Buttermilk Ridge, 8,267' and Oval Peak, 8,795' from Star Peak!
August 31 / September 02, 2002 trip report in the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness!
| Located on the east side of the Cascade Crest, these are two
of the Bugler 100 highest in Washington. The trailhead is the West Fork of Buttermilk
Creek, Trail 411, near the Twisp River. Finding the trailhead uninhabited, Doerte and I
started up the trail at 8 am.
The trail is in great condition and the dust was damp from a good rain shower the day before. There was only one stretch with about 10 trees across the trail that had not been logged out. We made good time to Fish Creek Pass and our first amazing views of the surrounding peaks, and even Glacier Peak off in the distance. Star Lake was a few hundred feet down the other side of the pass at 7,173 directly under the steep forbidding west ridge of Star Peak.
Star Lake is surrounded by Subalpine Larches, including many ancient ones that looked similar to Bristlecone Pines. Some were 3 to 5 in diameter and almost 90 tall! Their needles are still a bright green and soft to the touch. Squirrels were busy gathering their small reddish cones. There were also a few subalpine firs mixed in. Star Lake is shallow and barren of fish, but makes a geat camp.
Most of the flowers are finished blooming for the year, so Doerte was happy to find large patches of Mountain Bog Gentium growing in the wet meadows along the small stream that flowed from Star Lake. Almost all the snow was gone, but there remained a steady flow from the lake. The Mountain Bog Gentium have a beautiful corolla deep indigo blue flower about 1.5" tall. Among the latest of the bloomers, they are worth the wait!
Later in the afternoon Mike took a reconnaissance up Star to determine the route and wound up following the ridge all the way to the summit. Views were fabulous, and far to the east I could see a familiar site, massive Jack Mountain, 9,066, towering above it's neighbors. I could even make out the upper snowfield at 8,000, just below where Jonathan Pryce and I retreated. I followed the ridge down, looking at our camp far below. In the next valley to the south I spotted a white cabin tent that I thought must be a shepherd. The sound of a cow bell floated up on the wind.
Early Sunday morning, after waking up to huge gusts of wind that sounded like jetplanes, Doerte and I headed back to Fish Creek Pass, and followed the ridge to Courtney Peak, 8,392. The wind was almost hurricane force and nearly blew us off our feet a couple of times. We easily gained the summit, but quickly had to descend to a sheltered area. We still had views of Mount Maude, 9,082, Seven Fingered Jack, 9,077, Silver Star, 8,876, Black Peak, 8,970, and the Gardners, but both the barometer and clouds were dropping fast. In a few minutes Star and Oval disappeared from view. We decided to forgo the traverse to Buttermilk Ridge and Oval Peak, and head back down the ridge to camp.
Since it was still early, we donned our foul weather gear, and headed over to Baldy Mountain to investigate the Shepherds tent. The trail continues for about 10 miles all the way to Lake Chelan, but the big Lake Chelan fire last year burnt patches all the way to Courtney Peak. We were amazed at how the fire had jumped from grove to grove while skipping over others. As we neared the meadow at the lower end of Baldy Mountain, we heard the deep clang of a cow bell. Soon the source of the sound came forth in the form of a sweet hobbled white horse out to pasture in the lush meadow. Nearby were three pack mules and another big gentle white horse.
We went up to the big tent and were met by Roger and Betty, who were on a horse pack trip. They invited us in out of the cold and wind for a cup of hot coffee. Born and raised in the Methow Valley, they entertained us with stories of the forest service, lookouts, trails, cowboys, cows, and bears. "How do you all like your coffee, black?" "Why, yes, of course!" We had great fun visiting our neighbors, the only other folks for miles!
Late in the afternoon, the wind and clouds let up a little, so we headed up the 1,500 to Star Peak. The route begins in meadows, then climbs scree, and finally big blocks of talus along the ridge to the top. Mostly class 2. Again, it was too windy to sit on the summit for a longer than a minute. We enjoyed gaining the summit, 8,690, of the 33rd highest peak in Washington.
Besides Roger and Betty, we only saw one other solo lady the entire three days! A truly beautiful area that is seldom visited. Monday morning we hiked out, after planning a return trip to bag Oval, 8,795. Three days, 25.7 miles, 6,880 elevation gain.
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