Ascent of Mount Stickney on 2019-07-20

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, July 20, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Stickney
    Elevation:5280 ft / 1609 m

Ascent Trip Report

Mount Stickney apparently only gets climbed by maybe 10 parties a year, largely due to an annoying, obscure, and brushy approach.

Route Description:

The Olney Creek Road is gated at the junction with the Sultan Basin Road and has been heavily bermed by the DNR to discourage access. Their plan has worked, since the road very quickly deteriorates into a singletrack trail, and once above the first set of switchbacks it is getting a bit overgrown. A mountain bike might save a bit of time, but it is difficult going and all but the most expert cyclists will dismount dozens of times each way to get over the bigger berms. Occasionally rocky sections and thick brush definitely make this harder than the usual logging road for biking.

At the height of land on the road (3700’), a very faint path leads uphill into the woods. You really have to look for the start, and the first part is indistinct at times, but if you persevere (helped by pink ribbon flagging) a decent footpath leads up the crest of a forested ridge due south, often with a steep drop-off to the west. At 4200’ you reach a small meadow, and here you need to drop about 50 vertical feet and head SSE a bit (I found no trail) to a set of marshy meadows that make for easy going to One Acre Lake.

SSE of the lake (which is actually 2 acres in size) the meadows continue, and you should drop down a bit to final meadow that ends at a steep forested slope (“S End Meadow” waypoint). From here, there appeared to be no good way up. The goal is to gain about 100 vertical feet, staying to climber’s left as much as possible while avoiding going into a steep waterfall canyon. At 4200’ you can cut left over to the creek valley, above the waterfall, in a very pleasant open meadow. This marks the end of the brush-bashing.

Follow the creek uphill to a small alpine tarn, and then head south uphill by sidehilling and ascending steep and sometime slippery heather slopes. These will eventually lead to more gentle alpine terrain and you will soon see the rocky summit blocks of Stickney in front of you, rising above a large talus basin. The obvious notch above the talus fan is the destination. If you are in early season, this might be over snow, otherwise is a typical talus field that gets annoyingly looser as you get higher.

The gully is the technical crux, and, as reported elsewhere, the first move is the toughest. A piece of webbing usually hangs down for use as a handline. The main difficulty is the wet, muddy, and mossy ground, which can make for interesting hand-and-foot holds. Most people rate it class 3.

Once to main summit ridge crest, you can hang a left and follow the ridge a short way to the summit. The ridge is an exposed knife edge in several places, and one tricky little gendarme can be bypassed using rotten rock ledges on the climber’s right, but most confident scramblers won’t need a rope.

The open summit has a 360-degree panorama and a nice new summit register left by Monty Vanderbilt in 2018.

To descend, you can retrace your route. I found it best to follow the creek down from the tarn as far as possible, to where it turns into a waterfall in a canyon. There I plunged into the thick forest to the left and aimed downhill towards the meadow as soon as I could. This 100’ vertical descent was the only really nasty part of the route, since once in the meadows it was relatively easy back to One Acre Lake and then uphill to the faint trail.

My Story:

The area where the old Olney Creek Road starts is littered with debris from shooting sessions—tons of spent shells and garbage everywhere—not the most appealing place to park for the day. I used a turnout just south of the gated road.

I decided to bring my mountain bike, and overall it maybe saved me almost an hour of time, but the extra effort and hassle was probably not worth it. I pushed it uphill about a third of the distance, including over most of the three-dozen odd berms, and when the trail got super brushy at 3150’ I just stashed it. I should have stayed with it, since there were some nice flat mossy sections above my bike cache, but above 3300’ it was just too steep, rocky, and brushy for all but the most expert bikers.

I also got drenched by the brush, since this was the first nice day after a spell of wet weather. Walking the bike up the narrow “road” really pushed me into the moisture-laden trees too much.

While walking the upper road I noticed it started heading downhill and took a rest, soon realizing that I had walked past the faint trail to Stickney. So I backtracked, looked carefully, and found the indistinct footway leading uphill into the woods. If you start downhill on the road, you have gone too far!

In the thick forest on the steep slope above One Acre Lake, I blundered uphill and stayed too far to the climber’s right, lured up by a rocky streambed through the forest that I thought might be a trail. This led to some truly miserable thrashing among the thickly-spaced J-shaped conifers on a steep slope, with veggie belays the only way to make any progress, up or down. I finally was able to traverse left and descend into the pleasant open stream valley, where uphill progress was easy.

The was very little snow in the basin below the summit, and I avoided it to keep my boots dry for the rock climbing ahead. It didn’t matter, since the route was muddy and mossy anyway. I managed to climb uphill without the aid of the webbing, and on the knife edge I found it best to stay on the crest as much as possible—I only bypassed one gendarme and the rock on the ledges was terrible.

Views were great on the summit, and I was pleased by the new register. I was the first person up there in July, and about three parties had been up in June.

I did use the webbing on the way down as a handline, but overall it was not as bad as it looked—muddy moss can actually be a pretty good foothold, I discovered. I used the vestigial snowfield to save myself a little bit of talus hopping, and followed the stream from the tarn down the nice open valley, expecting it to lead me to near One Acre Lake. So the waterfall canyon was an adverse surprise, forcing me to bushwhack down the last 100’ to the meadow, but I had a much easier time on this short section than on the way up.

I was able to bike most of the way down from my bike cache, but it was pretty harrowing. The brush was bad higher up, there were some rocky stretches, and my hands got sore from gripping the brake levers. But the berms where the worst. I soon got used to the sudden acceleration down into the ditch, accepting that the sudden uphill would slow me down. I still walked the worst of the berms, either by dismounting or straddle-walking.

Only a mile from my car I finally had the inevitable bike crash when straddle-walking down into a berm ditch—my bike flipped up over behind my back and I landed in the woods with it on top of me. Fortunately, this was not a high-speed event and I escaped only with scratches. The last mile of road was relatively easy, with some giant mud puddles the only real obstacle.

Thanks to Monty Vanderbilt for a very helpful GPS track that helped a great deal.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:4090 ft / 1246 m
    Total Elevation Loss:4090 ft / 1246 m
    Round-Trip Distance:13.8 mi / 22.2 km
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Quality:6 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble
    Gear Used:
Bicycle, Rope
    Weather:Pleasant, Breezy, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3830 ft / 1167 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3610 ft / 1100 m; Extra: 220 ft / 67m
    Loss on way in:220 ft / 67 m
    Distance:7 mi / 11.3 km
    Route:Northwest Route
    Start Trailhead:Sultan Basin Road  1670 ft / 509 m
    Time:3 Hours 55 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3870 ft / 1179 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 3610 ft / 1100 m; Extra: 260 ft / 79m
    Gain on way out:260 ft / 79 m
    Distance:6.8 mi / 10.9 km
    Route:Northwest Route
    End Trailhead:Sultan Basin Road  1670 ft / 509 m
    Time:3 Hours 15 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
Click Here for a Full Screen Map
Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

Download this GPS track as a GPX file

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