Ascent of Mount Fernow on 2018-07-29
|Other People:||Solo Ascent|
Only Party on Mountain
|Date:||Sunday, July 29, 2018|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||6190 ft / 1886 m|
Ascent Trip ReportUseful Info:
(Note: the GPX track here includes the road approach, and the hiking sections are a mix-and-match from my uphill and downhill routes--the goal is to show the best path and not show any route mistakes.)
This route to Mount Fernow starts at 4520 feet, an exceptionally high trailhead for this area of the Cascades. The road is good shape for most passenger cars, with some drainage berms the only real issue. Take the acute right turn from pavement’s end on Becker River Road and up Road 6520, and after 2.6 miles bear left (downhill temporarily) at the only signed junction with Road 6522. Then drive a further 5 miles up switchbacks to the gate after gaining well over 3000 feet. There is not much parking, I parked a short ways downhill from the gate, at road junction.
The first part of the hike is a 0.9 mile road walk with minor ups and downs—a bicycle would help but might not be worth the hassle. There seems to be some agreement between the USFS and the Tulalip Tribe to manage and restore this area. At a huge earthen berm, leave the good road and hike over the berm to a rough, torn-up old road that gains a narrow ridge, and in a clear-cut area a very faint path can be found that leads into the forest. This path goes almost all the way to Jake’s Lake, but in 2018 it was not cairned/flagged and was very easy to lose in many places. It likely sees less than a dozen parties a year. In general, the steeper the terrain, the more indistinct it becomes.
The 250’ vertical climb to Point 5320 is on very steep and slippery dirt covered with pine needles, and quite annoying—veggie belays are your friend. And going over Peak 5403 (Patches Peak) has some rocky scrambling. In between these sections, the path is often very pleasant and easy to follow. As you near Jake’s Lake, the path seems to sidehill on an open ledgy section, and once past the ledges it disappears, as near as I could tell, so I had to briefly bushwhack while sidehilling. After a short ways I reached an open area where it was easy to cross a ridge to the lake area.
From the lake, hike up the prominent band of white solid blocky talus straight uphill. At the top of the talus field, turn right and then work uphill through tall trees and heather until you are in a gully of heather only, with cliffs on your left side. Near the top of the gully aim right, to avoid a narrow and steep slot. The gully is steep and the heather and dirt can be slippery, but you probably won’t go too far if you fall. At the top of the gully stay right and it’s an easy scramble to the flat rocks of the summit and its historic register that dates from 1997.
I unfortunately picked the hottest day of the year, so I was hampered by the 90-plus degree temperatures and annoying bugs. I also made some routefinding errors, especially on the way up. I did not take the bermed road, instead staying on the main road as it wrapped around to the southwest and then bushwhacking up a steep dirt slope to reach the clear-cut area. Not recommended. I did an OK job of following the path, but it was a constant chore to locate it, especially on the rocky or steep areas.
I also blundered when reaching the top of the talus field—I failed to head right and instead when straight uphill, reaching an area of treacherous mossy slabs. I eventually cut right and was lucky to find a notch in the cliffs where I could traverse over into the correct heathery gully. I also did the Class-3 “constriction” from Eric’s trip report on this site, but I should have stayed right more to avoid it easily.
The views were not great on this day due to stultifying haze—I don’t think there was any major forest fire smoke, just standard-issue heat and humidity. All kinds of bugs were buzzing around the summit and DEET helped me out a bit. The register was a treasure—this peak averages about 2 or 3 ascents per year and besides a number of my friends, I saw an entry from 2002 by Tom Hornbein and Pete Schoening. Hornbein’s “The West Ridge” was a major inspiration in my youth, so it was very cool to see his name there.
My descent took as long as the ascent, due to all the ups and downs, plus the greater afternoon heat—I topped off my water at Jake’s Lake and needed several rests in the shade to make my way back. I somehow did a worse job of following the path, too. The final mile of road walk in the hot sun was not fun, either. But all in all it was a quality ascent with a good mix of typical mid-elevation Cascade challenges to a remote and seldom-visited area. I did not see a soul on my entire hike, and only one other vehicle above the paved road (a truck heading uphill as I drove down).
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