MOUNT MISCH  7435'  Prominence 2435'

And Some Thoughts on the Top 100 2000-Foot Prominence Mountains in Washington

Written shortly after our climb, but before all 144 P2000 peaks were identified

John Roper

Climbed July 26, 1993 with Grady and Nigel Steere




Mount Misch (second from left), Buckindy Mountain (right), and the unnamed Goat Creek glacier

"Mount Misch" is an important mountain--not as important as Peter Misch, the UW geology professor and godfather of North Cascades geology, for whom it was named--but a very significant peak, nonetheless. This 7435-foot summit on the USGS Downey Mountain quad is the highest jewel in a rusty-colored crown of clustered peaks up the Suiattle River on the Downey-Buck/Horse Creek divide.


Not even majestic Snowking Mountain is higher in a huge area of not-oft-explored wilderness between the Cascade and Suiattle Rivers. Snowking tops out just a two-foot shade under Misch at 7433 feet. The peaks around Misch don't get any higher until you drop clear down to the 5000- foot "Fat Pass" above Slim Lake (on the Downey Creek-South Fork Cascade River divide) then climb back up to the Ptarmigan Traverse peaks on the Cascade Crest. Standing 2435 feet above all the land in every direction, Mount Misch easily qualifies as one of the Highest 100 on the list of Washington's 2000-Foot Prominence Mountains. It ranks 50th on this list.


I am happy to report that with the ascent of Misch, I am finally fi-misch-ed with the Top 100 P2000-foot peaks.


Well, not exactly, according to Steve Fry, the brainchild of this list. Steve would still have you (and me) climb Mount Elk Lick in the Olympics to complete his list of Washington's 100 Highest Mountains with 2000-Feet Prominence above Ridge-Level, published in the 1983-1990 Mountaineer Annual . But here's where we differ on the rules a bit.


Bear with me, if you will: Elk Lick is 6517 feet high. The lowest pass between it and the next higher peak is Anderson Pass, showing up as the 4480+ foot contour. I know we're picking nits here, but on a 7.5-minute map with its 40-foot contour intervals, that pass could be as high as 4480 plus 39 feet, or 4519 feet. (Agreed?) And if that were so, Elk Lick would have 1998 feet of prominence (6517 minus 4519 feet). That is a whale of a lot of rise, but it is not quite 2000 feet. Elk Lick might make it (and if the pass were precisely surveyed, very well could ), but on the current maps it does not "clearly, cleanly, and unequivocally" qualify as a 2000-foot rule peak. So the purists don't count it. To make Steve happy, I'll go climb Mount Elk Lick someday, maybe even with him, but for now the "clean" 2000-foot Top 100 list is history. [Finally did Elk Lick on 5/28/95 with my GHAS buddies.]


And it is a great list. To have this much prominence, the mountain is usually quite isolated, miles and miles from the next 2000-foot rule peak. For example, along the entire Ptarmigan Traverse only one peak qualifies--Dome. And in the Stuart-Enchantment Range only Stuart qualifies.


There are no two mountains on this list that you can summit on in one day from the car without getting back in the car (except maybe Red and Goat, up the Cle Elum River). Even with a high or summit camp, it looks like only a few pairs could be done in a very hard day by very tough climbers: Bonanza and Martin, Blum and Bacon, Three Fools and "Daemon Peak" (Peak 7514', USGS Shull Mtn , above Devils Pass), Jim Hill and Big Chiwaukum, Daniel and Goat, or Goat and Red, Goode and Buckner, and Three Fingers and Whitehorse.


The 2000-foot list covers the far corners of the state from the Selkirks (Molybdenite Mountain , etc.) in the NE corner, to the Blue Mountains (Oregon Butte) in the SE, to Lemei Rock in the SW, to American Border Peak and Mount Baker in the NW, and to Mission Peak, dead center in the state.


On the down side for true mountaineers (but on the up side for family explorers with a tough car), ten of the 2000-foot rule summits have roads to the top--or very near (some are extraordinarily rough roads though): Mission, Calispell, Moses, North Baldy, Annie, Tunk, Spokane, Huckleberry, Indian Rock, and Old Dominion. Because of this quirk, it would be possible to summit on seven of the 2000-foot peaks in one long day with an early start, a sturdy car, and a strong will and quick body: Spokane, Huckleberry, Calispell, North Baldy, Molybdenite, Old Dominion, and "Missed Her Rogers." Give me a call if you do it (this group took me six days, plus approach and return days).


But back to Mount Misch...


