inadvertent traverse | salmon la sac (jolly, skookum, louvre)
June 29, 2020
5560 ft gain . 6460 ft high . 17.5 miles
OMG WOW! I’ve never been so excited about a trail or traverse. For the past few weeks, months even, the weather has not cooperated on the weekends, leading to many rainy adventures unless we headed far far east in the Cascades. This weekend was no different and we scored for the perfect trail/scramble. My friend Abby ended up finding Jolly Mountain in the Teanaways/Salmon La Sac region, which looked perfect to me. And then Abby had a great idea to link up a nearby sub-peak, Skookum. On Caltopo, I mapped it out to about 16 miles with 5500 ft gain. It would be a fairly big day, but as we neared the ridge line, our plans started to change drastically – we could see another peak, The Louvre. Could we tag that peak too? Would it be feasible to loop back to the car via another trail? The answers were yes and yes! But the big question – did we have the time and energy? Probably. [Disclaimer: Do not attempt this route without good route finding skills and ability to safely go off trail and cross class 3 scrambles]
It was key that we had topographic maps of the area and could easily see that the peaks were fairly traversable. There was another trail through the other valley and we could visibly see a shallow angled slope through the peaks that allowed for an easier passage. There was one section where the rock seemed to dip sharply, but we’d had confidence that we could go around it (on the other side we couldn’t see). The more you believe in something, the likelier it is to be true, right?
We first took the Jolly Mountain Trail up to our first ridge. The initial trail was very rocky and eventually it winded through the forest back on softer ground and even passed a pretty stream. The trail was fairly wide and well marked when the trail hit intersections. However, it was still early summer season, meaning patchy snow that’s hard to navigate if the trail is unpopular. We could tell people had come recently, though not frequent. We got a little lost in the snow and had to bushwhack our way back to the trail. The whole time, we could here 2 motorbikes zooming around on what we assumed was the trail that they were on. We barely saw them through the trees and sure enough we were back en route.
Soon, we quickly reached the ridgeline. Much of the constant elevation gain was behind us and we only had a few hundred feet to gain and lose at a time. To the right was Sasse Mountain Trail, which I found out was next to a Not So Sasse Mountain. Haha what a name! But anyhow, this was my first big “wow” moment of the hike. Not any time before but only after we reach the ridge did we see the flowers. Oh so many flowers! Little did I know the hike down and even parts of the traverse would be littered with beautiful flowers. On Sasse ridge, we saw mostly lupine, paintbrush, and arrowleaf balsamroot (a type of sunflower). And I just had to take all the pictures!
We took a quick lunch break before heading over to Jolly Mountain, where we could clearly see our path over the ridgeline in a U shape pattern. Clearly I was too excited about the flowers and neglected much of the landscape pictures. Sometimes it’s about the little things. We’d walk in and out of burned trees, which added a cool quality to the hike. Definitely a stark contrast with the colorful wildflowers and a stern reminder the damage of wildfires. Continuing to the peak of Jolly Mountain (6460 ft), we started facing strong winds. Must have been 20 mph at times! Apparently this mountain used to have a fire lookout, but it’s been since removed, leaving only what was useful as a wind shelter. It was a welcomed structure as we sat, looking east to the blue skies. And boy oh boy where there beautiful views of Mt Stuart and the Enchantments. The rest of the nearby peaks, such as Mt Daniels were cloud covered. We were barely east of all the weather happening over the Cascades. Good hike choice!
After our quick break, we started heading down again, much faster than our uphill speed. We agreed that we could keep reassessing our new route of tagging The Louvre. In any case, we had planned to hit Skookum Peak. So we headed over, follow the trail as much as we could and then stayed on the ridge where a jump in the trail occurred on our GPS maps. Pretty easy going through the mild shrubs and glorious flowers. Lupine abounded everywhere. They’re truly my favorite cascadian flower! Such a pretty blue-purple that sort of varied per plant. They’d be a light purple hue or a deeper violet. And such dainty shape! I may have gotten us off the true trail leading up to Skookum, but honestly, was there much of a tail anyway? We always had a faint, faint mark on the loose soil. I was not a fan, believing that if I’d slip, I’d slip far. But it was trail enough and we followed it. And eventually cut our way uphill to the top of Skookum.
It was even windier at Skookum than it was at Jolly. So we only took a short water break before heading north on the ridge again. This time, there was less elevation loss and more of a general uphill trend to The Louvre. The eastern slopes were a perfect amount of shrubbery that kept enough spots level for me to feel happy about traveling on it. We kept looking at the slopes around us, thinking about returning in the winter for some easy backcountry routes. Truly an underrated gem out here!
