A Lifetime of Adventures
It is no secret that I love high routes and traverses. My favorite way to experience the mountains is to move freely and quickly over vast quantities of rugged terrain. Whether on skis, running shoes, or rock shoes, there is no other experience that blends speed, beauty, and technicality so wonderfully in my mind.
After a magical experience on the Sierra High Route, it has become a lifetime goal to bring that vision of high travel to the Cascades, hopefully culminating one day with completion of the Cascade High Route. In the last year, I have made a conscious effort to get off the beaten path and explore the vast alpine terrain in our backyards. Through both research and experience, I have found a lot of awesome high routes and traverses in Washington and would like to share a few (okay, maybe more than a few). I try to give a range of difficulties and lengths for all ability levels.
For the purpose of this article, I have color coded routes by four different categories:
- High Route: These routes are non-technical, meaning no 5th class climbing. However, they may have glacial travel. The purpose is to cover great distance over rugged terrain, not necessarily to summit.
- Linkup: These routes combine peakbagging, scrambling, and high routing (is that even a verb?).
- Technical Traverse: These routes have 5th class travel. A rope and protection is commonly used.
- Ski Traverse: These routes are most commonly done as a ski traverse during winter or spring.
Categories can overlap. For example, the Ptarmigan Traverse is both a fantastic ski traverse and high route, but I refer to it as a high route simply because more parties complete it on foot. Additionally, there are many peaks to bag along the way so it could be a linkup.
Preface: I apologize for my superfluous use of “classic”.
Update: Sam put in an incredible effort to convert the list into a caltopo map!
- P3 to Defiance Traverse: A ridgewalk, close to Seattle with minimal schwack. Can be extended all the way to Granite. TR.
- Granite Mountain Traverse: Another fun little backcountry evening route that involves more bushwhacking than scrambling. TR.
- Roosevelt Kaleetan Traverse: An aesthetic ridge, possibly the best low-5th terrain in the Snoqualmie Backcountry, as people say. TR.
- Chair Bryant Traverse: Begin with the north ridge of Chair, continue all the way to the Tooth or even Denny for bonus fun. TR.
- Commonwealth Ultimate Ridge Linkup: Incredible bang for you buck with literally miles of 3rd to 5th class terrain. TR.
- Melakwa Pass Loop: In the winter it would be known as the Chair Peak Circumnavigation. The summer form is a little longer, starting and ending traditionally at the Denny Creek trailhead. TR.
- Snoqualmie Haute Route: This creative multi day ski traverse wraps around the major peaks of the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River. TR.
- Alpine Lakes Crest Traverse: Similar to the Haute Route in terrain, but more similar to the Ptarmigan Traverse in character, this route crosses the heart of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness from Snoqualmie Pass to Mt. Daniel. TR.
- Mt. Daniel Circumnavigation: Mt. Daniel is a deceptively large mountain, holding many glaciers and lakes. TR.
- Bears Breast Traverse: This remote peak is also home to the “mythical mega slabs”, 3000 ft of sustained 4th and low 5th. TR.
- Paddy-go-easy High Route: This route covers some beautiful terrain between Paddy-go-easy pass and the Robin Lakes, visiting many tarns along the way. TR.
- Teanaway Traverse: A super fun, playful linkup of 9 peaks on the Teanaway Crest. This is a great place to hone your skills. TR.
- Persindex Traverse: This was the very first traverse I attempted long ago. It travels through surprisingly alpine terrain between two of the steepest peaks in Washington. TR.
- Index Traverse: The three summits of Mt. Index compose this huge, committing undertaking, a classic. TR.
- Alpine Lakes High Route: Perhaps the most classic high route in Washington, with stunning lakes and vistas. TR.
- Thunder Robin High Route: The logical extension of the Alpine Lakes Crest Traverse to US2 covers some beautiful, forgotten terrain near some very overpopulated terrain. TR.
- Rock Howard Mastiff Traverse: Three high peaks just east of Stevens Pass. Good access, good skiing. TR.
- Chiwaukum Traverse: A “new-age” classic ski traverse. The Chiwaukum Range has some huge, open, non-glaciated alpine terrain and is perfect for a ski traverse. TR.
- Icicle Ridge Traverse: Lots of opportunities along Icicle Ridge and Big Jim and Big Lou to run broad, open ridges. TR.
- Stuart Range Traverse: The steep couloirs of this range lend themselves to a ski traverse of more ups and downs than sideways. TR.
- Enchantment Enchainment: Some variation of 9 or 10 Bulgers in the Stuart Range. Many ways to skin this cat. TR.
- Carne High Route: This popular route is basically a trail, or a good introductory high route. TR.
- The Entiat 9ers: Maude, 7 Fingered Jack, and Fernow all lie on a ridge together. All are above 9000 ft and in one of the most beautiful settings in the Cascades. All have terrible rock. You get the idea. TR.
- Little Giant High Pass Loop: 90% of this route is on a trail of some sort, but it’s simply too beautiful to leave out. Add in the Louie Creek High Route to Buck Mountain for a bonus. Great peak bagging opportunities near High Pass. TR.
