Trip Report    

Extended Ptarmigan Traverse

A classic traverse with an even better exit than the standard bushwack

  • Sat, Jul 1, 2023 — Tue, Jul 4, 2023
  • Ptarmigan Traverse
  • Backpacking & Scrambling
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Road conditions

    • Suiattle River Road is in excellent condition
    • Cascade River Road is in excellent condition 

    Trail conditions

    • Small lip to get over snow on cache col
    • Most glaciers were pretty closed with no ice.
    • The bergshrund from Dome to get to Sinister is almost out but can be bypassed skiers right. 
    • Chikamin Glacier was quite circuitous to navigate. Most people who tried to go for Sinister ran out of time. 
    • There's a pretty defined trail in the heather and talus through most of the Ptarmigan
    • Canyon Lakes Trail was not to brushy. The actual trail is a bit downhill of whats shown on the map.
    • Getting onto red ledges was okay.  


    • Lots of potential options along the route, even Le Conte Lake looked enticing
    • Canyon Lakes, hanging gardens, all had good camping 

    Trip Statistics: 4 days, 53 miles, 18k elevation gain, roughly 8hrs of hiking each day. 

The Suiattle River Road finally opened! Also Cascade River Road also opened up to Cascade Pass TH the night before we started our traverse. After years of waiting, I was finally excited to do this classic traverse. Weather was also looking promising with a good solid stretch of no rain, something you definitely want for a traverse with majestic views as the Ptarmigan. 

Day 1 : Cascade Pass TH -> Yang Yang Lakes

John, Kat and I started the day with the car shuttle and then up towards Cascade Pass. We ran into some friends who were also doing the Ptarmigan but with plans to bag Formidable and other peaks along the way. For us we we only planning on Dome and maybe Sinister. After we passed them we were quite surprised to see no boot tracks on the snow! We were the first to do the Ptarmigan in weeks. I spent the last few weeks just stuck in a forest climbing at Index so it was great to be back in the alpine. 


Getting over the snow lip


Can you spot the ptarmigan? 


Getting up to the red ledges

Getting over Cache Col was quite interesting. We had to dig a lip so we could mantle over a snow wall. From there we could see the next days worth of peaks, all the way to Glacier Peak. Past Kool Aid Lakes we saw a ptarmigan! The little bird was well blended in with the rocks. It seemed like a moat was forming on the snow slope going up to the red ledges but it was still solid when we went across it. From there we roped up on the South Cascade Glacier and then arrived at Yang Yang Lakes at a reasonable time of 3pm. Kat John and I basked in the sun and also tried swimming in the lake only to find that the water was a cold 47 degrees. Visibility was great this whole trip which made route finding really straightforward. 


Almost at Yang Yang Lakes

Day 2 : Yang Yang Lakes -> Dome Peak 

IMG_5971.jpgView from South Cascades Glacier

From Yang Yang Lakes we went up a weakness in the ridge system that was quite straightforward. For most of this trip it would seem like things are really steep or improbable and as we got closer, the trail found a way through the steep valleys. We made good time passing over Le Conte Glacier and then to South Cascades Glacier where we found the cameras setup all around the glacier. Then down to White Rock Lakes where we had a quick lunch. From here once before we got on the Dana Glacier, we traversed low and climbers left, parting ways from the Ptarmigan and heading over to Dome. 


Making our way towards Dana Glacier


Elk or Deer make their way all the way here?

Getting to Dome col was uneventful. We finally ran into another group who attempted Sinister and were doing the traverse south to north because they had a key swap. That saves a lot of time but I feel like you miss out on a lot of the views as most of the impressive glaciers are north facing. 

We camped directly below the summit of Dome. There was a big enough site for two tents and after some rest, made up for the summit. I have to say the summit scramble of Dome and the views make it my all time favorite peak in the North Cascades. The scramble was fun and airy and the views were so good. You could see peaks all the way from the Entiats and Glacier Peak to the south to all the North Cascade peaks even towards Burgundy. I say Dome is situated in one of the best locations. The experience was enhanced by the beautiful sunset. 


Sunset on the Gunsight Range

Day 3 : Dome Peak -> Canyon Lake



Getting down the Chikamin Glacier

Our day started off with some unknowns and I would say this segment of getting down the chikamin glacier was the crux of this traverse. We knew that the other team didn't make it to Sinister so we didn't know if the route would go or not. The bergshrund was in a okay state but the lower glacier was getting quite thin. I opted to trend up across some bergshrunds to avoid a thin snow bridge. Once we got down the Chikamin we considered doing Sinister but getting up to the ridge seemed quite circuitous and annoying. Not really worthwhile since the views would probably be the same as Dome. 


Near Kaiwhat Pass


The majestic face of the Dome Massif

From there we aimed for the Gunsight Notch, traversed around the south side of Sinister towards Hanging Gardens. As we came closer to the Hanging Gardens, we noticed our friends Kyle, Anthony and Wyatt catching up behind as, as well as a big bear running away from us in the meadows above.  It was day 2 of their traverse and they had caught up to us, thanks to our bootpack. We chilled in Hanging Gardens for a while before travelling together all the way to Canyon Lakes were we parted ways. Around here, the most impressive thing was the south face of Dome. It's a really big face with some routes that are quite hard to reach. I think the Gunsights are higher on the priority to climb first though. 

Day 4 : Canyon Lake -> Suiattle River TH 


John abiding by LNT principles


Our last day with a 20 mile exit. The decommissioned canyon lake trail wasn't that bad to follow. The views at Image lake were also incredible. We made a quick stop at the Miners Ridge Fire Lookout and got to talk to the attendant there. From there we made a long traversing walk back to our cars. Luckily there weren't as many blowdowns which made for a pleasant exit. 


View from Miner's Ridge Lookout

I am really happy to have done this traverse at this time and with a strong group of friends. I think we timed it pretty well such that there wasn't that much snow covering crucial crossing and the mosquitoes weren't out yet. I'm really glad I did the extension as it added a of beautiful views as well as a no BS deproach. 


View from White Rock Lakes