July 26-29, 2012

Mid-Summer Climbing Trip No. 10:  Ragged Ridge Area

Ragged Ridge Traverse:  Fourth of July Pass to Easy Pass

Red Mountain (7658′)
Ragged Peak (7533′)
Cosho Peak (8332′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northwestern Cascades

Starting Point: Thunder Creek Trailhead at Colonial Creek Campground (Highway 20)

Way Points: Thunder Arm & Fourth of July Pass & Red Mountain shoulder & Ragged Benchmark & Red Mountain summit & Ragged Peak summit & Upper Cosho Lake saddle & Cosho-Thieves Notch & Kimtah-Thieves Notch & Kimtah Glacier & Kimtah Glacier Saddle & Katsuk Glacier Saddle & Katsuk Glacier & Mesahchie Glacier Bench & Mesahchie Glacier & Mesahchie Col & Kitling Saddle & Easy Pass & Easy Pass Creek & Granite Creek (hike & climb)

Ending Point: Easy Pass Trailhead (Highway 20)

Campsites: Red Mountain shoulder & Upper Cosho Lake saddle & Mesahchie Glacier bench

Summit: Red Mountain (climb via North Ridge; descent via South Ridge)

Summit: Ragged Peak (climb via West Ridge; descent via North Ridge)

Summit: Cosho Peak (climb via East Face)

Approximate Stats: 24 miles traveled (9 miles on trail, 15 miles off trail); 14,000 feet gained; 11,500 feet lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For our tenth annual Mid-Summer Climbing Trip, Eric, Jon, Todd, and I completed an alpine traverse along Ragged Ridge between Fourth of July Pass and Easy Pass.  This one turned out to provide all the adventure we wanted.  In the end, we would concur with Beckey’s statement that the travel is generally “easy to reasonable,” although it leaned more toward the “reasonable” end of that spectrum.  Even where the travel was truly easy, the possibility for continuation always seemed to be in doubt due to hidden gullies, cliffs, icefalls, crevasses, and other unknowns.

Day 1 – Thunder Creek Trailhead to Red Mountain Shoulder:

After dropping a vehicle at the Easy Pass Trailhead, we started hiking from the Colonial Creek Campground (1200 feet).  High heat and high humidity conspired against us, so it took longer than expected to reach 3600-foot Fourth of July Pass (3.6 hours from car) despite good trail conditions.

Looking Up Nose Of Ragged Ridge

We left the trail at the pass and headed southward through dense forest.  The angle soon steepened, but the brush and deadfall were never too bad.  We worked onto the northernmost end of Red Mountain and continued along the smooth crest until finding a nice campsite on a small heather bench at 6000 feet.  A tiny snowmelt puddle provided adequate water for cooking, and a 270-degree panorama helped mitigate the annoying mosquitoes.

Clouds Over Colonial Peak
Pickets Pano From Camp 1

Day 2 – Red Mountain Shoulder to Upper Cosho Lake Saddle:

We awoke to valley clouds that gradually rose to engulf us in fog.  Our traverse route took us farther up the crest and then across large northeast-facing snowfields above a frozen tarn.  We regained the crest at a high saddle south of the tarn and continued over a series of small horns.

Heading Up Ragged Ridge

Somewhere in this area, I found a ski-pole basket—our first hint of human existence since leaving the trail; clearly, this traverse route does not see much traffic. When the crest became more rugged, we contoured across red scree slopes on the southwestern flank.

Traversing Crest Of Ragged Ridge

Ragged Benchmark (7595 feet) was our first notable high point.

Ragged Benchmark
Red Mountain From Ragged Benchmark

From there, we contoured tedious scree slopes another mile to attain the 7658-foot summit of Red Mountain in early afternoon (5.2 hours from Camp 1).  There was a summit cairn but, surprisingly, no summit register.  I left a mini register before we departed.

Todd, Eric, and Jon On Red Mountain

Minutes later, at a point approximately 50 vertical feet below the summit, Eric came across a plastic film can mixed in with the talus.  It appeared to have several bite marks in it, and inside was a single strip of paper that had been signed by Don and Nat Goodman in July 2011 and then by Tom Sjolseth and Steph Abegg in May 2012.  Perhaps the little can had been carried off the summit by a hungry marmot!  I scurried back up to the summit and placed this tiny paper in my register container.

