McGregor Mountain by Boat / 搭船到麥葛瑞格山

McGregor Mountain was my fourth time going through Stehekin to a climb. The first time I went climbing Storm King. The second and third times, I climbed Dark Peak and the Devore Slam, respectively. I initially planned a three-day trip for the mountain. But we ended up having just two days to spare.

So long to McGregor Mountain
So long to McGregor Mountain

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McGregor Mountain at a Glance

Access: Stehekin, Washington
Round Trip: 17.5 miles
Elevation Range: 1600′-8122′
Gear: helmet, crampons, ice ax
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: on the standard route

Riding the Lady of the Lake II Ferry

Like times before, we rode the ferry from Fields Point Landing. While boarding the boat, I ran into two friends from the Seattle Mountaineers. I also saw Eric, a fellow climber, beforehand. He was well on his way to finishing the second hundred highest peaks of Washington. Meanwhile, the pup was busy getting attention from other passengers.

It’s was fun catching up with Carolyn and Carry from the Seattle Mountaineers. The three-hour ferry ride went by in the blink of an eye through conversations. I also really got to talk to Eric for the first time. We’d see each other in passing over the years, including the time when I went climbing West McMillan Spire.

A long way to go
Riding Lady of the Lake II on Lake Chelan

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Getting to High Bridge on Stehekin Shuttle

The ladies got off at Moore Point for their hike into Stehekin. Eric landed in Lucerne to climb in the Fourth of July Basin. Once we got into Stehekin, we went straight to the Golden West Visitor Center for a camping permit. Unfortunately, another party had claimed the only spot at Heaton Camp. High Bridge was also full. So the next closest option would be Tumwater Campground.

Since we didn’t get to High Bridge until 3 PM, I needed to revise our itinerary. Not camping higher up on the mountain meant we would need a much earlier start time. So that way, we would get to the top and make it back to camp before noon. Then we would ride the red shuttle back to Stehekin in time for the ferry. Oh, the logistics!

Home sweet home at Tumwater Campground
Home sweet home at Tumwater Campground

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McGregor Mountain Alpine Start

There were two empty sites at Tumwater. So the pup and I got the more private one. Then we spent the rest of the time hanging out and went to bed early. Judging from other reports, the average time to get to the summit was 6 to 6.5 hours. That meant our 11:30 PM start time would put us on top by 6 AM at the latest. That’s If there were no surprises along the way, of course.

So we first went north and crossed the Tumwater Bridge. Then we got on the connector trail to reach the Pacific Crest Trail. From there, we backtracked to near Howard Lake (formerly Coon Lake) and then took the McGregor Mountain Trail. Just past the lake in the meadow, I saw a deer staring back in the dark. There was no shortage of switchbacks on this trail!

McGregor Mountain here we come
McGregor Mountain here we come

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The Base of McGregor Mountain

The sky started to brighten a bit when we got to the talus in the lower basin. After hiking 5.5 miles and gaining 5200′, we were finally at the base of the mountain. But we somehow missed Heaton Camp on the way up. I knew it was cloudy up higher. But I didn’t realize how weak the visibility was until after sunrise. I started having doubts about the clouds burning off any time soon.

It was windy in the south basin. So we chilled behind a big rock. Then we spent the next hour waiting out the clouds. But they never moved an inch! I wasn’t sure where the reported red-painted arrow would be since I couldn’t see much. I was also unsure of the access gully’s whereabouts. So we followed recent boot tracks up the snowfield.

When life gives you lemons
When life gives you lemons

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Route Finding in the Mist

The tracks were going away from the summit. So we reoriented ourselves once the path disappeared right below the talus. It looked like people who left us the trail decided to turn around here. We continued uphill as the terrain steepened. Then we followed a steep snow finger up into a gully. But I knew we were still off-route at this point. So the goal was to start veering right toward the summit block.

I knew if we continued on the snow finger, then the cliffs would stop us up at the notch. So halfway up the snow, we followed a ramp and went east onto a minor ridge. I hoped this way would get us to somewhere more promising, and it did! Just around the corner, I noticed a short cairn. Then I realized we were off the route by one gully to the west.

Back on track to McGregor Mountain
Back on track to McGregor Mountain

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McGregor Mountain Summit Plus No Views

With the help of cairns and some red painted arrows, we quickly went up on the west ridge. Since the clouds persisted, we missed the view of the magnificent Sandalee Glacier from here. Damn. Afterward, we got back on the snow and went toward the summit. Even with weak visibility, the path was still easy to follow. Amazing how many arrows I saw all of a sudden.

The only thing visible during our 45-minute stay on this summit was the lone radio tower. Clouds drifted away a few times, but not long enough to get any views. Too bad we couldn’t stick around and wait out the mist. But we still needed to get back down to catch the shuttle. I was hoping to see Lake Chelan from up here. Alas, maybe next time.

Almost but not quite
Almost but not quite

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Descending Back to Tumwater Camp

Now that we knew the way, it didn’t take long to get back down to the big snowfield. As we proceeded to hike down the defined path, I noticed Heaton Camp nicely tucked in among trees. Not sure how we’d miss it on the way up since it’s practically right next to the trail. I was glad not to have carried everything up here for the climb. We traveled much lighter by leaving the overnight gear behind.

Once we got below the mist, views to the south began to form. Many familiar high points like Tupshin Peak and Devore Peak were going in and out of the clouds. For the most part, the glaciated Agnes Creek Valley looked very beautiful. I even got a glimpse of Agnes Mountain and Bonanza Peak when clouds moved away briefly.

Goode Ridge
Goode Ridge

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Getting Back to Stehekin on Red Shuttle

We made it back to camp in time to break camp. Afterward, we hiked half a mile back to High Bridge. While killing time before the shuttle arrived, I chatted with a couple from Florida. They had set out to visit all of the US national parks as a married couple. What an impressive goal! I also got to talk to a couple of WSU students who came out after us. They were the ones who studied marmots at Heaton Camp. How cool!

One thing about Stehekin is that you’re likely to run into the same people. After the shuttle arrived, two more couples we met the day before were just getting off. One couple went to see the Agnes Creek Gorge. The other quickly checked out High Bridge then headed back down to Stehekin with us. On the way back, we made a pitstop at the Stehekin Bakery. One simply could not leave this place without paying a visit!

Waiting for ferry with new friend Sweet Pea
Waiting for the ferry with new friend Sweet Pea

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Ferry Ride Back to Fields Point Landing

Back at the dock, we met up with Carolyn and Carry. They had a fabulous time hiking and camping by Lake Chelan. They even rented bikes to ride up the road after getting to Stehekin. The ferry ended up getting in late. So we had plenty of time to kill before finally leaving at 2:30 PM.

This area makes an excellent getaway for people who want to escape the city chaos. I will come back again, even if only for the bakery.

Till next time
Till next time

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