RT Length: 9.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3313’
This is another busy weekend where I needed to be home by noon, so I was up at 1am and made it to the trailhead at 4:30am. I didn’t do much research on the trailhead in, and was surprised to find it was a little more 4WD than I’d anticipated. I’d forgotten about the mug of coffee I had in my cup holder, and after the first few yards of driving on Leavenworth Creek Road what was left in my coffee cup was all over the front seat of my truck. The road had a few 3 point turns and several small streams and large puddles to cross. High clearance and 4WD are a must.
Here’s a video for those interested:
There weren’t any signs anywhere on this trail (except the continental divide one at the end), not even at the trailhead. No one else was at the trailhead when I arrived and I wondered if I was in the right spot? I parked my truck and got out my flashlight to try and find where the trail actually began. I had my GPS, so I tried to use it to find the start of the trail. I was aware of the general direction I needed to follow.
I made several failed attempts down paths that looked correct but weren’t. They all led me down animal trails that ended in creeks and willows. See this path here with the tree across it, which usually indicates it’s a closed trail? Well, that’s exactly what it was: closed and not the trail I was looking for. However, in the dark I couldn’t find a solid trail, so I took it, walked in circles trying to find a path, and ended up back at my truck.
After quite a bit of frustration I realized there was actually a road I was supposed to follow. I felt dumb for missing it, but in the dark I’d had no idea it was there. So you don’t miss it and spend 20 minutes trying to find the correct start to this trail, here’s what you need to look for:
Ok, now I was on the correct trail and it was almost 5am. After walking for about 1/10th of a mile I came to a small stream. Here I left the road and turned right.
From this point on there was no solid trail. In the daylight you just head towards the mountain and try to find a path clear, but in the dark I struggled to find a path clear of willows. It seemed every time I tried to head towards the mountain I got stuck in willows with no trail. They were taller than I was and when I tried to see over them with my flashlight they seemed to never end. I had to keep going right, away from the mountain, but eventually I was able to curve back around to the left (and center of the basin). My advice if you’re hiking this in the dark: Stay to the right of the creek, and follow the line of willows to the right until they allow you to go left. Here’s what it looks like in the daylight (second picture is looking back down the basin)
After skirting the willows you’ll find segments of a very, very old 4WD trail. Woohoo! The only problem with this trail is it has willows too: right in the middle of the path. This was confusing and frustrating at night as well, but no problem in the light of day. Just keep aiming towards the west and middle of the basin and you’ll be fine.
At the end of the basin your goal is to hike up towards the saddle of Mt Edwards and Mt McClellan. There is no established route to do this, but I’m assuming most people head straight up the gully. I started to, but I wanted to summit Mt McClellan first, and when I looked to the right I could tell the terrain had no trail either but was easily hiked. So I aimed up and right instead of towards the saddle.
When I reached the first bump in the ridge I turned right again and followed the ridge to the summit. I summited at 6am. The summit was very long and had great views of Grays and Torreys.
I took a summit photo to prove I’d summited (McClellan is an unranked 13er)
And a video as I was hiking to the top:
I looked over to Grays and Torreys and saw a trail of headlights coming up the road, as well as a steady stream of people already on the trail. I was so glad I was on a 13er with no crowds! I hadn’t seen anyone all morning.
I turned and faced Mt Edwards. That was my next target.
I followed the ridgeline back to the saddle, noting the drop off to the right
From the saddle I turned back towards McClellan to watch the sunrise
And then took a picture looking down the basin I’d just come up
From the summit of Mt McClellan to the summit of Mt Edwards took me half an hour to hike. I made it to the top of Mt Edwards at 6:30am
The reason I’d summited Mt McClellan first and then headed over to Mt Edwards (which is the reverse way most people summit the two together) was because if I had enough time I’d wanted to summit a nearby bicentennial (Argentine Peak) as well. Since it was only 6:30am I had plenty of time to head over to Argentine before trekking back down to my truck: Argentine was about a mile and a half away.
I turned and headed southeast down the ridge. The ridge follows the Continental Divide, has a faint trail at times, and a cairn every hundred yards or so. It’s an easy ridge to follow.
I saw a few skittish mountain goats. They ran down the slope when I was about 20 yards away from them.
About halfway to Argentine Peak I came to a saddle that was crossed by Argentine Pass (a 4WD road). From here I continued to follow the ridge. On the way up I decided to skip summiting point 13,449 because it didn’t seem necessary (but I climbed up and over it on the way back)
When I made it just below Point 13,449 I aimed for where the rocks end and skirted the mountain to the left.
I also took a shadow selfie because I do that kind of thing
The trail became a bit rocky going around the point, but it never exceeded class 2. The final trek to the summit was an easy hike up a steady slope.
It was still cold, and there was a bit of frost on the ground
I summited at 7:45am
There was a continental divide sign on the summit
At this point I was in a hurry to get back to my truck by 9am to make it home by noon, so I turned and looked back at the route. I could hike back to the saddle and take Argentine Pass back down to my truck. That would be the quicker route, but that would also mean I wouldn’t get pictures of the trail I’d taken in. If I hiked fast I could most likely make it the 4 miles back in just over an hour. It only had about 400’ of elevation gain. I decided to go for it. Instead of aiming for the pass I followed the ridge back to Mt Edwards.
When I got to just before the final pitch for Mt Edwards I turned east and started down the slope. Here’s a picture of where I started back down to the basin (you’re looking at the Mt Edwards/Mt McClellan saddle). Check out the scree heart on Mt Edwards…
From here there was about 200’ of scree to get through before it turned to grass.
I stuck to the slope and aimed toward the gully in the middle of the mountains.
Here’s the route I took down
In the light of day the route back to my truck was clearly visible around the willows. I was even able to see faint trails and aim for them.
I made it back to my truck at 9am, making this a 9.6 mile hike in just over 4 hours with 3 new 13er summits and 3313’ in elevation gain. There still weren’t any other vehicles in the parking area.
Here’s the route I took.
The best part? I didn’t see another person all day until I was driving back down the Leavenworth Creek Road. At that point I passed 1 person in a truck and 3 Forest Service jeeps, all heading up the road. We had to get creative to pass each other, but everyone was nice and we worked together to do so.