Trip Reports

Eagle Cliff Bushwhack – 08/27/2008

  • August 27, 2008
Good weather was on the forecast for Tuesday, and with my son coming up to visit, it was decided that a really interesting hike was in order!After throwing around a few ideas, I suggested the Eagle Cliff ridge as a bushwhack. My son had never gone off-trail before and didn’t realize how crazy his dad was, so he agreed. Little did he know! I gave him a list of supplies, including long shirts and pants, which was met with some hesitation, but the trip was a go. I had done this trip last year with a friend (who has sworn off bushwhacks ever since because of it) so I had an idea of what to expect.I plotted out a route in advance starting at the rock-climbing trailhead at the end of the bridge at the Gallen Circle turnoff, traversing the 6 peaks of the ridge, then back via the Greenleaf trail and bike path. (At first I wanted to incorporate coming back by cutting across the side of Lafayette from Eagle Pass, following the contour lines from the level of the pass, then down the northern ridge of the valley across some interesting cliffs that I could see from the old bridge viewing area.

However, being unfamiliar with the terrain and the steepness into and out of the valley, I decided against it… probably will check them out by cutting down from the Skook sometime).

A late start found us at Gallen Circle around 10 AM. We headed up the road, entering the woods just below the rocky ledges that form the east side of the road. Going up and hugging the woods side of the ledges we found the old abandoned trailhead a bit south of the halfway point.

From here, what used to be an adventure of following the old axe-score marks in the past has become a downright clear trail to the summit of the first peak on the ridge. Fresh clipper marks and cut branches marked an easy scramble through the woods to come out at the top of the open rocky ledges. A great view of Echo Lake and the notch can be seen from here for very little effort.

A quick break on the ledges and we were off again. The trail from the ledge over the summit was clearly cut

and led over the hump and to a large rock from which there are limited views north.

At this point, the cut trail heads steeply down towards the small col between peaks 1 and 2. It then heads around the base of the ledges and back towards the road… I suspect that if followed it likely culminates at the rock-climber’s trailhead at the Gallen exit or the herd path off the Greenleaf trail. Either way, that wasn’t in our plan, so we headed back up to the col and started the first real ‘whacking of the day. The scrub was thick and unforgiving as we shoved through on our way up to the next peak. About halfway up, we went sideways around a really rough patch and ran into the trail again… old clipper marks and axe scores but still easy to follow. I followed it back a little ways and it seemed to curve northward, and I was wondering where it met with the trail we had been on… Due to the time, however, we decided to continue upwards.

Along the way there was a great clump of Indian Pipes which I stopped to take a photo of.

The trail faded in and out up to the summit of peak #2, going over the peak and culminating at a ledge above the second col where there is a somewhat limited view of Cannon.

At this point the trail vanished, so we went northward along the ledge until we could work our way down into the sag between the peaks. The footing here was poor and the embankment was steep and full of scrub, so it was very difficult to see where your feet were and where the ground gave away. We quickly learned that the top of a 3-foot spruce scrub could easily be the same height as the top of a 10-foot tree right next to it!

Down into the sag and a long whack up the next ridge through varying stages of forest – horrible eye-poking spruce thickets and halfway-open woods of hobblebush and ferns – until we reached the summit of the third peak. Another great view greeted us from the ledges at the top.

(Click on photo above for a close-up!)

The trip to the fourth peak was more of the same. Last year, I hung more towards the northern side of the ridge, away from the cliffs, and had much less difficulty. This time I wanted to stay closer to the edge in the hopes of seeing more viewpoints… however, all this accomplished was a thicker mess of dead trees, blowdowns, eye-poking sticks and leg-breaking terrain.

I don’t think our feet touched the actual ground over half of it, and the scrubby trees and broken branches were completely unforgiving in their quest to keep us from pushing onward.

Finally, an hour after the last peak and only a third of a mile later, we summited the fourth peak and hit a well-beaten trail which led to a beautiful open ledge with an incredible view.

