Needle Peak by Agnes Mountain via Agnes Gorge + PCT / 針峯

  • Reading time:31 mins read

Needle Peak by Agnes Mountain sits directly west of Mount Lyall, overlooking Swamp Creek and Agnes Creek. It joins Dark Peak on the south via the jagged Anonymity Towers. Moreover, the route from the north comes right off the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

The shady side of Needle Peak
The shady side of Needle Peak

See more trip photos here.

Needle Peak et al. at a Glance

Environs = Mount Lyall + Lyall Ridge
周圍地區=萊爾山+萊爾脊

Access: High Bridge (PCT southbound)
Round Trip: 38.8 miles
Elevation Range: 1600′-7892′
Essential Gear: helmet
Route Info: Cascade Alpine Guide, Eric Eames
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no
Playlist: Hopeful


Thursday, September 7

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

High Bridge + Swamp Creek Camp

Return to the Magnificent Valley of Stehekin

After putting off the trip for two months since early July, I returned to Stehekin in early fall. I could smell the new season in the warm breeze as the daylight hours curtailed. Despite procrastinating to make the trip, I visited other places in between.

I’ve since revisited the Chilliwacks and the Pickets and squeezed in several small hikes with the dogs. I also returned to backpack in the Stone Kingdom in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Right before this trip, I spent a long day with the black lab in the Entiat Mountains.

While waiting at Fields Point Landing, I’d somehow mixed up the schedule for the different boats. So, I took my sweet time organizing for the long trip before realizing I was off by 25 minutes. Soon, the express boat sounded the horn, and I frantically grabbed everything and ran down to the dock.

While trying to catch my breath on the boat, ai thought I’d perhaps forgotten to lock the car. Before I lost cell signals, I emailed the ticket office, hoping the attendant would be willing to double-check. But I wouldn’t know for sure until my return–too late!

Stehekin by Lake Chelan with McGregor Mountain in the backdrop
Stehekin by Lake Chelan with McGregor Mountain in the backdrop

See more trip photos here.

Instagram: Swamp Creek Rendezvous

Swamp Creek Rendezvous

See more trip photos here.

High Bridge, Agnes Gorge, and Swamp Creek

The goal was to spend six days here and climb four peaks on the itinerary. It’s the cluster south of Agnes Creek, off the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Three overlook Swamp Creek, while Heather Ridge sits in the neighboring draining.

But as usual, things largely depended on the weather and my physical condition. Luckily, the excellent weather forecast for the week took my mind off of that part. Plus, I only needed to stay in one place and return to camp after each peak.

Climbing on day one after the extensive logistics is always out of the question. I left High Bridge at 12:30 for Swamp Creek as a curious deer watched me through the bushes. Then, I spent the next leisurely 9 miles on the PCT.

As I mindlessly walked the trail, my mind slowly tuned to the water noise in the gorge. So I poked my head out and soon saw the beautiful cascading falls while Needle Peak loomed in the distance. “How have I missed these the other times?” I thought.

I spotted two more deer before the campsite and hung around for the rest of the evening. During this, I reviewed the route descriptions and listened to some podcasts. Two thru-hikers soon appeared as I ate dinner by the creek, and we chatted a bit before bed.

Needle Peak from the Pacific Crest Trail
Needle Peak from the Pacific Crest Trail

See more trip photos here.


Friday, September 8

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

Needle Peak + Swamp Creek Camp

Climbing the Pointy Needle Peak on Day Two

I took the unmaintained swamp Creek Trail north of the camp in the morning. I didn’t remember much about my trip to Dark Peak. But this time, it seemed like more trees had fallen and smeared more of the trail.

I left the path at 3200′ below the north ridge and went up the steep, brushy slope. En route, I glimpsed Asa Peak and Lyall Ridge before views expanded above 4600′. The perfect camp there would largely depend on a water source, of which there was none.

One thing I paid more attention to was wasp nests after my recent trip to West Twin Needle. Cody and I had encountered many in the past but usually wouldn’t know it until we felt the first sting. But I became more aware over the summer.

The slab gully at 5000′, which Eric described, looked polished and slick. So I bypassed from the west through tall rocks and used a tree belay to reach the top in 200′. After a stroll through the mild grass slope, I got the first view of Needle Peak above 5400′.

Mount Lyall atop Swamp Creek Valley
Mount Lyall atop Swamp Creek Valley

See more trip photos here.

Traversing the Long North Ridge Through the Crux

Around here was another good place to camp along the long ridgeline. But again, one would likely need to haul up water from Swamp Creek. I checked out the route while going over a ridge bump before dropping 50′ to the saddle.

I soon went through dense foliage and sloping slabs below the sheer north face. Only then did I settle on taking the west gully after comparing the two separated by a buttress. Despite the lesser incline, the east one went over the cliffs, which seemed more sketchy.

Rather than staying in the gully, I took the west-adjacent rib for better holds amid krummholz. After gaining 600′, the two routes merged in the upper basin. Then, I tackled the crux between 7300′ and 7400′ by weaving through the west of the cliff bands.

