Washington July 2005 Trip Report
© July 2005 Adam Helman
(Click on any image for enlargement.)


The chief goals of this trip were two - Both of these mountains are APEX ("toughest twenty") county highpoints; and are on both the 5,000+ foot elevation gain and 5,000+ foot prominence county highpoint lists. Furthermore, with over 5,000+ feet of prominence apiece, these mountains are ultra summits - major climbing goals for any prominence-oriented climber.

After these ascents, Edward Earl and myself would drive south, through Oregon, and bag 4 peaks in northeastern California that are all on the California Fifty Finest list of large prominence summits.

None of this was to be. Indeed, this was the most "perturbed" climbing trip that Edward and I had experienced together. A dry winter in the Northwest was followed by a wet spring that created unconsolidated snow conditions on both Mount Jefferson and Glacier Peak. The summit pinnacle of Jefferson was snow-choked based upon photographic evidence and personal observation. A climb of Glacier Peak two weeks earlier with experienced climbers failed on two routes - the first due to avalanche threat; the second due to miserable snow conditions.


Edward Earl started his trip several days earlier than me by driving north from San Diego to climb several peaks in northwest California that are county greatest prominent points. I flew directly to Portland, meeting Greg Slayden and Duane Gilliland for the climb of Mount Jefferson the following day.

The only ascent that came off as originally planned was that of Clark County's highpoint, near Sturgeon Fin, with a side trip to Silver Star Mountain. Greg, Duane, and myself enjoyed this hike the afternoon of my arrival in Portland.

That evening we met at Bob Bolton's home in Vancouver, Washington - a Portland suburb, and everybody, including Edward, Bob, his wife Rhonda, and Don Nelsen enjoyed dinner at a restaurant.

The aforementioned snow conditions suggested cancellation of both Mount Jefferson and Glacier Peak. Furthermore the weather forecast for Washington was poor, with rain for the weekend dampening any chance of climbing Big Horn (and nearly Gilbert Peak) of Lewis County.

Given the poor forecast our Mount Jefferson team of four climbed Goat Mountain, the Cowlitz County highpoint, as a bushwhack from the southwest. This 4+ hour hike was worth the effort, especially with views of Mount Saint Helens immediately to the northeast.

Edward and I then drove to the rain shadow of eastern Washington and, over several days, climbed county highpoints that, although not major ascents, were good mountains nonetheless. The most noteworthy peak we climbed is perhaps North Gardner Mountain - the Okanogan County highpoint, on a 2 1/2 day backpack with 30 miles of foot travel.

I reclimbed Copper Butte, the Ferry County highpoint, with Edward, the evening of our backpack out from the North Gardner Mountain high camp. The next day we climbed Abercrombie Mountain, the Stevens County highpoint and ultra (5,000+ foot) prominence summit.

The weather deteriorated markedly for the next day's venue - Gypsy Peak, the Pend Oreille County highpoint in the northeast corner of Washington. I was injured at the summit and had to walk out in pain with my right thigh being largely out of commission. I suspect a lower back disk impinged on a nerve and caused the problem. It was quite painful to walk the return route to the trailhead - an effort that was mandatory to avoid being evacuated on a stretcher or helicopter.

That afternoon I helmanized Mount Spokane, the Spokane County highpoint, by walking the final 200 or so vertical feet to the summit. It was painful indeed, but was done to "recognize" the mountain's stature rather than simply drive to the very top.

Edward and I slept in a Spokane motel room that evening, and I flew home the following morning because additional climbing would not have allowed the problem to settle.

After three days I can now walk normally, and will not exercise for at least one week, and possibly two weeks, to allow for a complete recovery. I am also taking aspirin, one per day, to relieve any inflammation that might be part of the pathophysiology.

Edward continues with the four large prominence peaks in northern California that I had planned upon doing with him. He should arrive in San Diego on July 12, my 45th birthday.

I cannot label this trip a success. That said, Edward finally made a Mexico to Canada link of completed counties through "real" mountains; and I increased my glob span, via Okanogan County, to 1,739 statute miles - from Mount Baker of Whatcom County, Washington to Emory Peak of Brewster County, Texas.

Trip Details

Thursday, June 30

The Alaska Airlines flights were highlighted by views of Cascadian volcanoes - especially Mount Shasta immediately to the right (east) and below.

I met Greg Slayden and Duane Gilliland at the Portland Airport and promptly we drove north to the Clark County highpoint trailhead. All the while I "grazed" on a one pound box of Whitman's assorted chocolates purchased the previous evening in San Diego. The chocolates were to provide a source of additional energy, otherwise known as carbohydrate loading, for the backpack up to Mount Jefferson high camp the following day.

Duane Gilliland
Duane Gilliland atop
Silver Star Mountain
with the camera looking
nearly straight up.
(click for enlargement).
Our hike to the Sturgeon Fin liner was enjoyable, as was the summit of nearby Silver Star Mountain. A cellular telephone call from the summit to Bob Bolton indicated that Edward Earl had surveyed the Mount Jefferson snow situation, as per my instructions, and had relayed his comments to Bob favoring cancellation.

