Black Mountain (Sumas, WA)

January 15, 2023

1523m

Sumas / Mt. Baker Highway, WA

There are simply too many peaks named “Black Mountain” out there. This one locates a mere few kilometers south of U.S./Canada border not far from the Sumas crossing. There’s nothing magic about this forested peak but it’s actually very visible from Abbotsford especially for those driving eastwards down Highway 1. It doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as the other forested peaks in Fraser Valley as it’s on the U.S. side of the border. This is unfortunate as to be fair, Black Mountain offers more views than a lot of the “dumpster” peaks I’ve done in Fraser Valley. The entire “peak” is riddled with logging roads but all roads are gated at the very bottom making this a proper full-day hike. Even the shortest route requires 20 km of hiking and/or biking.

I had been thinking about this peak for at least 6 years and eventually a not-so-good weather window on Sunday made me to finally pull the trigger. I made up my mind on Thursday and subsequently committed to a dinner on Sunday at 7 pm and an additional hour of work at 9-10 pm. The weather forecast improved at the last minute, but the time constraint forced me to stick to the original plan. Shayan and Scott from “SWBC Peak Baggers” Facebook group opted to join me. I think this is a peak for the die-hard peak-baggers only given the dumpster nature so I was glad to have company. Shayan had just done a long snowshoe outing to the obscured Spider Peak on Saturday (which I did in March 2021) but he’s still keen to join. It wouldn’t make sense to start too early for this objective so we decided to meet in Abbotsford at 7 am in order to start hiking at the first light. The border crossing had no delay whatsoever but the drive to the gated FSR at Silver Lake was a little bit longer than I thought. I opted to not fuss around with biking as I only had the Corolla with me at the moment and this vehicle isn’t capable to transport a bike. The last kilometer on the access road before the gate was unpaved but didn’t impose any problem to the Corolla.

Black Mountain via west side approach. GPX DL

The lower 7-8 km of this route was nothing but plodding on a well-graded FSR. If not because of the gate I’m sure a low-clearance AWD vehicle could easily make to the end. There were more views than anticipated including several spots that offered unobstructed views down to the partially-frozen Silver Lake. At around 670 m elevation we were supposed to take the secondary road to the right but we blindly followed the mainline. Thankfully I realized the mistake a mere minute later so we backtracked. This secondary spur road led us to the upper set of switchbacks and an enormous cut-block at 1000-1100 m elevation. We encountered patchy snow and some minor post-holing but the snow was never continuous. The next stop was at the 1150 m saddle on the extended SW Ridge. The portion of the FSR on the north side of this saddle was very snowy so I opted to stop and switch footwear from trail-runners to mountaineering boots. The trail-runners were subsequently ditched at this saddle to lighten the pack weight.

Ascending into a partially opening area
Golden Ears massif dominating the northern skyline
Shayan was excited about the views…
An unobstructed view down to Silver Lake. This was unexpected
Shayan was still on his phone making some socials updates
Scott and Shayan plodding onto that lesser-travelled branch of road
Upwards and onward…
Note the enormous cut-block behind
The East Harrison skyline seen from the 1150 m saddle
Mt. Robie Reid and Mt. Judge Howay with The Defendant in between

We briefly tried to boot-pack the FSR but within a minute we came to the conclusion that the snowshoes were indeed required, so the packs became even lighter. The original plan was to ascend the steep SW slopes onto the NW Ridge but upon seeing an old and overgrown (but snow covered) FSR heading into the woods I spontaneously decided to lead us into the “western drainage” aiming for the south ridge uppermost saddle. There are many ways to ascend the upper portion of this mountain so it really didn’t matter that much. The route we picked proved to be fairly bushy for at least half an hour. The slope was steep and the snow was slushy so our progress was slow and treacherous. The conditions didn’t improve until 100 vertical meters under the south ridge where we finally exited the trees into a large opening. The snow was crusty and supportive likely because of the re-radiation freeze overnight.

The final stretch of the FSR required us to strap the snowshoes on
Shayan snowshoeing the good portion of the roads
Looking back into the lower Fraser Valley with North Shore Mtns. on the skyline
Scott entering the bad portions
This spur road soon turned into an alder mess…
An interesting creek crossing.
The typical forested travel after crossing that creek
The snow was slushy and the slope was steep..
We found a massive bottomless hole…
Scott ascending onto the upper slopes finally out of the trees
The Abbotsford area behind Scott
Scott at the uppermost south ridge saddle

After gaining the south ridge saddle we got some expansive views eastwards towards Mt. Baker area. I noticed another FSR on the opposite side of this saddle and I thought that road would ascend all the way to the summit. After traversing onto the road I quickly realized that I was wrong. The road would go nowhere near the summit. I then made a sharp left turn, ascended the cut-block above to get back into the trees on the uppermost south ridge. The rest of the ascent via south ridge was moderately bushy and the very summit was entirely forested with no view whatsoever. Nonetheless, we celebrated our success once everyone showed up. It had taken us almost 4 hours to get here so this peak is definitely not “nothing” from the effort perspective.

Bald Mountain in the foreground with Church Mountain behind
Mt. Baker was still engulfed in clouds
A glimpse of view down to the lengthy south ridge with many bumps
Our group shot on the true summit of Black Mountain

I hadn’t brought enough layers to stay warm for an hour-long summit celebration as that wasn’t part of the plan anyway, so after about 20 minutes of lingering we quickly started the descent. Shayan offered to lead us down as he didn’t like some of the micro-terrain I chose, and I was happy to follow behind as my brain needed some rests. The bushwhacking felt considerably easier on the way down so we got back to where I ditched the trail-runners in a timely manner. Another mandatory break was needed as I wanted to switch footwear back to the trail shoes. The rest of the descent was long and boring. At times we jogged but we mostly just power-walked the roads. On the lower set of switchbacks we did 3 separate short-cuts that may or may not have saved much time. The purpose wasn’t exactly to save time, but to do some different things to break the monotonous slog fest. Our round trip time was just over 6 hours and I managed to eventually get home with 2 hours of spare till the evening commitments.

Shayan leading the descent
Scott negotiating the typical snow conditions and the typical forest…
Shayan broke a snowshoe here…
That painful creek crossing with so many alder branches…
Scott finally exited the bad roads. Our objective behind.
Interesting lighting to the north.
Simultaneously taking the snowshoes off….
As typical as the remaining descent down the endless roads…
Shayan plodding…
At least we got to see Silver Lake again.
Taking one of the 3 short-cuts
The terrain was bad, but we had some fun…
The locked gate at the bottom. Thumb down.
An aggressive dog came out of someone’s farm and barked at us for a few minutes