Photos from this trip can be found here.
Chelan Slam = Cardinal Peak + Pinnacle Mountain + Saska Peak + Emerald Peak
Over the last few years, it had become somewhat of a tradition to do a bigger trip over the Fourth of July weekend. The two of us spent three days in Chelan Mountains and parts of Glacier Peak Wilderness tackling what I thought would be the last group of peaks to finish the Bulger List after a five-year-long pursuit.
With road closures in recent years due to wildfires, the five-mile road walk to the trailhead was inevitable. When we arrived at the trailhead, the immense impact of natural disasters was immediately felt. Of our four destinations on this trip, Saska Peak was only one visible from the trailhead. But to get there we first needed to hike 10-12 miles to get to the basin where three of the four peaks were located.
After spending morning hours getting over and around uncountable down trees, and at one point even missed the brushy trail down by the river, we finally arrived at the North Fork Entiat River Basin. Right after setting up camp, pup and I immediately headed up to Cardinal Peak, the closest one to camp. There was just enough snow left on north ridge to make things a bit spicy. So we dropped down on the steep east face and traversed under the summit to reach a notch on the south ridge to finish the scramble.
Next morning we left camp early as it was going to be a long day climbing Pinnacle Mountain at the head of Snow Brushy Creek Basin, the next drainage to the west, and Saska Peak on the way back to camp. Snow Brushy Creek Basin was a sad sight to see, and seeing all the toothpick like trees that had been burned in two consecutive years was a surreal and emotional experience. I could only imagine how lively and vibrant the basin once was before the natural disasters hit. Views on the summit were gorgeous, so many highest peaks of Washington around us.
On the other side of Saska Pass, we left the trail and started ascending south slopes of Saska Peak while aiming for the notch above the widest gully. Lots of choss to be had in the gully; hanging snow on north side of southwest ridge looked to be melting out fast. We carefully scrambled up the ridge, occasionally moved to the west side to avoid steep drop-offs on the east. Looking back at Pinnacle Mountain from the summit, hard to believe we just went all the way there and back. I contemplated staying until sunset for photos, but decided to head back to camp and turn in early. Another night of a starry sky for star trail shots.
Our final morning in the basin we tackled our last object–Emerald Peak. Clouds had moved into the area before dawn and they floated from one summit to the next, obstructing views of mountaintops. Cooler morning temperatures compared with the past two days. Route up Emerald was straightforward until terrain flattened out with several gullies overhead. We looked for the gully with a steep snow slope, which wasn’t visible until we went around a buttress. From there the route became a lot more obvious, with some cairns leading the way.
Snow ramp was too steep for my taste, so pup and I worked our way around the moat on climbers left. Eventually, we made it out above the snow ramp and followed lots of choss and cairns to the top. Views up here were great since we couldn’t see a thing! I taped the banner I made for the final trip on the big wall behind us and accented the ground with a couple of American flags to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday. Half an hour later clouds began to dissipate in lower elevation and Saska finally graced us with her presence. Too bad we never saw Cardinal from the summit.
On the descent, we were able to scramble down slabs on climbers right instead of going through the moat again. Funny the slabs were hard to get on from below, but much easier to get down from above. After getting back to camp, we quickly packed, I took more photos of the peaks climbed, and then headed out.
The five-mile, downhill, flat service road walk was excruciating since my big toes had been jabbed a few times during the trip. Half of the time I walked down the road sideways to alleviate the pain. Thank god the car was still around and intact when we got back.