After spending a clear and warm Saturday dealing with other commitments, my hiking buddy and I headed out early this morning to tackle Mt. Persis. The views from Persis on a clear day are fantastic (or so I hear). Unfortunately, today we were in for a helluva climb, a whole lot of clouds, and a bit of unintended adventure.
You can get to Mt Persis by taking FR 6200 off of Highway 2 east of Gold Bar. Hang several lefts as you drive up through the active logging area and eventually you find a very small parking area (2-3 cars) next to an unmarked trail head at about 2800 feet. The last couple miles of the forest road are terrible and I wouldn't attempt it without a high clearance 4WD vehicle (think large rocks in the middle of the road). The last turnoff to the road with the trailhead isn't even on Google street maps but you can see it on the satellite view. Below the map I've got a couple of pictures of the parking area and the trailhead. The picture of my car is taken from right next to the trailhead to give you an idea where it is.
The trail begins to climb immediately and it doesn't relent for 2000 vertical feet. That's the height we climbed in just 0.9 miles from the car. Today it was wet, muddy, and slippery. So much so that I had to switch to rain gear not long after hitting the trail. A huge section of this climb is through previously harvested forest and the new trees are only about 4 feet tall. They take over the trail in many places and the morning dew rubbing on my clothes quickly made them wetter than I'd expected. I can't emphasize enough that while the trail is fairly easy to follow it is overgrown in many places, rocky, rooty, and very very steep. I wouldn't have been able to do it without hiking poles. About halfway up we had to scramble over a smallish talus field but other hikers have been kind enough to stack a few rocks here and there to keep you going in the right direction. Eventually we were forced to switch to snowshoes due to some recent snowfall. There were prints of people that had done the hike without them but it would have been much tougher.
At 2000 feet above the car we reached a ridge that turned us to the right in a south-southeast direction towards the summit. We did not get too close to the edge as it is an extremely steep and long drop over the other side. From this point it was another mile but only an additional 400 feet of climbing (most of that right at the end) to the summit.
The only terrain we encountered along the ridge to the summit that made me nervous was a slope just below some boulders. A slip here and it would be hard to stop sliding. I made my way down to just below the boulders and dug lightly into the snow. What I found was a layer of ice between two layers of snow. We talked about the danger of an avalanche in this spot and decided to press on because there were little to no snow above us due to the proximity of the path to the rocks.
Eventually we came out of the trees into a wide open and pretty flat snow field at about 4800 feet. The snow there was really nice and we were able to move quickly. Visibility, however, was very poor. If we hadn't previously viewed many pictures of others' treks up this hill we may have decided to turn back because we really couldn't see what was ahead of us.
Beyond the snowfield was the final climb up to the summit. We skirted around a dip that we surmised was one of the two lakes in a bowl near the summit (though we saw footprints going right across it). The last 400 feet was fairly tough as we were already tired of climbing and the air seemed especially thin. As always, however, we put one foot forward and then the next and made it to the top. There were no magnificent views of Mt. Index next door. No Mt. Baker. No Mt. Rainier. No nothing except a big blanket of clouds. We got no closer than about 30 feet to the far edge figuring that it might be a giant cornice. Instead we found a couple rocks to sit on and have a snack while we enjoyed our accomplishment.
On the way down we committed the cardinal sin of hiking with our heads down. We followed the tracks from the way up and sometime after we removed our snowshoes we discussed the sound of a waterfall that we didn't remember from the hike up. After taking a break and studying the altimeter, compass, and topo map we realized that we had followed not our own tracks but those of someone from a few days earlier and he had gone the wrong way. We had made a stupid mistake and we knew it. As we cursed our predicament (we were not in the mood to climb back up) we studied the other errant trekker's tracks and formulated a plan. Based on the water location on the map and our elevation we knew we were too far south and that if we headed north along our current elevation we'd eventually hit our tracks. Climbing up and down slightly to avoid steeper slopes while heading north we eventually ran into our tracks and proceeded down the mountain without further incident. Navigating in the snow can be difficult and we won't make this mistake again. It cost us a lot of time and a lot of energy. Luckily we had the right tools. Without the map and compass we would have been up a creek.
The trip down wasn't all bad, however. We had nearly perfect snow for some glissading (on our butts). Below I've also included a few more pictures of the steep slope for reference. In the distance you can see some of the newly cleared slopes. Also, be aware that while it's against the rules there are plenty of target shooters on the forest road and you can hear the gunfire from pretty high up the mountain. The final picture is my boots when I got to the car.
Nice day. Very tough hike. We saw no other people on the mountain.