A first timer’s guide to scrambling Mount Washington – Olympic National Forest

I’m going to cut to the chase, and give you the punch line, aka, answer first, which is – Find someone who knows what the hell, they’re doing. Gain some skills. And hopefully they’ll help you achieve your goal. Okay, with that out of the way, now I can tell the story how it worked for us.

Mount Washington as viewed from highway 101. The climb begins in the neck, traverses under then onto the chin. Just use your imagination 🙂

Getting Trained up

In the pursuit of new skills and adventure opportunities, my partner and I enrolled in the Mountaineers (Washington State outdoor activity and advocacy organization) scrambling course this year. I was really just after ice ax skills to expand our winter adventures. The course includes both winter snow scramble skills and rock skills. Scrambling, by definition means one is off trail for all or some percentage of a hike. I think for the club, they consider a scramble to be at least 30% off-trail. It typically involves gaining some peak or summit, but it’s not roped climbing or roped mountaineering, however ropes are used sometimes. With rock scrambling, one will typically gain a summit without roped protection, and sometimes use a rope to protect a down climb, or a super sketchy exposed section. You can read more about scrambling, definitions, ratings, skills at these links.

Descending Mt Washington’s summit.

As part of the course, students go through a series of lectures and practical field trips. Plus there are some co-requisites such as wilderness first aid and navigation. To graduate, one must successfully complete at least three club sponsored scrambles. One snow, one rock and one of choice. We’d completed one snow and one rock, as well as had one unsuccessful snow summit.

The opportunity came up to give Mount Washington in the Olympic National Forest a try. It was being led by an Olympia Branch Mountaineers leader who we had just completed another rock scramble with.

Getting there

Not much of a secret. It’s located in the Hood Canal area. From Hoodsport, head west toward Lake Cushman. At the “T” intersection turn right onto the gravel road. A couple miles down, take the first left (also dirt) uphill. Follow this road until it ends. There is actually a right turn of a 120′ or so just before the road ends. Going straight puts you at the Mt Washington Trailhead. Turning left puts you ¼ mile up the road at the Mount Ellinor Trailhead. You can learn more about the Mount Washington Scramble and directions from the Washington Trails Association (WTA).

The climb, uh, Scramble!

It’s listed as 4 miles round trip with about 3,300’ gain. It more or less takes a direct path up. As near as direct as possible. It travels through trees, a couple meadows, up scree (small loose rocks) slopes and talus and down (large loose rocks) slopes, runs along ledges and requires climbing up short rock faces.

The trailhead. Washington in the background but that’s not the summit
Up through the trees, climbing up roots and rocks
A mixture of scree and talus. It’s important to not kick rocks loose onto your friends.
One of the meadows. Taking a look at, and choosing/assessing our intended path.
Negotiating loose rocks
Jean negotiates the crux move. Probably the most challenging one, or at least a tie. Known as the catwalk.
At the saddle with summit behind. Photo credit, Ron Holcomb
Coming across the ridge to the summit. Not for the faint of heart! We skipped the “nose” which is behind us. Photo credit, Bob Jenner.
Gaining the summit!
Success!
The Dog Walk Ledge
The last hour out by headlamp
Some general stats. The mileage is more like 4

Summary

It’s a great scramble. There were seven of us on this day. Four of the group have been scrambling and climbing together for years if not decades. Jean and I were on our last of the three required scrambles to meet our club’s requirement for the course. One had recently completed the clubs climbing and scrambling course.

We left town a little before 1:00PM, and got home around 11:40PM. The temperature in town that day was predicted to be around 90 degrees. It was definitely hot on the climb. And a bit muggy. It got better once in the open with a breeze. Most of us consumed 3 liters of water +/-

Coming back down is not much faster than going up. Easier aerobically, but tough on one’s body and knees with all the huge step downs.

Once again, all the steps were in the right direction.

So it wasn’t really a first timers guide. But sort of. It was our first time. We’re grateful for all the assistance, patience, and encouragement from everyone in the party. It was such a great and rewarding experience. A real confidence booster.

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