In 1981, Gary Mellom and I hiked over Green Mountain and sidehilled across cursedly slippery hellebore above Downey Creek, eventually to Misch's east flank, its prettiest side, shown in the photo above. During a lunch break at the edge of the Goat Creek Glacier, we heard a thunderous crashing noise above us and looked up to see chunks of ice as large as washing machines breaking loose from the NE wall of Misch, directly above us. We ran for our lives, leaving our packs behind to be partially buried in the snowy spray, as the bounding ice blocks left thought-provoking divots in the snow all around our resting spot. With pounding hearts, we grabbed our gear and quickly moved on, scratching our plan for a new route up this glacier to Misch this day.


In the summer of 1992, fellow masochist, Professor Joe Vance, a student, then colleague of Professor Peter Misch in the UW Geology Department, and I made another try at the mountain. This was the year the Suiattle River Road was washed out way before the Buck Creek Campground, leaving us the awful chore of clumping our hamburger feet 5 miles up the flat river road to the Green Mountain Road, then another 6 miles to the Green Mtn Trailhead, and finally another 4 miles up the trail to the lookout, all in a cold wet mist--another infamous blown weather forecast--15 miles of decided unpleasantness. We spent that night atop Green Mountain and awoke to the same sticky viewless fog the next morning. With Joe fumingly telling me that you can't really trust Harry's, Jeff's, or Steve's weather reports, we repeated those same miserable 15 miles back out. Thirty miles in the mist and we were pist..., well miffed, anyway. No match for Misch, we were mashed by the Misch mist. A real mismatched, Misch-mash.


Along the way that year, we noted that the Green Mtn Road, as well, had a significant washout about 1.5 miles up which we did not think the Forest Service would have fixed, so we got looking for a whole different route to get into Misch this year. I called Joe again, but he was still nursing his feet in his head from the previous year, and besides, with the summer we'd had so far in 1993, he wanted to see a solid high pressure ridge hunker in here for a few days before committing to Misch again.


But my young teenage cousins, Grady and Nigel Steere, were unsuspecting as we drove head-on into a drenching squall a few miles up the Suiattle River Road on July 25, 1993, before parking in a sucker hole of sun at the Downey Creek Trailhead. There was still a little bit of light left at the end of that day, so we hiked up the lovely mossy, sword-ferned forest trail for just over an hour to a pleasant, deep woods camp at "Three Mile Creek."


The next morning, with the cloud level only a thousand feet above us, we hiked another 20 minutes to "Four Mile Creek" (draining unnamed Lake 5808) and brushed it down to Downey Creek, fording its above-the-knees liquid chilliness to the opposite bank. The map didn't quite jive with our expectations here for some reason, and we wondered about exactly what ridge we should be going up. Luckily we chose the ridge just right of a 100-yard-wide avalanche swath that turned out to be remarkably open with a good game trail, and with the kids carrying most of the weight, we made good time.


Breaking out of the woods at a 5100-foot flat (good camp), we gained the ridge crest just south of a 5400-foot pass between Horse Lake and Down ey Creek. Since down is another name for feathers, I joked that a good name for this pass would be "Horsefeathers Pass." The boys had never heard that "oh, horsefeathers" expression, making me even more aware of the generation gap between us--as if their blistering pace up that hillside wasn't enough. "Maybe I'll call it 'Generation Gap,' instead," I muttered.


A game-trail that was described by the first-ascent party in 1955 led north on this ridge to a lunch spot at 6100 feet at 1 PM. With the youngsters whipping us along so far ahead of schedule, we decided to try for the summit of Misch this first full day out.


The map suggested that we might be able to zig-zag our way up a new route on the south flank of the peak, but when we rounded the corner at 6500 feet above Horse Lake, and stared at the steep red walls on this side, our bravado melted. We resigned ourselves to the "standard route" (actually the only route described, so far) which required finessing our way down a slickery gully through a cliff band at 6100 feet, then dropping further to 5700 feet around the SW Ridge of Misch before climbing high into a snow basin NW of the summit. From here, we followed our noses right, back over the SW ridge into a steepish gully that led to the top.


The schisty rock was favorably jointed for good holds and though we carried one, no rope was required. We were on top by 3:35 PM, 9-3/4 hours travel-time from the car.


The new summit register had a nice note written by Peter Misch (from his home), giving good wishes to those who would climb this peak, thanking Fred Beckey for making the "faux pas" of naming it for him while he was still alive, and humbly suggesting that he was "undeserving, but honored." In truth, there is probably no other person more deserving of a peak name in the North Cascades than Peter Misch, who meticulously mapped the geology of this wondrously complex region, and who spawned a generation of geology students who have fine-tuned and expanded on his original work.  Peter Misch died in July 1987, the month this register was placed.


