May 28, 2007.
Mt. Aix Tr #982 | 10-12 mi. (?) | 4000′ ele. gain | 8:00 hr.
Kim and I started this adventure the day before. We both wanted to get a decent conditioning hike in before Mt. Hood, we’re sick of the Gorge, wanted to steer clear of too much snow, and nothing in Oregon seemed to fit the bill. I found that Washington had several options, and although many peaks are still snowbound, Mt. Aix seemed an attainable goal.
Mt. Aix lies east of Rainier in the Wenatchee National Forest. It stands at 7766′ and, for those peakbagging types, is on the WA 2,000-ft prominince list. The mountain is the former site of a fire lookout, and there is no longer an official trail to the top. The nearest trail traverses the side of the mountain just a couple hundred feet from its crumbly, rocky top.
We packed up camp at the crack of dawn, drove down the dusty and rocky Bumping Lake road to the trailhead. At 6:30am, we headed up the trail. We ascended along a relatively well trodden path, negotiating few blowdowns considering there has probably been no maintenance on the trail yet this year. The trail alternates between steep sections and flatter traverses, switchbacking its way quickly towards the top of the ridge. Through the trees we could see distant, and not-so-distant snow covered peaks. Mt. Rainier was doing a great job holding back the clouds so we would have clear blue skies all day long. We encountered hard, crusty snow underfoot about 90 minutes into the hike and hit some steep snowfields just a half an hour after that.
Fortunately, someone had kicked steps into the snow before we’d arrived (thank you!), so we followed these heaven-sent bootprints up the snow to the Nelson Ridge trail junction. We admired tremendous views of Rainier and soaked in the warm sun rays. Up here, the trees and rocks in the shade were covered in rime frost. In stark contrast to the frosted evergreens, a desert-like alpine scene unfolded before us. It was stunningly gorgeous. With every step I took another photo of Rainier. The volcano dominated the landscape, towering over every other peak and ridgeline in sight. Clouds formed a solid, gray layer at its base.We proceeded to bake in the sun while walking along the dusty trail towards Mt. Aix’s summit, all the while gawking at the seemingly endless display of nameless mountain peaks. It’s a shame it took me so long to discover this area. We watched a small airplane sweep through the valleys ahead and spotted both Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams in the distance.
Upon approaching the fragmented, pinnacled summit, Kim and I searched for a route. There was a choice between unstable talus and dusty scree. I voted for talus, and we headed up where the vegetation was growing, hoping for slightly more stability. The beginning of the scramble was the sketchiest part. Soon, the rock became more solid, and we quickly found a way to the summit at 10:30am.At the top, a PVC canister held a summit log and a PowerBar :). One guy (JB) had summitted just two days before. The previous entry was dated in October! The views up here can’t be beat. We ate lunch, took lots of photos and counted ladybugs.
We decided to poke around a bit and try a different route for the descent. We followed the old lookout steps down to the southeast and angled down the face near a few small snowfields. Kim stuck to the rocks and I chose the snow since I had my ax and felt more comfortable there. I got an unexpected self-arrest practice session, then joined Kim on the rock.Once upon the trail, we walked happily back across the open ridge and began descending into the forest. The trail dipped in and out of the snow, then made one final plummet across and down some thickly snowed in slopes. The last guy up here left a nice glissade chute along the path, but we were too chicken to go for it. Carefully, we descended, with frequent reminders that going down may sometimes be more tricky than going up. I was glad I had my ice ax, as Kim was having trouble with only trekking poles.
About halfway back, we encountered three hikers on their way up. They were the only folks we’d see hiking all day–on Memorial Day. Awesome.
The rest of the hike was a warm, pleasant stroll through the forest. We arrived back at the car almost 8 hours after we started, which left us plenty of time for the long drive back to Portland. Washington, I’ll be back soon.