North Cascades Climbing
North Cascades National Park is comprised of 318 glaciers, a high concentration of steep peaks offering high quality alpine climbing and surprisingly good rock, in a venue that is often compared to the European Alps. In the North Cascades there’s a lifetime of exploration to be had, from introductory climbs to Grade V ascents.
Popular objectives include:Mt. Shuksan 9,127′ - One of the most photographed mountains in the Northwest, Shuksan offers an excellent range of options, including the Sulphide Glacier (Grade II), Fisher Chimneys (Grade III), and the North Face (Grade IV).
Eldorado Peak, 8,868′ - The East Ridge is a classic glacier climb finishing on a knife-edge ridge, with steep snow slopes dropping to either side. In the more advanced realm is the West Arête (Grade III, 5.8).Sehale Peak, 8,680′ - One of the more popular climbs in the North Cascades with excellent moderate options including the Sehale Glacier accessed via Cascade Pass, and the Quien Sabe Glacier accessed from Boston Basin.
Forbidden Peak, 8,815′ – With excellent alpine rock routes including the West Ridge (Grade III, 5.6), one of the 50 Classic Climbs in North America, the more remote North and East Ridges, and the Torment-Forbidden Traverse (Grade V, 5.7).
Mt. Buckner, 9,114′ – Offering two north facing steep snow and ice routes of intermediate difficulty, the North Face, and the North Couloir (both Grade III, 50° snow and ice).
These programs are offered on a custom basis for private groups and individuals. We generally recommend 3-4 days for most of these trips, although some of these routes can be completed in a day by very fit, strong climbers. The North Cascades is an excellent place to spend a week or 10 days, combining multiple objectives into single trip, allowing weather flexibility and the opportunity to progress your skills. For more information on custom programs, click here.
Itineraries vary by trip, and group/individual experience levels.
Note: This is a general list for multi-day alpine climbing/mountaineering programs in the North Cascades. Each trip will have specific gear requirements.
PACKS & BAGS
☐Backpack: 45-60 liter internal frame pack.
☐Sleeping bag: Rated between 15° and 30°, down or synthetic. Keep in mind that manufacturer’s temperature ratings are subjective and serve as guidelines. RENT
☐ Compression stuff sack: Sized appropriately to your bag.
☐ Sleeping pad: Inflatable or closed cell foam (ex: ¾ length Thermarest Prolite).
☐ Ice axe: 50-60cm mountaineering axe (ex: Petzl Snowracer, Summit, or Sum’Tec). No leash is required. RENT
☐ Crampons: 10 or 12 point steel mountaineering crampon. Avoid waterfall ice crampons with fully rigid frames and vertical front points, as well as older crampons with leather straps. Make sure that your crampons are compatible with your boots (ex: Petzl Irvis or Vasak). RENT
☐ Harness: Alpine harness with adjustable leg loops (ex: Petzl Adjama). For safety reasons, your harness needs to be less than 10 years old and in good condition. Be sure to check the fit of your harness. RENT
☐ (2) Locking carabiners: Pear shaped (ex: Petzl Attache or Attache 3D).
☐ (1) Non-locking carabiner: Wire gate recommended (ex: Petzl Ange S or Ange L).
☐ Belay device (ex: Petzl Reverso 4).
☐ Double-length sling: 120 cm nylon or Dyneema sewn sling (ex: Petzl Fin’Anneau).
☐ Climbing helmet: Needs to be climbing specific (ex: Petzl Elios or Meteor III +). RENT
☐ Transceiver: Digital recommended. May not be required for later season climbs (ex: BCA Tracker 2). RENT
☐ Poles: Ski poles or trekking poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse). RENT
☐ Mountaineering boots: Boots must be specifically designed for mountaineering, crampon compatible (ex: La Sportiva Nepal Evo GTX or La Sportiva Trango S Evo GTX).
☐ Gaiters: Provide a clean interface between our pants, boots, and crampons (ex: OR Flex-tex).
☐ Socks: 2 pairs (wool or synthetic) that work well with your boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not necessarily heavy socks. Insulation comes from your boots. If your boots are roomy choose a heavier sock, if they’re more of a snug fit choose a lighter sock.