The rocks were decent, but much exposure was above the talus field before the incline eased. Between 7600′ and 7800′, there were a series of rock ledges below the east of the crest. Then, I stepped over the notch on the other end onto the summit ridge.

Looking down the steep north ridge above Swamp Creek
Looking down the steep north ridge above Swamp Creek

See more trip photos here.

Breathtaking Views of Glacier Peak Wilderness from Needle Peak

I couldn’t run the jagged crest, so I scrambled upward below the ridgeline. As I peeked around the corner, the white rocks I’d seen earlier suddenly seemed more enticing. But for now, I’d inch my way thorugh to the higher notch at 7400′ with wobbly boulders.

For the final stretch, I dropped into a narrow gully as the crest was overhanging with wobbly rocks. Many rock grains strewed the sloping rocks, and the holds weren’t all that great. But I tested every single one en route up to the broad summit.

I’d visited nearby places, including Dark Peak above the receding Dark Glacier, with Bonanza Peak behind it. Sitting Bull, Bannock, and Plummer from last year sat west of the broad Agnes Creek Valley. Then, I carefully checked out the route on Mount Lyall for tomorrow.

Back below the crux, I opted to drop through the east gully, which looked manageable from above. The only sketchy part was crossing the top of the cliffs at 6600′, as I’d seen earlier. But there were many shrubs for belay before zigzagging through the dense trees to the saddle.

I later stemmed down the slab gully with the help of trees growing in the cracks. The rest was tedious over the same windfalls and brush. I reached Swamp Creek before spotting two other tents at the campsite as I prepared to turn in.

South panorama from Needle Peak, with Dark Peak atop Dark Glacier
South panorama from Needle Peak, with Dark Peak atop Dark Glacier

See more trip photos here.


Saturday, September 9

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

Mount Lyall + Swamp Creek Camp

Climbing Mount Lyall by Needle Peak on Day Three

People in one of the two tents had left at dawn while I was still asleep. But I joined Charlotte and Johann from Germany for breakfast before parting ways. The shirt left by one of the two folks from two nights ago was still on the tree trunk.

I returned to Swamp Creek Trail before checking out the small waterfall at 3500′. Apart from the spot of the newish slide and the tree litter, the trail was largely visible. Then it stayed flat until I crossed Swamp Creek at 3,600′ over a big log.

My memory of my first trip here in 2015 was too fuzzy to recall anything awful. I also didn’t remember much past the creek to the 400-foot waterfall besides down trees strewing the forest. I wondered if the Forest Service would ever revive the trail.

With no easy way around the clutter, I hopped through the logs while not going too high too soon. At one point, I even walked briefly in the creek bed before the tall grass appeared. Then, at 4000′, I turned uphill by the stream that fed into Swamp Creek.

Down trees and brush in Swamp Creek Valley
Down trees and brush in Swamp Creek Valley

See more trip photos here.

Through the Brushy and Rocky West Basin Below Mount Lyall

I looked for wasp nests for much of my scramble and sometimes mistook flies for the insects. I stumbled into a clearing around 5200′ but returned to the trees, where I soon found a stream. It was my first water as I’d forgotten to fill the bottle at the bottom.

I moved east while gaining 600′ and soon reached the broad basin below Mount Lyall. After stepping over more trees, I turned south along the edge of a steep scree slope with larches. Then I made a beeline for the 7300′ notch through more talus and some snow.

As the view of Sable Ridge poured in, I walked up the southwest ridge but was soon on the cliffs. So I dropped 100′ on the grass around the buttress and traversed upward below the beautiful white vertical rock strip. It looked like someone had dropped it into the ridge!

I hugged the edge below the overhang, avoiding tiny rocks over the sloping slabs. The exposed class 3 gully narrowed the closer I neared the summit. Soon, choss paved the final 200′ as I climbed through stacked boulders to finish.

Southwest gully below Mount Lyall
Southwest gully below Mount Lyall

See more trip photos here.

Views of Glacier Peak Wilderness Focusing Needle Peak

Staring across the valley at Needle Peak, it’s hard to imagine I was only there yesterday. The impressive Bonanza Peak sat front and center with the massive Company Glacier and Martin Peak. Sable Ridge had blended into the taller peaks, and Heather Ridge was only partly visible.

Before the trip, I had contemplated staying in the west basin and traversing to Lyall Ridge. But I looked at its profile and knew it would be too much work through many gullies and ribs. So, it was best to return to camp and start low again.

The marmots looked on in the basin and sent me off with their loudest possible screeching. Because of the windfalls, backtracking didn’t go as fast as I’d hoped. I reached Swamp Creek at sunset and resumed battle through the brushy drainage.

I’d somehow lost the log crossing as I paced back and forth along the water, thinking it was “two” logs. When I found it, I was low on sugar due to self-induced anxiety! From the other side, I soon found the trail at night and walked out to camp.

Northwest panorama from Mount Lyall
Northwest panorama with Needle Peak, Lyall Ridge, and Heather Ridge

See more trip photos here.


Sunday, September 10

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

Lyall Ridge + Swamp Creek Camp

Climbing Lyall Ridge by Needle Peak on Day Four

I would’ve liked more sleep after yesterday’s trip, but I woke up early for Lyall Ridge. Whoever was in the other tent that showed up last night had left in the dark. From the bridge by the camp, I crossed to the east and soon left the trail.

