Sunday, August 17, 2014

North Cascades traverse

Point-to-point runs are hard for me to organize, so when my step-dad Steve said he was willing to do a car shuttle I knew immediately that I wanted to do an on-trail traverse of the north unit of North Cascades National Park.

There's really only one way to go: starting from Ross Dam go up Big Beaver and over Beaver Pass, up Little Beaver to Whatcom Pass and down Brush Creek to reach the Chilliwack River. From the Chilliwack, the quickest exit is up the river to Hannegan Pass and down Ruth Creek to the trailhead. However, that misses the best trail, and the best views, in the North Cascades: Copper Ridge. Steve, his brother Pete and I hiked to the Copper Ridge lookout two years ago and that pretty much made it impossible to skip. It adds about ten miles to the route and includes a hefty climb from the Chilliwack up to the ridge, but it's just too beautiful not to do (even when you're socked in by clouds!). This trip I didn't take any pictures on the section of Big Beaver I did in May; pictures of the great old growth in the valley are here.  

(trail conditions report at bottom of this post)

4:40am start at Ross Dam
These guys were all over the trail pre-dawn, glad I didn't step on any
Brush issues past Luna Camp
Peak-a-boo view of the Pickets: Crooked Thumb (r) and Phantom Peak 
Beaver Pass shelter
Little Beaver Creek
Quite bad brush for two miles in the upper Little Beaver
More of the same
But at least the views open up; Whatcom Peak (r) and the ridge NE of Mount Challenger

Great falls in the upper Little Beaver
Whatcom Peak and glacier
The one bad section of blowdown/debris; about 6-8 trees of crawl-under and climb-over fun
looking back at the second half of that section
Follow the strategically-placed flag! 
Looking back down Little Beaver
Yyyeessssss; Whatcom Peak, Perfect Pass and the western side of the Challenger Glacier

The well-engineered switchbacks up to Whatcom Pass
The mighty Challenger Glacier, with summit hidden in the clouds
Meadows below Whatcom Pass with the extensive ridge NE of Challenger
USGS marker at Whatcom Pass
Whatcom Peak and the ridge west toward Easy Peak
Ridge between Whatcom and Easy peaks, from the Brush Creek trail
Chilliwack River trail junction; head north for Copper Ridge
Cool and wobbly suspension bridge over Indian Creek
Turn down to ford the Chilliwack toward Copper Ridge
So cool! Spawning Sockeye salmon in Indian Creek
First ford, Indian Creek, currently not an issue at all; note flagging on the far side
Second ford, Chilliwack River, also no problem
Nearing the top of the climb from the Chilliwack to Copper Ridge; I was in no mood to take pictures on the way up
Backpackers heading down to make camp at Copper Lake
Final climb up to the Copper Ridge lookout
Not much to look out at...
Back on familiar terrain; 10 miles from here to the trailhead
The resident grouse around the lookout
Copper Ridge trail
Mineral Mountain (r) and the north ridge of Easy Peak
Copper Ridge trail and Ruth Mountain
Last climb from Boundary Camp to Hannegan Pass
Really, really tired; 16 hours car-to-car
For reference, here is the view from the Copper Ridge lookout when it's clear; I took this in October 2012, looking from SW to NE

Trail conditions

  • Big Beaver: a few blowdowns, brushed to Luna camp; brush issues between Luna and Beaver Pass.
  • Little Beaver: two miles of very brushy trail once you start to reach the upper valley before the lower set of switchbacks. A large blowdown/debris area there as well that requires climbing and ducking over a set of six or so big trees (photos below).
  • Brush Creek: CLEAR! NPS trail crew working on Whatcom Camp area and met one of the team who was brushing it as I came down; I couldn't thank him enough. 
  • Chilliwack River: a bit of brush and blowdown, but nothing too onerous; mostly step-overs. The salmon are running in Indian Creek (the first ford) and the fording routes are flagged. Not very deep (upper shin) or strong. I didn't need a stick to cross either. 
  • Copper Ridge: handful of blowdowns between the river and gaining the ridge proper. A couple are crawl-under trees. Trail is great from gaining the ridge all the way down to Boundary Camp as it sees a lot of traffic. 
  • Hannegan Pass/Ruth Creek: well-maintained, some brushing has been done, no issues.  


  1. Luke, it was smart of you to do this trip in mid August. Earlier in a normal summer the crossing of the Chilliwack River has been deadly when it is running swiftly and deep.Also, for anyone planning this route, or its variations ("North Cascades traverse" ...{Ross Dam to Hannegan or reverse,} or the Copper Ridge/ Chilliwack loop alone), be sure to learn from NCNP when the most recent brushing-out of the trails on either side of Whatcom Pass was done. If it has been more than two or three years ago, you will be in for some serious 'schwacking, as Luke's images show!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. just digitized my slides from taking this traverse from hannegan to ross dam in 1971...some things don't change..we had a lot of brush in those days too. it was so snowy in mid august that cooper lake had icebergs..and almost no open water. big snow year.

  4. just digitized my slides from taking this traverse from hannegan to ross dam in 1971...some things don't change..we had a lot of brush in those days too. it was so snowy in mid august that cooper lake had icebergs..and almost no open water. big snow year.

  5. I did last saturday but in reverse: