Chimney Rock + Lemah Mountain via Pete Lake Trail + PCT / 煙囪岩

  • Reading time:30 mins read

Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain rank #2 and #4 in Alpine Lakes after Mount Daniel and Mount Hinman. Merely eight miles north of Snoqualmie Pass, the peaks make up part of the rugged backbone of Central Cascades. Meanwhile, Pete Lake Trail offers a direct way to these high points.

Chimney Rock above Lemah Meadows
Chimney Rock above Lemah Meadows

See more trip photos here.

Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain at a Glance

Access: Pete Lake Trailhead
Round Trip: 31 miles
Elevation Range: 2840′-7727
Gear: helmet, crampons, ice ax, rock & rope
Route Info: Craig Weiland, Gimpilator, puzzlr, Jeff Heidel
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no

August 12-14, 2022

Day 1 – Friday, August 12
4800′ Camp + Chimney Rock
Night 1 – 4800′ Camp

Day 2 – Saturday, August 13
Lemah Mountain
Night 2 – Upper Lemah Meadows

Day 3 – Sunday, August 14
PCT + Exit


Day 1

4800′ Camp + Chimney Rock

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

The Preface on Chimney Rock

I took my first photo of Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain during my first trip to Teanaway. Then they inadvertently stayed on my “someday” list for the next 13 years as other places kept me busy.

The peaks popped into my head this week as I looked for a new place close to home. So I took a personal day from work and boarded the dogs. Then I spent three days in an area I hadn’t visited in all my years in the Cascades.

Pete Lake Trail
Pete Lake Trail

See more trip photos here.

Pete Lake Trail

As expected, I arrived at the trailhead to a packed lot at 3:30 AM. The gorgeous summer weather meant lots of campers out and about. After organizing my pack and rechecking the maps, I embarked on the weekend’s adventure.

The yellow pup and I hiked this trail three years ago to Polallie Ridge above Cooper Lake. So it would be my first time going past the Tired Creek junction. I couldn’t wait to explore places beyond Pete Lake and Lemah Meadows.

Island Mountain in the AM
Island Mountain in the AM

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Pete Lake to Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Hiking in the dark seems to make time go by fast. Before long, I had passed the least eventful flat trail and walked around the lake adorned with many nearby tents. Then I continued to Lemah Meadows past Spectacle Lake Trail.

At mile 6.5, I turned north onto the PCT and met two hikers by a campsite. One guy was going southbound to finish section J. The other one started in Oregon and hoped to reach Canada by the end of the month.

Pete Lake before sunrise
Pete Lake before sunrise

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En Route to 4800′ Camp

Soon, I reached the first switchback and walked 100′ past the vine maples before delving into the open forest. Then I was at the North Fork Lemah Creek in half a mile. Shortly, I crossed the shallow water on the only skinny log.

I used Craig‘s report and immediately found the climber’s trail on the other side. There was some flagging to guide me initially. Some parts had faded due to windfalls, but I managed to piece together the rest.

This way to Chimney Rock
This way to Chimney Rock

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4800′ Camp Below Chimney Rock

The incline reduced past the steepest part from 4200′ to 4400′. I went through a short stretch of dense vegetation before going out into the 4800′ meadow. The one giant boulder with a flat top was perfect for a night’s stay.

Before the trip, I had thought about climbing Chimney Rock in a day. But since I had three days, I wanted to enjoy them. So I brought extra gear, including an ice tool, a picket, and four pairs of shoes–approach, camp, mountaineering, and rock.

4800' camp below Chimney Rock
4800′ camp below Chimney Rock

See more trip photos here.

Chimney Rock Climb

Chimney Rock wasn’t visible until I went up 200′ onto the moraine. My first reaction when seeing something like it was always, “Holy isht!”? Soon, I went north on the rocky terrain, followed by a grassy slope with small streams.

I rounded the east ridge at 5800′, where I saw the next-door Summit Chief Mountain. What an impressive south wall! Then I dropped some attitude on snow around Peak 6760 to the north saddle at 6150′.

Checking out the gully on Chimney Rock
Checking out the gully on Chimney Rock

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Chimney Rock Glacier

Several GPS tracks I found went higher to 6400′ below the north peak. So after seeing the glacier, I knew my way wouldn’t have worked without the extra snow. But glad I could reach the snowfield over a small gap 50′ below.

I made the .75-mile traverse over the glacier under Chimney Rock’s three impressive summits. En route was a few small crevasses, which I bypassed easily. Soon, I was at the gully entrance looking up at the U-Gap.

