Trip Report    

Intermediate Alpine Climb - Black Peak/Northeast Ridge

This is a jewel of a climb. Conditions were perfect for this two day climb of a classic ridge with amazing North Cascade views.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The talus field traverse to Lewis  Lake is still under good amount of snow but expect the post-holing to increase as the season warms. As of this writing, the post-holing was not so bad to warrant snow shoes. The steep snow slope that will take you to the ridge after Wing Lake is best done early in the morning to provide as firm a snow as possible for the exciting transition from snow to rock.  It's steep! The scramble route down from the summit block is a little bit of a mystery but avoid the temptation to down-climb the steep shoot that looks like it should go. The actual scramble route follows the ridge further down off the summit.

Our party of four started off from the Rainy Pass trailhead for Wing Lake at about 10:30 am on a sunny Saturday. The Lake Ann trail is very well maintained and we did not encounter steady snow until we crossed over Heather Pass to drop down to make the talus field crossing to Lewis Lake.


There is deep snow, pretty much all the way to Wing Lake, making the notorious talus field traverse to and past Lewis Lake much easier. Some post-holing was inevitable with the warming weather, but as of this writing snow shoes were not necessary. With Black Peak, our ultimate objective, in view, we made the long traverse keeping Lewis Lake to climbers right, and then ascended a well marked path up a hill into a larch grove and beyond to Wing Lake where we camped for the evening.  Trailhead to camp took about four hours at a leisurely pace.


Wing Lake is a beautiful camp site. Black Peak is in your face. There is glacial blue water. There are stupendous views.



Next morning we were on the move at about 5 am. We donned our crampons out of camp and took on the steep snow slope on the right of Black Peak to gain the ridge. All descriptions of the route to the north east ridge say to take the obvious snow gully. The descriptions are correct. It's very obvious where to go. With the sun rising, the views were breathtaking.


We were very happy to have started early to take advantage of the firm snow on the ever steepening snow slope as it neared the ridge. The final transition from snow to rock required sure footing and axe work as we traversed 50 degree slope to get onto the rock.


When we arrived, we disturbed a marmot having her morning contemplations looking over the cornice.


Once on the ridge, the directions are to "climb the ridge." And so we did, simul-climbing as much of it as possible and pitching out a few sections. The entire ridge was completely snow free. Each climbing party of two used a 40 meter rope. In retrospect, for a better simul-climbing experience, I personally would have preferred a shorter rope, say 30 meter. There were many sections where the follower ended up waiting a long time for the rope to pay out and then successfully moved simultaneously for only a short time before the lead ran out of gear or had to stop because of uncertainty about the coming terrain.  Rack consisted of doubles from .3 to #3, handful of nuts, six single slings and two doubles. That was more than sufficient.


Caution: the rock is very loose and rotten in many places. Obvious holds are no good, and there were not a few times when you go to place a piece of gear and the block on the side moves and that #1 placement now needs a #2. But the rotten rock aside, the exposure and views are exhilarating!


The summit lies 2000 feet above Wing Lake. Once on top, 360 degree views of the North Cascades.


Getting back to camp, we took the South Ridge scramble route. However, immediately off the summit block we took a variation that took us down a very steep narrow gully that required protected down climbing on gear. I think that was unnecessary because looking back, we believe we saw the true scramble route that required going down the other side of the ridge further on the other side of the summit. After the gully, the descent took us down very steep scree and then finally snow. The entire ridge climb up and scramble down to camp took a little under 12 hours. The  faster party did just the ridge portion of the climb in a little over 6 hours.



This was a wonderful climb with a great party that should be a classic in most people's books.