- Dakobed Range Circumnavigation: Stunning, remote scenery in the heart of the Glacier Peak Wilderness. If you can tolerate the brush, this is solitude well spent. TR.
- Dakobed Range Traverse: It also works on skis! Or a splitboard… TR.
Mountain Loop Highway
- Three Fingers Traverse: Visible from the Seattle/Everett area, this simply makes sense. TR.
- Pilchuck Loop: An accessible, introductory high route with some nice lakes along the way. TR.
- Monte Cristo Linkup: Another underrated area of the Cascades with high alpine peaks and glaciers. TR.
- Painted Traverse: One of those classic steep-heather sidehilling traverses in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. TR. It also makes for a fantastic ski traverse.
Suiattle River Road
- Bath Lakes High Route: Perhaps THE KING OF STEEP HEATHER high routes. Stretch out your ankles. Get ready. TR.
- Gunrunner Traverse: Some of the best and most remote alpine rock in the state. Can it be matched? TR.
- Lime Ridge High Route: Beautiful lake after lake on this lovely high route just north of Glacier Peak. TR.
- Green Buckindy High Route: The quiet little brother of the Ptarmigan Traverse, this one is more rugged actually. Even Beckey recommends crampons for the steep heather. You know it’s bad then. TR.
- Dominatrix Traverse: This route travels between Snowking and Chaval, very obscure. TR.
- Twin Sisters Traverse: Fun fact – the peaks in the logo of Kulshan Brewing are not Kulshan, but rather the Twin Sisters. TR.
- Green Creek Circuit: This linkup might be the king of all scramble / low 5th routes in all of Washington. TR.
- Watson Traverse: Cody Townsend really doesn’t like this one, but others say it’s pretty good. TR.
- Nooksack Traverse: From Shuksan to Ruth, this traverse crosses some of the most rugged terrain in all of the North Cascades. When will someone link it up with the Watson? TR.
Cascade River Road
- Ptarmigan Traverse: The granddaddy of all Cascade high routes. Keep going over Dome for the best terrain. TR.
- Torment Forbidden Traverse: Ultra classic traverse in one of the wildest settings in the lower 48. TR.
- Boston Basin Marathon: An incredible “true ridge traverse” of the Triad, Eldo, Tormet, Forbidden, Boston, and Sahale. TR.
- Isolation Traverse: An incredible ski traverse. Great position, great descents. Not sure what else to say. Possibly the best ski traverse in the state. TR.
- Inspiration Traverse: This can be combined with the Isolation Traverse for an incredible loop across some massive glaciers and lofty peaks. TR.
- Forbidden Tour: Arguably the classic ski loop in the North Cascades. TR.
- Magic S Loop: While not as well known as the Forbidden Tour, this is also an excellent ski loop. It has the best balance of scenery and good skiing as any day tour I’ve done. TR.
- Buckindy Traverse: An incredibly rugged loop on the quiet side of the Cascade River. TR.
- Teebone Traverse: Another beautiful ridge line in the North Cascades. The descent into Newhalem is legendary… for bad reasons. TR.
- The Peal Necklace Tour: This tour has it all: steep descents, long glacial traverses, incredible high camps, and even a cozy lookout. I will remember this trip until I am an old man. TR.
- Watson Blum Traverse: A beautiful traverse across surprisingly glaciated peaks in a remote area. Bring your bacon. One of my personal favorites. TR.
- Pickets Traverse: Well, we could write a whole article on this alone. There are so many variations: technical, non-technical, north, south, skis. To start, I’d recommend Steph Abegg’s excellent Picket’s page. Try Wayne Wallace’s complete Southern Picket’s Traverse or Dr. Dirtbag bagging the Northern Pickets in a little over 24 hours! Or even a COMPLETE PICKETS TRAVERSE (VII 5.10+)!!!
- Mystery Ridge – Northern Pickets Traverse: Legends Steph Abegg and Tom Sjolseth say this is the greatest high route they have ever completed, and I don’t doubt them. TR.
- The Grand Tour: an incredible linkup of the Whatcom High Route, the Pickets Traverse, the Isolation Traverse, and the Ptarmigan Traverse. TR.
- Ragged Ridge Traverse: Bagging the Bulgers on this high Cascade ridge. TR.
- Fisher Outpost High Route: A unique route through some very seldom-visited terrain. TR.
- Logan Goode Buckner Traverse: Everyone knows about the Thunder Slam (Goode Logan Stormking) so here is a fun variation. TR.
- Logan NW Ridge: Wayne calls this the single longest ridgeline in the lower 48. He soloed it, of course. TR.
- Goode Megaladon Ridge: NE Buttress isn’t long enough for your tastes? Try this massive ridge traverse on the highest peak in NCNP. TR.
- Triple Rainbow High Route: Best done as a larch march, this route will make you forget you are in the North Cascades entirely. TR.
- Liberty Bell Traverse: Likely the shortest approach of any of these. Classic. TR.
- The Washington Pass Traverse: This incredible route (VI, 5.9+) might be the longest unbroken technical traverse in the state. TR.
- The Birthday Tour: It might be stretch to call this a ski traverse considering it only takes a few hours. TR.
