Nelson Ridge and Mount Aix
Aug 10, 2012
- Type of Outing
- Day hike
- Read More in our Hiking Guide
- Hike: Nelson Ridge and Mount Aix
- Region: South Cascades -- Chinook Pass - Enumclaw or Hwy 410 area
- Agency: Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests, Naches Ranger District
- Trails: Nelson Ridge (#984)
- Avg Rating: 3.60
- Hiking Companions
- Hiked with a dog
- Why You Should Go Now
- Wildflowers blooming
Tom and his two faithful dogs picked up David and me before 7:00 a.m. in order to get an early start for a long drive and long hike. Hikers starting from Seattle should informed that it takes three hours at least to get to the trailhead. We started up the trail at 10:25.
Here I have to disagree with the hike descriptions on the WTA site and in the Spring and Manning guidebook. The first 3300 feet were not steep (maybe because we hiked Mt. Persis last week, they didn't seem steep anyway), not hot (it was sunny, but there was a cool breeze and intermittent shade all the way to Nelson Ridge) and it was not a "pine forest," but a mixed forest with an impressive array of woody species: western and mountain hemlocks, lodgepole, western white, and whitebark pines, Engelmann spruce, grand, silver and subalpine firs, Douglas-fir, western red- and Alaskan yellow cedars, Rocky Mountain maple, and some others we probably failed to notice (species identifications courtesy of Tom). For about the upper third, whenever the trail switched back toward the south, we could see the peak looming a seemingly impossible distance above us. But because of the ideal weather and the gentle slope of the switchbacks, all the way to the ridge I was thinking, "this is going to be the easiest 4000-footer in history."
We did have an unfortunate encounter with a clueless and inconsiderate couple hiking just above us on the trail with two pit bulls, who charged Tom's two gentle, older dogs. Luckily the pit bulls were leashed, and the owners managed (just barely) to hold them back, after which we skedaddled on upward rather quickly despite the fact that we had already climbed 2500 feet or so. We reached the ridge at 1:00, a logical lunch stop, but we wanted to stay ahead of the pit bulls to be able to see them coming, so we kept on going.
As we continued along the dusty, rocky trail on the ridge, we discovered something interesting. The peak that had been looming above us the whole time was not Mt. Aix (maybe it was Mt. Wye or Mt. Zee?), and Mt. Aix was around a corner over a ridge to the east, looming even higher. At this point, an easy hike turned into a hard hike, as the path contoured all the way to the east end of the summit ridge of Mt. Aix, uphill and sidehill, including some of the stretches David and I hate the most, sidehill over little rocks on top of big rocks. From there the path was pretty good again, looping back to the summit, which we reached about 2:10. Views as advertised, all directions. Rainier had a little ring of clouds at about 10,000 feet, but these were just about the only clouds we could see.
Almost at the summit, we encountered a nice party of a father and two teenage sons, who had come up another way from Dog Creek, and after we left the summit, we could see another party that had apparently skipped the countered path and come straight up the western face of Mt. Aix on a scramble route. We'd seen that scramble route earlier, but none of us older guys was tempted. The people with the pit bulls never made it.
We thought the summit a bit too breezy for lunch, so we retreated down 100 feet or so to a nice flat bench with a remaining snowfield for the dogs to romp and roll in, while I had smoked salmon and raisins, and took probably too many pictures of exquisite, delicate little alpine plants growing seemingly right out of the rocks. When I get some time, I'm going to take my wildflower book and try to identify them.
We set out back down at 3:05. I was behind because of my obsessive flower photography, and missed the important switchback at the east end of the ridge. I soon realized my mistake and recovered quickly. The trip down the forest was tough on the feet, and by the time we got to the bottom, we were all a bit tuckered. But no shame in being tuckered on a 4000-footer. We reached the car at 6:25: 3:45 up; 3:25 down; 8 hours car-to-car.
Great day; highly recommended.