☐ Sunglasses: Glacier glasses or dark tinted wrap-arounds, should have full UV protection. Consider bringing an extra pair (ex: Julbo Dolgan). RENT
☐ Warm hat: Fleece, wool or synthetic.
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc.
☐ Face protection: Buff® recommended.
There are many layering combinations for your upper body that will work well. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: First Ascent Midweight 1/4-Zip Baselayer or First Ascent Solarfoil Hoodie).
☐ (1-2) Insulating layers: Fleece, softshell or synthetic/down. Two lighter layers are more versatile than one heavy layer (ex: First Ascent Sandstone Hoodie, Hangfire Hoodie, or Accelerant Jacket).
☐ Hardshell jacket with hood: Lightweight and waterproof (ex: First Ascent BC-200 Jacket).
☐ Synthetic or down insulated jacket: Synthetic or down (ex: First Ascent Ignitor Jacket).
☐ Baselayer bottoms (optional) (ex: First Ascent Midweight Baselayer Pants)
☐ Softshell climbing pants: Lightweight, breathable synthetic fabric. Zip-off trekking pants also work (ex: First Ascent Guide Pants or Mountain Guide Lite Pants).
☐ Hardshell pants: For adverse weather. These must have full side zips (ex: First Ascent Rainier Storm Shell Pants).
☐ (2) Heavy trash bags: Cheap lightweight waterproof lining for your backpack.
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Water purification tablets: Small bottle of Iodine tablets or similar (ex: Potable Aqua). Avoid chlorine dioxide tablets as they are light sensitive and require 4 hours purification time.
☐ Compact camera
☐ Extra batteries: For your transceiver (usually AAA), headlamp, camera, etc.
☐ Headlamp: LED headlamp recommended (ex: Petzl Tikka XP2 or Tikka Plus). RENT
☐ See Details.
☐ Insulated mug
☐ (2) Spoons or sporks
PERSONAL FIRST AID/TOILETRIES
Guides will carry a well-equipped group first aid kit.
☐ Personal toiletry kit: Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and/or baby wipes, gender specific items, small bottle of hand sanitizer.
☐ Personal first aid kit: Band-Aids, blister repair, anti-diarrheal (Immodium), antacid, ibuprofen or aspirin, as well as any personal prescription medications (be sure to discuss these with us).
☐ Ear plugs
The North Cascades offer objectives suitable for a range of ability levels. Introductory programs such as the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan or the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak require minimal previous experience, whereas intermediate and advanced objectives such as the North Face of Mt. Bucker or the Torment-Forbidden Traverse require significant previous experience, proficiency on multi-pitch rock, snow, and ice, and the ability to move quickly.
Excellent physical fitness is required for all climbing trips in the North Cascades.
Details vary with each trip. In general:
- Guiding and instruction
- Custom itinerary
- Group equipment including tents, stoves, fuel, ropes
- Permit and insurance costs
- Lodging and transportation on either end of the program
- Personal equipment and food
Lunch Food: In the mountains, “lunch starts after breakfast and ends before dinner”. In other words, on a given day we generally won’t stop for a formal lunch break, and instead we’ll snack all day long. This is vital to maintaining high energy levels in this environment.
Be sure to bring foods that you like and emphasize variety. Energy bars and gels are great but in limited amounts – real food works just as well and tastes better.
Breakfasts & Dinners: Bring meals that can be cooked with just boiling water. Examples include freeze-dried pouches (Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry), ramen noodles, instant oatmeal, etc. The stoves we’ll use are very efficient for heating water but terrible for actually cooking anything.
WHERE TO MEET
Fly in to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. If you intend to fly out on the last day of the program, be sure to schedule an evening flight departing no earlier than 8pm.
Renting a car in Sea-Tac tends to be the easiest option for ground transportation. Let us know if you’re interested in carpooling with other participants on the program and we might be able to help with arrangements.
We strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance for your program. Note that many plans require you purchase insurance within 21 days of your initial deposit.
- Selected Climbs in the Cascades: Volume 1 by Jim Nelson & Peter Potterfield
- Cascade Alpine Guide Volume 3: Rainy Pass to Fraser River by Fred Beckey
- Climbing Washington’s Mountains by Jeff Smoot
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