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Mount Washington

Mountain Description (7,794’):

   Mount Washington is an isolated Basalt pinnacle on the crest of the Cascades between Santiam and McKenzie Passes.  Three prominent ridges radiate North, West, and South from the base of the pinnacle.  Large snowfields sometimes prevail on the East and West Sides into July, but there are no glaciers or remnant glaciers.

   Evidence suggests that the name Mt. Washington probably originated during construction of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Military Road.  The road was built from Sweet Home east over Santiam Pass, and into Central Oregon, and was completed in 1867.  A series of four maps were prepared by surveyor James A. Warner which showed the road in relation to surrounding features.  Clearly labeled on the first map, and located several miles South of the pass, is “Washington Peak” (Oregon State Archives 1871).

   Mount Washington was originally formed as a shield volcano.  Later, basalt invaded the shield and formed a basalt plug.  Pleistocene glaciation stripped the outer debris, leaving the plug much as we see it today.  Rock quality varies, but the West Face, West Ridge, South Face, Southeast Ridge, and East Buttress all have good rock.  Indeed, Mount Washington is the only place in the Oregon Cascades where the alpine rock climber might find happiness.

   The best time to climb Mount Washington is late Spring, Summer, and early Fall.  The approach, the climb, and the return can easily be done in a day.  Winter ascents usually take two days.

   Water is difficult to find in late Summer and Fall, the only year-round source being Coldwater Spring.  Hard hats are necessary, and you probably don’t want to be on a route with a party climbing above you.  Take ice axes and crampons between November and June.  The decision whether to take rock shoes or mountain boots depends on season and individual preference.  We’ll be bringing rock shoes… 


   We’re taking the easiest way to reach Mount Washington.  Follow US 20-126 to the Hoodoo Ski Bowl and Big Lake turnoff 1 mile West of Santiam Pass.  Turn South off US 20-126 toward Hoodoo Ski Bowl on USFS 2690.  Follow USFS 2690 4.2 miles to a trailhead on the West side of Big Lake.

   Follow an unmarked trail along the lake for 2 or 3 minutes, to a junction with a second trail called the Patjens Lake Trail.  Continue around Big Lake until the trail leaves the shoreline.  At an obvious junction, turn left (east).  (Continuing straight will lead away from Mt. Washington to Patjens Lake).  Head East for about 5 minutes.  Several spur trails will join the trail from the West, but continue East until the trail splits.  Take the right fork for 2 or 3 minutes to a clearing with a pile of dead logs on its South side.  (The left fork continues around the East side of Big Lake).  Turn right (South) in the clearing and follow a wide trail for 5 minutes to its junction with the PCT.  Follow the PCT South for 30 minutes (or about an hour from the road head), to a climbers’ trail which goes uphill to the East.  The climbers’ trail is usually marked by a cairn and is just after a large rock on the left side of the trail.  If you reach Coldwater Spring, the only year-round water source on this section of the PCT, you have missed the climbers’ trail and hiked about 10 minutes too far.  About 150 feet after leaving the PCT, the trail splits.  The right fork can be used for gaining the West Ridge or routes on the South Face.  Follow the left fork until it breaks out of the timber onto the North Ridge proper.  Drop onto the East side and contour around the base of the North Ridge for routes on the East Face.  Continue up the ridge for routes on the North and West Faces.


   The only recommended route off of the summit pinnacle is down the North Ridge.  Descend Northeast toward Black Butte, a prominent, rounded cinder cone in Central Oregon.  After about 100 feet, cut West to a short 10-foot chimney.  Continue down easy rock and scree about 250 feet to a large boulder with rappel slings.  If you don’t mind downclimbing easy rock, use one rope to rappel.  Take two ropes to reach all the way to the notch in the North Ridge.  Glissade or run scree (depending on season – we’re running scree) down the West side, and follow a climbers’ trail to the PCT. 

Central Pillar Route Description (5.8+):

   This route has 4 pitches and it’s described as steep, exposed and a joy to climb.  There are several 15 – 20 foot runouts, but the crux is well protected.  Take a #4 Friend or its equivalent.

   Climb diagonal ramps toward the right side of the West face.  Belay on small ledges above the first belay for the West face and next to an obvious crack which diagonals up and left.  Move left into the crack and follow it 40 feet to its end on top of a block.  Move right off of the block and then face-climb straight up 110 feet to small belay ledges.  Move up 20 feet into a debris-filled gully.  Scramble about 250 feet up the right wall of the gully and along the West Ridge to the summit. 

Interesting Excerpts From Summit Journals:

   Among others was a solitary tower, or needle, of basalt, many hundreds of feet high, standing by itself at the foot of the mountains, like some grim sentinel at the foot of Olympian heights.    -   George L. Woods observing Mt. Washington from North Sister in 1857