Route: North Cascades High Route

Submitted by kaytlyn_g on Mon, 08/01/2022 - 04:20pm
Location
Washington, US
Distance
124 mi
Vertical Gain
59,000 ft
Description

A link up of classic high routes and traverses in the North Cascades, traveling from near the Canadian Border to Stehekin. 

This route connects the following established routes in a continuous push: the Redoubt-Whatcom High Route, Northern + Southern Pickets Traverse, Isolation Traverse, and Ptarmigan Traverse. Roughly 100 miles of the route is true off-trail alpine travel in rugged and remote terrain. Depending on conditions, expect to encounter the North Cascade’s finest bushwhacking, steep snow, glacier travel, scree/talus/boulder fields, scrambling (including a few fifth class steps), inclement weather, and challenging navigation. The technicality of the route gradually eases from north to south, ending with the well-traveled and comparatively mellow Ptarmigan Traverse. There are two resupply access points - Hwy 20 (Sourdough TH or Pyramid Lake TH) and Cascade River Road. 

There are numerous route variations for each of these four classic traverses, which can be negotiated based on conditions, skillset, and personal preference for off-trail travel in alpine terrain. To complete this continuous high route, stay true to the established historical routes for each individual segment. The specific lines can be determined by each party. 

There are alternative entry and exit options that would be acceptable variations of this traverse. This route describes accessing the Chilliwacks via Silver Creek (take the Ross Lake boat shuttle up to Silver Creek Camp) and exiting by leaving the Ptarmigan Traverse at the Dana Glacier via the Dome and Chikamin Glaciers and descending towards Agnes Creek to the PCT (ending near Stehekin at High Bridge, then take a shuttle down the road to Stehekin). 

Benefits of this entry/exit approach include:

1) No legal issues crossing the US/Canadian border, as you never leave the US. 

2) Your vehicle can be parked on Hwy 20 (Sourdough TH or Pyramid Lake TH) with easy access to the Ross Lake boat shuttle while being set up for a resupply at Hwy 20. 

3) Ending in Stehekin guarantees baked goods and a scenic end of the journey (the Downey Creek trail was also closed at the time of this FKT route submission). 

4) The traverse is bookended with two aesthetic boat shuttles, a unique and fun way to celebrate the route and the unique geography of the area (Ross Lake and Lake Chelan). 

 

There is a rich history of mountaineers and ski mountaineers traversing through the North Cascades. This route was pioneered by Don & Natala Goodman in 1990, who, over the course of 28 days, traveled from Depot Creek to Downey Creek, bagging 19 peaks along the way. They called the route the “North Cascades Grand Tour,” and wrote about it here: http://www.alpenglow.org/nwmj/05/051_GrandTour1.html


Since 1990, there are no known on-foot continuous completions of this route (as of this submission), although there is documentation of parties stringing together the various sections over the course of years. Similar continuous routes on skis include The American Alps Traverse completed by Jason Hummel & Kyle Miller in 2013 (a trip first dreamed up and attempted by Lowell and Carl Skoog in 1991), Peter Dale & Aaron Mainer’s ski traverse from the Canadian Border to Lake Wenatchee in 2016, Trevor Kostanich and Forest McBrian’s ski traverse from Snoqualmie Pass to the Canadian Border in 2017, Lowell Skoog’s numerous trips traversing theses zones (including the completion and naming of the Isolation Traverse in 1983), on-foot traverses and link ups outlined by Fred Beckey, and countless other trip reports/blogs/resources. Any attempt at this link up should include extensive research from the aforementioned resources.

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