[Naming side note: How did this summit come to bear his name? When Beckey was writing the first edition of "Green Fred" Cascade Alpine Guide, Volume 2, Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass in 1976, he asked us if we had another name for what we called "Little J-Berg" (Peak 7945'), across from the Ragged Ridge, near Easy Pass up Fisher Creek. Since Peter Misch had crawled all around this USGS Mount Arriva quad collecting rocks in the 1940's and 50's, we told him we thought "Misch Mountain" would be an appropriate name . Fred told us, "No, 'they' (i.e., Fred) have already decided to put his name on the west summit of Black Peak, nearby."


"Peter deserves a much more significant peak than that little bump," we humphed. A year later when Fred's guidebook came out. "They" (i.e., Fred) had tacked the name "Mount Misch" on this 7435-foot summit we're talking about, even though Peter never really explored the Buckindy area. 


In 1987, after Peter's death, Dee Molenaar, his friend and former student, proposed to make the name "Mount Misch" official, and presented the concept to the Washington State Board on Geographic Names, which approved the name in 1988. The USGS has yet to sanction the name for some unknown reason.]


Don Grimlund, Dave Nicholson, and Winslow Trueblood, the original party that climbed "Misch," on 8/ 27 /55, per the register (not 8/28), called it Mount Buckindy, because the maps of the day showed this name imprecisely on a summit at the head of Buck and Kindy Creeks. Mt. Misch (7435) is actually at the head of Horse and Goat Creeks, so there's been some confusion here since the words "Mount Buckindy" on today's USGS Downey Mountain quad show up on a summit actually closer to the Horse-Kindy Creek divide. There is a nearly 6800-foot summit at the actual head of Buck and Kindy Creeks which might most appropriately be called Buckindy.


Husband and wife explorers, John and Irene Muelemans, made the second ascent of Misch on 7/30/66. The third ascent party, Allan A. Smith and Robert A. Wilson in 1969 tried to apply the name "Mount Margaret Sanger" to this summit in honor of the leader of the birth-control movement. These two climbers made three trips into this area between 1969 and 1972 (once with Dean Wilson) and cleaned it out, making the first or second ascent of 10 summits and spires around Buckindy. Unfortunately they assigned odd-ball names to their conquests from the book, Lord of the Rings (before it was popularized by the movies) . These strange names were then perpetuated, with an unprecedented amount of pages and details in the current climber's guide, with multiple photos, maps, and drawings.


Attesting to its remoteness, Mount Misch had only 4 ascents during the 70's, and 6 ascents in the 80's. With the washout of the Suiattle River road, ours was the first climb of the 90's.


The clouds teased the summits to the east all day, but with the lousy weather we'd had to this point in '93, we were happy to see even just their haunches. We retraced our steps to a camp above "Horsefeathers Pass," spent the night, and were out to the car in a hurry the next morning. Who should we meet on our drive out the Suiattle River road, but Steve Fry, who congratulated us on our climb.   Our window of opportunity closed with the light splatter of raindrops as we pulled back into town that afternoon.


The following are notes from my computer, probably a mix of thoughts from Joe Vance and Dee Molenaar.

Peter Hans Misch

Born 8/30/09 in Berlin

Died 7/23/87, age 77

Ph.D. in geology from University of Gottingen.

Geologist on German expeditions to Nanga Parbat.

His mother was Jewish so he left Germany with his wife and young child in the Hitler years for China where he taught at Canton and Yunnan.

1946, emigrated to the US, age 37.

Turned out 79 Ph.D.s at the UW.

He defined the metamorphic backbone of the North Cascades

Skilled field geologist. Terrific geologic mapper. He could go into an area and quickly get the broad geologic view and work out the major units.

He was a good rock climber in the Alps .

Joe Vance was his field assistant in 1952 and climbed Shuksan, Logan, Black, and Bacon with Misch.

He also did significant work in E Nevada for 5 summers for Union Oil in the late 50's

Had a brain tumor and intestinal problems. Died of liver cancer. Smoked cigars.

Very forceful personality. Would sometimes disagree with his students or colleagues, then several years later have their idea dawn on him out of the blue. He was jealous of his North Cascades and had a feud with Rowland Tabor one of his students re the E Pasayten where Rowland did work without Peter's "permission." Tabor reinterpreted Misch's work, partly wrong..

He was a distinct supporter of his loyal students, helping them to get jobs.

Peter wanted Dee to go to grad school, but he took a job in groundwater geology.

He was never the head of the geology department at the UW, but early on "was the department." (Is that right?)

He was an accomplished watercolor artist.