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My First Washington Hike: Ascending Mount Stuart in the Cascade Range

September 8, 2010

Jeremy on top of Mount Stuart

I’ve been looking for a chance to explore the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle since moving from Colorado. My friend Matt Angove, a doctor in the Seattle area, invited me on a hiking trip with him and his family so I jumped on the opportunity. According to Wikipedia,

the Cascades are a major mountain range of western North America, extending from southern British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Northern California and include both non-volcanic and volcanic mountains.

Mt. Stuart trailhead

We parked at the trailhead outside of Cle Elum, WA, at 7AM and headed toward the summit of Mt. Stuart, the second highest non-volcanic peak in the state of Washington. The hike description called for a 13 hour hike with over 8000 ft of elevation gain, so we decided to get an early start.

The terrain reminded me quite a bit of Colorado. Pine wood forests covered the mountainsides of peaks that rose like giants into the sky. Though not as tall as the Rockies, the Cascades seem just as big because the elevation differences between the valleys and peaks are similar to the Rockies.

From the trailhead we climbed up to Long Pass at 6800 ft, and looked across the valley at Mt. Stuart, its 9400 ft peak shrouded in a thick covering of clouds. We hiked down into the valley, hoping that the clouds would clear off by the time we climbed to the mountain summit.

Cascade Mountains

We reached the valley floor between Long Pass and Mt. Stuart, and turned onto a rough trail marked with a cairn that headed up the mountain. Since there isn’t a maintained trail that leads to the summit, we began route finding up the side of the mountain when our “trail” soon disappeared. We crossed giant boulder fields and steep, rocky ravines as we slowly ascended higher and higher.

The clouds still lingered, and every time we though we had reached the summit, another peak appeared above us as more clouds dissipated. Soon we encountered vast snow fields, and our boots left fresh footprints on snow covered rocks as we continued to climb. All of a sudden we were stopped by a cliff and a sheer drop of thousands of feet into the valley below the rock we sat on. After the initial vertigo wore off, we continued our climb along the ridge line trying to locate the mountain’s summit hidden in the clouds.

At that point the clouds started to thicken and misty snow began to fall, so we decided to leave the summit bid for another day and head back down the mountain.

Perhaps I will return one day and try again. If you’re in town, I hope you can join me.

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