Red Mountain (Cle Elum)

December 15, 2019


Cle Elum / Salmon La Sac, WA

Red Mountain is not an attractive name simply because there are probably a dozen “Red Mountain”s in the state of Washington. There are also quite a few “Red Mountain”s in SW BC that simply by referring to this name one has absolutely no idea which exactly peak one’s talking about. This particular Red Mountain is slightly more important than most others for two reasons, the prominence (one of the 144 WA P2K) and the fact this is a decent winter objectives. This peak locates north of Cle Elum near the confluence of Clum Elum River and Cooper River not far from Salmon la Sac campground in the SE Cascades. The back roads are plowed to the campground in deep winter which means the access is not a problem. The NE Ridge offers a steep, but relatively safe route even in elevated avalanche conditions, and the summit offers decent views. The route is most often done on snowshoes but expert skiers with tree skills might find skiing is the most exciting way of tagging this summit.

The ascent of Red Mountain was of course not on my agenda and I actually wasn’t aware of this peak if not because of Jake’s recommendation. The weather was iffy in most parts of the Cascades but our group of Jake, Selena, Masayo, Dave and I was still keen to get out. To seek at least some sunshine we had to go far to the south-east, and the decision wasn’t made until 8 pm. That night I only slept for a couple hours. The alarm went off at 3:30 am. I drove south across the border, picked up Masayo from Bellingham and grouped with the rest of us somewhere near Bellevue. We then all squeezed into Jake’s 4Runner and Jake did an excellent job driving us to the trail-head. The last 2.5 km was not maintained and required some winter driving skills. Thankfully the 4Runner had some all terrain tires. I’m pretty sure my Tacoma would have to be parked at the campground adding at least half an hour each way into the hike.

Red Mountain via NE Ridge. GPX DL

The day started with immediate post-holing while getting out of the vehicle. The snowshoes were strapped on right from the vehicle and the day started with some light flurries, not nearly as “mostly sunny” as forecasted. We thought someone else might have gone up in the previous few days but nope, we had to break trail from the start. The summer trail was still partially visible but the GPS had to be pulled out multiple times. There were fair amount of alders on the lower slopes along with some dead-falls even while staying on the trail. We bailed off the trail after a couple hundred meters of elevation gain, veering right aiming for the NE Ridge. The post-holing started to get brutal and the bushwhacking wasn’t keen-looking neither. The grade also steepened up considerably that we all knew that we were in for some workouts. I regretted for not bringing the 30′ snowshoes but since we had five people that wouldn’t be a huge deal. Jake was the power hose and did more trail-breaking than any of us. At some point we were post-holing past our knees down to the ground. The new snow offered literally no support at all but seemed to bond reasonably well.

Snowshoes on right from the start.

Not the most pleasant terrain. Bushwhacking with snowshoes…

It was slow going in the increasingly deep unconsolidated snow

Post-holing down to the ground…

We crossed two branches of old logging roads and then the terrain became semi-open. There were a few rolls that we had no choice but stepping onto some steep openings. Avalanche wasn’t a concern on this particular day simply because there hadn’t had enough snow to slide yet. We were post-holing down to the boulders and the risk was actually falling into a weak spot to break a leg (or a snowshoe).. The upper ridge was also not as steep as I thought. Our progress was slow, but steady that after 3.5 hours we arrived at the north summit. The Sun did come out but the distant peaks were all engulfed in clouds.

Winter finally arrived

The upper ridge ahead. It wasn’t as steep as I thought

Dave having fun playing in the deep snow.

Jack plowing ahead.

After a long grunt we finally started to have some views…

This is the typical terrain on the NE Ridge.

The north face of the middle peak of Red Mountain

Jake breaking trail up one of the steeper rolls

Masayo and Selena plodding up

One of the better views on the ascent.

Selena ascending the steep roll.

Me breaking trail on the upper ridge. Photo by Jake R.

Davis Peak hidden in clouds

Cooper Lake and Polallie Ridge

Looking ahead to the traverse towards the south summit

This is looking back at the trench we just made

This is probably Hibox Mountain

Three Queens

Cooper Lake

Looking steeply down the north ridge into Cooper River drainage

The west side peaks were all engulfed in clouds

Partial Summit Panorama from Red Mountain. Click to view large size.

Me on the summit of Red Mountain

After a while we decided to traverse to the south summit, which was labelled on as the true summit. In fact we could hardly tell which was the higher one so to be sure I think all peak-baggers have to ascend both summits. The traverse offered the most interesting terrain of all day, including one or two steep and narrow spots. The view from the south summit wasn’t as good as from the north summit so we didn’t stay long up there.

Starting the traverse towards the south summit

Masayo and Selena on a steep spot with the only hands-on scrambling

The middle peak of Red Mountain massif, from the south summit

Dave arriving at the south summit

This is looking down the steep SE Face into where the summer trail comes up from

Once back to the north summit we didn’t bother to linger longer but immediately started the descent. I thought we could just easily plunge down the untracked snow but there were lots of sharks under the snow. We had to be careful not doing unnecessary face plants nor to break a snowshoe. Halfway down into the forest I made the call of removing snowshoes and the others followed. This proved to be a good call in saving our ankles (and the snowshoes). The snow wasn’t deep enough on the lower slopes to induce additional post-holing on our descent.

Masayo scrambling back along the ridge towards the north summit

Looking back at the ridge

Selena snowshoeing on the ridge

Masayo starting the descent off the north summit

Selena arriving back to the north summit

Jake plunging down.

What a beautiful day.

Lower down on the NE Ridge

Into the dense forest now.

Our round trip time was under 5 hours and that’s a tad faster than I thought. It was not even 2 pm when we arrived back at the trail-head but the shortened daylight time meant we didn’t have enough time for another summit, so drove home. I slept most of the way back to Bellevue and then managed to stay awake driving back to Vancouver, arriving at home right at dinner time.