- The Silver Kangaroo Traverse: Tons of different options here, so many couloirs! This is a fun, easy day with great descents. TR.
Chelan / Methow
- Pasayten Peakbagging: 8 Bulgers all relatively close together, only separated by miles of choss. TR.
- Heart of the Pasayten: an incredibly wild route that hits the summits of Ptarmigan, Dot, and Lago. TR.
- Raven Ridge Hoodoo Traverse: A very fun little traverse on surprisingly good rock. Best done during larch season. TR.
- Switcback – Bigelow Traverse: More larch madness! This can actually be combined with Raven Ridge and Hoodoo for a massive day and 5 Bulgers. TR.
- Chelan Sawtooth Summit Trail: This is just an extended trail run, but deserves mention. TR.
- Dark Bonanza Traverse: It’s a long ways out there, but it looks really good. Blake says it’s really good. I believe him. TR.
- 3 Peaks of Bonanza Traverse: This overlaps some with the Dark Bonanaza Traverse, but is huge in its own right. TR.
- Devil’s Backbone: This is also just a trail run, but has very scenic views of the Entiat and Lake Chelan. TR.
- Tatoosh Traverse: A fine adventure that will look particularly impressive when you’re skiing the Muir Snowfield with friends next time. TR.
- Rainier Ski Circumnavigation: Does it count as a ski traverse if it ends back where it started? TR.
- Aix Adventure Run: The William O Douglas Wilderness is lush with alpine ridges and adventure potential. TR.
- Goat Rocks Peakbagging: It would be incomplete to not acknowledge this beautiful wilderness area. TR.
- Adams Traverse: Up over, and around. More of a trail run than anything. A fun way to experience a volcano. TR.
- Tyler – Grey Wolf – Needles Traverse: A huge ridgewalk followed by some decent Olympic alpine rock? Very cool route. TR. I attempted it as a ski traverse, which I cannot really recommend if you like skiing, but on foot it would be fun!
- Bailey Range Traverse: The classic Olympic high route ending with Olympus itself. TR.
- Tour of the Gods: An awesome ski trip nailing all the glaciers in the Olympus massif. TR.
- Brothers Traverse: The classic skyline peak from Seattle, done right. TR.
- Sawtooth Ridge Traverse: Another massive, obscure ridge traverse from Wayne. TR.
- The Olympic Ski Traverse: Another rad Jason Hummel ski traverse through the center of the Olympics, north to south. TR.
- Ellinor Washington Traverse: Classic beginner traverse in the SE corner of the Olympics. Don’t get attacked by a goat. TR.
- Three Sisters Traverse (plus Broken Top): Looks like a super fun ski traverse with lots of corn and even a little bit of ice climbing! TR.
- Hurwal Divide Traverse: A high ridgewalk between 9000 ft peaks in Oregon’s greatest mountain range, the Wallowas (not trying to stir any controversy here – I’ve admit I’ve never even been to the Wallowas, but really want to visit). TR.
Bonus: British Columbia
- Spearhead Traverse: Possibly the most famous ski traverse in North America. It’s been done in something like 4 hours, but also has some big new fancy hotels – I mean huts – along the way. TR.
- Garibladi Neve Traverse: A long, lower elevation, less crowded alternative to the Spearhead. TR.
- Tantalus Traverse: This athletic, rugged traverse crosses the famous range clearly visible from Squamish. Eric Carter did it in an incredible 18 hours. TR.
- Bonnington Traverse: Fluffy powder, cozy cabins, this one is a real treat. TR.
- Sierra High Route: The grandaddy of high routes in the US. A must-do for any high router. TR.
- Beartooth Plateau High Route: A beautiful, under appreciated region of high lakes and plateaus. Definitely the densest concentration of alpine lakes of anywhere in the US. TR.
- Colorado Crest: An incredible linkup of various Colorado high routes for over 650 miles. TR.
If you read this far, you are obviously interested in exploring and passionate about the mountains of Washington. I hope you found this article informative and can use it as a launching pad for your own explorations!
- How to Create Your Own High Route: my article on route planning and scheming.
- The Alpenglow Gallery: Lowell Skoog’s excellent site on the history of ski mountaineering in Washington.
- Routes and Rocks: The original book on high routes in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. It can be hard to get a physical copy these days.
- Cascade Alpine Guides: The Beckey Guides actually have a lot of great high route and traverse info.
- Bob Kandiko’s High Route Books: Bob has done so many awesome high routes and traverses and documents them (descriptions are vague, photos are beautiful) in his North Cascades book and Glacier Peak book.
- Wayne Wallace’s Great Traverses: An excellent list from a great climber with more of a technical focus.
- Jason Hummel: So many great ski traverses from this local legend.
- Volken’s Backcountry Skiing Washington Book: This book has so many great ski traverses.
- Country Highpoints: Eric Gilbertson has the speed record on the Bulgers and thus has completed some epic Bulger linkups.
- Cascade Climbers: CC will never die!
Disclaimer: high route and traverses in alpine terrain are serious excursions and involve substantial risks. This article is just a list of routes and claims no responsibility for accidents, injuries, or hurt egos resulting from these adventures.