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

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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, they make up the rugged backbone of Central Cascades. Meanwhile, Pete Lake Trail offers direct access to these peaks.

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 time in 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 new places close to home. I took a personal day off 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

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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 around. 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’d 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 seemed to make time go by fast. Before long, I had passed the least exciting flat trail and walked around the lake with several 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 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 diving into the open forest. I made it to the North Fork Lemah Creek in half a mile. Then I crossed the shallow water on the only skinny log.

I used Craig‘s report and immediately found the climber’s path on the other side. There was flagging to guide me in the beginning. The trail had faded due to windfalls in some places, 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 eased past the steepest part from 4200′ to 4400′. I went through a short stretch of dense vegetation before entering the 4800′ meadow. The one giant boulder with a flat top looked perfect for a night’s stay.

Before the trip, I had thought about climbing Chimney Rock in a day. But with three days to spare, I wanted to enjoy my time here. 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

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Chimney Rock Climb

Chimney Rock wasn’t visible until I climbed 200′ onto the moraine. My first reaction when seeing something like it was always, “Holy isht, for real?”. Soon, I went north on the rocky terrain, then 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 it had! 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. But after scoping out the glacier, I knew I could shortcut with the extra snow. Then I took a big step and reached the snowfield over a small gap 50′ below.

I made the .75-mile traverse through the glacier under Chimney Rock’s three impressive summits. En route were several 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 see the moat higher up, but it’d be better to leave the snow while I still could. Then I hugged the headwall and 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 by 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.

Looking at the route descriptions, I couldn’t tell how far up the white rocks I needed to climb. But I went through class 3 to 4 terrain before finding the way to cross the dividing buttress. Then I walked up the ramp 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 by the noticeable dead end. I changed into rock shoes (glad I brought them!) and went up using decent holds. Meanwhile, I avoided pulling on anything around the grass and dirt.

More slabs showed up on the second pitch, but with plenty of holds to continue efficiently. I found the start of the final pitch easily using puzzlr’s photos. Soon, I finished the climb through 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 had slowly become misty when I reached the broad summit. Being the highest point here, views were still hands down the best. But seeing Burnt Boot Peak, which we visited recently, was incredibly surreal.

Iceberg Lake, which I first saw from Mount Thomson, was within grasp. Then I spotted the unmistakable Chikamin Peak sticking out from behind Lemah Mountain. The summit register had rolled too thick to pull out the bottle without tearing it.

Southwest panorama from Chimney Rock
Southwest panorama from Chimney Rock

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Leaving Chimney Rock

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

Returning to the glacier from the loose rock gully went surprisingly well. I thought I would struggle to prop myself up onto the snow. But I did need to face in until the incline eased; 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 awoke early this morning but felt lazy after yesterday’s climb. So I decided to relax and mosey my way out whenever. Plus, I used the windy morning as my excuse to bum around until the sun came into the meadow.

I started moving at 9 AM to make the one mile 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 returned to the PCT after a short 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. I blew my whistle and beat the poles fiercely before a PCT hiker, Little Legs, appeared. But they never heard the animals shuffling with her headphones on. Yikes.

We chatted about their adventures on the trail before parting ways. It was interesting to hear them questioning the decision to hike the PCT. 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

At the PCT bridge washout, I said hello to two folks and went west straight into the woods. As Jeff had noted, the trail faded after going about 1000′. Then the sparse cairns led me through the path of the least resistance.

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

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 imagined but far. Meanwhile, I carefully went through the wetland as I avoided the dense vegetation in the east.

En route, I crossed the creek several times as it wound through the valley. I tried avoiding the large slide alder swath from the shore, but it didn’t work well. So I went through a small part before removing 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 rocky terrain lower down had made it feel much longer. Then things started to look promising when I continued in crampons on the snow.

I avoided walking directly over the raging water under the snowfield. It was much more noticeable lower down over the thinner snow. Meanwhile, rock debris below the east wall had me stay away from the east wall.

Waterfalls galore
Waterfalls galore

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Lemah Mountain Southeast Route

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

After climbing 200′, I put on crampons and returned to the snow for another 300′. Soon, I was at the moat, where I moved onto the rocks near the running stream. The following 200′ over the sloping 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′ snow with crampons below the south ridge. Then I ditched the snow gear and walked a short way to the notch above 7200′. The rest of the climb was direct with some exposure.

The clouds had rolled over the ridgeline from the west earlier. So I thought, “Ugh, there goes the views I had worked so hard to see.” But as I walked up the crest, the mists soon 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. From here, Three Queens, Mount Rainier, and Chimney Rock were the main attractions. But everything to the west was under a sea of clouds by then.

As enticing as the bivvy spot looked, I wanted to exit as far as possible before dark. I wish I had more time to savor the views, as I might not return. But with a noon start from the trail, it 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 was low on energy even to figure out a way around the annoying slide alder. So I decided to call it and bivvied above the wetland.

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

Back in upper Lemah Meadows
Back in upper Lemah Meadows

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Day 3

PCT + Exit

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Back to South Lemah Bridge

Before leaving for Lemah Mountain, I set up the tent at the group camp by Pete Lake Trail. I wondered if some animal (or someone) would mess with it while I was away. Then I remembered the used toilet paper by the entry and thought, “Naw.”.

Back at the washout, I met JJ Giveaway on his break. We talked as he told me about his double-knee surgery in March. “And you’re hiking the PCT now?! Wuh?? But 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 saw another PCT hiker, Chameleon, by the north fork bridge. He had also started hiking from Oregon like others I’d met on this trip. Luckily, they all had reached 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 plus my dinner from last night. Then I packed before it grew 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, it was only one more mile before returning to the car.

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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