Some people call the peak Hellfire. Others call it Salvation. Either name pays homage to the closest neighboring peak Damnation. The sweet views from the ridge approaching the summit would make angels sing, but the fiery burning in my legs from the effort required to get there has me leaning towards calling the peak Hellfire.
Last week, Lisa convinced a fabulous group of folks – Fay, Jim, Eileen, Paul, Bill, and me – that this would be a worthy destination for a sunny Saturday. We met up early in the morning in Kirkland and headed for the North Cascades. The snow had melted out enough that we could drive Bacon Creek Road all the way to the junction just before the bridge across Bacon Creek (elev. 820’). We took the middle, most overgrown, spur road about a half mile before heading more or less straight up the hill in mossy woods.
The first obstacle - crossing Jumbo Creek
The terrain was quite open despite it being second-growth forest.
We're still smiling as we ascend our mossy carpet in the forest
It was warm, and the trees spit ice chunks and snow melt on us until we reached snow at about 2600’. Only a short 500’ later snowshoes became necessary. One of our party members – Paul – didn’t get the memo about bringing them unfortunately, and he was forced to suffer, plunging up to his knees with every step. His progress was so slow compared to the rest of the group that we didn’t think he’d be able to ascend much farther. Lisa rescued him – giving him her snowshoes and taking over plunge stepping duties, albeit slightly less because she weighs less than Paul.
We continued uphill to the notch between Oakes and Hellfire (elev. 4800’). The ascent is steep and relentless with nothing but trees to keep you entertained. Once we were at the notch, however, the pain in our thighs subsided as we got our first views of the surrounding area.
Diosbud Butte, Logger Butte, and Electric Butte
Lisa and Paul opted to rest at the saddle after their arduous ascent, while the rest of us walked along the open up-down ridge for a mile to the summit of Hellfire (elev. 5563’)
The ridge leading to Hellfire Peak (left most bump in the distance)
Making our way along the ridge...almost there!
The final approach to the summit
Despair & Triumph (with a bunch of Pickets in the background)
An icy wind drove us off the summit to a sheltered spot behind some trees where we enjoyed afternoon tea. At a quarter to five, we knew we better start heading down, lest we have to do too much of the descent in the dark.
The ups and downs on the ridge back to the saddle were nothing short of torture. Even after our break, I had nothing left in the tank. I followed closely behind Fay, thinking that if she keeps putting one foot in front of the other, so can I.
Looking back toward Oakes and all the uphill we have to climb to get to the saddle
We took our snowshoes off just below the ridge to make descending the steep forest slopes a little easier. What followed was a comical amount of postholing and the accompanying whoops each time the snow collapsed under our feet. Each of us must have ended up hip-deep two or three times.
We were off the snow and back into soft mossy forest by the time the sun set. We only had to descend the last 1000’ or so by headlamp, which is not too bad considering the late start that morning.
Huge thanks go out to Lisa for organizing such a great trip, to Bill for his crack navigation skills in the dark forest on our descent; to Fay for being my inspiration to keep going when I was SO tired; to Paul for his entertaining motorcycle stories; and to Jim and Eileen for their awesome company.
Getting there: Drive Hwy 20 past Marblemount to Bacon Creek Road (just shy of MP 111). Turn north on Bacon Creek Road and continue about six miles to the road junction just before the bridge over Bacon Creek. Approx. 2 ½ hours from Kirkland.
Round trip: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 5600’
Highest Point: 5563’
TH to Summit: 6 ¼ hours
Summit to TH: 4 ¼ hours