According to plan, we drove to Bob's home where Duane, Greg, and I met Bob, Edward, Don Nelsen, and Bob's wife Rhonda. Don is a trail runner with several noteworthy (and rapid) ascents to his credit. The first proof of my prominence book, color edition, was examined and enjoyed by several people - especially Bob. Duane and Don placed orders for their own copies of the color edition, so raising the total to nearly thirty orders.

I was not hungry, having eaten all day in addition to a summit lunch with cottage cheese, blue cheese, dried mango, a hard boiled egg from Greg, and a thick bagel. Nevertheless is was the sociable thing to eat with others at a restaurant - which, unfortunately for me, ended up being a place specializing in half-pound, gourmet hamburgers.

Greg Slayden
Greg Slayden atop
Silver Star Mountain
with the camera looking
nearly straight up.
(click for enlargement).
I cannot imagine a more mundane place for me to eat (except McDonald's). Shunning their specialty, I ordered as main dish a large taco salad adorned with chicken breast and served with delicious dressing. The Bailey's chocolate milkshake served as appetizer. I did not enjoy the entreé and was dismayed that I had paid $18 for a salad and a milkshake. The conversation was, however, enjoyable.

That evening was largely spent accumulating maps and other data for climbing other peaks besides Mount Jefferson (now cancelled), and Glacier Peak (with equally poor snow conditions). Greg, Edward, and myself felt that we could climb Goat Mountain the next day, followed by a two day climb of Big Horn - the Lewis County highpoint and with a ten foot Class 5.4 section.

After accumulating information for Big Horn we checked the weather forecast and learned that rain was likely - an unwelcome guest for a technical rock climb. Edward and I thus decided to simply head for eastern Washington, for Saturday, after the weather turned marginal. East Washington had a better forecast as it lies in the Cascade Range rain shadow.

I finished the chocolate box while lying on the library floor around 11:45 p.m. - a very long day given that I had arisen at 4 a.m. for the outbound flights.

Friday, July 1

Goat Mountain was a 4 hour 20 minute climb, cross-country, up the southwestern slope and onto the north-south summit ridge. None of us could decide which of the two high point areas was truly the higher. Views of Mount Saint Helens, just six miles northeast, were magnificent.

Goat Mountain summit
Atop Goat Mountain with distant
Mount Saint Helens. Greg is at
photo left; Adam at center;
Edward at right nearest Saint Helens.
(click for enlargement).
Greg Slayden and Duane Gilliland drove home while Edward and I continued in the general direction of eastern Washington. After several hours we car-camped at the entrance to a park, eating supper around sunset at 9 p.m. I enjoyed a self-heating (and kosher) dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, which also came with chicken soup mix and six (non-dairy) chocolate chip cookies. Parmesan cheese and garlic enhanced the pasta, and the cookies were enjoyed with milk and some pistachios.

Saturday, July 2

Edward and I completed driving to the trailhead for North Gardner Mountain. We initially could not locate it because of inadequate instructions in the existing county highpoint trip reports for Okanogan County - "West of Winthrop..." without any qualification. Details of our climb are provided in this trip report.

We consumed five hours to reach high camp, as Gardner Meadows, under the climbing route for North Gardner the following morning. It was a most boring eleven mile hike in.

Sunday, July 3

Edward and I climbed North Gardner Mountain this morning. Again, details are provided in this trip report.

My right thigh was not performing normally commencing about two-thirds down the route. It took 3-4 hours, at suppertime, for locomotion to improve to the point that I was confident I could walk out the next morning.

Monday, July 4 - Independence Day

Edward and I arrived without incident at the trailhead at 11:53 a.m. - exactly 2 days and 3 minutes after having started at 11:50 a.m. on Saturday. Fellow backpackers required a jump start of their automobile using Edward's cables. To accomplish this, several of us had to move a boulder, hundreds of pounds, so as to position Edward's vehicle in such a manner as to allow for charging the dead car.

jump start
Jump starting another vehicle at the
trailhead for North Gardner Mountain.
(click for enlargement).
I enjoyed a pint of Snohomish caramel premium ice cream as Edward's passenger, mixing in dried pineapple, pistachios, date, cashews, plus bits of assorted granola bars saved from the climb just for this purpose.

We arrived at the trailhead for Copper Butte, the Ferry County highpoint, around 5 p.m. - plenty of time to climb it in daylight. I joined Edward, even though I had previously climbed it, because we had no topographic charts and thus concern existed as to the exact route Edward should follow. Again, none of the remaining Washington peaks were planned in advance. We only had available information from a telephone call to Duane Gilliland as guide.

The hike was uneventful. The scenic summit siesta at 7 p.m. was followed by a rapid descent to our waiting vehicle, followed shortly by supper and sleep.

Tuesday, July 5

The approach route for Abercrombie Mountain was dictated by the desire of climbing Gypsy Peak the following day. Thus Edward chose to approach from the east, via Metaline, rather than from the west. I cannot recommend the eastern approach road to the trailhead - it is 7.5 miles of bad (narrow and bumpy) Forest Service dirt.

