able to get a signal, but I could not assume I'd be able to get a signal lower down to call for help if needed. So I called my parents, told them where I was and when I planned to be off the mountain, with instructions to call the Snohomish county sheriff if I didn't call before then to say I was back OK.

I made reasonable time down. I overshot the point where I had gained the summit ridge, but I found it within a few minutes. Once below the highest cliffs, I failed to traverse far enough W to retrace my route up, but I soon became aware of that as I could see the ridge E of Haleyon Lake below and to my L. I headed for it, and found that my route error actually worked to my advantage; I passed well clear of the cliffs that had frustrated my on the way up. The brush was heavy, which I why I hadn't climbed that way, but when you're descending gravity actually helps you bash through the brush, especially when the branches are all pointing downhill to begin with. After reaching the ridge E of Haleyon Lake, I got a wireless signal and called my parents once again to let them know how far I had already come down, so that if the sheriff had to search for me they could narrow down the search since they wouldn't have to search above the point where I've already made it down to.

The remainder of the descent was uneventful. Total time was 4½ hours up, 4 hours down. The route is much more than its distance & elevation gain numbers make it seem. The main justification for using this route is that it avoids the lengthy logging road hike that a western approach would involve. Now, however, I'm not so sure that the benefits of an eastern approach outweigh the costs. Although a western approach is longer, has more elevation gain, and may have a slight access problem, roads come closer to the summit from that direction, and the cross-country part would not be very steep and would be open forest (based on the terrain I saw in that direction from the summit). The eastern approach is steep, slippery, brushy, and much more dangerous.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:2984 ft / 909 m
    Extra Gain:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:10 mi / 16.1 km
    Trailhead:FR-62  1600 ft / 487 m
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble
Ascent Statistics
    Time Up:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time Down:4 Hours 

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