Sharkfin Tower/SE Ridge

The approach is long, steep, and brushy, and the approach gully has very steep snow. The rock climbing section is fun, low 5th class with great exposure and panoramic views of a spectacular basin. Not a good first climb because of steep snow. Times: 3-4 hr trailhead to camp, 6-8 hr camp to summit.


Take I-5 to just north of Mount Vernon, then go east on SR 20 (North Cascades Highway) to Marblemount. Sign in at Ranger Station and get permit. Continue east on Cascade River Road about 21.7 mi to the old Diamond Mine Road (fork in road about 1.5 mi from the end of Cascade River Road, 3,220 ft). Limited parking at fork.


From fork, walk about 1 mi on the old mine road to where the trail leaves the road sharply right and steeply up. Follow this steep, well worn, and obvious trail to Boston Basin. Camp in Boston Basin (6,200 ft). Permit is required.


From camp, ascend snowfields on left side of Quien Sabe Glacier to near upper left corner of glacier just below Sharkfin Col. Rope up and traverse east along top of glacier for several hundred feet to couloir below peak (35° snow early season, class 2-3 gully in late season). If berschrund or serac problems at base of couloir, climb slabs (class 3-4) on left and intersect couloir 100 ft up. Ascend snow field to notch east of peak.  (Look for rappel anchors to be used later on the descent)

First pitch (class 4 to low class 5) goes onto north face, then up to obvious notch at base of steep south facing ridge.

Second pitch (class 4) stays a few feet left of ridge; go 30 ft past obvious rappel anchor to where ridge turns west and lays back.

Third pitch ascends exposed class 4 rock to summit (8,120 ft).


Descend by rappelling and downclimbing the route (about five rappels).  This allows you to return to where you have stashed any glacier travel gear, etc.  

Alternatively, descend the west face. Just below the summit, on the west side, should be a rappel anchor. One double rope rappel gains the west col.

Note that there are usually established rappel anchors on the rock walls along the steep couloir that one can use to descend to the Quien Sabe Glacier.  Look for these on the way up the couloir.  


Seattle to Trailhead 3
Trailhead to Camp 2-4 3,180
Camp to Summit 6-8 1,900
Summit to Camp 2-3
Camp to Trailhead 2-3


Standard rock and glacier gear-a fluke or picket may be needed in couloir.


Rock is generally sound. Can be done in one long day with car camp the night before.

One leader:  The group had exposure to a full range of alpine techniques. I would suggest that any leader considering this climb make sure that the students are strong, confident and capable. Although the route is rated 5.0, there are a couple of 5.4 moves.

  • Suitable Activities: Climbing
  • Climbing Category: Basic Alpine
  • Seasons: July, August, September
  • Weather: View weather forecast.
  • Difficulty: Technical 3, Basic Rock Climb, Strenuous 4
  • Elevation Gain: 5,080 ft
  • 8,120 ft
  • Land Manager: North Cascades National Park
    Stephen Mather Wilderness
  • Parking Permit Required: None
  • Recommended Party Size: 12
  • Maximum Party Size: 12
  • Green Trails Cascade Pass No. 80
  • USGS Cascade Pass

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