June 12-13, 2015

Corteo Peak (8080’)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northwestern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Lake Ann / Maple Pass Trailhead (Highway 20)

Way Points: Heather Pass & Lewis Lake & Lewis-Wing Meadows  (hike)

Campsite: Lewis-Wing Meadows

Summit: Corteo Peak (climb via Lewis Glacier—Northwest Ridge Notch—West Basin—Southwest Ridge)

Approximate Total Stats: 5100 feet gained & lost

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

With only 1.5 days available last weekend, Eileen and I took a trip back up Hwy 20 to climb Corteo Peak at the easternmost end of Ragged Ridge.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Camp:

We hiked up the snow-free trail to Heather Pass, then descended snow slopes to Lewis Lake. A high larch bench above the lake made for a nice bivy spot. The evening was uneventful except for an overly curious mountain goat that hovered around camp and snorted at us if we got within 10 feet. We named him “Barney.”

Descending To Lewis Lake

Day 2 – Summit Climb & Exit: 

The night was unexpectedly cold, leaving a layer of frost on our bivy sacks, but the morning dawned mild and sunny. After breakfast, we cramponed up to the Lewis Glacier and followed the moraine toward Corteo Peak. A solo climber (we later found out that it was Sue Bennett from Bellingham) stayed about ½ hour ahead of us as we climbed the glacier.

Cramponing Up Lewis Glacier Moraine

Along the way, Barney suddenly appeared on the moraine and started following us. At one point, he blocked my way and forced me to detour around. I would not describe his behavior as aggressive, but he was definitely assertive and territorial. Interestingly, he seemed to be focused just on me; he showed no interest in Eileen or Sue. Perhaps this was an alpha-male competition.

Barney On Lewis Glacier Moraine

Eileen and I followed Sue’s route up the glacier and rightward toward Corteo’s northwest ridge. We then watched as she made a dicey looking traverse along some rock ledges, across a steep snow patch, and then up a thin strand of snow. She seemed to know where she was going, so why not follow?

Eileen Climbing To NW Ridge Of Corteo Peak

The rock ledges turned out to be narrow, sand-covered, and horribly exposed, with precariously perched snow blocks. None of the rock seemed solid enough to make rock pro worthwhile, so we made the 50-yard traverse unroped. So did Barney.

Barney On Sandy Ledge Traverse

Upon reaching the steep snow patch, we were able to establish a solid belay in a horizontal moat. I climbed up the length of our 30-meter rope and found another belay station in a vertical moat. Eileen climbed across and then continued another 30 meters up to the northwest ridge crest. This second pitch followed a snow strand that necked down to 3 feet wide and 70 degrees steep at one place—truly white-knuckle snow climbing!

Eileen Belaying From Sandy Ledges

From the northwest ridge, we could look across to our objective, the southwest ridge of Corteo Peak. An obvious snow finger reached up to the lower portion of the southwest ridge. We quickly descended 400-500 feet to Corteo’s west basin, then cramponed up the snow finger.

Corteo Peak Summit and SW Ridge From NW Ridge

We roped up at the notch and climbed along the narrow crest using a combination of fixed and running belays. The lower half of the ridge was generally Class 3-4 scrambling on rock that ranged from solid to sketchy.

Eileen Belaying On SW Ridge

Farther up the ridge, the rock seemed to become more solid, and the difficulty eased back to Class 2-3. There were a couple of exposed locations, but the climbing was generally very enjoyable. We were actually a bit disappointed that the summit came so soon.

Eileen Climbing Up SW Ridge

Sue was lounging on the summit when we arrived shortly after noon (4.3 hours from camp). We signed the cheesy register, which was merely a sheet of paper stuffed into a beverage bottle. Sue expressed some reluctance about descending the same way, due to the distance and “pucker factor” surrounding the steep snow strand. Instead, she opted to head off down the east face. We admired her moxie.

Eileen and Sue On Corteo Peak Summit

Eileen and I stayed long enough to soak in the views of Black Peak, Mt. Goode, McGregor Mountain, and the upper Methow peaks. Meanwhile, the temperature dropped enough to produce a little graupel shower. This was quite unexpected after the stretch of hot weather all week.

Black Peak From Corteo Peak Summit
Mount Goode and Mount Logan From Corteo Peak Summit

We did running belays back down the southwest ridge, then traversed over and up to the northwest ridge. Somewhere along the way, Barney appeared out of thin air! He followed us up to the ridge crest. I sensed that we were really starting to develop a friendship, but he remained silent about our future prospects.

Barney At NW Ridge Notch

We belayed back down the snow strand, which had softened a little since our ascent. It felt even steeper, more exposed, and more tenuous than before. Without a doubt, this was the scariest bit of snow climbing I’ve done in a long time! The sandy ledges seemed narrower and more exposed too. We were quite relieved to touch down on the relatively mellow glacier. Then it was a quick descent to camp above Lewis Lake (4.0 hours from summit).

Cutthroat Peak Above Lewis Lake

When we eventually reached the trailhead, we found Sue waiting in her car. She reported that the east face was steep, exposed, and tricky, but much faster and less harrowing than our descent route.

Route Comments: Only after we got back home did we realize that our route (Sue’s route, really) up to the northwest ridge notch was not the standard route. By several accounts, there is a much easier route that goes left rather than right at the top of the Lewis Glacier. We could have saved ourselves some time and a lot of stress by paying closer attention to the beta we had, but it did make for an unforgettable climb. I like to think that Barney would agree.


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