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Trip Report    

Winter Scramble - Middle Chiwaukum

Successful Summit of Middle Chiwaukum via Lake Ethel Trail approach.

  • Road recommended for high clearance only
  • Lake Ethel trail  was in better conditions than expected with  only 4 fallen trees branches we had to get under or over.  Snow patches on the trail started from TH and complete snow coverage was encountered starting with 2500 ft elevation. Despite the snow coverage, trail was easy to follow for the first 3200 ft gained until we had to start our off trail scrambling to gain  the SW ridge which took us to North  Chiwaukum and saddle with Middle Chiwaukum.

    We carried crampons, microspikes and snowshoes but didn't use any of them, conditions being just right for booting up and down the mountain without traction. The crux was encountered between 6200-6400 ft  where we had to deal with a short steep ascending traverse  in soft snow in order to  get on the SW Ridge and then a short mixed scramble  around a rock feature. Manageable while handled with extra caution, but slow going especially on our way up.

    The ridge up to the summit of Middle Chiwaukum was in good boot stepping conditions but it will definitely change with the upcoming snow storms.

The Gill Creek Road to TH  was completely covered in snow (4-5 inches) but handled without any issues by our AWD high clearance cars. We parked on the road about 0.25 miles from TH. Not sure if this road gets plowed in the winter or not but with more snow expected this winter it might be impossible to drive close to TH  and one might have to park closer to the highway  and snowshoe 1.5 miles to the TH. 

I liked this approach better than the Whine Pine Road approach because it's more scenic once  the trail takes you out from the woods (after ~1300 ft gain). In the winter though you just have to be lucky to find the sweet spot for conditions needed  for a successful summit  (less snow / partial snow coverage can be treacherous  while too much snow it makes it too strenuous  and avy danger can be a problem in some sections of the route.


- total gain: 5500 ft (3200 ft on trail)

- total distance: ~14 miles

-  ~6h up / ~4 h down / 15 minutes lunch (<11 h day)

Up high, close to North and middle Chiwaukum summits it was windy and below freezing conditions.