Chimney Rock Glacier at last
Chimney Rock Glacier at last

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Chimney Rock Glacier to U-Gap

I climbed the steep slope before finding one place to go onto the slabs. I couldn’t tell the moat conditions higher up, but I wanted to leave the snow sooner. Then I hugged the headwall and slowly went up the gully via lots of loose rocks.

Despite more snow this year, climbing went better higher in the gully. I avoided the steep snow ramp below the top via a shallow moat. Then as puzzlr pointed out, scrambling from there to the gap was solid.

Taking the loose rock route to the U-Gap
Taking the loose rock route to the U-Gap

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Improbable Ledge to Key Ledge

Above the U-Gap were slabs that took me to the corner before the Improbable Ledge. Rounding the south peak got me through a few exposed spots. Soon, I followed the ramp and dipped toward the gully below the summit tower.

I couldn’t tell how far up the white rocks I needed to climb. But I continued through class 3 to 4 terrain before finding the way to cross the dividing buttress. Then I took the ramp up to the ledge adorned with several bivvy spots.

Traversing the Improbable Ledge
Traversing the Improbable Ledge

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The Final Strech on Chimney Rock

The technical climb started at the end of the ledge. So I changed into rock shoes (glad I brought them!) and went up using the decent holds. But I avoided pulling on anything around the grass and dirt.

More slabs showed up on the second pitch, but with plenty of holds to get me through. I found the start of the final pitch easily using puzzlr’s photos. Then I finished the climb up the chimney over small chockstones.

Climbing the first of three pitches
Climbing the first of three pitches

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Chimney Rock Summit Views

The west was beginning to become misty when I reached the broad summit. But being the highest point in this area, views were hands down the best. Seeing Burnt Boot Peak, which we visited recently, was incredibly surreal.

Iceberg Lake, which I first saw from Mount Thomson, was now within grasp. Then I noticed Chikamin Peak sticking out from behind Lemah Mountain. The summit register had rolled too thick to pull out the bottle.

Southwest panorama from Chimney Rock
Southwest panorama from Chimney Rock

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Leaving Chimney Rock

I kept my visit short before leaving the top and retracing my steps. But instead of four rappels, I made three when I went past the first anchor. But glad that the 60m rope had reached the small platform above the ledge to downclimb.

Going back onto the glacier from the loose rock gully went surprisingly well. I thought I’d struggle to prop myself up in the snow. But I did face in for a bit until the incline lessened; thank you, my beloved ice ax and tool!

Retracing steps
Retracing steps

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Day 2

Lemah Mountain

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Back to the PCT

I woke up early this morning but felt lazy after yesterday’s climb. So I decided to take it easy and mosey my way out whenever. Plus, the windy morning was my excuse to lie around for the sun to come into the meadow.

I started moving at 9 AM to make the one mile down to the trail. I thought I wouldn’t have issues retracing my steps, but I lost the path again in a few places. After crossing Lemah Creek, I was back on the PCT after a quick scramble.

The view outside my window
The view outside my window

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En Route to South Lemah Bridge

Soon, two black bears farther down the trail caught my attention. So I blew my whistle and beat the poles fiercely before a hiker appeared. But she never heard the animals since she had on her headphones. Yikes.

Little Legs and I chatted for a long while before parting ways. It was interesting to hear them questioning the decision to hike the trail. Luckily, they and the husband, Hot Sauce, had only started in southern Oregon.

North Fork Lemah Creek in the AM
North Fork Lemah Creek in the AM

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Upper Lemah Meadows Plus Whinnimic Falls

I said hello to two folks at the bridge washout and went west into the woods. As Jeff had pointed out, the trail faded after about 1000′. But the sparse cairns past that point led me through the path of the least resistance.

A faint trail and a few cairns later appeared in the open. But I followed the slabs up to Point 3854, where Lemah Mountain’s five fingers and Whinnimic Falls came into view. I dropped 100′ to the lush meadow afterward.

Lemah Mountain from Point 3854
Lemah Mountain from Point 3854

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En Route to the Snow Gully

After a break by the serene Lemah Creek, I aimed for the snow gully. It looked more direct than I had pictured but far. Meanwhile, I carefully went through the wetland while avoiding the dense vegetation in the east.

En route were places where I crossed the creek a few times as it wound through the valley. I tried bypassing the large slide alder swath from the shoreline, but it didn’t work out well. So I went through a bit before taking off my shoes to cross the thigh-high water.

