Mt. Lawson-NW basin from river Date of Climb:
5,401 ft (Prominence
: 2521P, 80th-most prominent in WA)Quad:
Central Olympics entirely within the North Fork Quinault River drainageClimb Frequency:
I wouldn’t be surprised if this mountain gets climbed but once every five years. In fact, I wonder if anyone climbed it between Roper and Co.’s ascent in September 2001 and my ascent.
Mother's Day weekends are not good for finding climbing partners. This I have learned over the years. But this wasn’t going to stop me from venturing solo to a trail-less-traveled into the heart of the Olympic Range to summit a mountain I have been hankering to do for about three years ever since I decided to take on the adventure of climbing all of Washington’s 2,000-ft prominence peaks
, of which there are 144. Only John Roper has done them all I hope to be the second. In fact, it was on Mt. Lawson that John finished this list (his report is here
).Here’s where Washington’s 2kP peaks are located
So Friday afternoon I drove the 170-odd miles to the trailhead and managed to hike in 6.5 miles to a nice camp at Frances Creek
(1,020 ft). This creek is not shown on the map. This is a tiny stream about 0.3 miles beyond Three Prune Creek. Some observations about the trail and access to the Lawson massif:1.
Bikes aren’t allowed on the trail, but if you wanted to break this rule, you could definitely bike for 2.5 miles to Wolf Bar Campsite
gaining a whopping 100 vertical feet in the process (although the trail ups and downs will total much more than this 100 feet). Beyond Wolf Bar your biking experience will adhere to the Lawson
of Diminishing Returns because the trail tread gets to have more rocks imbedded in it. Still further up the valley and the trail has lots of windfall laying across it.2. Halfway House Camp
(5 miles) has room for several tents and water access from the river. There is no good access across the river here (for a possible short-cut route over Pk 4810
via its long south ridge) however, maybe a half-mile up-river one could make a waist-deep ford in slow water—especially in late season.3. Elip Creek Camp
has about 3 spaces and a poor old outhouse building that got smashed by a windfall. There was a washout through here.4.
At my camp at Frances Creek I explored a route across the river but there was a deep canyon. I descended as far into it as I dared on steep mossy slopes and terraces. Pretty cool canyon, though.
The next day I set out at 6:00am. In short order I arrived at Trapper Shelter
Shelter if you go by the sign under its eave; but who cares, right?) and took another look at a possible river crossing. Nope. More loud canyon.Trappers Shelter about 8 miles up the N. Fork Quinault River Trail
(five bunks but it’s not exactly bright and cheery inside; but probably cozy if raining)
In about 80 minutes I arrived at the critical river ford location here
and perhaps the only location where a safe/easy crossing of the river can be undertaken. I descended to the river and then took 45 minutes exploring various iffy crossings a couple hundred feet downstream of the sticker bush-infested debris island John speaks of camping on in his report.
With bare feet, I finally opted for a triple ford (three bifurcated sections of flow). The first was rather easy but thigh deep for about 20 feet. The second proved to be the crux (of the entire climb, more or less). It was another of about 20 feet but the middle third involved a high-thigh/low-crotch sketch on slippery rocks with a noticably “pushy” flow. My downstream pole was braced hard. I sure was glad to get to the safety of the second rock island. The third crossing took some time to figure out. I found it by way of sidling out on a pair of four-inch wide logs to over a small rapid to where I could make a long step onto a flat rock just under the gushing surface. I walked this rock to the safety of the far side. Although I knew I could reverse the ford later in the day I wasn’t looking forward to it with the late-day spring run-off. My ford of the North Fork Quinault
(for the last third of the crossing I sidled out on the thin logs at right)
With my feet re-booted I then took to booting up the open forest acclivity to the right of a minor ravine/canyon. There are actually two small canyons here
and I went to the right (west) of the rightward one. I think John and Co. (see his report above) may have gone up between the two canyons.
At 2,100 feet I encountered my first and only appreciable cliff of the day. I decided to flank it on the left. This turned the cliff into an aręte. And not only an aręte but a brushy aręte. Roper speaks of snugging up against a canyon at 2,700 ft. This occurred for me too, but it was at 2,250 feet. I decided to cut back right onto the aręte proper instead of trying this steep, brushy, slick, mossy groove on its left side. The cliff lasted about 300 vertical feet. The heavy brush lasted a couple hundred feet higher. After that I was done with the cliffs and the brush. But at roughly 3,100 feet the snow patches began showing up and by 3,400 feet the snow cover was permanent.