We sat down next to a small campfire circle and had a bite to eat and enjoyed the sights and nursed our wounds. Several boulders here provide some interesting variations of the view, and the cliff drops off dangerously below the ledge, on which climber’s apparatus can be seen hooked into the rock face.

From here we looked toward the last two peaks which make up the main bulk of Eagle Cliff and got ready again for the plunge into the thick scrub.

The trail led steeply down the northeast side of the ledge into the gully and immediately came out into the open on an extremely thin ridge. A steep scree slide sloped down towards the highway, and above it was the awesome profile of The Watcher, or the Old Woman. This was an amazing sight so close up and much more impressive than the opposite view from the highway.

From the many old postcards I have seen of The Watcher, I can only guess there must have been a maintained trail-perhaps up the scree slide-to this point back in the days of the old Profile House. Looking down I could also see the old slide above the Old Man Parking area and perhaps an easy route from there to this point which I will have to try another day.

A few more pictures of the honored monolith before us and we were on our way. A little ways further I could see a small ledge through the brush which I climbed out onto to get a shot of the Eaglet, which was blocked from our view on the ridge earlier and just barely visible from this position only.

Next was the long, horrid whack up the main peak itself, which has a small hump in the middle (#5), and ends at the top of Eagle Cliff itself. Thick spruce, broken branches and dead trees, huge rocks and ledges to climb up and over or down and under – it seemed to go on forever! In one small sag we found a pile of rusty screening and wondered why it was here and what it had been used for?

Finally at the top we emerged into an above-treeline jungle, with small stunted trees so thick and unbending that it was a real challenge to even move in places! Blowdowns were everywhere, each festooned with jagged sticks ready to impale the unwary whacker!

The summit canister was an easy find at the top, but it was an empty jar tied to a tree with orange tape. A quick look around found a second jar on the ground in the scrub containing two notebooks in plastic bags, one with water damage dated back to 2000, and the second only a couple years old and in great condition. There were only a few entries listed in the newer notebook, the last being over a month old. After leaving our names, we got a chuckle reading the past entries, most describing great pain. One note even contained a sample of “real blood” on the page! And Spongebob left a sticker. Great to see humor alive in the mountains! We reattached the second jar below the first.

A few yards away from the canister, the world opens up to a beautiful picturesque vista straight down the notch from a perfect rock on which to sit and have lunch. The view is stunning to say the least. Here we stopped for photos and food, and to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

I was dreading the descent so we made sure to make the most of our time at the top. We also discovered a few more ledges a bit further to the southeast that look straight down into Eagle Pass.

And I can’t forget to mention how stunning Lafayette looks from this close – I could almost swear that I could see hikers walking the ridge!

The descent went better than I thought. Although I have heard mention of a herd path up from Eagle Pass, we didn’t have any luck finding it. Instead, I took a waypoint from the center of the pass and headed for it on a curved route, heading out towards the north away from the cliff edge and then curving back towards the pass on the way down. This task started out through extremely thick, almost impassible trees, getting more and more open as we got lower in elevation. The worst part about the descent was the huge mossy rocks and large crevasses between them that we had to climb over on the steep descent – a slight misstep could cause a broken leg easily, and there were a few close moments where a branch to hold onto and a small leap of faith was all we had! Eventually, we hit the pass without any navigation problems (the compass wasn’t even really needed as we could see the opposite wall of the pass through the trees getting closer and closer). Up the embankment on the other side of a swampy area we hit the Greenleaf trail about 20 yards from the large rocks at the bottom of the cliff. There was great rejoicing!
The rest of the trip was an enjoyable walk down maintained trails – I will never complain about the rocks on Greenleaf again! My son will likely go the way of my other past unwitting companions and swear off bushwhacking forever (or at least hikes with me!), but someday he will look back at all the scars and have a fond memory or two! I hope!