November 22, 2015
Skagit Valley / Manning Park Area, BC
Hatchethead Mountain is a rather insignificant and partially forested summit in the very northern part of the Skagit Valley Recreational Area. The access is often done from the Manning Park side via a deactivated logging/mine road system and the most logistic way is by a ridge traverse up and over the summit of Claimstake Mountain. This is one peak that not many people would bother to ascend except for the undeterred peak-baggers. Alex and I are among those selected ones and to make this a more “memorable” ascend we decided to try in winter conditions with Alex on skis and myself on snowshoes. Earlier in the trip we already ascended Silverdaisy Mountain and then Claimstake Mountain, and this was the second day, after a scenic bivy near the summit of Claimstake Mountain.
The elevation loss from the summit of Claimstake to Claimstake/Hatchethead col was massive – probably close to 300 m by a rough guess. It’s also more involved than expected with a few steep and icy rolls. The snowpack was not thick enough to completely cover all of the deadfalls too making some tight spots especially for Alex on skis. Our progress was not fast but at least we were getting there gradually. Thankfully from the col onwards the snowpack quality improved and the terrain on Hatchethead would be prime ski terrain.
We tried to follow the connecting ridge up but there’s some micro-terrain involved. In particular there’s one steep and exposed roll that we didn’t quite want to ascend, so bailed to the climber’s right side. We then followed a “gully” like feature upwards but eventually opted to ascend the steep forest to our left and that dumped us back to the ridge crest. From there the summit was easily obtained and we did wonder around the summit plateau for some views.
Descending Hatchethead to Claimstake/Hatchethead col was fast and fun, but going back to our camp (near the summit of Claimstake) was a different game. The steep, icy rolls combined with the deadfalls surely made some tedious travel. Alex had to remove his skis for a few times. And once packing up our camping gears we reversed the summit ridge traverse of Claimstake Mountain, with one exception near the end that we opted to stay on the jagged pinnacles as opposed to traversing the exposed slopes.
And after that we dropped down the very steep east face as planned towards Hatchethead/Eastpoint col. The snow was OK for skiing but terrible for snowshoeing as there’s a hard crust layer about 20 cm down with nothing but fine powder on top. The steepness of the angle made it extremely slippery for me and taking a ride would not be an option given how long the run-out was. I ended up down-climbing facing inwards (kicking in while wearing snowshoes) for a few extra steep rolls. Our original plan was to bag Eastpoint Peak from the col but we decided against it. The terrain looked just like the section between Claimstake and Hatchethead – steep, icy, bushy and not really ski-able. The last section of this trip was repeating that road slog (~ 10 km) with the difference now that Alex could simply cruise down in no time… It took me about 1.5-2 hours and Alex had to wait more than half an hour in the car.
The drive back home took a bit more than 2 hours and we all got back before dinner time. Overall I’d say combing Silverdaisy, Claimstake and Hatchethead in one trip makes great sense. They’re not some “big” mountains but do make a great combo for weekend warrior peak-baggers. The terrain might be a bit more involved than what’s typical in Manning Park so a stable snowpack is a must if attempting in winter conditions.