Peak 5960+

Prominence 440 feet


USGS Bacon Peak

October 16, 2002

Party: John Roper, Grant Myers

Elementary Peak, highest of the left summits.

Mount Watson (E and W peaks) center, Mount Rainier in left distance

View from north on Icy Peak, May 31, 1970

The 7th time was finally the charm. This peak is a 440' prominence summit, just east of Mount Watson. Sherlock Holmes' classic comment to "my dear Watson" clued us into the name. Over the previous month plus, I had failed on six attempts to climb this summit. The first three tries were foiled by al-Qaida. On September 12, 2002, we were stymied at the Baker Dam by a "Road Closed" sign which I drove around, only to be stopped by a young man in a Puget Sound Energy truck who told us we could not proceed across the dam because of a nation-wide 9/11 restriction on strategic structures. I bought that.


We returned on 9/14, and again the "Road Closed" sign was out, and once more we were stopped at the dam by the Orange Alert. But we were amused here by Rex Brainard, the friendly security guard on duty this day, a great 71-year old gent who looked happy to have someone to talk to as he got out of his old beater and leaned on my roof. I asked him if we could get through since I'd graduated from Concrete High School, and promised to do the dam no harm.

"Really?" he said, "I didn't think anyone actually came from here." He was from Bellingham and knew Beckey and Tom Stewart (FA of NE Buttress on Goode), had climbed the "north ridge of Shuksan" by himself, and told us he'd written a book on the mountains called Cascadian Odyssey with the Blueberry Kid.  Later, I looked the book up on Amazon.com and found this review: "Descriptive mountaineering tales that transport the reader into the adventure. Rex Brainard's vast mental landscape of mountain adventures is forthcoming for the reader to enjoy. [This book] offers a new touch of class to mountaineering adventure stories with excitingly stimulative short tales of relentless mountaineering exertion. Designed to give you entertainment and knowledge about hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountain range of the northwestern United States."


On a solo outing, I tried again on 9/21/02 but once again found that Baker Dam was still under Orange Alert (you'd think I'd learn), but I got another chance to talk to Rex, who came out of his 1980 Chevrolet Monte Carlo to chat with me. He wondered what was beyond the dam that was so darn interesting to me, then told me that he climbed an east summit of Watson. Maybe Elementary Peak, I wondered, or maybe the summit above Diobsud Lakes, or maybe just Watson's East Peak.

Elementary Peak from Mount Watson

Wireman Spires on left, Logger Butte above Elementary, Diobsud Buttes right


The next three rejections were weather related, with one party collapse. Finally on 10/16/02, fellow Whatcom County native, Grant Myers and I met up to try this thing. We actually made it across Baker Dam on a perfect day, and on up to the cheatingly high 4300' Watson Lakes trailhead. Hiking this trail to the 4800' pass above the lakes, we angled right just beyond to the upper Anderson Lakes, then crossed back over the west ridge of Watson at 5320+ to sidehill around the picturesque glacial polished undulations under the north glacier of Mount Watson.


A steep rib coming NE off the 6280'+ highest, east summit of Watson forced a drop to 4950'. Once around this, the objective appears as a multi-summited menace, topped by a steep-sided rocket of rock. Grant asked if we really should be calling this Elementary, since it didn't appear to be that at all. As we made our way to its NE side where the map said the contours were easiest, we stayed primarily on morainal debris to avoid the rock-hard snow. The final gully up to a notch in the east ridge crest proved to be wet and slippery, so we moved right onto solid class 3+ rock with bomber holds.


The top appeared to be undisturbed by human kind, including Rex, and we guessed that possibly he climbed the lower summit to the east. Was this a previously unclimbed 400-foot rule peak in the North Cascades National Park by virtue of its hiding place?   If so, it is the last NCNP peak with significant prominence to finally be climbed. A marmot, however, had obviously made several visits to the top of Elementary, leaving behind a huge cairn of his own making, very alimentary.   [2005 addendum:  On July 31, 2005, Paul Klenke climbed the 6760+ foot south peak of Mineral Mountain (Mineraloid to PK, previously Animal Mtn) making this peak the last unclimbed 400-foot prominent peak in the North Casades to see a first ascent.]


