Yellow Hill & Elbow Peak

Another mediocre day on the west side of the Cascades led me to the Teanaways for my first “legitimate” trail run in months. I’m all about those ridgelines, and chose a short, hopefully dry, snow-free one to run. I also decided to give my pair of La Sportiva Synthesis a try since I have them for product testing. They’re technically hiking shoes, but might as well push their limits. Spoiler alert: don’t run in them. Anyway, here’s Elbow Peak, a nicely exposed ridgeline out on the east side of the mountains! Ran 5/6/2015.

  • Distance: 10 miles round trip (about)
  • Elevation: 2800ft gain, 5600ft highest point
  • Weather: everything
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours without traffic
  • Did I Trip: No, my issues were deeper than tripping this time around
Wildflowers along the trail

Wildflowers along the trail

I had read some warnings about the 4wd trail beyond the trailhead, but it honestly looked easily driveable. It probably got pretty muddy in the rain, but anyone with any high clearance 4wd car should have a pretty straightforward drive. Most of it was pretty flat, but some areas were deeply rutted. Part of me wanted to drive the road, but I was there for a run, and I didn’t drive two hours to only run a few miles. It had to be at least 10.

There are little spur trails leading away from the road, though they all join it eventually. Once it officially leaves the road, the trail becomes one big rocky rut in sections, which made some stretches to run. Sunny blue skies at first made the wildflowers light up, and there were plenty. The trail was admittedly steeper than I had expected, so I walked pretty routinely on the steeper sections. Motivation to get in shape. Shady sections after about 2 miles in had patches of snow, but nothing that I felt required traction or poles. Which is great, because I brought neither.

Ingalls and the Stuart Range from Yellow Hill

Ingalls and the Stuart Range

Yellow Hill is a hike in itself. It’s about 6 miles round trip, and gives you a small glimpse of Stuart. From Yellow Hill you it’s a ridge walk over to Elbow Peak (about another two miles), and since that’s the part I was looking forward to, it felt like the adventure didn’t start until I was past Yellow Hill. I descended the slope and hit the ridge only to realize the sky was divided in two: crappy weather to the right, sunny weather to the left. Hmm. We’ll see what develops.

Looking towards Elbow along the ridge

Looking towards Elbow along the ridge

I saw my first dust devil too. I heard a whooshing wind sound, and turned around to see dirt, leaves, and debris spinning in a small circle about 15 feet away from me, moving to the left. Freaked me out at first until it dissipated after maybe two minutes of wandering the ridgeline. Some areas along the ridge were rocky, and I dipped below to avoid scrambling since I was on a roll. I kept jogging up towards Elbow, and was there before I knew it. It’s an odd summit, I didn’t totally know where the top was so I tagged few high points and hoped I happened to stumble across the true summit.

Lemahs, Chimney Rock/Overcoat peaks, Summit Chief, Bear's Breast, Hinman, Daniel

Left to right: Lemahs, Chimney Rock/Overcoat peaks, Summit Chief, Bear’s Breast, Hinman, Daniel

And at the true summit, I discovered the Lemahs, Overcoat and Chimney Rock peaks, Summit Chief, and Bears Breast. That’s a skyline that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, and I was intrigued. I’ve never seen Daniel out of the clouds either. Seems like the Lemahs are pretty remote, but I’ll find time to at least get close to them this summer, and I’ve already got plans for Daniel. I had no idea what the peaks were, so I snapped a few pictures and posted on wta.org hoping I’d get a response. As usual, I did – thanks LDistel!

Weather moving in

Stuart range with weather moving in on the right

I turned back, and saw the weather moving towards my ridge. Great. I’m going to be running back through the rain. Might as well get it over with. It was still sunny where I was, so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. No one minds a warm drizzle.

I was wrong. Within five minutes it dropped 10 degrees and started hailing. I was still on the open ridge, which was fairly short. Which I appreciated, because as soon as I entered the trees, I heard the crack BUHBOOOOM of thunder. “GOOD!” I shouted and glared at no one, and kept jogging. Oh, did I mention that I don’t bring much when I run? I had some food, a liter of water, and a soft shell.  No rain jacket, no puffy layers, nothing for my legs. Well, maybe it’d be motivation to not stop.

Where'd Stuart go!?

Where’d Stuart go!?

Also wrong. Not even a thunderstorm can motivate my lazy ass. Getting back up Yellow Hill had one steep sections (also rutted) which I walked. Again. I’ll whip my ass into shape eventually. First run back in the mountains I’ll give myself a few free passes. Even Denny can’t prepare me for that type of thing. The hail got harder and the thunder got louder and I finally got back to the road, which was straight, easy running. Except this is where the shoes get shitty. Mud tires on cars are designed to fling the mud off of the treads, right? Well no one thought about that with the La Sportivas. They clung to EVERY PIECE OF MUD I CROSSED until I was running with tractionless bricks on my feet. Misery. But I was surrounded by marble sized hail and thunder and all I wanted was my car and a lemon honey stinger waffle.

Mud caked shoes

Mud caked shoes, waiting for pilot car

Made it to the car. The honey stinger waffle was pure bliss. I drove out of there quickly, had a few chances to appreciate my mud tires, and got back to the Teanaway road just in time to sit for 20 minutes waiting for a pilot car. Worth it? Yes. Did it ruin my dream of the Teanaways being the land of fun and sun? Also yes. Turns out even the east side gets some rain.

Strava map here. This was my first hike along a trail that was also open to bikes. Honestly, I’m not sure how I felt about it. The deep ruts were annoying as someone trying to run, but I didn’t encounter any bikers which was a relief. And probably had something to do with it being a Wednesday morning. Not a spectacular hike, but a solid run, with a few more ridges to follow had I had time to bag another peak.

Bonus question for any geology gurus out there. What causes the white streaks in the rocks? Is it quartz mixed in with whatever sort of rock the ridge formed from? Seems like they’re harder than the surrounding rock since they always jut out a bit, which I assume means the other rock is wearing down more quickly.

White streaks

White streaks in the rock along the ridge

Edit: Looks like the white streaks are quartz veins. The minerals are deposited by very hot water (called “brine,” “hydrothermal fluids,” “and a variety of other sciency terms that I’m dumbing down to “hot water”) rising up through cracks in the rock. As the water cools, it precipitates the minerals out along the cooler rock on either side of the cracks. Sometimes it fills up, like what I saw, sometimes it leaves pockets, where you can see the jagged crystals forming. Thanks to Emanuela for putting me on track to do some research!

Navaho Peak (yes, with an H)

View of Stuart from along the ridge

View of Stuart from along the ridge

After a ridiculous day at Lake Ingalls two days prior, I was on my way back to the Teanaway region again on 4/1/2015 – Wednesday morning. It’s like I’ve discovered a secret beautiful area that’s always sunny with amazing views. Don’t tell anyone. There’s something special about going for a hike and knowing you’re the only people for miles. Anyway, Navaho Peak ended up being far more doable than I expected after seeing the Ingalls basin, and damn, did those views take my breath away.

  • Distance: 12 miles round trip (12.3 for us)
  • Elevation: 4200ft gain, 7220 highest point
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny at the bottom, freaking cold and windy at the top (maybe low 30’s?)
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:15, longer if you get stuck in Snoqualmie Blizzard
Dusted trail in the beginning

Dusted trail in the beginning

Snoqualmie Pass was the hardest part of the drive. Heavy snow, limited visibility, and trucks using their chains. It felt like playing frogger, except in a car, and more stressful. I wasn’t driving. I just resigned myself to my fate that maybe it was my time and Ingalls was just a good way to end my hiking career on a good note. The weird part? It made me a little homesick for the east coast. Yeah, that’s what I miss. Spinning my wheels on hill starts because there was 6 inches of snow on the ground and tire chains were unheard of. Or that one time a BMW in Chicago spun into a snow bank as I smirked behind him. Don’t worry, I helped dig him out, I’m nice. But we made it, thanks to Kyle, and about 5 miles from our exit, the skies started to clear. The light at the end of the tunnel! Yes!

Looking up at Navaho and a small avalanche/slide area (before pic, see after pic below)

Looking up ay a small avalanche/slide area (before pic, see after pic below)

The road to the trailhead was a piece of cake. A few potholes, but nothing too rutted, no washouts, no snow or ice patches besides a light dusting of fresh snow twinkling in the sun. Gorgeous. We got started right away and followed the summer trail for the first 2 miles, stopping to take pictures along the river. Little Navaho and Navaho were both covered in snow, but it didn’t look deep. I started to think this might not be as tricky as I expected. Hell, it was already easier than Lake Ingalls. And the first few miles of the trail are pretty much flat.

