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Ascent of Buck Mountain on 2018-07-26

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Thursday, July 26, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Buck Mountain
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8560 ft / 2609 m

Ascent Trip Report

Buck Mountain (8,528ft) and Fortress Mountain (8,760ft) Car-to-Car

July 26, 2018 4:30am – 11:45pm

~50 miles, 10k ft gain, 100,000 steps

The Chiwawa River road had recently opened after a washout was repaired, and I wanted to hit a few remaining Bulger mountains before fire season set in. I had just come off a lot of bushwhacking from some mountains near Lake Chelan, and was looking forward to a bush-free trip. It turns out, it is possible to climb Buck and Fortress without bushwhacking at all.

I got the idea for this trip from a trip Sean Albert did as a backpack a few years ago, but thought I could save the weight of overnight gear and just do it in one push. The route is appealing because it involves a long and scenic above-treeline ridgewalk and great views for a majority of the mileage.

I had made it back to Seattle Tuesday night from Lake Chelan, and after a rest 24hrs drove out to the Buck Creek Trailhead Wednesday night at Trinity to sleep in the car. I was moving at 4:30am Thursday morning, and soon made it to Buck Creek Pass as other campers were just waking up. I continued south from the pass following a good trail that soon broke out above treeline. I would remain above treeline for most of the rest of the day, with amazing views of Glacier Peak towering nearby to the west.

The trail traversed a few steep snow fingers, and I was glad to have brought my whippet. Only one traverse made me pull out my crampons, just before High Pass. If I had to return, I would definitely want to camp at High Pass.

After High Pass the trail ends, and I skirted around the south side of Mt Berge, following occasional cairns. I crossed a pass just south of Mt Berge, then traversed through a snowfield north and dropped into larch trees in a big basin below Buck Mountain. From this basin I ascended volcanic scree and talus, going right around several false summits. At last I crossed the major snowfield below the peak and scrambled the last bit to the summit. It’s too bad there’s not a more direct way up, since my route made a huge spiral, but the other sides are all just huge cliffs.

I looked across the Buck Creek valley toward Fortress mountain, and it looked awfully far away. It was 12:30pm, though, so I still had a lot of daylight remaining. I retraced my route, taking a break near Mt Berg to air out my feet. I’ve been having trouble with blisters on these long trips, and have been trying to keep my feet as dry as possible. It’s hard with all the snow crossings though.

I followed the route back down from High Pass, passing by two backpackers planning to camp there that night. I made it back to Buck Creek Pass at 4pm, and stopped for another break, before hiking down the trail then up the unofficial trail to Pass No Pass. From there I ascended very steep grassy slopes, and saw a huge buck with a big rack staring down the slope at me. I guess Buck Creek valley is appropriately named.

Marmots were whistling all around, and eventually the buck took off up the hill towards Fortress. I soon reached the edge of the grass, and scrambled up rock to the edge of a snow slope. It was luckily soft and mellow enough that I didn’t need to put on the crampons. At the upper end of the snow I scrambled up some third class rock, then ascended scree and talus slopes to the summit.

Big clouds were building to the east, and it looked like it was raining in the distance. Hopefully Washington gets some more of that to head off any bad fires. It was far away from me, though, so I wasn’t too concerned. I got a satellite text on the summit from Aaron that the weather forecast had deteriorated for the next day, and it didn’t sound like a good idea to climb Buckner and Horshoe like we’d planned. That was fine with me, since it looked like I wouldn’t have made it to Cascade pass til 3am anyways at my current rate.

I retraced my route, glissading wherever possible, and returned to the main trail by 7:30pm. Another three hours of cruise-control trail hiking brought me back to the trailhead at 10:30pm. That’s where I encountered a tough decision.

My fitbit registered 95,000 steps, for about 48 miles for the day. I was worn out and just wanted to go to sleep. But wouldn’t it be awesome, I thought, to hit an even 100k steps? The 100k badge is the highest badge you can get on fitbit, and my brother Matthew had recently got the badge from a trail run in Yosemite. I knew he would have questions for me if I got 95k but didn’t push it to 100k. Plus, I still had 1.5 hours til midnight when my fitbit reset. That should be enough time to get the additional 5k steps (about 2.5 miles).

So, after scarfing down a bunch of food, I reluctantly started walking down the road at 11pm. I walked all the way down to the Phelps Creek turnoff, then back, then around the parking lot a few times. If anyone were in their car then watching me they were probably very confused.

At 11:57pm, just three minutes before the fitbit reset, I officially crossed the 100k step threshold. I took a few pictures, then jumped in the car to go to sleep. I drove back to Seattle the next morning, looking forward to some rest for my poor blistered feet.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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