North Cascades Alpine Climbing
Guide and co-owner, Britt Ruegger has guided alpine climbing in the North Cascades of Washington for close to 10 years.
He continues to head to the North Cascades to work with returning clients throughout the prime weather window of July and August for Aspen Expeditions. Following are a list of some of the beautiful mountains and routes in one of his favorite regions to climb.
Mount Baker is a fantastic introduction to glaciated mountaineering. Baker has two intro routes, the Coleman Demming and the Easton Glacier. These routes join and summit via the skiable Roman Headwall.
The Coleman Demming is accessed via the north side of the mountain near the border of Canada and the Easton Glacier is accessed from the south side of the mountain near Baker Lake. Either of these routes make for a classic spring or early summer ski descent. They also make for the perfect intro to glaciated mountaineering course and climb.
A more advanced and classic North Cascades Route is the North Ridge of Mount Baker which starts with a broad traverse of the Coleman Glacier and continues with steep snow and glacier climbing. The route is highlighted by an alpine ice climbing crux in incredible position as the ridge narrows. This is one of the finest glaciated alpine routes in the lower 48.
From the summit of Baker the most prominent peak on the skyline is the beautiful Mount Shuksan. Shuksan is heavily glaciated but is characterized by a summit pyramid of rock that juts from the glacier. This makes Shuksan an interesting and diverse climb between glacier travel and mountain boot low 5th rock climbing. There are three routes of note: The Sulphide Glacier, The Fisher Chimneys, and the North Face. All three culminate in the summit pyramid.
The Sulphide Glacier is the most straight forward glaciated approach to the SE ridge of the summit pyramid. The SE ridge requires quality low 5th class rock climbing. This can be bypassed via third and 4th class gully systems which are the descent route. Descending the gullies involves a mix of rappelling and downclimbing.
The Fisher Chimneys are a more technical 4th class approach from the North side of the mountain which leads to a beautiful high camp and a more technical glaciated push to the summit pyramid. This requires climbing and down climbing the chimneys with overnight gear.
The North Face of Shuksan is a big face of neve and ice which is commonly accessed from the Fisher Chimneys bivy site. To access the face you drop down the White Salmon Glacier and climb The North Face to the summit pyramid. This is one of the big Nordwands of the North Cascades but is less commonly climbed than the North Ridge of Baker. This route will descend the Chimneys as well.
Any route you choose, Shuksan is a beautiful mountain.
Our next featured Mountain is Forbidden Peak off of Cascade River Road near the town of Marblemount. Forbidden is in the heart of the North Cascades National Park. The West Ridge of Forbidden is a famous alpine rock climb and is one of the 50 classic climbs of North America. It ascends a beautiful exposed ridge thousands of feet over glaciated terrain, polished slabs, and emerald lakes to the North
This is a technical route which requires sustained 4th and low 5th approach climbing through gullies. The highlight of the route is the exposed ridge to the diamond summit with climbing to 5.6. This ridge requires down climbing and rappelling through incredibly exposed terrain. The gullies are descended in a series of rappels to a snow filled gully system and a final down hike through marbled slabs to the beautiful high camp.
The North Ridge of Forbidden via the NW face is an incredible multi-day, alpine journey with an open air bivy. We carry our bivy kit over the mountain with technical climbing to 5.6 and steep sustained neve. To get to the north face we climb through Sharkfin Col and traverse the Boston Glacier to the Boston / Forbidden Col and the bivy site. From here we traverse the Forbidden Glacier to steep neve on the Northwest Face which gains the North Ridge. This area is one of the most glaciated in the lower 48 making this a special North Cascades adventure.
From the summit of Forbidden to the north, Eldorado Peak sits on the largest contiguous ice cap in the lower 48 not attached to a volcano. This ice cap is comprised of the Inspiration, Klawatti and Mcallister glaciers.
Eldorado’s East Ridge is an exposed snow arete to the summit described as Himalayan in nature. Given the remote approach, this is a fantastic endurance outing in an incredibly remote setting. The camp under the East Ridge on the edge of the Inspiration Glacier hosts incredible views of the North Face of Forbidden Peak, Klawatti Peak and the Tepeh Towers.
There are 3 large rock routes of significance out of the Marble Creek Cirque, a steep and wild drainage to the west of Eldorado that drains through inaccessible rainforest to the Cascade River. Driving east on highway 20 along the Skagit, one catches a glimpse of the west aspect of Eldorado for just a moment. The view is one of soaring buttresses, aretes and towers.
The three most repeated routes are the SW face of Early Morning Spire (5.9), The West Arete of Eldorado, ~2800 feet (5.8), and the SW Buttress of the Dorado Needle (5.8)
All of these routes are adventuresome rock routes in a big-mountain, glaciated setting. They are commonly accessed by dropping down into Marble Creek Cirque from a high camp under the East Ridge of Eldorado.
A short list of other routes worthy of an adventure in the North Cascades are
~ East Ridge of Inspiration ( Southern Pickets, 5.9 III ) remote
~ North Buttress of Terror ( Southern Pickets, 5.8 IV ) remote
~ NE ridge of Triumph ( 5.8 III) remote
~ NE Buttress of Goode ( mid 5th IV ) remote