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2014–Annual Test Lab Hike: Stehekin (Sunday–Monday)

Posted by joeabbott on September 20, 2014

Second of two parts … first two days of the hike are here.


While I was alone all day Saturday, today Ron and I were up for the challenge of climbing Mt. McGregor.

P9070042P9070041Mt. McGregor is a modest, 8000’+ peak just north of our camp. It requires a hand-over-hand finish for the last 500’ but is accessible by trail otherwise. The kicker here is that the trail is 7 miles one way and requires 6000 vertical feet of elevation gain. Ouch. But, off we toddled before the sun had fully risen and we made good time … while the trail was flat, that is.

Once it started climbing I found myself in frequent need of sips of water to keep my parched throat from hurting and soon found that Ron was more able than I to keep the pace. But, we took frequent stops, I set my will against my fatigue and stolidly marched on and, like any other mountain I’ve climbed: if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, sooner or later you make significant progress.

Now the trail up the mountain is enjoyable in that it slowly reveals many things: the view of Coon Lake, the layered ridges and summits of its brethren mountains, the swift sunrise, and the stony flanks, waterfalls, and flora keeping you company.

We took a longish break as we left the tree line and issued onto an upper basin that appeared to have been melted! The mountainsides were covered in a now-hardened mud from rains earlier that week, and while it looked odd, made for very solid walking. The trail meanders up this stony detritus and weaves around a small hillock. All the while we were looking for the peak that was McGregor and, as we turned the corner of the hillock, we espied it in the near distance.

imageA stony knob accessed from a yellowish approach. I was dog-tired but pushed on ahead of Ron.

The yellowish approach was less hand-over-hand and more slippery balancing as your feet tried to find purchase on the downward sloping face that was covered with slick debris. I was actually surprised to see Ron following me at one point and also thought: I don’t believe I can tell Suzy that I was perfectly safe and using good judgment. That part was downright dangerous! Especially as the run-out was over a small cliff band and a big drop after that!

P9070044 StitchBut, when we finally gained the small flat below the knob I dropped to my back: exhausted and looking for a break … when I noticed the massive peaks behind us rising another 500’ higher! I wasn’t approaching the summit of anything! It was just a small, interesting rise that led nowhere and aside from being dangerous, had no virtue whatsoever. We’d missed the turn-off for McGregor and I searched for the route up it. It wasn’t clear and, as we sat where we were, getting pictures and enjoying the respite from climbing, we heard other voices in the high places below McGregor.

P9070047imageThe trip back to the top of the hillock was long and dangerous, having my full attention and wishing that wasn’t necessary. When we finally left that miserable place, we found the source of the other voices and they directed us to the path to the true summit. They weren’t going and, as Ron and I consulted our watches and water supply, decided it wasn’t something we’d attempt either. A pity, but no sense being stupid for a simple summit of a nice but mountain of no other note.

The trip back was long and wearying. I managed a better pace than Ron but, showing the same courtesy he’d extended to me, I was happy to slack my pace and take frequent breaks. Aside from the pain in my feet, it was a nice trip down.

In camp I rested my broken feet that ached from the last two days of effort. I have flat feet and they really shouldn’t be used this way … but who could blame someone from putting on the miles in this paradise? I had put on something like 17 miles on Saturday and 19 or so of hiking on Sunday … and really felt it. But I understand the price and pay it gladly. Gladly with a whimper.

But, the night finished much like the last one. Well, except for the fact that I somehow managed to dump most of the lasagna from my pouch onto the tabletop as the zipper gave way while I was reconstituting it. It left a mess on the table and me with a much smaller dinner than I was hoping for, but I cleaned everything up suitably (suitably enough that we were able to play cards on that table!) and managed a decent meal from my leftovers from the other days.

While I was looking forward to dinner, I was really looking forward to sleep. And sleep I did in the chill air of a north Cascades camp in early September under a full moon.


