Photo: Tom Janish and John Plotz nearing the West Peak of Cashmere.
Saturday evening and I’m thinking about bailing. I’m not enthralled with tomorrow’s forecast (high freezing level and a good chance of rain) and beg to differ with the bumper sticker stating, “A bad day in the mountains is better than a good day of work.” Personally I prefer drinking coffee and writing something thoughtful to wandering around in a whiteout getting soaked.
Even though I’m thinking about bailing on this tour traversing the West Peak of Cashmere Mountain, I probably won’t. At this late date (10 hours before departure), it would be bad form to bail on my partners. And how many times have I headed out into iffy weather and landed on the feet of a great day?
The phone rings. It’s Tom. “John and I are thinking that rock climbing at Vantage would be a better use of the day than wandering around in a wet whiteout. You OK with that?”
“Definitely.” Relief floods through me as I throw the skis out of the car and put together a climbing pack.
At 6:00 a.m. the light streaming through the curtains looks brighter than it should. I peek out and curse the bad luck of brilliant Wenatchee sunshine. I stumble outside…it’s clear in every direction and the air is remarkably cold. It’s perfect alpine weather… which we’re going to waste at the Vantage Rock Mall amongst a flock of flexing peacocks.
The phone rings. Tom is feeling the same despair. “You willing to go back to the original plan?”
By 9 a.m. we’ve reassemble our ski kits, shuttled cars for our traverse, and are a half-mile up the Eightmile Lake Trail. We’re several hours behind our original schedule so we opt to gain time by branching off the flat Eightmile Lake Trail in favor of the Goat Highway – a steep, cross-country climb to higher ground that can be fast or slow depending on whether or not you find the goat trails slicing through all the bucking brush. We’re lucky and, with only the occasional thrash, climb quickly to 5,500 feet where skis move from shoulders to feet.
Bashing through Buckbrush (Ceanothus) on the Goat Highway. Photos: John Plotz.
We tour through old burns with silver whiskers poking out of the slope’s white skin and climb above timberline. Something about the sky’s cobalt hue, the cloud’s exaggerated loft, and the air’s clarity is unreal. The jagged skylines of the Enchantments and Stuart Range are reminiscent of the phony backdrops from old cigarette ads that somehow made the moronically contradictory connection between destroying your lungs and taking a step on the wild side.
Summit life and phony backdrops. Photo: John Plotz.
We’re on the summit by early afternoon surrounded by feel-good scenery and sunshine. We take a short break; then we traverse onto the slopes forming the headwaters of Doctor Creek. Rather than the smooth south-side corn snows we climbed, the snow on these northern aspects proves indecisive. We find pockets of soft powder, pockets of wind-affected powder, pockets of hardpack. None of it skis badly; bits of it ski brilliantly.
Photo: Heli-skiing without the heli…or the cost…in May. Photo: John Plotz.
We drop through heli-skiing terrain and, at the 6,100-foot level, the snow abruptly changes from some member of the powder family to a rootstock of corn. The dropping continues and the corn deepens, turns to slush, and eventually morphs into a bottomless slurry of sludge. At 3,600 feet, the indecisive snow calls its quits and disappears.
As we strap boards to packs and prepare to walk several miles of dirt road down to the Icicle River, we wrestle with the lessons of the day. Perhaps we just should have stuck with Plan A all the way and kept the faith. Perhaps when we concocted Plan B we should have still kept Plan A in motion, gotten up early to assess the weather, and picked between the two options at that time. Perhaps we played it perfectly and Fate was guiding us all along – we did, after all, have a spectacular day and were not punished for our late start.
Photo: Powder, corn, and dirt… the long road down. Photo: John Plotz.
Every option has merits and counterarguments — like everything today, we just can’t decide.
Details, Details: Cashmere Mountain (West Peak) Traverse
Recommended Fitness: 2+ to 3 (Strong Intermediate to Advanced). Recommended Skill: 2+ to 3 (Strong Intermediate to Advanced).
Elevation Gain: 5,000 vertical feet.
Preferred Season: Late spring once you can drive the Eightmile Road.
Maps. Print our topo map below on 8.5”x14” paper in portrait mode. Use ‘Print Preview’ to properly scale the map before printing.
- For the shuttle vehicle. From Leavenworth, follow the Icicle River Road about 6 miles beyond the Sleeping Lady Resort to the Bridge Creek Campground and Eightmile Road turnoff (both on your left). You’ll be coming back to this road. Drive another 4 mile up the Icicle River Road and look for the bridge going across the Icicle River on your left. When you see the bridge, drive another 100 yards up the Icicle and leave your shuttle vehicle in the pullout on the south side of the road (closest to the river). No permit needed here. Note: Don’t cross the bridge and try to park (the road is gated only a few hundred yards uphill and there are few legal places to park).
- To the start. From the vehicle being left behind, drive 4 miles back down the Icicle River and turn right at the Eightmile Road. Drive 3 miles up the Eightmile Road to the Eightmile Lake Trailhead and park (Northwest Forest Pass required).
- You can reach the top of the West Peak of Cashmere Mountain by generally following the trail system to Little Eightmile Lake, Lake Caroline, Little Lake Caroline and Windy Pass. From Windy Pass follow the snaking ridge system to your north up to Point 7,555’ and then onto the West Summit (8,219’).
- The more direct approach is to leave the main trail at an intersection after 0.6 to 0.7 miles. Follow an overgrown logging road heading NE for 0.3 miles. Then follow a true bearing of 316 degrees up the Goat Highway to an elevation of 5,560 feet. From here, follow the bearings on our topo map as you make a climbing traverse under the East Pyramid and Cashmere Mountain proper to reach the West Peak.
- The descent. From the summit, walk down the north ridge a few hundred feet past the exposed rocks; then ski north following the drainage that ultimately leads to Ruth Lake (6,540’). From Ruth Lake traverse a short distance west before skiing the fall line in a northwesterly direction down into Doctor Creek. Keep descending (generally in a northerly direction) and follow the line on our map to reach the road system at about 4,400 feet. If there’s ample snow, there are old logging cuts to ski between some of the switchbacks in the road. From where we ran out of snow (about 3,600 feet), it’s about 3.7 miles of road walking back to the car (running shoes will be appreciated).
Hazards. The route traverses and climbs avalanche terrain. Know how to assess the hazard and follow a route minimizing the exposure.
Special Gear. In some conditions, ski crampons will make this ski ascent far easier. If you intend to climb Cashmere Mountain proper (easily done from this tour), ice axe and crampons are recommended. Typically the West Peak needs no technical climbing gear, but in some spring snow conditions (frozen corn snow) booting uphill with crampons could provide the fastest, safest mode of travel.
Fees/Permits. A Northwest Forest Pass is needed for the Eightmile Lake Trailhead.
Reporter (and date). Andy Dappen, May 4, 2009
Leave It Better Than You Found It: This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…
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.