The elevation gain from trailhead to summit was 2,300 feet. Edward and I arrived at a trail junction with the route coming from the west a few hundred feet below and to the southwest of the summit.

Our summit break featured clear skies and views into Canada just five miles north. A cleared swath of ground demarcated the international boundary as it rolled over both hill and valley mere miles away. This was clearly one of the easier ultra prominence summits of our climbing experience.

We returned to the vehicle and eventually stayed at a campground near the Sullivan Lake Ranger Station for $12, filling 4 one-gallon water jugs as partial compensation for the camping fee.

I enjoyed noodles Alfredo, finding that Edward's concept of sprinkling parmesan cheese atop, rather than mixing in the pasta, was both new to me and enjoyable. After the first layer was eaten, I sprinkled on more cheese for the next several bites. An apple pie bought on-sale prior to North Gardner Mountain was nearly half-eaten by the time I got around to enjoying my share - with blue cheese, beef jerky, and (!) habanero pepper jelly.

car camp
Car camping at Sullivan Lake prior to
Gypsy Peak. Note the apple pie
and my tupperware "placesetting".
(click for enlargement).
Edward and I discussed prime factorizations on the hike downhill, and calculated various Pythagorean triples while at the campsite table. Evidently 65 is the lowest integer such that it's square can be expressed as the sum of squares of two integers in two different ways - We had decided to do Abercrombie Mountain before Gypsy Peak because, being an ultra prominence summit, it was more important to us should bad weather preclude climbing the following day.

Wednesday, July 6

The weather was marginal for Gypsy Peak - the Pend Oreille County highpoint. Mosquitoes were an enormous annoyance at the trailhead - so much that Edward wore a windbreaker just to keep them off.

It sprinkled on-and-off during most of our hike uptrail, followed by a cross-country ridge route north to the summit of Gypsy Peak - one that we reached after 2 1/2 hours elapsed time.

I left the summit quickly owing to weather concerns, opting to enjoy summit food at a more protected saddle 500 feet below. Mere steps from the very top I was hobbled by a terrific pain in my right thigh that occurred with every right step. Every muscle in my thigh appeared to be involved. Since there was no pain on cessation of motion I could not have a broken bone. I waited for Edward to come and exchanged his lighter pack for my much heavier one.

Gingerly and with great care I headed downslope, using my right limb sparingly while putting the lion's share of my weight on the left. Eventually we reached the saddle. I ate chocolate licorice with granola bar, took water, ate one aspirin, and reluctantly headed up a slope supporting seven 40-foot elevation contours - nearly 300 feet. I found less pain upon going up a right-facing slope, as my left foot could then be placed higher and thus more readily be used for gaining elevation.

An up-and-down battle ensued until the trail was reached. Going straight downhill was easier but still painful. At the car I slumped into the passenger seat and lay in a slouch for much of the drive to Spokane - stopping only to enjoy hot cocoa from a roadside shop as Edward drove.

That afternoon I helmanized Mount Spokane, the Spokane County highpoint, by walking the final 200 or so vertical feet to the summit. It was painful indeed, but was done to "recognize" the mountain's stature rather than simply drive to the very top.

We then drove through Spokane and, deciding that I should consider a flight home, we found a reasonably cheap motel room in downtown with two beds. I could not even remove or tie my shoes without pain shooting down my right limb - sciatica. Indeed, I now, three days later and in no discomfort, feel that a slipped (herniated?) disk is the likeliest explanation for my symptoms - both on North Gardner Mountain and on Gypsy Peak. I had been sleeping in the odd position of a passenger seat, following by hauling an overnight backpack to North Gardner Meadows. This is clearly sufficient to cause a back injury.

I called my mother and father. She graciously performed all the research, and made flight reservations, for me to go home the following morning. It was simply too risky for me to continue climbing.

Thursday, July 7

The 7 a.m. flight on Southwest Airlines was unremarkable. After a 25 minute layover in Oakland, without deplaning, the flight continued to San Diego, touching down just after the scheduled 11 a.m. arrival time.

Thoughts of rescheduling a Mount Jefferson climb for the July 23 weekend do not seem reasonable given the current state-of-affairs with my injury. Although I feel fine now, I must given adequate rest prior to resuming vigorous activity, as well as commence back strengthening exercises. Purchase of a camping shell for my truck will also allow me to sleep horizontally on future trips, rather than just sleep in the driver's seat as has been my way until now.


My mystery illness has been diagnosed and is largely resolved after five days - hypokalemic periodic paralysis - elicited by a combination of overhydration; sugary food; and inadequate potassium intake. Bananas, V-8 juice, dried apricots and peaches, plus cocoa mix will form a larger fraction of my future diet while hiking and climbing.

I thank my (nonclimbing) brother Dale, a neurologist, for this diagnosis. Ironically, Dale has always hated bananas - even the mere thought of them makes him nauseous!