Eastern Washington is incorrectly labeled as flat.
We’re just not living close to active volcanoes compared to our westside Washingtonians.
Eastern Washington’s lack of volcanoes is something very much appreciated by a disaster movie junkie like myself. As a child, Dante’s Peak with Pierce Brosnan had me convinced Quartzite was going to explode. While we don’t have iconic mountain peaks over here, we do have mountains even though they aren’t named after presidents and Catholic saints.
Up here in the Northeastern corner of the state, our mountains are still accessible by most casual hikers. You don’t have to worry about buying a permit or towing mountaineering equipment for a grand ascent.
Abercrombie Mountain up past Deep Lake on Silver Creek Road is the second-highest peak on this side of the Cascades and the tallest elevation in all of Stevens County. It’s also accessible by a 7.3-mile trail that I’m assuming was an old access or logging road that grinds slowly down to a trickle of a trail.
This was the adventure I took a few weekends ago, hoping for some nice views of the county and Eastern Washington. My half-Canadian friend Jake Rehm – who works at Eastern Washington during the school year and spends summers treating this side of the state like his own personal campground – told me that the hike up Abercrombie wasn’t the toughest thing on earth and could be done in a half-day.
So on a Sunday morning (Sorry Father Jeff), Jake picked me up in his trusty Toyota Tacoma and we set out for northern Stevens County. Now it’s wise to have a good high-clearance rig for this drive, as our conversation on this trip quickly shifted to shocks and road conditions. From Chewelah, the ride to the trailhead took between an hour and a half to two hours, depending on morning stops at McDonalds and the coffee stand.
Abercrombie Mountain’s trail to the top begins in heavily-wooded terrain, which gives you relief if you’re hiking on a hot summer day. This hike is best described as strenuous. You’re not going to have to do anything technically challenging, but there are definitely steep sections that you have to tackle all the way to the top of the mountain.
Jake and I enthusiastically trudged through alder trees for about a mile and a half when we came to an intersection with the North Fork Silver Creek Trail. We took a left thanks to a sign pointing towards the mountain peak and the forest gradually gave way to more rocks, less trees and a refreshing breeze.
Once we got above the thick tree line, the views open up. If you reach this point, you realize you can quite literally see for miles and miles. We had a false victory when we reached the top of the ridgeline, but a quick look north made us realize we still had to “summit” the peak.
Looking further away than it actually was, we tackled Abercrombie – which sits at 7,300 feet elevation. Gypsy Peak in Pend O’reille County is ten feet taller to take the crown as tallest mountain in Eastern Washington – but that doesn’t stop Stevens County’s mountain to be known as “ultra-prominent.” It sounds cool and just means it towers above a lot of the surrounding area. That term, however, makes me feel like I’m climbing Everest, when in reality I’m walking up a trail in jeans and a Chewelah t-shirt I bought from Valley Drug.
Near the top, the ground just turns into massive piles of rocks. Weirdly perfect, stackable rocks that look like they should be used to set up a foundation for a house. At the top, we found the remnants of a US Forest Service lookout. Built in 1952, it lasted a decade before being demolished. hikers have used some of the remnants to build a rock shelter. There’s also a few “rock chairs” that people have constructed, creating one of the coolest couches with a view in all of America.
What you overlook at this spot is an amazing swath of land. You can see the entire crown of Stevens County, you can see the Canadian border, you can see nearby Hooknose peak and you can see what I am assuming is Metaline Falls. It’s truly breathtaking to consider that except for a few far-off small specks of buildings, you’re completely surrounded by rural, untamed forestland. There’s some Canadian peaks in the distance with snow still on them and there’s what we’re assuming is the reservoir for Boundary Dam.
And keep in mind this is just an afternoon drive from Chewelah.
Now it’s always quicker walking back off the mountain, but I do want to stress the word strenuous. If I were to draw a line in the sand of “hikes that are easy” and “hikes that I don’t want to ever do again” this would be in the middle. (Keep in mind I’m a journalist who sits in a chair for a living and keeps the pounds off by riding his parent’s exercise bike in their woodshop). It pushes you, but you can always just stop, rest up and keep on going while carrying a conversation the entire time.
Total elevation gain is 2,350 feet and you’ll feel it in your legs, but when you get done with the whole thing you’ll be glad you did.
-By Brandon Hansen/The Independent Staff