September 12-14, 2014

Azurite Peak (8400’+)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northeastern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: West Fork Methow River Trailhead (Lost River Road)

Way Points: West Fork Methow River & Trout Creek & Brush Creek & Jet Creek & Horse Heaven Camp (hike)

Campsite: Horse Heaven Camp

Sidetrip: Upper Jet Creek & Azurite Pass (bushwhack & hike)

Summit: Azurite Peak (climb via South Ridge—Southwest Gully)

Approximate Total Stats: 25 miles traveled; 6700 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

Eileen and I took advantage of the current high-pressure system with a trip into the Upper Methow Mountains for a try at Azurite Peak. Things didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped, but all ended well.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Horse Heaven Camp:

We started at the West Fork Methow River TH on Friday afternoon with the intention of riding mountain bikes 6 or 7 miles up the “gentle” river trail. Our plan went nicely….for about 1.5 miles, at which point we encountered a large rockslide that bliterated the trail. Here, a 300-yard width of hillslope has been reduced to an ugly mess of unstable talus and splintered tree trunks. I’m not sure about the cause of this chaos; perhaps a wintertime avalanche ran to ground and took the talus slope with it. Regardless, we quickly decided to stash our bikes and continue on foot.

Crossing Rockslide

Our decision to hike rather than ride was reinforced over the next several hours, as I counted 83 downed trees along a 6-mile stretch of trail. In addition to those frustrating obstacles, there are countless loose rocks and sticks covering much of the trail due to lack of recent traffic. Reportedly, this used to be a very bike-friendly trail, but it certainly isn’t any more. It’s doubtful that the trail will be restored in the foreseeable future.

We eventually reached the perfectly groomed Pacific Crest Trail at Mile 8, then followed it westerly for 2 miles to Jet Creek (5.9 hours from TH). It was dark by now, but we managed to find the comfortable accommodations of “Horse Heaven Camp” in a grove of timber next to the river.

Day 2 – Summit Climb:

We awoke to clear skies and frosty vegetation. Before heading out, we left two containers of snack food (apples and candy) next to the PCT, with an invitation to through-hikers.. September is prime-time in the Cascades for PCT hikers en route to Canada, and we knew from our friend Kevin “The Animal” Koski (who is currently on the PCT) that they will be craving any sort of food during these last few days of travel.

Apples and Candy For Thru Hikers

The old Azurite Pass Trail leaves the PCT about 120 yards east of Jet Creek. It is not signed, but there is a small rock cairn marking the junction. We followed it up a couple of switchbacks, then lost it in a thicket of slide alder. After an hour of thrashing upward, we regained the trail at 5000 feet as it traversed westerly to a 5300-foot crossing of Jet Creek (1.9 hours from camp).

Cairn Marking Start Of Azurite Pass Trail

Beyond the Jet Creek crossing, the trail is eroded and brushy but fairly easy to follow. Abandoned-trail aficionados will savor the hike up this once-proud route that links the Methow River with Canyon Creek and the Skagit River. The uppermost portion winds through scenic heather meadows and granite boulders. We reached Azurite Pass shortly before noon (3.3 hours from camp).

Final Steps To Azurite Pass

From Azurite Pass, we ascended krummholz, sand, scree, and talus to a 7400-foot shoulder on the south ridge of Azurite Peak. Much of the mountain appears to be composed of highly weathered granite that is quickly disintegrating into pebbly sand. Harder basalt forms more of the upper peak.

Climbing Scree Above Azurite Pass

We continued up the crest to about 7600 feet, then began a gently rising traverse across a series of ribs, gullies, and sandy slopes (well marked with ducks and cairns). In our desire to not turn upward too early, we went a bit too far over and encountered the imposing southwest face, which becomes Class 4 in a hurry. We retreated to the last gully to the south and headed up.

Heading Up South Ridge

All gullies seem to lead towards the summit, so there are several options for the last 400 feet. Our gully was loose but never more than Class 3. Views out to the south improved with every step.

Kimtah Peak and Eldorado Peak From SW Face

We stepped onto the summit in mid afternoon (7.0 hours from camp). The summit register showed three or four previous parties in 2014.

Eileen On Azurite Peak Summit

Clear air and slanting sun rays gave us wonderful views in all directions. Down to the northeast, we could see the PCT switchbacking up from Glacier Pass and traversing toward Hart’s Pass.

Robinson Mountain and PCT Above Glacier Pass
High Pasayten Peak From Azurite Peak Summit

Jack Mountain—always a view hog—dominated the western horizon.

Jack Mountain and Majestic Mountain From Azurite Peak

Nearby peaks of the Upper Methow Mountains pierced the southern horizon. It was hard to tear ourselves away.

Tower Mtn, Holliway Mtn, Golden Horn, and Mt Hardy
Methow Needles and Silver Star Mountain From Azurite Peak

On the way back down, we tidied up our route enough to reach camp (3.5 hours from summit) before dark. Oh yes…our PCT snack containers had been cleaned out!

Day 3 – Horse Heaven Camp to Trailhead:

The morning was a bit warmer than the previous two mornings. This did nothing to ease the annoyance of groveling over, under, or around the 83 downed logs along the river trail. Somewhere around Milepost 4, we met a solo biker-climber heading up the trail, bound for Azurite Peak. He looked tired and frustrated. When we asked how the biking had been thus far, he simply shook his head and pointed his thumb straight downward.  It probably didn’t improve his spirits when I mentioned that he had only 64 more logs to cross.

By the time we’d scrabbled over the treacherous rockslide, retrieved our bikes, and ridden back to the trailhead (5.1 hours from camp), it was early afternoon and quite hot. Bloody scratches on our shins told the story of a trail in a sad state of disrepair.


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–