Thurston County Highpoint Trip Report

Quiemuth Peak

Date: May 10, 2008
Author: Edward Earl

The big question on our minds for this peak was: how far will we be able to drive Pleasant Valley road from highway 7? We read a recent trip report (March 29 by "eco_biker") that massive washouts blocked the road low down. We had no idea if they had been cleared. If we couldn't drive very far up the road, would we have to hike 7 miles up the road each way around 3 sides of the mountain or would we be able to cut that short by cross-country travel.

Our question was partly answered when the road was still paved. There was a locked forest service gate at the road junction in Pleasant Valley, with a sign proclaiming hazardous road conditions ahead, right by the southeast tip of Alder Lake. Regardless of the condition of the road itself, we had no choice but to park and start walking here. Our first encounter with any adverse road condition was a sharp drop-off on the downhill side of the road. The road itself was still intact and, although there was little room for driving error, I thought it a lame reason to close the road.

Around the next bend, however, my doubts about the legitimacy of the road closure were soon laid to rest. A major mudslide carrying rocks and logs blocked the road. A trickle of water still ran through the mud across the road, and we had to tiptoe on rocks and logs to keep from getting our boots soaked. That mudslide paled in comparison to what was around the next bend: the most catastrophic mudslide I have ever seen. Piles of four-foot logs mixed with mud and rocks were strewn like matchsticks. If the logs were made of rock, it would be a class 3 scramble to climb over the 100-foot wide slide (shall I call this "loggering"?). Six-foot chucks of asphalt from what had been the road lay in a deep eroding gully on the downhill side. One still-uncovered part of the original road surface appeared to provide easy passage between two logs, until we realized that a 4-foot cavern had eroded out from under the asphalt, which was only a cantilevered shelf. We had to climb more logs to avoid the risk of having the road collapse under us.

After finally clearing the slide, we resumed our road walk. We would soon face the choice of whether to walk the road for 7 more miles around the north, west, and south sides of Quiemuth or bushwhack, possibly through heavy rainforest, directly up to the saddle that lies about 1 mile east of the summit. We began looking uphill to assess the field conditions for a possible bushwhack. After a total of about three-quarters of a mile from the car, we decided to go for the bushwhack. The trees were tall, mostly old-growth virgin forest, and the ground level was heavily shaded. This was mostly good: it was too dark for anything else to grow so the surface was relatively free of brush. Visibility was good: we could see at least 200 feet into the forest. It was steep and we knew from the topo map that it would get steeper but overall it looked quite doable, so we decided to go for it.

The forest floor had occasional deadfall but it was mostly avoidable. There were lots of ferns and the surface consisted mostly of rotting bark with an occasional void between rotting logs hidden by mulch. At times we had to take care to test our steps before putting our weight on them to be sure we wouldn't fall through into a hidden space. It became steeper as we climbed but the steepness only added to elevation-gain efficiency. At times we could kick steps into the soil, which consisted mostly of crumbling wood, as if we were climbing a snow slope using an ice axe and crampons. It took us only about 40 minutes to climb 850 feet from the road to the col near the northeast corner of section 27. It had its challenges but it went well. I would definitely not dread having to do something like that again.

Once at the col, we picked up the road that skirts just south of the crest of the eastern ridge of Quiemuth. After 1 easy mile, the road ended just a few hundred yards southeast of the summit. A final 15-minute cross-country leg, easier and less steep than the one we had done lower down, brought us to the summit. The highest ground is a log (rotten enough to qualify as soil) a few feet west of a man-made rock pile with a plastic peanut butter jar register bearing the recognizable names of many county highpointers.

The massive washouts we encountered on the road near the beginning of our climb will probably remain for at least a few years, unless logging interests accelerate the process of clearing them. We didn't see any evidence of recent- past or planned near-future logging, so I doubt anyone will have any reason to clear the washouts anytime soon. Until then, our route will probably remain the preferred route, owing to the fact that the bushwhack from the road to the col goes fairly well and it replaces many miles of road walking.