Above Lemah Meadows
Above Lemah Meadows

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Snow Gully to Lemah Glacier

From the meadow to the top of the gully took a little over two miles. But the initially rocky terrain had made it feel much longer. Then things started to look promising from the snow as I continued in crampons.

The running water I heard came from the west side mostly. But it was more noticeable lower down over the thinner snow. The rock debris below the east wall had me decide not to hug the east wall.

Waterfalls galore
Waterfalls galore

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Lemah Mountain Southeast Route

At the top of the gully, I went up 100′ slabs with running water before returning to the snow. Soon, I traversed south over a mild incline under Lemah Five and Lemah Four. Then scrambled the southeast ridge on solid ledges.

After going up 200′, I put on crampons again and returned to snow for another 300′. Then that put me at the moat, where I move onto the rocks near the running stream. The following 200′ over the downsloping slabs was the steepest.

Lemah Mountain southeast route
Lemah Mountain southeast route

See more trip photos here.

The Final Stretch on Lemah Mountain

I went through another 200′ of snow below the south ridge with crampons. Then I ditched the snow gear and walked a short way to the notch above 7200′. The rest of the climb to the top was direct with some exposure.

The clouds had rolled in from the west over the ridgeline earlier. So I thought, “Well, there goes the views I had been waiting to see.” But as I walked up the crest, the mists had lowered to show the top of the peaks.

The final stretch
The final stretch

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Lemah Mountain Summit Views

Views improved as the inversion slowly formed under the evening sky. Three Queens, Mount Rainier, and Chimney Rock were the main attractions. But everything west of here was now under a sea of clouds.

As enticing as the bivy spot looked, I wanted to exit as far as possible before dark. I wish I had more time to savor the landscape as I might not return soon. But a noon start from the trail didn’t leave me much time to hang around.

Northern panorama with Chimney Rock
Northern panorama with Chimney Rock

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Back to Upper Lemah Meadows

Once again, I retraced my steps and reached the meadows at a decent hour. But I didn’t even want to think about finding a way around the slide alder. So I decided to call it and bivvied above the wetland.

In the morning, I woke up at 4:30 and watched a few episodes of Uncoupled until sunrise. It was another moonlit night, so bright I couldn’t fall asleep. But I later dozed off to the competing sounds of Whinnimic Falls and Lemah Creek.

Back in upper Lemah Meadows
Back in upper Lemah Meadows

See more trip photos here.


Day 3

PCT + Exit

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Back to South Lemah Bridge

I had set up the tent at the group camp by Pete Lake Trail before leaving for Lemah Mountain. But I wondered if some animal (or someone) had messed with it. Then I remembered some used toilet paper by the entry and thought, “Naw.”.

Back at the washout, I met JJ Giveaway on a break. We talked as he told me about his double-knee surgery in March. “And you’re hiking the PCT now?!” Congrats! It was his fourth and final segment in finishing the 2650-mile-long trail.

JJ Giveaway and Chameleon
JJ Giveaway and Chameleon

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En Route to PCT Group Camp

I later met another PCT hiker, Chameleon, by the north fork bridge. He had also started hiking from Oregon like others I’ve met. Everyone had made it into Washington before the recent McKinney Fire forced a significant reroute.

Back at camp, I enjoyed the incredible view of Chimney Rock by the creek. I was so hungry that I ate breakfast and my dinner from last night. Then I packed before it became too warm and walked a short way to the fork.

Packing up at group camp
Packing up at group camp

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Exiting via Pete Lake Trail

Glad I had set aside my third day for a relaxing exit. It also left me plenty of time to pick up the dogs from boarding. Soon, I met the first people from Spectacle Lake as they forded the creek back to Pete Lake Trail.

All campers by Pete Lake had left when I passed the serene water. Then I met several groups going up to the lake for the day. After meeting a lone hiker and his yellow Labrador, I walked back to the car in the last mile.

Finding my way home
Finding my way home

See more trip photos here.

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Susan Shih

    John, enjoyed reading your Chimney Rock and Lemah report. You’re amazing! Sue

  2. Laurel Geisbush

    Beautiful photos John and great trip report! The inversion was really stunning. I was out closeby to you Sat/Sun just NE over at Daniel :). With the clouds, we waited to summit until Sunday and had a hot clear day. I was able to hit the east, middle and west summit. Saw some footprints going up a very STEEP face on the north peak. Hard to imagine doing that from the vantage we had a the summit.

    1. onehikeaweek

      Thanks Laurel. Glad to hear that the trip went well.

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