Ascent of Mount Ballard on 2018-10-14

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, October 14, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Mount Ballard
    Elevation:8340 ft / 2542 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Ballard (8,340ft)

Eric, Steven, Trace, Jake

October 14, 2018

I had recently finished climbing all the Bulgers in Washington, but there are seven mountains that would technically be on a list of 100 highest mountains in Washington given more recent elevation measurements and a strict 400ft clean prominence threshold rule. This list is sometimes referred to as the Washington Top 100. It seems like a good idea to climb these bonus mountains as well. I’d already climbed Liberty Cap back in May as part of an ascent of Rainier via Ptarmigan Ridge, so had six bonus mountains remaining.

Mt Ballard is one of these extra mountains and was not included on the Bulger list. The north summit was surveyed at 8,301ft on the USGS quad, which is too short to qualify, but the south summit was later found to be 8,340ft, which is high enough to qualify for the Top 100.

The standard way to climb Mt Ballard is to drive over Harts Pass down Slate Creek to the end of the road, then hike, bushwhack, and scramble up the east face, and finish on the west face. The Harts Pass road is at around 6,200ft elevation and is unmaintained in the winter. It will likely close soon for the season whenever the first big snowstorm hit, but it is currently still open. This made this weekend a great time to climb Ballard while the standard approach road is still open.

Jake, Steven and Trace were all interested in joining. I left town Saturday evening, picked up Jake, then picked up Trace on the way, and we met Steven at Marblemount after he’d driven down from Vancouver. We all piled in one car and crossed Harts Pass around midnight. The road was completely snow free up to the pass, but there was about
an inch of snow on the slate creek side of the pass. It was no problem to descend, and was gone after less than a mile. We reached the gated end of the road around 12:30am and went to sleep either in the car, a tent, and a bivy sack.

We left the car before sunrise the next morning around 6:45am. It was unclear how much snow would be on the route, so we all brought boots, crampons, and ice axes just in case. It had snowed the previous weekend, but had been sunny the past few days, so we suspected the snow wouldn’t be too deep.

We hiked on an old road up the South Fork of Slate Creek for about a mile (good biking conditions for future reference) until we got to a big metal bridge. After crossing the bridge we headed left and started bushwhacking through open woods. Steven led the way, and we aimed to roughly follow a route based on trip reports from Eric Eames and Matt Burton on nwhikers.

We paralleled the creek heading south, angling slightly uphill. At about 4,900 ft we crossed a big talus field, then ascended up steep woods on the other side. We then traversed a high meadow and reached the east ridge of Ballard.

From the ridge we ascended straight up, passing a good potential bivy site around 6500ft at the edge of the trees. The steep northeast face of Ballard loomed above us, covered in fresh snow. It was steep enough that the face probably looked about as snow-covered then as it would in the winter. Our route also had some snow, but it didn’t cause a big problem.

We generally scrambled up snowy gullies and on rock aretes diagonaling up and left on the east ridge. None of the terrain was terribly exposed or loose, and it was mostly class 3 or 4. The steepness decreased as we approached the col between the north and south summits of Ballard, and we eventually had to kick steps in the snow to gain the col.

At the col we put on crampons and took out the ice axes. We crossed over to the west face and traversed across and upwards on a good snow-covered ledge to a cairn. From the col two ledges are visible and we took the higher one.

The cairn marked the entrance to the summit gully. We scrambled up one fun 10ft tall 4th class corner to gain the snowy ridge, then scrambled up a short blocky 3rd class section to gain the summit. The summit was just big enough for all four of us to sit down and take a break.

We really wanted to see the summit register to see if anyone else had climbed Ballard this year, and to see if there were any playing cards inside, but couldn’t find it despite a lot of digging through the snow.

The views were spectacular. Looking south all the mountains looked heavily snow-covered (since we were seeing their north faces), and to the north everything looked melted out and dry.

We soon downclimbed the route, this time leaving crampons on while plunge stepping down to the east ridge. As the ridge steepened and turned to rock we transitioned to boots for the downclimb. Steven led us back through the brush on a good route and we got back to the car around 3:15pm for a 8.5hr round trip hike.

There was still a lot of daylight left, so on the drive back we made a short side trip from Harts Pass to drive up to Slate Pass, the highest road in Washington (7,200ft). We hiked up to Slate Peak to admire the views, and got some good pictures of our route up Ballard. It looked a lot steeper from a distance than it was up close. From there it was about a 5 hour drive back to Seattle.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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