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Trip Report    

Alpine Scramble - Low Mountain (winter)

A wonderful trip up a seldom climbed mountain in the heart of the Snoqualmie Pass region. Evolving conditions required several changes to our plans.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles

For an easily accessible, close-to-Seattle mountain, Low is surprisingly remote; very few scramblers visit it. Its lack of popularity means that there are no well-beaten footpaths to it; one still experiences the joys of trying to discover a viable path to the summit.  

I had made two previous attempts, by different routes, and been turned back just shy of the summit both times.  This, our third try, by yet a third route, was a joyous day for exploration and glorious views, despite once more being turned back just shy of the summit.

We started at the Denny Creek trailhead and took the Denny Creek trail one third of a mile to the bridge over Denny Creek.  We left the trail just before the bridge and followed the left bank of Denny Creek up to Denny Lake. The first part of the route involves some nasty brush whacking, but once you get into the open bowl the travelling gets easier.  (Next time, I will follow the Denny Creek trail farther, to where it re-crosses the creek, before leaving the trail and scrambling toward Denny Lake.) The Denny Lake drainage bowl is quite scenic, with several exfoliation cliffs.

The morning was cold and clear. The snow was firm. We had just enough snow cover to facilitate our steep climb to Denny Lake. However, we were worried that once the sun came out and the snow softened this route would not be suitable for descending – we were worried that some snow bridges would collapse or that the snow would not adhere to the rock faces.  Our evolving plan now was to follow the ridge from Denny Lake to the summit, cross the summit, and descend the far ridge to Hemlock Pass where we would join the Denny Creek trail down to our cars.

We ate lunch at Denny Lake, soaking in the sun and watching sun-warmed snow slide off the exfoliation cliffs on the far side of the lake.  The climb along the ridge toward the summit is delightful – a gentle climb in a wooded glade with no obstacles. We reached the false summit at 5320 and enjoyed the spectacular views of the Denny-Tooth-Hemlock-Bryant-Chair ridge.  On my first attempt of Low, this was as far as we could go due to steep unstable slopes and cornices. Once again, the snow conditions prevented us from going any further.

 Without being able to cross the summit, we could not descend our planned route (to Hemlock Pass). Nor were we willing to descend the route we had ascended, due to the softening snow. That left only one option, which was to descend to Denny Lake, then continue southward and climb to the shoulder of Granite, cross the shoulder, and take the trail down to the Granite trailhead. The only drawback to this plan was that it would dump us out about 3 miles from our cars. But luckily we had Trail Saviors Juliette and Twy, who graciously raced down the trail, jogged up the road, and retrieved the cars before the rest of us reached the trailhead.   (Twy had earned the status of Trail Savior earlier in the year when she descended several hundred feet over treacherous terrain to retrieve a pack cover borne away by the wind.)

One final note: we saw a Calypso orchid near the junction of the Ollalie Lake trail and the Granite Mountain trail. My flower guide says that they bloom in May and June. Being only April 30th, I would say that our specimen was precocious.