I booted up hard-packed morning snow at the edge of crampon territory. At about 3,400 feet I began the natural left turn toward Pt. 5202 (a square crag). Roper speaks of taking game trails to avoid difficult terrain up near that point so I opted to try for a traverse southward at 4,300 feet to get to the open northwest basin
. This proved to be a good choice although the terrain is actually steeper than the contours imply. Also, because there was snow on the ground, I imagine the traverse was easier than it would be when bare. All that slippery duff on 40-degree slopes doesn’t sound enticing to me. This is maybe why Roper and Co. (Roper, David Stonington, and Silas Wild) climbed up to the ridgeline before turning toward the summit.Lawson’s NW basin
(I took the open draw at right then turned left on the final pleasant ridge to the top.)
The rest of the route looked easy. There was more hard snow to contend with but, in the end, it was just a whole lot of toe or edge-only booting to the summit of Mt. Lawson
. Roughly 6 miles from camp and 4,500 ft of gain + many ups and down along the trail. Time = 7 hours from camp; 4 hours, 15 minutes from the river. The summit was completely snow-covered so I could not hope to find the register. I wasn’t going to foolishly dig for it like someone I know might do.Lawson’s summit dome
I stayed at the summit and admired the bluebird views. Here I was looking at big mountains and little mountains—mountains I had never seen before. Mt. Olympus was the biggest of the big but Mt. Christie and Mt. Seattle were also bulky. To the ESE Mt. Muncaster begged for my eyes’ attentions. Zeus, are you home? Zeus? Hera? Anyone? Hello!
There are two other peaks on the Mt. Lawson massif:
The aforementioned Pk 4810
(410P) to Lawson’s WSW and Pk 5345
(505P) to the ESE. The former looked doable but still far away. The latter was a little closer but involved more routefinding and steeper terrain to access. So I left them for someone else to tag. These would likely be first ascents. Mr. Torok?Here’s unnamed Pk 5345 (505P) at right-center with Muncaster Mountain (5,910 ft) rising beyondAnd here’s unnamed Pk 4810 (410P) from the NNE
I reversed my route back, more or less, but couldn’t distinguish my morning tracks from the undulating spring snow pack. Losing them, I found myself on some steep, ravine-rib terrain and had to re-climb a couple of hundred feet. I essentially went too far north at 3,600 feet on the return.
Anyway, in a couple of hours I was back at the river. But I blenched at the idea of crossing back where I had forded six hours earlier. So I walked upstream to a possible ford I had seen while descending from the mountain. Sure enough, a pleasant double ford--one making use of a gravel island in the middle--proved to be just what the peakdoctor ordered. The first half of the crossing to the island was no more than ankle deep over 50 feet. The second half, on the other hand, I could tell was going to be hip deep. Fortunately, the water wasn’t flowing fast through there. So I did my first naked ford
. The opposite bank was too steep to use to re-clothes myself so I proceeded to hang my man jewels out while I gingerly stepped and brachiated over a slippery, bouncy, and loose assortment of logs, shards of logs, and bowed boughs to a re-dressing area on some rocks. No puncture, no foul. Phew!Note: This ford is located about 200 yards past (NE of) the last of four trail switchbacks. These switchbacks are shown on the map above the "i" in "Quinault." The gravel island is about 100 feet long and has an alder thicket at the SW end, a series of big boulders on the NE end, and a gravel cross-over in the middle.
After that I walked the trail back to camp, running into the guy from the Sierras I had met at the trailhead. (I hope you see this report like you saw that black bear--the one leaving all that crap on the trail.)
I spent a second night at Frances Creek camp and then headed out in the morning glad to have accomplished #120 of 144. Other than 2,400-ft Mt. Constitution in the San Juan Islands, Lawson, as it turns out, is the last 2kP peak I have to do that is under 6,000 ft in elevation. Yeah, yeah, well whup-dee-doo!Is that the 420 sign? Nope, the 120 one-man-gang sign Gear Notes:
Unused gear: crampons, ice axe, rope, harness
Could have used: sandals for the ford (I recommend taking them)
Nice to have had: a small towel to dry my legs after the c-c-c-cold fordApproach Notes:
Drive Highway 101 to Lake Quinault. You can then take either the South Shore or North Shore road to the trailhead. The former is more direct but one three-mile section is pockmarked with potholes. The latter is longer but is paved for a longer stretch. The latter also takes one past the ranger station where one can pick up a permit. The ranger station at the trailhead did not make available the self-issue permits. You will cross into Olympic National Park on the way to the trailhead. The South Shore Road takes you past the congested area of Quinault Lodge (there was a mercantile/grocer there).