TR - Ego Check on Kent
McClellan Butte, Mt Kent, and a lot of bushwhacking
Views: 👁👁 pretty standard Snoqualmie Pass views
Rock: 🧗♀️ exclusively loose talus
Suffering: 😈😈😈😈 the first time I've cried in the mountains in a long while
Routefinding: 👣 bad
Timing: ⏰⏰⏰⏰ did not get benighted even after several mistakes
Exhaustion: 😴😴😴 surprisingly had a decent amount of energy left in reserve
Crowds: 👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️👯♀️ no one else is dumb enough to try this
Like most good adventures go, this one starts with an idea planted my brain that had some time to germinate into a fully-fledged half-baked plan. Nastassia and Westy had both mentioned to me how the Duke of Kent had managed to evade them after several attempts. I wasn't in any hurry to scale this obscure I-90 peak, but kept it on the backburner for what I thought would be a quick rest day jaunt.
My original plan this weekend was a trip up the N Ridge of Kulshan (aka Mt Baker), but my prospective partner wasn't able to make it which was pretty disappointing. I wasn't able to find another adventure buddy on short notice so I opted to throw together a solo itinerary. McClellan Butte had somehow managed to evade me after a few attempts this winter so that was the obvious target. I was hoping to see if I could finally become the trail runner I've always dreamed of being and it seemed like a great place to start. Not one to climb a single I-90 peak in one sitting, I whipped up a CalTopo map with some GPX tracks from Mt Kent, Duke of Kent, and Duchess of Kent. It seemed "relatively straightforward" to link them all up.
I got to the trailhead after sleeping in a bit and grabbing an almond croissant from Fresh Flours and started hiking at 9:40a. The trail was much nicer than what I'm used to and not very crowed. I did pass a few folks on trail and they were kind to let me slip by. The summit ridge was a fun scramble and a good perspective on what that kind of exposure feels like to a climber vs a hiker. Lots of folks were struggling with the terrain while I felt pretty solid running up it. I made it to the top in 1h45m and stopped for a few minutes for a protein bar and to look at the nice but not stunning views.
Having made good time thus far, I was excited to see how quickly I could knock out the other peaks on my list. Mt Kent was next! I anticipated a bit of hardship getting to the summit, but was pleasantly surprised to learn that after a brief down-scramble on talus (follow the chopped stumps!), there's an old forest service road to hike on. This road gets fairly close to Alice Lakes where I stopped and filtered some water after another small talus field. I ascended a fairly direct line near the middle pond straight up yet another talus field, trying to follow a goat trail that kept near the vegetation. The talus field turns into forest and after following the ridgeline via an easy bushwhack, I gained the summit.
I was very excited to check out the summit register and realize that I was the first person to sign it since October of last year. This peak feels fairly moderate in approach but I suppose cross-country travel is enough to deter most people from attempting it.
Gathering my wits about me, I knew that the next section would make or break the trip. The scramble to Kent from McClellan was very straightforward, but the route down to the Duke/Duchess basin was heretofore unexplored as far as I knew. [NB: Indeed the only sign of human activity I found was a cairn at the gully leading up to Duke] Going only on the USGS topo and Google Satellite maps, I ventured down into the basin to see what there was to see.
The journey down into the basin started off as a down-scramble on loose talus, then a forested bushwhack, and then a junction - either try to cross the slide alder, devil's club, and salmonberry patch to the talus field on the opposite side of the valley or continue downhill through the forest. Thinking it was more direct and therefore faster, I opted to go for the 'shwack. I quickly regretted my decision when I found myself enmeshed in the vegetation, unable to move various body parts, and quite literally in over my head. Always the fighter, I pushed on and through sheer force of will came out the other side. There was only 1,000ft of this terrain but it took me over a half hour to make it through.
Upon reaching the talus field leading up to Duke of Kent, I was feeling exhausted and drained from the bushwhack. It was a hot summer day and even though I had been drinking a lot of water, I felt dehydrated and out of energy. I stopped in a shady area and ignored biting flies as I had some food and rested. Looking up at the pile of loose rock leading to the summit, I started to doubt whether it was worth it. Luckily, I thought, there's an old forest road nearby I can bail to if worse comes to worse.
I attempted to edge closer and closer to the area where the one Strava track of this peak started. I found myself hopping on boulders and ducking under branches in a small creek as I was simultaneously being devoured by flies who enjoyed the fresh blood on my legs from all the thorns I made friends with earlier. Progress was slow but I eventually found my way to the point where the old forest road started... except it wasn't there. What was there was an unmistakeable cairn and an impenetrable wall of vegetation. At this point I had made up my mind to bail on climbing the Duke/Duchess, but had counted on being able to access that old road.
Despite this setback, I decided to try another branch of the road further down the valley. I hiked back to the creek and continued to make slow progress toward the old road. After a few hundred feet it was obvious this wasn't going to work out either so I sat down and had a good cry. I wasn't lost, but I wasn't in a great position either. I did the only thing I could think of and sent an InReach message to my partner letting them know that I'd be late. I didn't want to alarm them with words like "stuck in a hell of my own creation," but certainly felt that way inside.
Retreat through the dense vegetation seemed inadvisable but I recalled seeing an alternative path staying north through the forest. I had avoided that on the way down after hearing some large animal tromping around in there, but at that point I decided I'd rather take my chances with a mountain lion than destroy myself and my gear even more through the vegetation.
Indeed the forest proved to be a much quicker means of escape than 'shwacking again. I was able to make it up to the talus field in good time and before I knew it I was back on the summit of Mt Kent again. I signed the register for a second time and started back down the ridgeline.
The remainder of the trek back was uneventful and my anxiety about running late abated after I sent another InReach message telling my partner that I was going to be even later than I had thought. I stumbled/ran down the now totally empty McClellan Butte trail and made it to the car in what felt like record time.
This trip certainly pushed my limits in terms of cross-country travel and routefinding. It was also a good reminder to check my ego when it comes to trying new routes in the mountains. I don't think I would've pushed on as much as I did had I been with a partner to check my decisions. My own ego was driving me towards the summit even though it was obvious that forward progress was just making retreat more difficult. I stopped having fun after the summit of Mt Kent and should've taken that as a sign to try this trip another time, but instead I ignored that feeling and pushed on anyway. I am glad that nothing went wrong and that I had my satphone to let my partner know as my itinerary changed.
Overall this trip was ~17mi round-trip and ~7,000ft of gain/loss. Quite an adventure for what was originally supposed to be a rest day jaunt.
I regret wearing shorts for this. Pants would've saved my skin a lot of lacerations but also probably been too hot. Bringing a water filter was absolutely a great decision and was the only reason I was able to stay out as long as I did. I was very happy to have my InReach with me, it provided quite a bit of peace of mind.