Ascent of Gopher Mountain on 2020-04-18

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, April 18, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Gopher Mountain
    Elevation:8001 ft / 2438 m

Ascent Trip Report

Choral Peak (7,960ft) and Gopher Mountain (8,001ft)

April 18-19, 2020, Eric
36 miles, 7,000 ft gain
2 miles biking, 16 miles hiking, 18 miles skiing

Friday night I drove out to eastern washington to hit some washington top 200 peaks in the entiat area. I’d climbed Cardinal, Saska, and Emerald in February starting from the Entiat River sno park, but I was hoping this time the road would be melted out a bit closer to the standard summer trailhead for the area. Based on satellite images it looked like the road was at least melted out a few more miles. I planned to park on the side of road as far as I could drive, thus avoiding any developed trailheads which were technically closed. Unfortunately the satellite images weren’t high enough resolution to tell if the gate at the sno park was closed or not. However, I brought my brand new mountain bike I could ride if I had to park at the gate. (My previous bike had gotten stolen on Monday after I’d hidden it in the woods en route to Lennox Peak and I’d managed to get a new one Thursday at one of the few bike shops still open in town).

By 8pm Friday I drove past the sno park and the gate was open. The road was snow free to the shady pass turnoff, then intermittent compact snow and ice after then. I managed to get to a bit past the Silver Falls trailhead turnoff before encountering continuous slushy snow. I stopped and biked up a quarter mile, and it indeed appeared the snow continued and was deep and slushy enough I didn’t want to risk driving. So I biked back and slept in the car that night.

Saturday morning I was biking by 5:30am with skis on my back. I managed to get about a mile before it made more sense to just ski. Interestingly there was an AWD small SUV like mine parked there at a cabin a half mile past my car. I guess I could have driven a bit farther, but it was still fun biking that section. This time I stashed my bike far in the woods and locked it to a big tree behind a hill. I was not about to get it stolen again. (In the past I’ve had an issue losing the key to a bike locked up to a small tree in the woods and had to chop the tree down with a technical ice ax, but this time I had an ax in the car just in case).

I continued skiing for another few miles, and then the snow disappeared around Entiat Falls. This was the start of a burn zone, and I think the lack of shade and slight south facing aspect contributed to faster melting. I really wish I still had my bike, or at least some trail runner shoes, but I had thought from the satellite images the snow would be continuous. I ended up strapping my skis to my back and hiking along the road in ski boots. There were a lot of blowdowns which were tricky to get around. In the winter the snowmobilers tend to cut out trees, but I think last weekend was the last one where it was possible to snowmobile all the way to the end of the road at cottonwood.

After six or seven miles mostly bare booting but skiing a few short sections I finally reached the Entiat River trailhead just past the Cottonwood campground. I hiked up the trail still in ski boots, and briefly skied one snowy spot. Below Duncan Hill I followed a trail up the melted out south face. This area had recently burned and was littered with fresh blowdowns. Going was slow, even as I tried to follow the trail. Luckily my ski boots weren’t too uncomfortable to walk and bushwhack in, but I was definitely looking forward to snow.

Around 5400ft I hit continuous snow and finally started skinning up. It had been intermittently raining all morning, but I was by then high enough that the rain turned to snow. I skinned up the slope angling toward Anthem Creek. The snow got deeper pretty quickly and I left the burn zone. When I reached Anthem Creek at 6000ft I paused for a food break under a tree during a particularly intense snow squall. I continued up the drainage to eventually gain the col east of Choral Peak.

The snow squall ended and I ditched my pack and skis at the col and switched to crampons. The route looked steep and bushy enough that I thought it would be faster to crampon up and down then ski. By 3:30 I reached the summit, and was careful not to get too close to the steep corniced northwest face. It was pretty amazing to see snow squalls passing by in the distance with nearby Saska, Emerald, and Cardinal Peaks passing in and out of the clouds. Saska looked pretty intimidating from a distance, but I knew from February that there was a reasonable winter route up the southeast face. I could make out the face Fred and I had skied in the dark before Fred lost a ski down a cliff.

I could also make out Gopher Mountain between me and Saska, and my next objective looked like it would be fun to ski. I soon cramponed back down to my pack, then had a fun ski down to Choral Lake. At the outlet of the lake I skied across at 7100ft to a flat spot in some trees. There I ditched my overnight gear and skinned up fast and light to the west ridge and then to the summit of Gopher. I was actually able to skin to the exact summit, though it looked like some cornices on the north face I tried to avoid. Interestingly the summit was melted out enough I could actually find the summit register and sign in. It turned out Fred was the last one to sign in, back in October.

I rested for an hour and contemplated bringing my overnight gear up and bivying on the summit. However, I knew that the slushy snow would soon turn to ice overnight with temperatures predicted to drop below freezing, and that would make for much less fun skiing out the next morning. So I put my skis on and skied directly from the summit. It was perfect corn skiing down the west ridge and south face back to my stashed gear.

I packed up and continued skiing down Choral creek, then wrapped around down Snow Brushy Creek to near the Entiat River. I had originally thought I might continue up river to bag North Spectacle Butte the next morning, but my progress that day had been much slower than anticipated with so many blowdowns and bushwhacking in the burn zones. The peak also required climbing a steep south-facing snow slope, which I was a bit concerned about since Sunday was supposed to be warmer and very sunny.

It was nearly sunset so I started looking for a place to camp. The whole area was a complete burn zone, and I really didn’t want to camp under hazard trees. But I noticed in the distance the outlet of Myrtle Lake appeared to have some live trees. So I packed up my skis at the edge of the snowline and bushwhacked down to the trail, then hiked down along the river. The river was raging but luckily there was a solid bridge across to gain the lake. I skied up a snow slope to the lake, then laid out my tent at 9pm to go to sleep.

The next morning I packed up and skied back to the trail. I was able to ski to about Anthem Creek, then had to hike back in boots to the road. After about three hours hiking on the road I reached the snow and it looked like a truck had driven all the way to entiat falls. However, I know it didn’t make it any farther because the trees over the road weren’t cut out. It looked like the truck had sunk pretty deep in the snow, and there was no way my forester could have made that. I skied back and noticed a few places where it looked like vehicles had gotten stuck and turned around.

I eventually reached my bike, which luckily was not stolen, and biked back to my car around 2:30pm. On the drive out the Silver Falls parking lot was packed with cars, but luckily I hadn’t encountered any people on the whole route.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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