Ascent of McDonald Mountain on 2008-04-05

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Ken Russell
Edward Earl
Date:Saturday, April 5, 2008
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:McDonald Mountain
    Elevation:3570 ft / 1088 m

Ascent Trip Report

We parked where the Kent-Kangley Road ends, just south of Kangley--there was a pretty wide gravel area to park near a large metal gate across a dirt road. Even though it was April, it had been unusually cold and snowy and I lashed skis on my pack, and Edward and Ken had their snowshoes.

We hiked around the gate and up the dirt road, which headed uphill somewhat steeply. There was an area where a couple of high dirt berms has been thrown up to bar passage, then the frame of an abandoned car on the side of the narrow, rocky road. We started seeing snow patches almost immediately, and it pretty well covered the ground by the time we got to 1300 feet, not long after starting.

After we had not seen a bare patch in the road for a while, I stopped to put on my skis, which are always better on my feet than on my pack. I was able to glide nicely on the snow, much of it fresh from last night. At about 2000 feet we came to a clear-cut area that provided nice views out towards the skylines of Tacoma and Seattle, but had a couple areas of bare, rocky ground where I had to ski around on patchy snow and grass or take off my skis.

Above the clear cut the road climbed some more, then we had to climb over or around another big metal gate. We were now following some indistinct snowshoe tracks from a day or two ago, too. The snow soon got deep and heavy, and Edward and Ken finally put on their snowshoes, which proved to be invaluable. I had an easier time of it, since the grade of the road was gentle enough that the fishscale bases on my skis gripped with no problems while skiing uphill. Therefore, I generally went first, helping a little bit to break trail for the snowshoers behind me.

I had a trail map marked with a route line from Eric N., who had done this hike last year, and it proved a trusty guide. We stopped to make sure we were on the right route at each junction as it took us up, past a borrow pit and some switchbacks and finally to the crest of the mountain at over 3000 feet. Here, we got the only precipitation of the day, as it snowed lightly for a little while. Otherwise, it was just cool and breezy, with some mist and lots of very low, threatening clouds.

After skirting some blowdown across the road in the open, snowy forest to the left, we briefly thought we had a unmapped Y-fork in the road, but it soon became clear that the road went right. This led along the scenic crest a bit, with some views across clear cuts through the trees. Then, the road suddenly dropped about 200 feet somewhat steeply--this is always discouraging, but I had the added issue of trying to downhill ski in very deep, heavy snow with lightweight climbing boots and thin skis. The snow was so heavy I just could "point 'em" and make a "figure 11" downhill, but on one steep section here I tried to turn and had my only fall of the day.

After the drop, the road got narrower and we continued uphill for almost 400 feet as it wound around and finally reached the summit. For a low, forested, logged-over peak, McDonald had a nice summit area, with a great view to the west over the entire Puget Sound area. Clouds obscured the Olympics, but we caught glimpses of Rainier's snowy majesty through the dark cauldron. We felt the highest point was a mound near where the trail entered the summit clearing, SE of the viewpoint, but there was so much snow that we might have just been seeing drifts. Of course, we marked out the area the best we could.

We had a liesurely lunch from 1:30 to 2:00 PM, then headed down. We were much faster downhill--I was able to ski the downhill sections in a straight line, relying on the "Cascade concrete" to keep my speed in check. At the base of most slopes I would wait for Edward and Ken, who always showed up much more quickly than I would have thought. Having a broken-in trail helped them a great deal. The main issue on the way back was the 200-foot gain to the false summit that slowed us down.

Near the borrow pit we noticed that our upward path had postholes in it--Edward and I, ahead of Ken, wondered if Ken had temporarily taken off his snowshoes while behind us on the way up, but we were pretty sure he had put them on when Edward did. Ken confirmed that a "dedicated postholer" had followed our path uphill and must have turned off while we were up at the summit.

We came down to the second gate, clambered over it, and then hit the clear cut area, where we took our last big rest sitting on some corrugated pipes lying next to some logging chaff. I had to take off skis to get over a big bare patch or road once we got going, but on the far side of the clear cut I was able to zip downhill on the dwindling snow--it wasn't so thick and heavy down low, and I could not stop easily when I started skiing over shallow rocks. Fortunatley, my ski bases didn't suffer too much.

I took my skis off at 1600 feet, incredibly low for this time of year and just to the east of Kent. Edward and Ken caught up to me while I was still strapping my skis to my pack--I have noticed that the skier's time advantage is almost lost entirely by the increased amount of gear futzing involved.

The rest of the way down was uneventful hiking on a snowy road that quickly became snow free and led us down to our cars. There were two other cars at this "trailhead", probably including the mystery postholer. We were back by about 5 PM, for a total 8 hour day.

For me, this trip was a surprisingly good cross-country ski outing, with lots of good deep snow, scenic white-covered forest roads, and nice views. It was probably too steep in spots for standard X-C skinny skis, and too gentle for a full-bore telemark/randonee setup, but my old skinny metal-edge fishscale Kaharus with climbing boots and old Ramer bindings were the perfect hybrid gear for this route. I am sure I enjoyed it more this way instead of trying it as a logging road hike in summer.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3060 ft / 932 m
    Extra Gain:220 ft / 67 m
    Round-Trip Distance:12.4 mi / 20 km
    Trailhead:Kent-Kangley Road  950 ft / 289 m
    Quality:3 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike
    Gear Used:
Skis, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 0 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.

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