About two years ago, the United States Board of Geographic Names finally gave their official approval for the name change of Spring Mountain. This change was to honor my father, the late Ira Spring. It was a small change. Now Spring Mountain is officially Ira Spring Mountain. When I was born, I was named after Mount Victoria in Alberta, Canada. In turn, I named my two children after mountains, Mount Logan and Mount Ruth, both located in the North Cascades. However, being named after a mountain is completely mundane compared to the honor of having a mountain named after you!
The name change had taken years and the involvement of the State of Washington, the US Forest Service, Senators, Representatives as well as many friends. As name changes are frequent and often asinine, it was odd that the Board of Geographic Names had so many “doubts” about honoring someone who had inspired so many people to enjoy the outdoors through his books. The board found it unlikely that his photo and guide books had created anything but revenue for their creators. From their lofty meeting room on the east coast, they could not appreciate the amount of enthusiasm for the preservation of Washington’s remaining virgin forests and delicate alpine areas that was generated by the people who, inspired by his beautiful photos visited these areas and were inspired to lobby for their preservation. Ira Spring has been credited with being instrumental in the creation of the North Cascades National Park complex and several of the state of Washington’s most popular wilderness areas.
Last summer, I decided it was time to take a look at the mountain that was now officially crowned with my father’s name. This turned out to be a bit of challenge. Ira Spring Mountain is invisible from the roads below and off the main trails. However, after studying the maps, I found a straight forward looking route; half on trail and half cross-country.
Tom Kirkendall ascending the steep hillside of Ira Spring Mountain in view of the glaciated Mount Pugh.
The starting point for Ira Spring Mountain is located 16 miles southeast of Darrington on the Mountain Loop Highway followed by another 3 miles on Road 49 to the Lost Creek Ridge trailhead. On reaching the small parking area, my husband and I found it full, cars everywhere. We drove on for another 1/2 mile before finding an open turnout to park in. Despite the lack of parking, we had the trail completely to ourselves.
The Lost Creek Ridge Trail was in excellent condition and the first 3 miles and 2500-feet of elevation gain went quickly. At Bingley Gap, we left trail and headed west up a very steep forested ridge. It didn’t take us long to determine that the next mile and remaining 1300-feet of elevation was going to be challenging. Locomotion was accomplished by grabbing trees and branches to pull ourselves up the hillside.
After gaining the first 200 feet of elevation, the ridge leveled off, then rose vertically up a 30 to 40 foot cliff. As we had not thought this ascent would require rope and climbing gear, this was bit of surprise. The rock cliff did not look too difficult, but all foot and hand holds were full of slippery fir needles and sand which would be bad to go up and terrible to come down. We started scouting around for an alternate route and soon found a possible one a short way below us on the south side of the ridge. Before long we were traversing a sloping ledge between cliff bands. The worst part was the duff; dry, hard and very slippery after our nearly snowless winter. Every step was a balancing act as hands transferred from tree branch to a handful of huckleberry then back to another tree branch.
Tom Kirkendall with the summit register on the rarely visited Ira Spring Mountain located near Sloan Peak.
Once we reached a band of trees beyond the cliffs, we climbed back to the ridgecrest and bushwacked our way through the tangle of trees and bushes to the base of a talus slope. Here the rocks were loose and had a tendency to wobble with reach step, but on the whole it was infinitely better footing than the slippery duff below. After one more ascent over a mercifully short rock band and through a nearly impenetrable band of trees, we arrived at the base of the open meadows. There were animal trails heading out in several directions across the scree and heather. From the prints and skat, deer and mountain goat seem to be the main visitors and chief path makers on Ira Spring Mountain.
The first summit we reached was forested so we followed a ridge north to a higher, and rockier, summit. What a 360 degree view! Mount Pugh, Glacier Peak, Bedal Peak and Sloan Peak as well of paragraph of others. Ira Spring would have loved this mountain. He never wanted the first ascents, although thanks to Fred Beckey’s determination and help, he made one. All he ever wanted from a summit was beautiful scenery and scenery does not get any better than the view from his mountain.
Very few people have reached the summit of Ira Spring Mountain. We found a minuscule summit register protected in a baby food bottle and added our names to the climbers who had summitted in 2009 and another party that had made it to the top in 2011. However, the lack of visitors is certainly part of Ira Spring Mountain’s charm. My husband and I lounged around the summit, enjoying the view and sunshine, until the bugs started to distract us from the beauty of the location.
Heading back down, we were rather concerned about the descent down the slippery duff. However, by moving slowly and very cautiously we almost made it without incident. While traversing below the cliffs, my feet and the thin soil below them suddenly decided to follow gravity downhill. Before I know it, I was over a cliff and crashing down through the branches of Douglas Fir. Thank goodness for that tree, I grabbed a branch as I rocketed by and stopped the fall. Then, thanks to an ample supply of adrenaline, I was able to climb hand over hand up the branch, to reach solid ground. It was a really good branch!
Five months later, the scars on my arm are fading and I am starting to plan my return to Ira Spring Mountain. Next time I will carry a rope and some slings to anchor the way across the slippery duff. The summit is an ideal place to sit and plan hikes and trips into the wilderness, If you are lucky you might even feel the spirit of Ira Spring pointing out the beauty spots that lie hidden among the rolling hills and glacier covered peaks that surround you or you may feel his spirit nagging you to get busy and work to see what can be done to protect more of our pristine mountains.