Monday, October 9, 2017

Carne Mountain

Fortress, Chiwawa, Dumbell, Bonanza, Seven Fingered Jack, and Maude from Carne Mountain
8 miles round trip, 3600 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous; the most difficult part is driving to the trailhead!
Access: Absolutely terrible dirt road to trailhead, high clearance and 4WD vehicle absolutely required; no recreation fee 

Carne Mountain lies in the Entiat Mountains deep in Washington State's North Cascades, with expansive summit views of many of the highest peaks of the North Cascades. In the autumn, the plentiful larches found on the mountain's upper slopes turn golden, splashing color over the an otherwise austere landscape of craggy peaks. The hike to the summit ascends through forest to a gorgeous basin of larches before a final ascent along a gentle ridge to the mountain's 7100-foot summit. The trail was filled with scenic delights and although packing in substantial elevation gain, it was a straightforward path with no major obstacles. Getting to this hike, however, was quite the challenge, requiring a trip up one of the worst roads I've seen to reach the trailhead.

Let me make a few things clear about the drive to the trailhead. The trailhead is absolutely inaccessible to vehicles without high clearance and 4WD. The last few miles of road past the Little Giant Pass Trailhead to the Phelps Creek Trailhead are absolutely horrendous, with severe rutting, large rocks, massive potholes, and sharp dropoffs. If you try to drive this road in a sedan, there is a 100% probability that you will total your car. This road was by far the worst road that I have ever driven. It's easy to interpret the name of this mountain: Car? Nay.

I hiked up Carne Mountain with a friend on an early October Sunday when clouds and rain socked in the western side of the Cascades but the Entiat Mountains, in the rainshadow of the Cascades, were basking in sunlight. From Seattle, I followed Highway 522 to Monroe and then took US 2 east from Monroe across Stevens Pass to Coles Corner, where I made the left turn towards Lake Wenatchee State Park onto Highway 207. I followed Highway 207 for a few miles until crossing a bridge over the Wenatchee River; immediately afterwards, I took a right onto the Chiwawa Loop Road, following it until I came to the Chiwawa River Road. Turning left onto the Chiwawa River Road, I followed this road north into the Chiwawa River Valley. The initial section of the road was paved and made for easy driving, but after 10 miles or so the pavement ended and the road transitioned to a decent dirt road with some potholes and washboarding. The road became progressively worse as it approached the Little Giant Trailhead and finally devolved into car-eating potholes near the Alpine Meadows campground. At the road junction near Trinity, I took the right fork for the Phelps Creek Trailhead; this final stretch of road was the worst, with all sorts of car-wrecking obstacles that made me glad to be in a high-clearance vehicle. Trailhead parking was surprisingly full for a fairly remote location, although the 30 or so cars spotted here on a nice autumn day surely would have paled in comparison to the hundreds of cars at more popular larch-peeping spots like Maple Pass and Blue Lake.

From the trailhead, I followed the Phelps Creek Trail north, quickly crossing a small stream and passing through a clearing with views of snow-covered ridges across the Chiwawa River Valley. A tenth of a mile into the hike, the Carne Mountain Trail split off from the Phelps Creek Trail; I followed the narrower Carne Mountain Trail to the right, heading up the slopes of the namesake mountain. The trail wasted no time in making a steady, fairly steep switchback ascent, making its way methodically up Carne's slopes. After about two and a half miles of uphill through the forest, the trail emerged onto open slopes ablaze with reds and yellows of fall foliage.

Fall colors on the trail 
Gradual ascent with occasional switchbacks up this slope opened up views to the west of massive Buck Mountain across the valley, which was cloaked in snow from a storm the day before.

First views of Buck Mountain
As we continued ascending along the open slopes of Carne Mountain, we spotted our first larches high up on a knob to the southeast; at the second weekend of October, these larches had already turned bright golden, with just hints of green remaining.

Fall colors on Carne Mountain
As we switchbacked higher up the slope, views to the west opened progressively wider, encompassing more of Chiwawa Ridge; soon we were able to see down to Little Giant Pass and Trinity Peak.

