Photo: The Chelan Mountains from Pinnacle Mountain
by Charlie Hickenbottom
Pinnacle Mountain is the northernmost significant high point along the Chelan Mountains, lying northwest of better known Emerald and Saska Peaks. The climb itself is only a class 2 walk/scramble, but the long approach almost guarantees solitude. Choral Mountain isn’t even marked on the USGS quad, but is located 0.5 mile southwest of Choral Lake. The forest fire from a few years ago has nearly obliterated portions of the 45 Mile Sheep Driveway and Duncan Hill Trail, complicating the approach and exit options. My goals of getting in a few new scrambles, establishing a high camp, and traveling a loop trip were still able to be accomplished.
Be comfortable with traveling little-used routes and treads that are covered by significant downed timber if you try my loop. Green Trails map Lucerne Mountain is a good map to carry. If you have the old “Routes and Rocks” book by Tabor and Crowder, you’ll have the most detailed source of information.
The first seven miles will go quickly following the Entiat River Trail. The crossing of Snow Brushy Creek at mile 5 is a reliable watering spot. Part of the trail in this area passes through the burned area, but the main trail has been cleared. A trail sign marks the beginning of the 45-Mile Sheep Driveway. The first portion leading to the 4900′ meadowed campsite (water scarce) is relatively easy to follow. The next portion is difficult to locate due to fallen timber from the fire. Ascend directly east, staying just north of the avalanche track coming off of Borealis Ridge. At about 5600′, the route traverses northeast to a crossing of Aurora Creek, then more or less follows the creek northeast, eventually crossing into the Pinnacle Creek drainage and crossing Pinnacle Creek near nice camping at 6500′. Another higher camp exists in a small basin at about 7200′, just east of Point 7495′. As the season progresses, this will probably be the last water until crossing Borealis Pass and descending to Snow Brushy Creek.
My goal was to camp as high as would be comfortable on Pinnacle Mountain and snowfields above guaranteed water, so I continued higher to the saddle just south of Pinnacle Mountain, right on the crest of the Chelan Mountains. The climb from here is easy on the south slopes, with the actual summit hidden from view, but easy to reach from the false summit. Loose rocky slopes make the climb a bit tedious. I reached the summit with about an hour of daylight available, having traveled about 11 hours with my 25 pound pack. Two summit registers were on the summit, one left by Fay Pullen several years ago. Both seemed in good shape and it appears that most people sign both. One-two parties per year seemed about typical on this summit. No comfortable bivy spots were located, so I retreated to wonderful camps at about 7600′ right on the crest of Borealis Ridge. Perhaps 14 miles traveled for the day.
Day Two began with a short hike/scramble on the west side of Borealis Ridge to reach Borealis Pass. Point 7760+, just south of the pass is a very short sidetrip for wonderful views. Some snow on the east side of Borealis Ridge hid the already obscure tread on the descent to timberline. Then I just headed more or less southeast down the slopes toward Snow Brushy Creek and eventually intersected with the Milham Pass Trail. This portion of the route is easier to locate when hiking uphill towards Borealis Pass. Given the difficulties with 45 Mile Sheep Driveway, I’d recommend this way into Pinnacle Mountain as the easiest way.
A few miles down the more heavily used Milham Pass Trail follows Snow Brushy Creek. At the junction with the Duncan Hill Trail, I headed east on the lesser used choice, more or less paralleling Choral Creek on its north side. Again, downed trees from the fire make the hike essentially cross country hiking in some locations before reaching the first camp at about 5800′. After a short section following Choral Creek, the trail makes another steep uphill climb towards the pass that separates Choral and Anthem Creeks. Expect parts of this section to also be obscure.
I left my pack at the pass and scrambled from there to Choral Mountain. Expect significant scrambling for about a mile, using both the ridge and traverses on either side of the ridge to reach the summit. The summit register there showed little use, with my signature the first in a few years. I located Jim Brisbine’s signature and remembered reading about his ascent in 2004. I returned to my pack and still had about seven miles of hiking to return to my vehicle, where cold beer and a “Tasty Bite” dinner awaited. The Duncan Hill Trail and the Anthem Creek Trails used on the way out were in good shape, with few downed logs and excellent tread on the long descent to the Entiat River Valley. An easy two miles returned me to the Entiat River Trailhead. With a long second day of perhaps 15 miles, I had completed a wonderful two-day adventure.
Access. At the town of Entiat turn west off Highway 97A turn onto the Entiat River Road (FS Road 51) and drive about 38 miles west and northwest to the Entiat River Trailhead just past the Cottonwood Campground. About 32 miles of the curvy road are paved.
Trip Instructions. Are explained in the body of the post. Use our topographic maps to make better sense of the description.
Maps: See maps below for more information.
Permits. A Northwest Forest Pass is needed to park at the trailhead.
Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, etc.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.