Almost at the ridge, Earl in the background

Almost at the ridge, Earl in the background

We did lose the trail at one point. I blame the fresh snow. We went off trail for a bit aiming for Navaho Pass (more on this later) and eventually ran into the trail as it started to switchback up the slope. It went in and out of snowy patches, and we finally lost it for good about two miles from the top. At that point, we just started trekking straight up the snow to the ridge. Steep, but snow conditions were fantastic. Far less concerning than the conditions getting to Lake Ingalls. Fully consolidated, no slushy layer, just nice firm snow with a bit of powder on top. A few of my buddies put on microspikes, I found that kicking steps was more than enough.

Stuart with wispy clouds

Stuart with wispy clouds

Earl grew smaller and smaller as we got higher and higher, and finally we gained the ridge. Boom. Stuart! From the other side! Damn, the Stuart range is photogenic. We were still in a sparsely forested area, so trees occasionally got in the way, but the views were unbelievable. Just don’t look back towards i90. It’s still nice, but it’s a highway. Looking at the snow covered peaks makes you feel like a bad ass in the middle of the wilderness. And I bet Earl doesn’t look half as good once all of the snow has melted.

Heading along the ridge to the summit

Heading along the ridge to the summit, Earl again

We turned right to head up towards the true summit. Behind us was Earl, to the left was Ingalls (in the clouds), Stuart, Sherpa, Argonaut, Colchuck, Dragontail, Little Annapurna, and McClellan Peak. Straight ahead was Navaho, and beyond that, Little Navaho. Snow conditions were still great, and staying to the right of the trees blocked some of the wind that was whipping around us. It was steep going, but that doesn’t matter. When you’re somewhere that beautiful, you want to stop every 20 feet to get pictures of everything. The peaks, the ridge behind you, the valley, every step is amazing. Or maybe that was just our excuse to take breaks, you’ll never know.

Panorama looking northwest from the peak

Panorama looking northwest from the peak

Finally we came out of the trees, and the summit was just above us. Hey guys! I found the trail! I laughed running up the last clear 15 feet to the rocky summit. What I didn’t realize is that Three Brothers was right beyond where we were. I didn’t even get a picture! How did I miss?! We snapped pictures of everyone at the top, until I couldn’t feel my fingers or feet anymore. Dammit. Three socks isn’t enough, apparently. We trekked back down the ridge a ways until we found a spot secluded from the wind by a cluster of trees (but in the sun!) and settled down there for snacks. I had a valiant attempt at getting a time-lapse, but my camera fell over just as clouds brushed the peak of Stuart. Because I don’t have a tripod. I prop it up on a rock or two and hope for the best. The plebeian photographer. But here’s what I got, a slightly less exciting version of what I saw.

Stuart range from the peak of Navaho

Stuart range from the peak of Navaho

Stuart is one dramatic peak. The dark stone (all granite, I was told) contrasts amazingly with the snow, and it just looks so sharp from this angle. I’ll climb that someday.

Glissading down

Glissading down

After making sure everyone knew how to self arrest, we glissaded most of the way down. That made the trip back down the ridge much easier than the way up. And glissading is a blast. It’s like sledding for adults. I’d recommend bringing microspikes and an axe, though I never felt like I would be relying on the axe at any point like I did occasionally at Ingalls. It was just a fun tool to steer and brake when glissading.

"after" pic - no snow left on the lower peaks!

“after” pic – no snow left on the lower peaks! Taken from next to the huge log in the “before” pic

We followed our own steps down from the ridge, and eventually met up with the summer trail again, which we followed all the way to the parking lot. The snow had mostly melted, leaving the trail dry and sunny. An entirely different day. Oh, and it turned out our “off-trail navigation” around miles 2-3 was a hilarious 15-30ft from the trail at any given point. Oops.

Strava Map of Navaho Peak trail

Strava Map of Navaho Peak trail

I’m too lucky. Two spectacular hikes in a row. I came back down to earth on Thursday – it had to happen eventually. Here’s to hoping the snow will stick around just a little bit longer, or I’ll be forced to chase it up high.

Here’s a strava map if you’d like to see where we went. I imagine we left a pretty good boot path between the five of us. Highly recommend checking it out now if you have the chance. I’m a newbie out here and don’t know how long those peaks will be snow capped. All I know is that the title picture on the WTA trip page doesn’t do it justice. It’s an incredible horizon to look across. And knowing that the enchantments (allegedly the best hikes in the entire state) are on the other side is intriguing. It’s like a secret within a secret, blocked by peaks on all sides. I’d love to do those in shoulder season with some snow someday.