Watson, Baker, Shuksan, and Bacon dominate the scene from here, and Grant pointed out his route to Bacon dropping into upper Noisy Creek, with a camp at a 5700' flat. We enjoyed naming off the obscure Skagit and Baker River peaks, and looked down on the two summits Mitch had toiled to at the head of Thunder Creek the month before.


On the return, we dropped into the Watson Lakes and marveled at their colorful shores, brilliant with reds of blueberry bushes contrasting with the bright golden yellow of the mountain ash against the clear pale green water. 3.5 hours up, 3.3 hours return. .





Peak 5110

Prominence 430 feet


USGS Mount Stickney

March 6, 2005

In the winter of no winter

Party by age: John Roper (61), Mitch Blanton (58), Ian Mackay (57), Jerry Huddle (52), Mike Collins (50), Mike Torok (50), Don Beavon (48),

Greg Koenig (36), Paul Klenke (33)



Nine Lives Peak, variously named: Clothesline Peaks, Tyrolean Peaks, Little Four, The Parathyroids, Prescient Peaks,

Crenulated Ridge, Stick-Whack Ridge, Zip Line Ridge, Strung Out Ridge

L to R:  Peak 5110 (9 Lives), Point 5080+, Point 5098, Point 5080+, Prospect Peak (just below right skyline).

Above the basin of the south fork of the North Fork of the South Fork Sultan River

View from NW near Static Point taken March 25, 1990

Mount Stickney is off the photo to the right, Bushwhack Peak is out of view to left.

Which peak is highest? Had it been climbed? What should we call it?

Nine Lives Peak from SE near Snowslide Peak across Wallace River

L to R: Mount Stickney, Point 5080+, Point 5098, Point 5080+, and Nine Lives, far right


Short story: Turn off HW 2 just east of Sultan following the Sultan Basin Road to Olney Pass. Here, a gated road just right of the main drag can be biked for 5 miles to the Middle Fork of S Fk Sultan River (bridge out), just below Kromona Mine. Either take the “trail” remnants to the significant mine relics, climbing over Prospect Peak to a 4400- saddle just SE, or reach this saddle directly from Middle Fork. Descend 300' then do a gradual ascending traverse over snow or boulder fields to the 5110-pinnacled top. A 20-foot class 4-bouldering exercise via a wide crack up sticky rock completes the climb from the south.


Longer story: Strung out on the ridge running east from Mount Stickney (5280+ nowadays), between Wallace River and the amusingly confusedly-named branches of the South Fork Sultan River are a number of nearly 5100-foot, unnamed craggy peaklets. The highest of the group, a good-looking 5145' rock horn, anchors the east end of the divide, and is now popularly known as “Bushwhack Peak.” Between Stickney and Bushwhack, above the basin of the south fork of the North Fork of the S Fk Sultan River (really), are 5 summits that show on today's map as 5080+, or this contour plus a precise number. The highest of these was our goal. They are not listed in CAG, and none of us knew of anyone that had previously climbed any of these.


But which of these five peaks is the highest? The answer changes with each generation of the USGS map. The summits on this ridge are numbered here west to east from Mt. Stickney. Peaks 1 and 2 are really a double-summit just SE of Prospect Peak, the east of which is higher.



Mt Stickney








Prom of group

Bushwhack (BW)










Greater than BW











410 with BW











430 with BW


1921 is 30-minute USGS Sultan quad

1957 is 15-minute USGS Mount Index quad

1989 is 7.5-minute USGS Mount Stickney quad


The first photo above would recommend the leftmost east 5110 summit as highest.


The North Fork of the S Fk Sultan River should properly be simply the S Fk Sultan River. The 1957 15-minute USGS Mount Index introduced the confusing terms that were later copied onto the 1989 7.5-minute USGS Mount Stickney . As the map shows now, the North Fork is south (but mostly east) of the S Fk Sultan River. The 1921 30-minute USGS Sultan had it right, and shows the name Mount Stickney, but not Prospect Mountain.


The assembly of our group of prominence-driven Cascade obscurists was an interesting story (to me). First of all, Ian and I were planning to do this very 5110-foot summit, possibly a first ascent on this day by ourselves. Luckily, Paul Klenke emailed me the day after Ian and I had decided on 5110, suggesting this very same unknown summit. And that evening Mitch Blanton called saying he wanted to do something on Sunday, possibly Prospect Peak, one of our shrinking number of “double negatives” (peaks neither of us had climbed), and when the 5110 bonus was mentioned, Mitch bit hard.


