The Under-appreciated Majesty of McGregor Mountain

Looking northeast from the summit of McGregor, into the awesome heights of Silver Star, Gardner and Liberty Bell.

McGregor Mountain gets a bad rap. Users on WTA rate it all of two stars. “A brutal day hike” is how Erik Molvar summarized it in the Falcon Guide to the North Cascades. To the classic guide “100 Hikes in Washington’s North Cascades National Park Region,” it’s terra non grata – excluded in favor of lesser hikes in the Stehekin area that it towers over.

It’s too bad, because anyone who attempts it with an open mind will not just reach one of the most beautiful landscapes in the North Cascades (maybe anywhere), they’ll surprise themselves with just how much of a hike they can take in. Let its gentle grade pull you along and before you know it, you’ve completed 6,000+ feet of climbing and are standing above 7,000 feet (8,000 feet if you go all the way to the summit).

A very old larch just below the lower cirque.

It’s a nice confidence builder. That’s what it’s done for me two out of the three times I’ve attempted it. The first time, I was in my first year of serious hiking, and I was amazed by how easy it felt to get to the base of the scramble. While, yes, it was hard, I was happy to find I wasn’t destroyed by the effort. Credit its tens or maybe hundreds of switchbacks (I’ve never tried to keep track – too many to count) . This most recent time, I hadn’t been getting out and doing hard hikes nearly as much as I might like, and yet there I was, standing on its summit for the second time.

I would put its alpine and sub-alpine terrain on par with many of the classic hikes in Washington. The stunted sub-alpine forest that you reach towards the top of the creek drainage is a strange mix of barren dirt and healthy trees that look like they’ve been pruned to perfection. Shortly after, the larches begin. I compare it to Aasgard Pass, but with much firmer footing. The open slopes above Heaton Camp are alive with wildflowers. The summit ridge is a jagged toothy grin. The views from the summit are amazing, and this time, I found myself staring back at terrain I’d hiked through recently (the Rainy Pass area) and at peaks like Silver Star that I’d recently looked at from the opposite vantage of Abernathy Peak, not to mention its panorama of North Cascades giants: Glacier, Dome, Sahale, Buckner, Black, and a bunch of others I’m forgetting. Although there was no wildlife this time around (other than the spare marmot and pika), in the past I’ve seen bears (a sow with two cubs) and deer. It’s an awesome place.

It is long. This latest time, my dogs were barking pretty bad as we got to the end of the trail, even though we’d parked at road’s end instead of at High Bridge, which cuts a little distance and elevation loss off of the return trip. Descending for more than seven miles in three and a half hours will take a toll!

Admittedly, it is hard to get to, and that may be the biggest knock against it. My wife and I get to it when we commit to a longer stay in Stehekin. Most backpackers, I’m sure, would prefer not to lose a day that could be spent getting to places like Park Creek Pass or Pelton Basin.

If that means it never gets popular, I’m okay with that. I’m more than happy to be its sole admirer.  : )

Looking up at the scramble route.
Just an awesome view from the summit. Ho hum.

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