Ascent of Winchester Mountain on 2014-06-22

Climber: Craig Willis

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Sunday, June 22, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Winchester Mountain
    Elevation:6510 ft / 1984 m

Ascent Trip Report

Prior to my visit, I had heard that Winchester Mountain had great views. As a result and if possible, I wanted to save this peak for a good weather day with lots of snow but low avalanche danger... basically limiting such opportunities to the month of June. I was lucky enough to have such a weekend but the day prior to my visit was my wedding anniversary... and that was much more important than any peakbagging. So I opted for a solo trip the following day.

The USFS claimed two days prior to my visit that snow covered the road prior to the Yellow Aster Butte TH and the road was inaccessible beyond (at least to vehicles). I was happy to see that the road was clear and usable for my passenger vehicle until the Yellow Aster Butte TH. A large, lingering snowpile was found at the hairpin road-bend near the TH, or else I would have been able to drive at least another 0.5 miles until reaching the next impenetrable snowpile. And despite what some people have implied, I am fairly certain I could have driven my car further up the road beyond the Yellow Aster Butte TH.

So began my two-mile-long road walk to Twin Lakes. As I hiked up the road, my eyes kept glancing over at a very awesome-looking double-pointed mountain to the south; I later learned those are the two peaks of Goat Mountain, and I knew I would be adding it to my "to do" list for the future. The upper half of the road section was still covered in snow and likely would be for some time. I never needed snowshoes but I did use microspikes for extra security as some sections involved sidehilling steep snow mounds. Just prior to reaching the first lake, I reached a small outhouse, 2/3 of which was buried under snow. I was astounded with the amount of snowpack there, especially in the second half of June. My astonishment at the snowpack continued when I walked a minute further and got my first great view of the Twin Lakes area. Both lakes were completely covered with snow, with only several tiny light-blue-colored pools near the outer rim in a few locations. Skier and snowshoer tracks had led to and alongside the lakes but no tracks were seen or found on the other side of them.

The standard trail route to the top of Winchester Mountain would not be a viable option with all of the steep snow along the upper cliffy sections. Instead, I took Adam Walker's suggested "Winchester Direct" route. Adam told me in advance that the crux of the trip might be the first part, crossing over the outlet stream of the lower lake; he said a snow bridge was needed to do so due to the deep stream and he had doubts that the snowbridge would still be present in mid-to-late June. Just in case of such a scenario, I brought sandals and was ready to wade across or hike around the lake if necessary. However, with the lingering deep snowpack, I was delighted to find the main snowbridge was still present as well as a long snowbridge section a little further downstream prior to the waterfall/downhill.

I skirted along the lake rim for about 10' and then steeply ascended a short slope to a flatter section above. I then went up a series of intermixed flat/sloped sections intermixed with evergreen forest. I went up a very steep snow slope towards a cliffband at approximately 5600', for which I needed both my microspikes and ice axe for extra security. I turned left (west) alongside the cliffband and side-traversed over to an avalanche gully. The gully was larger and more straightforward than I had imagined. The worst aspect of the gully was that it was very icy, likely from the previous night having clear skies and cooler temperatures.

I slowly but carefully ascended the gully until reaching a saddle at just over 6200'. From the saddle, I turned right (east) and headed up the last steep ~300' to the lookout. Everything I had heard about the great views from the top were true and it made the icy effort all worthwhile. I bet this peak is even prettier in late Summer/early Autumn when the colors change. I liked the view of Tomyhoi Peak, a P2K I knew I needed to put higher on my "to do" list. Mount Larrabee & The Pleiades were neat to see up-close, too. Unfortunately, I only stayed for a few minutes at the lookout/summit area; my wife's last living grandmother was visiting from Montana and if possible I wanted to see her before she left that night.

The trickiest part of the descent was the gully; it was still very icy and I had to use extra time/caution with each step. It was uncomfortable as I was not able to get good plunge steps in the snow and I had to downclimb some sections. This trip is yet another example of me wishing I had brought crampons rather than microspikes. Perhaps I was being overly cautious compared to normal but I was solo and did not want to end up as a news story for yet another mountaineering accident (of which there have been many in Washington, this year). Once out of the gully, I found the snow slopes beneath the forest were much softer and easier to plunge-step in. From the cliffband at 5600', I was able to make great time back down to the lower lake. This time, I found a more desirable, open slope leading down to the lake a little further up-lake than where I originally left the lake.

After seeing the depth of the snow atop the lake (which was basically frozen-over), I took a chance by crossing straight over the lake to the other side. The rest of the hike back down to the car was uneventful, except for meeting one couple of ladies at the parking area asking about the snow conditions at Twin Lakes. Overall, Adam Walker's suggested "Winchester Direct" route worked out very well and my only complaint was how icy the gully was during the day I visited. The peak and lookout were great to visit, as was the lake area.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:2950 ft / 898 m
    Extra Gain:50 ft / 15 m
    Route:Access Road & "Winchester Direct"
    Trailhead:3660 ft / 1115 m
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Stream Ford, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Ski Poles
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:0 Days 3 Hours 30 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:0 Days 2 Hours 45 Minutes

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