So it came to be that nine of us got together at the Monroe smokestack at 6:15 AM on Sunday, March 6, 2005, quite a group, the largest party I had ever climbed with. Paul asked if we needed permission from the Mountaineers to go out with a party this size.


We drove to Sultan and up the Sultan Basin Road, signing into the Everett watershed at Olney Pass, then took the gated road right, immediately beyond the pass which leads up the south side of S Fk Sultan valley (at 2000' to 2400'). This road was washed out 1.1 miles beyond the gate (in 2005), and is reasonably flat the whole way, and in very good shape for biking, the very much-preferred travel method to a 5-mile hike.

Tour de Bush. L to R: Mike C, John, Greg, Don, Jerry, Mitch, Paul, Ian

Blowdowns and snow stopped the bikes just short of the washed-out bridge over the Middle Fork S Fk Sultan River . Howard Putter and I had driven here 12/6/1986 on an aborted attempt on Stickney.  


Washed out M Fk bridge


Mike C and Paul were our guides from here, since they had just climbed Prospect a month before. I was looking forward to the trail and the 1000-foot gain to the Kromona Mine, then the scramble up Prospect Peak, followed by the basin run over to Peak 5110. However, since Mike and Paul had already done Prospect, they rejected the trail to the mine, leading us farther up an overgrown road to the first major drainage where we boulder-danced up a couple hundred vertical, angling right into forest, surprisingly running across a serious shelter with a nice solid shake roof and a turnbuckle support system to keep it from falling downhill.


From here, a series of right-drifting sections of brush with some interspersed pleasantness in open forest, meadows, and boulder fields led to "Prospect Pass," a 4400- saddle between Prospect Peak and the pair of 5080+ peaks to the south . At this point we had to drop about 300 feet to get around a cliff band before doing a pleasant gradual ascending traverse over the open snow basin to Peak 5110. The soft snow held pretty well at boot-top depth, with an occasional leg sinking into the crotch. The powerhouses fresh off a winter ascent of Helen Buttes the week before (Don, Mike C, and Paul) thankfully built the path for the rest of us.



Looking back at Peak 5098 and Horn 5080+ after Prospect Pass

As Ian and Mitch were nearing the summit, Don popped up, straddling the summit pinnacle.



Mike Torok does a hero-stand on the highest point



Paul's camera captures 9 lives on Nine Lives Peak'

L to R: Jerry, Mike T, Don, Paul, Ian, Mitch, Greg, John, Mike C



The final boulder problem was rated anywhere from class 3+ to 5.4 by the various climbers


What should we call it? No one was quite happy with the possible nominations until Don came up with “9 Lives” shortly after two cameras quit working from 8 dead batteries at the summit. Some have said that the Indians might have called this Cobekl Rotoma Hukobl. Possibly not.


The final question: Had this been previously climbed? Unfortunately the early-arriving conquistadors this day destroyed the evidence before a full scientific investigation could be completed. Some described a group of rocks at the bottom of the summit crack that looked as though a larger rock had naturally fragmented and then tilted like a loaf of bread tipping sideways (pointing out that the juxtaposed slices had no lichen on either side). Others thought this represented a cairn that had fallen over. After Mitch tore into the rock, looking for a register, and finding none, it was impossible to tell whether this was man-made or not. So this goes down as a possible FA, and certainly a first “winter” ascent. 5.5 to 6 hours up.


And now, after combing through my slides from Snowslide Peak 5000+ and Bushwhack Peak 5145 (the peaks to the SE and NE), I came across this photo of the Bushwhack register I took on 8/30/92. Note that an old-time Bulger Jon Zak “Zebra” and Barry K. Brown signed in here on 7/29/78 (ahead of the FA credit listed in the 1989 green CAG for this peak, and the year after they did the FA of Frostbite).  They came in from Kromona Mine. So if they did not tag Nine Lives, it was purely by design and disinterest, as they had to have walked right underneath it (see first photo above). We nine still had a good workout, and at least the first registered ascent.