WP_20140908_004Time to come home.

As always, we pack with the efficiency of people who have done a thing often for a long time. Breakfasts were had, gear was pulled out of tents, and our laden packs were soon on our backs. The quick hike back to the trailhead was timed well, as the shuttle showed up a short while later. This time the bus was packed full, as we stopped once or twice and filled all seats and most of the standing spaces. But, it’s just a 10-mile trip so few were inconvenienced for long.

At the dock we deposited our gear in a pile and, while the others explored, I enjoyed a sandwich water-side and found my nose either in my book or admiring the views. And, all too soon, it was time to board the ferry.

WP_20140908_008What makes a 2.5 hour boat ride seems like so much less than 2.5 hours on a boat? Well, phenomenal views in all directions, a body of water with zero swell, and a day about as nice as any you could fashion given a choice of elements: we had warm sun, the occasional cloud, and gentle breezes the whole way down to Chelan.

WP_20140908_009The boat docked and I delayed departing, knowing my backpack was at the bottom of the pile at the back of the boat. Fortune smiled on me as it was uncovered by the time I disembarked and, rather than waiting a porter to bring it off the boat, I was able to hoist it myself and hustle away. Tim awaited me and we walked together to the car where we’d each brought a clean set of clothes.

I’m no rookie so I pulled out the two squares of carpet rems for us to stand on while we peeled away clothing ready for the washer and pulled on soon-to-be soiled civies. You can’t put a clean shirt and socks on a body that’s perspired as much as I had over the prior four days and not have it pick up a bit of the residue. But, it was the best we had.

We headed out from Chelan and a generous hour and a half later were in Leavenworth at Gustav’s with Ron and Dan. It’s a standard for us to grab a last bite to eat in civilization before we head to our respective home, and Gustav’s was a very fine place for us to enjoy a final meal together.

And, with that meal done, I drove the 130 or so miles back to Seattle where I deposited Tim at his home with his gear and then continued west to my house where I got in sometime before 8PM. It was a long outing but, for all the toil, a restful one. I count as balm to an overworked mind the company of good friends, a few miles on the trails of the mountains, and breathing the air of those few high, clean places left in this world. And in all three I drank deeply this past weekend.

Aftermath and details

It was good to get away and fun to see how good. My desk job keeps me somewhat on my bum and not moving about much … well, what does a weekend out in the mountains look like in comparison? According to my


The short bars the days before and after the taller spikes are me at my desk … happy to get 10,000 steps in a day; the progressively taller bars are Friday (the hike to camp), Saturday, the solo hike to the north (~37k steps), and Sunday, the hike with Ron up to McGregor (~42.5k). The blank spot that should be Monday? Well, that was my Fitbit running out of power and leaving me with a hole in my daily progress!

Here’s the maps for my longest days: Saturday and Sunday:
















Again, on Saturday I just took a long hike along trails to get a good view of Goode Mountain, and on Sunday I hiked McGregor with Ron. Both were excellent days.

WP_20140911_001While I don’t have pretty feet … not by a long mile … for the purpose of capturing the entire trip, here are the bites I suffered from the lousy sand fleas (or whatever) after I got back from my Saturday jaunt and decided to rest my feet by the creek.


And that’s it.

When one starts to document the minor insect bites you know we’re done but just haven’t found a way to end the story. And so, with that … thanks for following along on my small trip.


One Response to “2014–Annual Test Lab Hike: Stehekin (Sunday–Monday)”

  1. momma said

    Edifying. That’s the word that comes to mind. And as I prepare for a couple weeks’ hiking around Madeira (Portugal) , I must admit that I should not be even be using the word “hike” for my own endeavor…. it’s a walk in the park compared to what you and your buds accomplished. I did so enjoy the great beauty of your world up there, and you have such a pleasant reporting style, Joe. Thanks for taking us readers along for the trip. (and those bug bits – yuck….) Your Momma

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