We could see contiguous and inviting snowfields extending for 2 miles along the northeastern flank of the ridge, so we tried dropping over the crest at several different locations.  In each case, however, there was a cliff that prevented easy access to the snow—beyond the limits of our 30-meter rope, anyway.  As such, we were compelled to contour across the annoying red scree fields on the southwestern flank for about ¾ mile to get around several large horns.

Looking Toward Cosho Peak From Red Mtn

Eventually, we regained the crest and discovered that the ridge geology had transitioned from unpleasant red volcanic rock to a delightful white granitoid rock.  For the next mile, we strolled along the broad meadowy crest and marveled at the massive hulk of Mt. Logan across the valley.  It seemed that, as Eric quipped, we were drunk on alpine nectar.

Mount Logan From Ridge Crest

Point 7533, which is sometimes called Ragged Peak, was our final summit for the day.  We paused just long enough to scope out tomorrow’s route over to Cosho Peak and then dropped down the north ridge to a beautiful, wide-open, heather-and-rock garden at 7100 feet (9.1 hours from Camp 1).  We’d originally intended to camp at Upper Cosho Lake, farther downhill, but it was still completely frozen over and not appealing.  Besides, our ridgetop campsite had numerous little grass-lined bowls of clear snowmelt for drinking and washing up.

Evening At Camp 2
Camp 2 Below Ragged Peak
Red Mountain Ridge From Camp 2

Day 3 – Upper Cosho Lake Saddle to Mesahchie Glacier Bench + Cosho Peak:

Naively thinking that today would be relatively easy, we waited for the heavy morning dew to burn off before we headed out.  Mellow snow slopes led us to a 7100-foot saddle east of Ragged Peak, and then a long traverse across countless ribs and gullies got us past Cosho Peak.

Scrambling Below Cosho Peak

We groveled up a steep, loose, dirty gully to reach the Cosho-Thieves notch.  From this location, the summit of Cosho Peak was merely a short, fun, Class 2-3 scramble away.  We topped out in time for a late lunch (4.3 hours from Camp 2) and signed the overflowing summit register.  Nearby Kimtah Peak beckoned, but with our day’s termination goal being the Mesahchie Glacier, we were starting to feel some time pressure.

Eric, Todd, and Jon On Cosho Peak
Cosho Peak Summit Lunch

The next several hours became a glacial adventure, as we had to descend both the Kimtah Glacier and Katsuk Glacier without the benefit of having seen them from below.  Descending the Kimtah Glacier was a bit tricky, as we wove our way between and around crevasses and ice cliffs.

Descending Glaciers On Day 3

In order to stay below the lowest tongue of freshly deposited rock and ice debris, we had to drop all the way down to 6300 feet before booting back up the glacier’s eastern edge to a 7000-foot saddle.  A rock headwall immediately beneath the saddle required 30 feet of belayed Class 4 climbing.  Just as we were climbing this, a school-bus-size serac broke loose from a nearby icefall and rumbled down almost to our lowest tracks—a graphic reminder that these glaciers are still very much alive!

Mesahchie Peak & Katsuk Peak From Traverse Route

We traversed a high snowfield eastward to a key 7100-foot saddle from where we could easily drop onto the Katsuk Glacier.

Traversing High Snowfield

This was a fairly straightforward descent, except that our exit point at the bottom involved down-climbing a steep, icy chute directly beneath a tall waterfall that undercut the chute.  With darkness looming, we didn’t have time to check out other options, so we gambled on it.  (Later, we looked back up from below and could see that this was the only exit point; everywhere else was a tall, steep cliff.)

Once off the glaciers, we angled down across alternating snow patches and talus fields to duck under the immense North Buttress of Mesahchie Peak, bottoming out at a traverse-low elevation of 5400 feet before heading back up towards the Mesahchie Glacier.  It was dark when we stumbled onto a little gravel bench at 5900 feet (12.6 hours from Camp 2) and carved out four bivy sites between rushing streamlets.

Katsuk Glacier and Peak From Camp 3

Day 4 – Mesahchie Glacier Bench to Easy Pass Trailhead:

We awoke to blue skies and started up the Mesahchie Glacier just as the morning sun hit us.  The glacier was easily ascended to Mesahchie Col, where we had to monkey across a nasty undercut moat.

Mesahchie Col Moat Problem

After that, it was just a matter of traversing more scree slopes, ribs, and gullies until able to descend to the grassy pleasures of Easy Pass.  We picked up the trail for a final descent to the trailhead (3.8 hours from Camp 3).  A dip in frigid Granite Creek ended our wonderful four-day adventure.

Final Slopes To Easy Pass


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