Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Earl Peak

Stuart Range from Earl Peak
7.5 miles round trip, 3400 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous, steep final ascent
Access: Rough gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Earl Peak, in the Teanaway region of Washington State's Cascades, is a lofty summit with wide views on the sunny side of the Cascades. The hike to the peak is a journey with numerous delights during early summer- the trail features wildflowers, verdant meadows, shaded forests, and burbling streams. While similar in nature to many other Teanaway hikes, such as Navaho Peak or Iron Bear, Earl is still a gorgeous and worthwhile hike and a good escape from the crowds on the western slopes of the Cascades.

I hiked Earl Peak on an early summer Sunday when dreary weather was forecast in Seattle and in the Western Cascades but the sun was out over the Teanaway. A good friend and I left Seattle taking I-90 east, driving into the rain as we crossed Snoqualmie Pass. By the time we reached Cle Elum and left the interstate, clouds had given way to bright sunshine. We followed Highway 903 through Cle Elum; the road turned into Highway 10 after leaving town. About three miles past the town, we stayed to the left to head onto Highway 970 in the direction of Wenatchee. Another four miles on, we turned left onto Teanaway Road and followed the paved but narrow road along the Teanaway River, with good views of both the Teanaway and Stuart Ranges appearing before us. The paved road changed to a good gravel when the road entered Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest; we followed the gravel road for a little over a mile past a bridge over Stafford Creek to the junction with NF-9737. Here, we took the left fork and followed it to the junction for the road to the Beverly Turnpike Trailhead, which was just before a bridge over Beverly Creek. This road was very bumpy and rocky; while it can probably be handled by most low clearance vehicles, we decided not to risk it and parked alongside the road and walked the final mile to the trailhead.

From the trailhead, we immediately crossed a well-built bridge over Beverly Creek and began a gentle ascent along an old roadbed on the right bank of Beverly Creek. Wildflowers bloomed near the trail and we saw many butterflies flitting around, busy with the business of pollination.

Half a mile into the hike, we came to a junction between the Beverly Turnpike Trail and the Bean Creek Trail. Here, we took the right fork to ascend towards the Bean Creek Basin. This trail began climbing with a steeper grade as it climbed along Bean Creek. A few hundred meters past the junction, the trail crossed Bean Creek via an easy rockhop.

Bean Creek
After the creek crossing, wildflowers along the trail exploded: the path climbed through grassy slopes filled with lupine, paintbrush, hogweed, scarlet gilla, and columbine.

Trailside flowers
The trail then climbed steadily uphill on the left bank of Bean  Creek, passing through a forest with some enormous old growth trees and frequent clearings with profusions of wildflowers. Bean Creek was never far from the trail, allowing us to hear and see it as it made many short leaps on its way down towards Beverly Creek and eventually the Columbia River. The trail climbed continuously to reach a second crossing over Bean Creek around two and a quarter miles from the trailhead.

Bean Creek
The second crossing over Bean Creek was one of the most quietly beautiful spots on the entire hike. Here, the clear, clean waters of Bean Creek leaped joyfully through green meadows dotted with blooming paintbrush and shooting stars.

Shooting stars
After crossing Bean Creek, the trail crossed through a few small meadows and then began the switchback ascent towards a saddle on the south ridge of Earl Peak. It is just under a mile from the creek to the pass; in this stretch, the trail climbs 1000 feet. As we ascended through a mixed mountainside of forest and clearings, the views improved steadily: red-topped Bean Peak grew progressively shorter and the spire-like summit of Mount Stuart, the seventh tallest peak of Washington State, emerged steadily above the nearby ridges. White, pink, and purple phlox lined the trail at various points during the ascent. Arriving atop the saddle, we made a left turn and followed an unmarked spur trail that ascended directly along the south ridge towards the summit of Earl.

View east from above the saddle
The final ascent is very steep: the trail ascends 800 feet in a half mile. The trail was very direct, skipping the use of switchbacks and instead tackling the mountain's south ridge head-on. Footing was occasionally loose and the trail was quite rocky here; some mild scrambling was necessary at points. After reaching an initial false summit, the climb eased briefly before resuming its brutal incline on a final push to the peak. Along the way, views improved exponentially: Mount Stuart and Ingalls Peak rose higher and higher above the peaks in our vicinity, Mount Adams appeared to the south (Mount Rainier would have been visible as well on a clear day), and we could spot the windmills in Kittitas Valley near Ellensburg.

Bean Creek Basin, Ingalls Peak, and Mount Stuart
The trail devolved into a pile of loose rocks as we approached the summit; a bit of rock scrambling was necessary at the very end to reach the top. We signed the register and then enjoyed the views: at the summit, we had a 360-degree panorama of the Cascades and the desert. The Stuart Range dominated the northern viewshed, the gnashing granite peaks of Stuart, Sherpa, Argonaut, Colchuck, Dragontail, Little Annapurna, and McClellan rising dramatically from the valley of Ingalls Creek. The rocky ridges of the Teanaway continued to the east and west from the summit of Earl Peak: I spotted the trail from Navaho Pass to Navaho Peak as well as nearby Iron Bear Peak, all destinations on previous hikes. Three Brothers rose to the right of Navaho Peak. To the west, red-stoned Bean Peak stood across Bean Creek Basin and its lush green meadows; Ingalls Peak rose a little farther in the distance. Much farther away rose a line of snow-capped peaks deep in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness: Chikamin, Summit Chief, Lemah, Bears Breast, Daniel. Kittitas Valley was visible to the southeast with the ridges near Yakima Canyon- Manantash, Umtanum, Yakima- defining the southeastern horizon.

Little Annapurna, McClellan Peak, Navaho Peak
Earl Peak summit
We enjoyed the sun and the views, took a nap at the summit, and then made our way back to the car and had a rare bear sighting on the hike down.