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Backpacker Magazine – June 2013

Grand Traverses: Sawtooth Ridge

Tick of Washington's alpine gems the fast-and-light way.

by: Brendan Leonard

Sawtooth Ridge, WA (Photo by Geoffrey Sandine)
Sawtooth Ridge, WA (Photo by Geoffrey Sandine)

Distance 41 miles
Gain 17,800 feet
Difficulty 8

Why it’s grand This peakbagger’s dream itinerary packs six North Cascades summits into five days of high-mountain scrambling; low technical difficulty and minimal routefinding add up to an epic ridge-romp for any experienced backpacker.  

Do it Leave a car at the Crater Creek Trail, then start at the West Fork Buttermilk Creek Trail (or shuttle the hike using the ferry across Lake Chelan, which adds 3,000 vertical feet to the approach and finish). You’ll set up two basecamps as you traverse Sawtooth Ridge on trails and talus, and tackle multiple peakbagging scrambles from each. Camping at Star Lake first puts you in position to summit 8,392-foot Courtney Peak via its dramatically narrow (but only class 2) southeast ridge, then cross Buttermilk Ridge to 8,795-foot Oval Peak. The next day, bag 8,690-foot Star Peak, then hike 9.2 miles to your second basecamp at tree-lined Boiling Lake. In the morning, scramble up class 3 Cheops (8,270 feet) and Martin (8,375 feet), and then take an easy walk to 8,321-foot Cooney Peak (unnamed on maps) for a total of 6.5 miles and 3,300 feet of gain. On day five, tag the steep, jagged summit of 8,440-foot Mt. Bigelow, then pack up and make your way out 7.1 miles to the Crater Creek trailhead.

Washington has more glaciers than the other 47 contiguous states combined, including a small, talus-covered rock glacier on Mt. Bigelow, the final peak on this route.

Contact (509) 996-4003;

Scrambles in Washington: Classic Routes to the Summits by Peggy Goldman (available used online)

July to September

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