The wasps left their mark on me this season and made me paranoid. Once again, I spent much time ensuring I didn’t stumble into a nest while navigating through the forest. Past the brush, I continued uphill through steep grass and rock slopes.

My views comprised Asa Peak and Needle Peak from two days ago. At 6100′ on the ridgetop, I sat down and saw an old glass bottle; say what?! Soon, I followed the crest through larches, with some having begun turning colors.

I weaved through rocks and shrubs and glimpsed Lyall Ridge’s false peak to the south. Then, I scoped out the route from the clearing at 7000′. I gazed at the white rocks on the north face before deciding it was too steep to climb.

Needle Peak en route to Lyall Ridge
Needle Peak en route to Lyall Ridge

See more trip photos here.

Navigating Lyall Ridge from the West and the North

Instead, I went to the 7200′ notch to see about running the ridge there. The marmots started screaming when I crossed the rock basin along the meadow. Then I took the choss pile up to the notch without signs of the summit. Besides, the crest wasn’t suitable to traverse; ugh!

I couldn’t run the jagged crest, so I scrambled upward below the ridgeline. As I peeked around the corner, the white rocks I’d seen earlier suddenly seemed more enticing. But for now, I’d inch through to the higher notch at 7400′ with shaky boulders.

On the other side of the big rocks was a choss gully below the false summit. I quickly went for it and soon crossed to the other side, but not before going through more tiny grains. It took one class 4 move to prop myself higher to gain the north ridge.

I dropped some altitude to bypass a drop on the crest before walking to the bottom of Lyall Ridge. Below the top, there was more scree to fight through, as if I hadn’t paid enough dues. Then, with one more class 4 move, I’d reached the narrow, airy summit.

False summit on Lyall Ridge from the upper basin
False summit on Lyall Ridge from the upper basin

See more trip photos here.

Viewing Glacier Peak Wilderness, Including Needle Peak

The slanted false summit I saw on my way here looked even more impressive. With dropoffs on both sides of the narrow ledge across the top, I took most of my photos sitting down. I experienced slight vertigo while taking a selfie, but I’m glad I was sitting down.

West views had become hazy compared with the last two sunny days. But most peaks, including Hurry-Up Peak on the Ptarmigan Traverse, were still visible. Needle Peak looked even pointier from here; perhaps that’s how it got the name.

On the way out, I stopped briefly on the false peak before retracing my steps down the mountain. I dropped onto the granite rock face instead of returning through the sketchy west ridge. That’s the route I should’ve taken. Oh well, shoulda, woulda, coulda!

Back at 6100′, where I had taken a break earlier, I tripped over a rock and rolled over once. I blamed the larch trees since they distracted me with their new colors; dang it! I dropped 3300′, rolled into camp after dark, and slept after dinner.

South panorama with Mount Lyall, Dark Peak, and Needle Peak
South panorama with Mount Lyall, Dark Peak, and Needle Peak

See more trip photos here.


Monday, September 11

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

High Bridge Campground + Exit

Leaving Agnes Creek Valley for High Bridge

I woke up with an extreme discomfort on my right hip as I lay on my left side. Perhaps it was the slight tumble, but I didn’t remember bumping into anything. When I tried getting up to prepare, I could barely move my right leg due to the pain.

So I stayed inside and stretched, but that didn’t help much. So, I decided to use today to recover from the past three days and leave a day earlier. I went back to sleep, and the next thing I knew, it was 1 o’clock when I woke up again.

Even though the pain had reduced, I couldn’t fully lift my leg due to the soreness. After packing, I photographed the bridge before noticing a hornet nest hanging from the tree beside it. Um, I ate dinner under that thing the first night. OMG!

I soon walked down Agnes Creek Trail but went very slowly, with more pressure on my left leg. Only after half a mile was I back at my usual speed. But I was glad to have given myself a free day to see if it’d improve or worsen.

One last look at Needle Peak
One last look at Needle Peak

See more trip photos here.

Back to Stehekin Bakery and Out Through Stehekin Landing

I checked out the waterfalls in the gorge again and briefly chatted with a hiker before continuing. They spent the night by Pass Creek, where I’d leave the trail had I climbed Heather Ridge. Alas, I made it to Agnes Creek soon after.

Before crossing the bridge, I retrieved the rope and rock shoes I had left behind on the way in. Oddly, everything I put under the rocks was still intact except for a missing shoe. So, either an animal took it, or someone desperately needed one rock shoe!

Staying at the High Bridge Camp on my fifth night was a nice change of scenery. The following day, I took the 9 AM shuttle back to Stehekin. But not before everyone on board grabbed a bunch of yummies from the bakery.

According to a ranger, forest service has reopened closures around the Blue Lake Fire. After getting their supplies, most hikers continued to Highway 20 back at High Bridge. And some chose to go through Chelan and hitchhike to Mazama.

Back in Stehekin by Lake Chelan
Back in Stehekin by Lake Chelan

See more trip photos here.

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3 > Day 4 > Day 5

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from One Hike A Week / 每週一行

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading