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Merchant Peak has been on my list of climbs since I finally stood atop nearby Mount Baring in 2014. With its two summits and steep sides, it looked like a good challenge. Over the years I have made many attempts. I have taken wrong turns, fell 15 feet on one occasion, and faced frustration that would make most abandon it.
I hate the feeling that a mountain can beat me, so, I kept coming back for more. The first big challenge of climbing Merchant peak is finding the correct creek bed. From the Barclay Lake Trail, it will be several hundred feet past the bridge of Barclay creek. Most sources that I could find mention a “prominent” creek bed that you take. But, in the last few years, that creek bed has become overgrown and is no longer obvious or prominent.
During several attempts, I took the one right before the lake. If you make the same mistake, I can assure you things will not go well for you. Instead, be sure to check your maps for a Y shaped creek that comes down off the side of the mountain. At 47.78892, -121.43633, you will notice that the ground has more rocks than the rest of the forest. If you follow the faint trail of rocks for 100-200 feet into the woods it will become a creek bed.
Once in the correct creek bed, navigation becomes straightforward. The first few obstacles you will come to are the waterfalls so many people mention in their reports.
Waterfall 1 – Walk around to the left and there is a trail up and over. Waterfall 2 – Go to the right, work your way up to the cliffs and over the top of those falls.
Waterfall 3 – This is where the climb of Merchant Peak gets interesting. There are some large boulders jamming the area. On climbers left there is a way up. But, the handholds are small and setting protection would not be easy. To top it all off, all the rock in this small spot is very loose and sitting on top of sandy mud. One of the times I turned around it was because a huge boulder came free, caused me to fall and nearly crushed my foot. This time I got through okay. But, without serious comfort in precarious scrambling situations, I would not recommend you take Merchant peak on. There is no describing how loose the rock is.
Once past that third set of falls, continue to work up the gulley. After around 400 – 500 feet look to your right and you will see a small cave-like feature. This is where you will want to leave the main gulley. Work your way past the cave feature and pick up the faint climbers trail. For the next few hundred feet of elevation gain, the trail is obvious.
Many times I found myself using creek beds to avoid thick brush. There are all kinds of terrain to deal with from forest to rocks and open heathery slopes. Go slow and just keep working your way up the best you can. Once you arrive at the meadows on the upper slopes of Merchant Peak the trail will disappear.
Most accounts I read say the trail was obvious through here, but, that also seems to have changed. There are some goat trails but they do little good. All I can say is work up the mountain and towards climbers left.
The best part of the Merchant Peak climb is the last 300 feet. There is some excellent scrambling on good solid rock. The view gets better with every step. Best of all, the feeling of finally making it created an outpouring of emotion I have not felt for a while.
On the way back down having a 30m rope and rappel gear was the best choice I made all day. It is not 100% necessary depending on your scrambling comfort level. But, it will make your life easier.