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West Fork Buttermilk River

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There are 7 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
West Fork Buttermilk River — Jul 06, 2013 — trailhop
Features: Wildflowers blooming
Issues: Blowdowns | Water on trail
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If you are an olympian training for hurtles, this hike is for you! I counted 128 blowdowns on the w...
If you are an olympian training for hurtles, this hike is for you! I counted 128 blowdowns on the way to Fish Creek Pass. Most are easy to step over and the tread is in nice condition. This is one of the few Sawtooth trails that isn't horse beaten. You will find a little water on the trail near the switchbacks before Scaffold Ridge Trail and a few small snow patches near the pass. The meadows at Star Lake are looking quite nice with a few snow patches left around the lake. Bugs were minimal.
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West Fork Buttermilk River, Star Peak, Courtney Peak — Sep 09, 2012 — Foist
Multi-night backpack
Issues: Mudholes
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We camped at Star Lake two nights, and I scrambled Star Peak in between. On the way out, we both wa...
We camped at Star Lake two nights, and I scrambled Star Peak in between. On the way out, we both walked up Courtney. The area is breathtaking and wholly unlike anywhere else I've been.

We took the W. Fork Buttermilk Trail in. The access roads are fine (just a few somewhat large potholes in the concrete section of the E Buttermilk road). The trail is in good shape. It is a bit beaten in by horses, but not too bad. We did not actually see any horses, and some rain the previous night prevented the trail from being too dusty. We saw very few people on the trip too, just 4 people total (including 2 other guys camped at Star Lake the first night). The upside of the horse traffic is that the horseman appear to carry saws to cut away the many, many downed trees.

The W.F. Buttermilk trail is very monotonous, though. After 6.5 miles, we finally reached a grove of larches with views up at Star Peak and then, shortly thereafter, dramatic Fish Creek Pass.

There is really only one good campsite at Star Lake, and it was taken. We took another mediocre one for the first night that was not very level.

On the second day, I considered hiking over to Finney Peak Lakes, but I guess a peakbagging impulse bit me and I went for Star Peak instead. In trip reports, people just talked about hiking via the west ridge. Looking at the topo map, it looked like the easiest way to do that was to use the trail toward Surprise Lake to gain the ridge between Star and Baldy, and then go up the ridge from there. The worst part was some loose rock getting from the first bump over toward point 7912. It was at that point my dad decided he wasn't up for it.

Below pt 7912 I picked up a trail in more stable talus that wrapped around the point and brought me up to the ridge on the other side. Then I tried to just stay on the ridge but there was a blocky section. I got annoyed as I kept going down into the dust and loose rock and then back up, finding it too blocky, and then having to go back down again. Just as I was thinking, geez, when can I just walk on the ridgetop, I spotted a cairn! There was my answer! The rest of the ascent was pretty easy, only made difficult by the wind and cold. It was so windy and cold that I only spent about 5 minutes at the top. I had views of the developing forest fires, including a plume of red smoke in what appeared to be the eastern Glacier Peak Wilderness? Maybe someone can identify from the photo. I'm not used to the perspective from this area so I had trouble ID'ing mountains, except a few big ones.

I've since learned that there is actually a steep "trail" through the scree slopes leading straight up from the Star Lake basin to gain the ridge. I'm still happy with how I went up.

On the third day my dad and I both scrambled up Courtney on the way out. The weather was clearer and warmer and we had spectacular views.
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West Fork Buttermilk River — Jul 03, 2009 — chrisburke
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The warm and dry weather of the last six weeks really melted the mountain snowpack. I walked up the ...
The warm and dry weather of the last six weeks really melted the mountain snowpack. I walked up the West Fork Buttermilk Creek trail to climb Star and Courtney Peaks, the two mountains on either side of Fish Creek Pass. There were only patches of snow at the very top of the trail, near the 7300-foot pass, and it presented no travel problems. The walk up from the 4000-foot trailhead was tiring under the July sun.

Star Lake was still mostly frozen, but the snow on it was virtually the only snow in the area. I visited this region last year in late July and the snow situation was similar. It appears the snowmelt is 3 weeks ahead of last year, and perhaps 2 weeks ahead of average. In any case, from the views I saw from the peaks, it looks like you can hike pretty much anywhere now.

The ground around Star Lake was perfectly dry and I set up my camp. After a short nap I climbed up Star Peak. The route was straightforward. You trudge up a gully southwest of the lake; previous climbers have left a path and there was even a cairn. The talus means it is often a two steps forward, one step backward affair.

Once on the ridge there is a nice path until you reach some small trees in boulders at about the 8000-foot level. After the trees end the boulders continue, making this a boulder hopping scramble nearly to the summit. There is a brief respite in a flat about 100 feet below the summit; then the boulder hopping resumes on the summit pyramid. The views from the top of Star Peak were excellent. I also was able to get cell phone reception on the summit.

After a quick descent to my camp I had dinner and then slept like a log until morning. The next day I walked back out the West Fork Buttermilk, stopping to climb Courtney Peak on the way. The views were similar to those on Star; you do get a nice view of Star Peak from Courtney Peak, and you can also see the Oval Lakes.

The West Fork Buttermilk Trail has been logged out and maintained, and was in excellent shape the whole way.
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Finney Peak (8110),West Fork Buttermilk River #411 — Jul 19, 2005 — Gren Bjork
Day hike
Issues: Bugs
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Because the upper summit structure of Finney Peak is so attractive (as seen from Star Peak a decade...