Bushwhack register

We reversed our route back to the 4400- Prospect Pass while Paul and Don scrambled up the bonus 5080+ point west of 5110.

Prospect Peak and Pass

Finally, we exited up and over Prospect Peak 4640+ via easy terrain on the west side of the ridge from the pass, then continued out the north ridge of Prospect for an inordinately long time before dropping down to the Kromona Mine, a once thriving hole yielding 11 minerals .


Kromona Mine ruins


With the sun going down, we hustled down the so-called trail, past a cute 5-foot-deep adit, reaching the bikes at fading light. The others had more steam than I, leaving me in peace to pedal out alone in darkness inadequately illuminated with the soft light of my LED headlamp. En route I did a end-over header, breaking my ski pole on the impact, as my front wheel hit an unseen rock. The boys were glad to see me back, if only because my car was blocking their exit.  4.5 hours down.


Addendum on Nine Lives First Ascent history

On March 17, 2005, I received an email from Jon Zak “Zebra” mentioned above, who as an early Bulger, I'd certainly heard of, but had never met. Jon wrote, “ I stumbled across your site, when a guy on the bus emailed me your story of ‘Nine Lives Peak.'   He saw my name [Zak] and asked if that was me.  Previously, I had told him that I'd done some climbing in the past.” Jon works for Seattle Metro as a mechanical engineer.


Initially Jon wasn't sure if he and Barry K. Brown had climbed “Nine Lives” or not on July 29, 1978. “All I remember about this trip was that my watch stopped working (Barry didn't have one) and as we were crashing through the brush on the return to the Kromona Mine I fell into some kind of a hole.” Jon contacted Barry “who is an accountant, and keeps good records,” and Barry confirmed that after they climbed Bushwhack (5144' then), they also did Peak 5110 (“Nine Lives”) and Peak 5130 on the return. Barry sent this information to Beckey, so this may/should already be in the latest green CAG.


So that FA possibility for the nine of us lasted 11 days.


How did they chance on picking out such obscure summits as Frostbite and Bushwhack, more than a generation ago?

In the spring of 1975 or 76 I [Jon Zak] climbed South Crested Butte with Buff & Aardvark [Mike Bialos and Jan Anthony].   I looked across the valley and saw Frostbite [Peak 5335].  I said to Mike, "What is that peak?"   He did not know.   A couple of years later I was doing more climbing with Barry K. Brown.   When I mentioned Pk 5335 and maybe a FA, he was interested.  He nicknamed it "Zak's Stack."  We never documented our ascent.  Russ [Kroeker] and Buff climbed it later from Boulder Lake and saw our names.   Several years later, Russ called up and said Fred was at his place and wanted info on our ascent. Regarding Bushwhack, I'm sure we noticed it from Frostbite.” 


In addition to the above, Jon told the very interesting history of the “Origin of the Animal Names” for what were to become the Bulgers.


Addendum to Kromona Mine history

The internet is an amazing thing, because two days later, on March 19, 2005 this landed in my In Box.


Here is Ed Boulton to tell you about the Kromona Mine.  It was originally prospected by Joe Kromona, who staked mineral claims, formed a stock company, and raised money to open the mine. It's most valuable mineral was molybdenum, used for alloying steel and other metals, also for a super lubricant (molysulphide, I think).  My father and I were taken there by John Meduna (another story) who seemed to want my dad to dump some money in.


The mine was high above the road and we rode the buckets on a big steel rope up to the portal. The mine was mechanized with modern equipment and there was a 100-ton concentrating mill below in full operation.  Two huge diesel generators powered all the equipment and the concentrates were contained in an enormous tank-like silo and were shipped periodically to the Tacoma smelter.  As you said, there were a lot of minerals there (gold, silver, copper, zinc, molybdenum of course, and I don't know what else).  Joe [Kromona] could never get enough investors to pay to have the mine fully blocked out (extensive core drilling to determine the total amount of available ore), so the mine was finally closed for good and scrapped out.  Our visit was around 1960. At the time I was 33 years old, married with three children and hadn't discovered the joys of mountaineering (did that in 1962).  I would guess Joe's age then at 65-70 years.  I wonder what Jon Zak observed when he went there.  I think I'll ask him.             


Thanks for including us in your report on "nine-lives-peak."     


Ed and Hille B.