Fall colors
A little over three miles into the hike, the trail delved back into the forest for an extended climb and then emerged into Carne Basin, which was filled with meadows and a small stream. A forest of fully golden larches filled the far end of the basin and snow covered the slopes of Carne Mountain above the basin. The color of larches was beyond stunning; I was impressed by the density of this particular grove of larches. We wandered slowly through the meadow in the basin, eating lunch here before continuing forward into the larches.

Carne Basin
I'll let the photos do the speaking: there are few things that can match the glory of larches at peak autumn color.

Larches in Carne Basin
Glittering larches
The trail wound through the larch forest, soon ascending into the snow. At one point on the trail, snow covered the ground near the trail, the remnants of western anemone seedheads littered the trailside, and golden larches rose above, a conjunction of three seasons in one place.

Trail through the larches
Views improved as the trail climbed, with Fortress and Chiwawa Mountains, two massive peaks guarding the north end of the Chiwawa River valley, appearing to the northwest. A little further uphill, Dumbell and Bonanza Peaks appeared; this is one of the rare spots in the Cascades where Bonanza Peak, the tallest non-volcanic peak in Washington State, was visible from a day hike.

Fortress and Chiwawa rise above a forest of larches
Fortress, Chiwawa, Dumbell, and Bonanza over Carne Basin larches
At the junction with the Old Gib Trail, we took the left fork, climbing on the Rock Creek Trail towards a saddle just south of the Carne Mountain summit. The trail was consistently snow-covered at this point; while it was manageable in the warmer hours during our ascent, this stretch of trail turned quite treacherous during our descent, when I momentarily slipped while going downhill in the packed snow; microspikes might have been helpful.

Trail up Carne Mountain
Both the views and the larches improved as we continued uphill towards the saddle, with the viewshed widening to the south as we climbed higher than a nearby know to the south. A line of snowcapped peaks was visible leading from Buck Mountain towards the low elevation saddle at Buck Creek Pass while the entirety of Chiwawa Ridge was visible leading to the south. Clark Mountain poked its sharp summit over the crest of Chiwawa Ridge. The larches in the basin below were fiery in color.

Larches in Carne Basin
Buck Mountain rises over Carne Basin larches
Clark Mountain and the Carne Basin larches
A few short switchbacks at the end of the ascent along the Rock Creek Trail brought us to the top of the ridge. Views of the Entiat Mountains opened to the east: massive Fifth of July Mountain towered over the almost perfectly glacier-carved valley of Gib Creek. We left the Rock Creek Trail and followed an unmarked spur trail north along the ridge towards the summit of Carne Mountain.

Fifth of July Mountain
The final fifth of a mile to the summit featured more larches and more views. Mount Maude and Seven Fingered Jack appeared for the first time to the north along the crest of the Entiat Mountains; the Stuart Range appeared amongst the clouds to the south. The ridge walk was easy and straightforward and soon placed us at the summit.

Larches along the final ascent up Carne Mountain
The 360-degree panorama from the summit included close-up looks at nine of the state's 100 tallest peaks: Clark, Buck, Glacier, Fortress, Chiwawa, Dumbell, Bonanza, Seven-Fingered Jack, and Maude were all nearby and visible. Larches decorated the upper slopes of the Entiat Mountains to the east, including on the ridges of Fifth of July Mountain across the Gib Creek valley. While the sky was cloudless over Carne, we could see a bank of clouds covering the Suiattle River Valley on the other side of Buck Creek Pass, held back by the giant peaks to the west. Glacier Peak poked its high summit above the clouds. Although we had seen a decent number of hikers on the trail, a late start meant that we had the summit to ourselves for a while.

Seven Fingered Jack, Mount Maude, and Ice Box from Carne Mountain
Chiwawa Valley
Buck Mountain and Glacier Peak
This was an incredibly scenic fall hike. Accessing this trail is quite difficult, but if you have a vehicle that can get you safely to the trailhead and can put up with fields of potholes on the drive, I highly recommended making your way out to the Entiats and hiking up Carne Mountain.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you enjoyed it. Your pictures are fabulous! We were in the storm just the day prior...not so scenic as you had. Actually, that road isnt so bad, relatively speaking. But it hasn't been graded in a very long time and is getting worse. Fairly soon the Subies won't be making it without scraping.