McGregor Mountain by Boat / 搭船到麥葛瑞格山

So long to McGregor Mountain
So long to McGregor Mountain

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McGregor Mountain marked my fourth time going through Stehekin, WA, on the way to a climb. My first time here, I went climbing Storm King with five friends. The second and third times here, I climbed Dark Peak and Devore Slam peaks, respectively. I originally planned a three-day trip for McGregor. But as it turned, we needed to climb the mountain with only two days to spare.

The Lowdown on McGregor Mountain

Access: Stehekin, Washington
Round Trip: 17.5 miles
Elevation Range: 1600′-8122′
Gear: helmet, crampons, ice ax
GPS Track: available

Lady of the Lake II Ferry Ride

Like times before, we caught the ferry in Fields Point Landing. While boarding the boat, I unexpectedly 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 great to catch 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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Stehekin Shuttle to High Bridge

The ladies got off at Moore Point for their hike into Stehekin. Eric landed in Lucerne for his climb in the Fourth of July Basin. As soon as we got to Stehekin, we went to get a camping permit at the Golden West Visitor Center. Unfortunately, another party had claimed the only spot at the 6800′ Heaton Camp Since High Bridge was also full, the next closest option was 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 that we’d need a much earlier start. So that way, we would summit early and make it back to camp before noon. Then we’d need to catch the red shuttle in time for the ferry ride back to Fields Point Landing. Oh, the logistics!

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

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McGregor Mountain Climb

There were only two campsites at Tumwater; the pup and I gor the more secluded one. Then we spent the rest of the time hanging around and went to bed early. Judging from other trip 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 at the top by 6 AM at the latest. That’s without any surprises, of course.

First, we 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 got on the McGregor Mountain Trail. Just past the lake in the meadow, I saw a deer staring back at us in the dark. There were lots of switchbacks on this trail!

On the right track
On the right track

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Arriving at the Base of McGregor Mountain

The sky started to light up 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. We somehow missed Heaton Camp on the way up. I knew it was cloudy higher up, but didn’t realize how bad the visibility was until after sunrise. I began having doubts about clouds burning off any time soon.

It was windy in the basin below the mountain, so we hung out behind a big rock. Then we spent the next hour waiting out the clouds, but they never moved! Since we couldn’t see anything, we had no way of finding the red painted arrows mentioned in reports. Uncertain of the access gully’s whereabouts, we followed recent boot tracks up the snowfield.

When life gives you lemons
When life gives you lemons

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Route Finding Fun Amid the Clouds

The tracks were going away from the summit. So we we reoriented ourselves once the path disappeared just below the talus. They decided to turn around here whoever they were. We continued uphill just as the terrain steepened. Then we followed a steep snow finger up into a gully. Though, at this point, I knew we were still off-route. But the goal was to start veering right toward the summit block.

I knew if we continued to head up on the snow finger, we’d cliff out at the notch eventually. So halfway up the snow, we followed a ramp due east onto a minor ridge. I hoped that 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 by one gully to the west.

Back on track
Back on track

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Nothing to See on McGregor Mountain Summit

With the help of cairns and the occasional red painted arrows, we soon got up to the west ridge. Since the clouds persisted, we couldn’t see the magnificent Sandalee Glacier from here. Damn. Then we got on the snow and headed toward the summit. Even with low visibility, the path was still easy to follow. Amazing how many arrows I’m noticing 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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Descent 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 mists, views to the south began to come in. 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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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 a awesome goal! I also got to talked to a couple of WSU students who came out after us. They were the ones who stayed at Heaton Camp to study marmots. So cool!

One thing about spending time in and around Stehekin is that you 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 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 a great getaway for those who want to escape the chaotic city life. I’d definitely come back again even if it’s just for the bakery.

Till next time
Till next time

See more trip photos here.

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