Ptarmigan Traverse Attempt 2015 - Best of the Northwest Best of the Northwest

Ptarmigan Traverse Attempt 2015

Western Washington, hiking, climbing, Best of the NW year-round trails.

“The dude from Wyoming says hi” these were the best words we heard all day.  After a two-and-a-half day journey to the foot of the LeConte Glacier we were greeted by an insurmountable ice cliff on the broken lower glacier blocking our passage to the second half of the route.

LeConte Glacier foot below ice cliff

LeConte Glacier foot below ice cliff

With limited options for travel we dug into the map contours and determined there was a probable retreat route descending High Log Creek to aptly named “Drop Creek” to the South Fork of the Cascade River trail.

The “trail” turned out to be flagged (by whom we aren’t sure) but hadn’t been cleared in years.  Tracking game trails and connecting contours to our closely monitored topo maps we battled with our 50 lb packs through brush alder across steep contours, over and under countless blown down trees where any traces of the “trail” would be decimated.

At one such junction after passing the Middle Fork of the Cascade River scrambling up on to a wood pecker holed filled tree scanning for any semblance of a cairn, flag, marker, foot print.  I looked down to see the first human we had come across in four days.

Ptarmigan Traverse Illustrated Map Click to Enlargen

Ptarmigan Traverse Illustrated Map Click to Enlargen

After exchanging details on the trail behind each of us (finally two miles of well-maintained National Park trails) to the trail head.  He mentioned almost as an after-thought.  To the three mountaineers, “the dude from Wyoming says hi.”  My dad had followed our digital bread crumbs on the SPOT gps to track our route deviation.  Anticipating our out point was waiting at the trail head to shuttle us back to our dropped car at the intended out put the Suiattle River road.


Wil Van Cleve’s Photo Gallery


Cache Col Bubble 3d wrap around


Reid and Wil on Cache Col

I’m sure when the stinging nettle bites, and sore muscles subside the bushwhack out will recede into distant memory leaving lasting impressions of this improbable alpine passage through some of the most breathtaking alpine scenery  I’ve ever encountered.

The quest for the section that we were unable to complete, the upper LeConte Glacier, White Rock Lakes will linger in my mind until the route is “in” again next summer…

Cache Col trail on right descending to Kool Aid Lake

Cache Col trail on right descending to Kool Aid Lake

Established in 1938 by the “Ptarmigan” climbing club from Portland, OR who amazingly also completed 11 first ascents of near-by peaks along the way.
The classic Alpine traverse travels from the North Cascades National Park Cascade Pass South through the “Alps of North America” to the North Side of the Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Covering nearly 35 miles typically completed in five days, four nights to a week many parties opt to camp at the lovely lakes along the way traveling North to South:
1. Kool Aid Lake
2. Yang Yang Lakes,
3. White Rock Lakes
4. Cub Lake

Day trip summits of near-by peaks: Mix Up Peak, Magic Mountain, Hurry Up Peak, Mt. Formidable, Spider Mountain, LeConte Mountain, Sentinel Peak, Old Guard Peak, Lizard Mountain, Dome Peak, Spire Point

Spider Formidable Col

Spider Formidable Col passage between Middle Cascade Glacier and route to Yang Yang Lakes

The first line in most descriptions of this route is that it is NOT a backpacking route.  We can attest, this is mountaineering terrain from the departure spot on  Cascade Pass to the intended out put trails Bachelor and Downey Creek trails (which have reportedly been recently maintained by the Washington Trails Association).

Expect traveling through difficult terrain, navigating, vertical gain and loss over talus, scree, boulder fields, snow fields, and glaciers with arduous bail options through steep and dense forests. Discover detailed maps and links to guiding resources below.

Our average speed during our 31 mile 10,000 cumulative gain adventure loop was 1.1 miles per hour.  Heavy packs and difficult terrain includes, steep goat paths, talus, scree and boulder fields, snow fields, and glaciers.

The fastest known time for the traverse is 12 hours and 17 minutes set July 28 2012 by Leor Pantilat & Uli Steidl. Watch the video here.

For those interested in pursuing the route we are collecting our map data and will be creating custom maps and video with descriptions of cruxes and travel considerations (including possible bail out points like the one we experienced).


Weather forecaste LeConte Glacier

The links below are great resources for those who have traveled this route expertly multiple times.

Tap & Go

WTA Trip Reports, Recent Conditions

Route Description: Cal Topo Mountain Madness (inaccuracies)

Cascade Climbers Trip Report

Cascade Climbers Trip Report

WTA Trip Reports, Recent Conditions

WTA Trip Reports, Recent Conditions

WTA Trip Reports, Recent Conditions

Steph Abegg Trip Report 2009 Maps and Photography

WTA Trip Reports, Recent Conditions

Strava Map


Moves Count Map


Spot GPS Check In Points

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1 Comment


April 17, 2017 at 6:01 am - Reply

Very useful looking onward to coming back again.

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