The Louvre (6350 ft) started becoming more of a class 2/3 scramble on our route. We all were wearing tennis/running shoes. Ha! What great decisions we had! Using our trusty feet and even trustier hand placements, we got to the top and reassessed again our route to meet up with the other trail. There were so many spots of unknown, but we kept pushing forward. At this rate, it was a shorter distance to continue forward instead of retracing our steps. And probably less uphill too! Surprisingly this extra detour did not add elevation gain to our original plan. From the intersection to Skookum, there’s a 500 ft loss and gain each way, so instead of backtracking, we take that gain and put it towards The Louvre. If that makes any sense at all.
Staying on the ridge was our best option for easiest descent. Though topographic maps don’t usually show the minute changes in rock formations and how steep of a down climb a 5-10 foot section would be. Fortunately, everything was down-climb-able/walk-around-able. For reference, class 3 scrambling means use of hands is pretty necessary, class 2 is optional hands – I like to think of it as giant stair cases. You probably wouldn’t be too injured falling on class 3, and and almost definitely not on class 2 unless you make some weird mistake/misstep. But you could say the same of any trail – you trip and fall and twist an ankle.
To be honest, this route finding traverse over some class 3 scrambling was really fun! It’s been a solid while since I’ve truly had to route find. It’s slow going, but makes you think. That’s probably the fun of it! There’s so many options, but which do you choose? We were able to avoid almost all the snow patches throughout the traverse to the unnamed 4th peak only named by its elevation of 6083 ft. For the most part, we stayed above the snow.
Walking on the snow was sketchy for our tennis shoes. As much as we could kick step, a slip would lead you far down the mountain. Unlikely we’d be hurt, but likely we’d be miserable. We brought zero snow equipment with us, except for my poles. I happily used them traversing the loose soil and through some snow. But they were intend for the downhills that inevitably cause me knee pain. A side note: I used to think that poles were stupid and for people who needed help to walk uphill, but I’ve come to realize that poles are genius and incredible for helping both uphill and downhill and anything in between. Point being, they’re useful and almost always bring them.
For this traverse, we mostly stayed east of the ridge, where it was visibly easier to pass. And only near point 6083 did we veer west to hit the other ridge. We continued staying on the ridge, now pass class 3 scrambling and back down to class 2 trails, with some uncertainty of steeper slopes. Following goat trail, or faint human trail, we continued downhill until we finally hit the Paris Creek Trail. And it was marked with tags! A real trail on the map, a real trail before our eyes.
And most importantly, the beautiful flowers were back! The Louvre ridge did not have many flowers, possibly due to all the unmelted snow. But the Paris Creek Trail. My oh my! More lupine than I could imagine. Well, ideally one day I’d find a giant patch and frolic through giant lupine, as you see in many Lake Tekapo pictures in New Zealand. But this would do for now.
Of course we took another food and water break. They’re absolutely necessary to stay sane and energized for any hike! But a light dusting of rain pushed us on our way down the 4 miles back to the main road. This trail was hardly a trail like the Jolly Mountain Trail. It was more of an in-between goat trail and real trail. At least it was marked this time! We thought that one person had just come up to mark the trail – the clips and tags looked new and we’d see one set of footprints in the snow.
Anyway, this upper section of the Paris Creek Trail was AH-MAZING! Field after field of flowers. There’d be one solid field of balsamroot and then another of lupine. I was in my happy place. I counted at least 17 distinct flowers that we saw and that I took pictures of. And in the lower elevations, we would find a whole marsh of shooting stars and a few dabbling trillium. Wow! So amazed!
But as we re-entered the forest, leaving the flower fields, the wide open trail became narrow and hidden. Overgrown bushes had taken over the trail and walking in shorts meant you’d get whipped by each plant you passed. Fight the pain and keep on moving the slow move. We probably had 3 miles of this terrible bushwhacking on trail. On trail! You’d think bushwhacking would be a characteristic of a route-finding off trail adventure. No, narrow unmaintained trails are also this terrible. At least in the fall it would be filled with huckleberries. Yum! That would make up for the whacking of legs, but this weekend, the only solace was getting back to the cars. Whenever the shrubs would lighten up, we’d do a bit more of trail running to quicken our pace. And I had put my camera away, so there will be no recollection of the rude trail except in writing and in alpine memory, which means it will be lost in a memory void. Only happy memories of fun scrambling and skipping through flower fields shall be kept.
Eventually, almost 11 hours later, we finished our inadvertent traverse car to car. 8 miles of trail, 1.5 miles of side hilling dirt, 1 mile of class 3 scrambling and questionable route-finding, plus another 0.5 miles of not-so-side hilling, back to 1 mile of trail side hilling, to 3 miles of bushwhacking/running on trail, and finally 2.5 miles of road running. And dreams of flower fields that could last till the next hike!
I would rate this scramble around a class 3, but it’s mostly on side hilling/traversing grass and dirt slopes.
If you pick your way well, it should be a fairly safe traverse. The Louvre will have the more difficult scrambling where you might have to go up to go down.
After the Louvre, we crossed over to the west side of a notch where it was another 200 feet laterally to get to the ridge that takes you back down to the Paris Creek Trail.