Because the upper summit structure of Finney Peak is so attractive (as seen from Star Peak a decade earlier); and because it is quite remote, even considering that it is in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness Area; and because we weren't familiar with anyone who has actually climbed it - for all these reasons, we set off to give Finney Peak a try.

Auto access by the Twisp River Road, the Buttermilk Creek Road (#43), and its Spur (#500), brought us to the roadend trailhead and a welter of horses, trailers, wranglers, and dogs.

We hiked about 8-1/2 miles up the maintained West Fork Buttermilk Creek Trail (#411) over Fish Creek Pass (with its view of peaks from Emerald, Pinnacle, Maude, and Copper to Bonanza and Tupshin - a view not even dreamed of on the long approach through the forest) to camp overnight at Star Lake, beneath the wide, scabrous W face of Star Peak.

On summit day, we hiked S via the Chelan Crest Trail (#1259?) over Pass 7400 into the upper basin of West Fork Prince Creek (which was where the equestrian party had set up an ample camp). We continued S onto Trail #1249 and crossed over Pass 7040 as though we were headed to Surprise Lake - glistening darkly in the sun.

At 6800 feet, we left the trail behind and ascended SW'ly alongside a pretty stream to an appealing nameless lake at 7040'+. Scrambling up the rib S of the lake, we angled onto the flattish col between Peak 7985 and Finney Peak. Uh-Oh! - the NW ridge of Finney Peak did not admit scramblers to its beetling precincts! Impasse. Prudence urged us to drop W'ly about 250 feet down a rubble slope in order to round the base of Finney's NW ridge defenses and angle SE'ly into the next (at least scrambleable) gully. We completed the ascent on talus and class-2 terrain of Finney's south (highest) summit via this SW gully.

But, a garish pinnacle to the NE seemed almost as high and the USGS topo had put an ""x"" on the location of the NE pinnacle. What to do? We summoned our will and set off to tiptoe along the broken ledges on the right side of the ridge. Half-an-hour later - a little spooked and a little excited - we reached the NE pinnacle and confirmed what we already thought: it was lower than the S summit.

There was no sign of mankind at the summit - no register, no cairn, no tin cans, just the sight of the Lady II docking at Lucerne on Lake Chelan - 7000 feet below!

Distance: 10.5 miles R/T from Star Lake Elevation Gain: 4200 feet No snow enroute

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West Fork Buttermilk River #411,Buttermilk Meadow Scaffold Ridge #436 — Oct 06, 2003 — rubberlegs
Day hike
Issues: Blowdowns
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A grand trip of larch-viewing, meadow lounging, and peak-bagging: Friday we drove up the well-main...

A grand trip of larch-viewing, meadow lounging, and peak-bagging:

Friday we drove up the well-maintained road from Twisp to the West Fork Buttermilk trailhead. Then we hiked through miles of inches-thick-dust to Fish Creek Pass. While at the pass, Jeff and I eyed the peaks Buttermilk Ridge and Courtney, and wandered up. The rest of the party enjoyed the views from Courtney Peak. Both are safe scrambles when the lichen-covered rocks are dry. (But watch out for shifting boulders.) We camped west of the pass in a large meadow (with Jeff and I arriving after dusk). Lo and behold are a couple guys we know! Small world.

Saturday all the campmates walked to Star Pass over the also-dusty trail 1259, and scrambled up easy terrain to Star Peak. From here we could survey miles and miles in all directions. An impressive smoke column rose to the north. Most of the rest headed for Gray Peak, northbound on trail 1259. Mike and I eyed North Sawtooth (8067) and Spirit Mts, and spent a long day en route. Bernice Lake is a lovely spot, with a trail (abandoned? Boot-beaten?) to ease sore soles. Our brushy trip from Spirit Mt took most of the spirit out of our legs (2 hrs brush and a 1200' climb back to Fish Creek Pass) but we managed to stumble into camp at dusk just as Jim, Andy and Gordon stumbled from their adventure to Finney Peak.

Sunday morning the group headed to Finney, using Jim's advice. But first I had unfinished business with Gray Peak, so I went there before catching the gang. We followed the trail towards Surprise Lake (1249), then took off across a meadow towards two beautiful lakes NE of Finney Peak. From here it was a scramble up nice ridges and ugly loose talus to the top. On the way back we detoured over Baldy Mt, a nice change of pace from the dust of horse-beaten trails. For once, I got back with a little daylight to spare. That evening, the sunset was spectacular, possibly due to lots of smoke from a fire. The larches are a bit past their prime, but golden larches are always a special treat.

Monday was an exit day. While the gang hiked out the West Fork Buttermilk trail, I took the abandoned trail #436. While in the neighborhood, I ran up Oval and Scaffold Peaks. This trail has a few semi-confusing sections near Oval, but gets easier to follow towards the eastern trailhead. This trailhead has a gated road, so isn't used much. There are some logs across the trail, but none impede progress completely. It is far less dusty. Some good views of Buttermilk Meadows, larches, quaking aspen (maybe?). The road walk down is long... so I descended grassy slopes and some forest to the W Fork Buttermilk, and walked a tiring mile back to the trailhead.

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WTA worked here!
2010, 2012
West Fork Buttermilk River (#411)
North Cascades

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