Middle Chiwaukum and Then Some / 奇瓦康姆中峯遠不止此

Wanna get close to you
Wanna get close to you

See more trip photos here.

Middle Chiwaukum has been on my radar ever since our trip to Big Chiwaukum two summers ago. Up until a large group ventured up in early January I hadn’t thought about climbing the peak in wintry conditions. But then I had to put it on hold after the unusual February snowstorms hit the Pacific Northwest.

So, in preparation for tomorrow’s Big Climb event, yellow pup and I headed out on another long-day adventure. Thanks to Jeff’s recent report on nwhikers, I was able to determine the amount of unexciting road walk needed. To think that the last time we were here, I was able to drive clear to the trailhead!

The Lowdown on Middle Chiwaukum

Access: White Pine Road
Round Trip: 10.5 miles
Elevation Range: 2320′-7423′
Gear: ice axe, snowshoes
GPS Track: available

Road Walk to White Pine Trailhead

The drive on White Pine Road took some careful maneuvering over mud and ice. I stopped half a mile short of the Cascade Meadows Baptist Camp. But as we were getting ready to hike, out came a car from farther ahead. The driver informed me I could drive another half a mile up the road without problems. Getting closer to the camp meant less road walk, hooray!

Once I parked at the pullout before the camp, we proceeded to hike through the gate. Since White Pine Road was now behind a tall snow berm, I had completely missed it. Thinking we were on the main road, we strolled through the camp’s property on a nicely plowed walkway, oops!

I put on snowshoes after getting back on the road and immediately noticed the change in the snow quality. Snowshoe tracks, presumably from last week’s hikers, were sitting on top of firmer snow. We were, however, punching through in places and slowly getting through the two miles to the summer trailhead at 2800′.

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Approach to the Upper Northwest Ridge

Many tracks that got here had continued past the trailhead, so I naturally assumed they belonged to the day hikers. To avoid hiking the trail, I decided to enter the forest and head straight uphill. The decision ended up costing us more time due to the inconsistency in the snow.

The initial 1400′ was dreadfully slow, one of the handful of times with more soft snow in the forest. Gradually moving toward the northwest ridge, at 4,200′ we stumbled upon old tracks below the ridge crest. Channeling my inner Madea: “Hellur Hallelujer, praise da Lort!” The tracks looked to be coming from the base of the ridge; guess we should’ve hiked the trail after all!

Despite having a path to follow, we punched through in many places. But at least now we were able to take route finding out of the equation. For the next 1600′ we headed up the viewless steep slopes at a faster pace. Eventually, the ridge flattened out at 5800′, and we got our first look of North Chiwaukum at 5900′.

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Northwest Ridge Traverse

The mesmerizing view of the northeast ridge leading to the sheer north face of North Chiwaukum was breathtaking. As we leisurely snowshoed across the gentle terrain under the blazing sun, something else had suddenly caught my eye. It was the Middle Chiwaukum nonchalantly poking her head out from behind the ridgeline. Holy isht it looked gnarly!

As we gradually approached North Chiwaukum, I considered cutting the ridge to the south saddle. But instead, we went up to North Chiwaukum after I remembered the report mentioning it wasn’t worth the extra time. The views kept on getting better and better, and even more spectacular from the summit of North Chiwaukum.

We took a much-needed break here and enjoyed the views to the south. Clouds were high enough to see many familiar faces: Big Jim Mountian, Mount Stuart, and Big Chiwaukum. On the other side of the connecting ridge was the intimidating Middle Chiwaukum staring us down and calling our names. So off we go!

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Middle Chiwaukum via the East Ridge

As we descended toward the saddle, I noticed the wind-blown snow piles had since buried the old snowshoe tracks. Recent ski tracks from the back side of the ridge had made their way over to Middle Chiwaukum. When we got up to the east shoulder, I immediately understood why a group had turned around here.

For me, traction from the snowshoes sufficed. But one slip could easily send one down either side of the snow arête. Not wanting to take chances, I broke out the ice axe for the 100′ steep section below the false summit. Much of the snow on the south face had melted, so I made the last bit of climbing in boots. We arrived on the corniced and windy summit.

Clouds were beginning to congregate around the skyline when we topped out. Within a half hour, peaks like Big Chiwaukum, Mount Stuart, and the Stuart Range were the first to go. Glad I got to see them before they completely disappeared from view. Snow was still blanketing Ewing Basin and the two big lakes, Chiwaukum Lake and Larch Lake, nestled within.

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Getting down the east ridge took less effort and time than getting up. Snowshoes alone provided enough security that the crampons continued to stay in the pack. We made a quick stop back on North Chiwaukum before heading back down the northwest ridge. Snow quality had worsened in the afternoon, much easier to carve out a new path for the reverse ridge traverse.

The most annoying part about the descent took place in the lower parts of the ridge in the forest. Even the existing tracks over popcorn-textured snow couldn’t keep us from repeatedly punching through. I hope I didn’t scare the wildlife out of the forest with the constant swearing and screaming from postholing.

The two-mile road walk back to the car was unquestionably one of the lowlights on this trip.

Thanks for a long but amazing day
Thanks for a long but amazing day

See more trip photos here.

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