The Quintessential North Cascades
There are certain climbs in the Cascades that have legendary status – the North Buttress of Bear, the North Ridge of Stuart, Liberty Ridge on Rainier. With a stout approach, legendary views, and unique summit bivy, the NE Buttress of Goode also deserves consideration in that exclusive club. It is a climb that has been on my radar for many years, but I had been deterred by bad weather and the long approach. After a bunch of fast paced day trips and some summer weather at last, I felt it was the right time.
Getting to the Goode Stuff
Because of its remote location, Goode has the poor style of beginning with a 10 mile downhill hike from highway 20 along the PCT. Steve and I hiked quickly, knowing that the way out would be much less enjoyable. I had done the first 6 miles last year on the Triple Rainbow High Route before breaking off to the east. Otherwise, I had never even been very close to Goode. New areas always excite me.
At 10 miles, we turned off onto the North Fork Bridge Creek. The trail was well groomed until the Grizzly Creek crossing.
After Grizzly Creek, the trail became extremely overgrown. It was hot and muggy in the brush. Additionally, we quickly became covered by the thousands of caterpillars in the bushes! I had never seen anything like it in the Cascades. Perhaps there were will be many butterflies shortly…
Just like that, we stumbled out of the brush down to the river. Above, the north face of Goode rose 6000 ft from the valley floor in a wall of slabs, waterfalls, brush, glacier, and rock. It is the single greatest relief I have ever seen in the Cascades. Looking up, it was both terrifying and inspiring.
The river was truly an idyllic spot, with massive views of Goode and Logan. It remind me of Cirque of the Butterflies with the large gravel bars and silty water. It felt good to be back in the rugged, wild heart of the North Cascades.
The ford was easy, about thigh deep. We were delighted to find no brush on the other side, just easy talus and snow walking up towards the left most waterfall. Beckey’s longer, circuitous approach claims to have “virtually no brush” but the direct approach has “actually no brush”.
As we climbed the slabs to the right of the waterfall, we encountered a party of four rappelling down. They had worn themselves out the previous day trying the misguided Beckey approach and did not have the energy to climb, so they were heading down. The slabs here are pretty exposed and definitely fourth class, so rappelling made sense. We waited while their last rappelled. Then Steve removed their bail gear, wrapped it up in a ball and tossed it 90 degrees in the wrong direction from where they were. Whoops! At least the thought was there…
We continued upwards through the logical path and naturally found a wonderful alder tunnel upwards. It was so clean that I would not even call it bushwhacking. Certainly not compared to the heinous jungle of North Index.
Soon enough, we emerged into wonderful wildflower meadows beneath the glacial slabs. We found a nice campsite atop a lateral moraine, staring down the huge seracs of the Goode Glacier. The NE Buttress stood proud 4000 ft above. We made camp to the sound of roaring waterfalls and the view of yet another perfect Cascade valley. Did I mention it felt great to be back?
Even though we had gotten a late start, the approach had only taken a little over 6 hours, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the fading light. It was a nice change of pace to just lounge around in a wonderful place, admire the details that you miss when you’re on the move, and take countless photos. Steve brought a tripod and multiple lenses, totaling to nearly 10 lbs! Combined, our camera gear weighed about as much as our climbing gear. I don’t think that’s standard on Goode, but if we are going to go slow, we are going to bring the photography equipment!
Looking across the valley at Outpost Peak, we could see the ridge that Luke and Ben ran down last summer on the Fisher-Output High Route. Its position between Logan, Arriva, Black, and Goode was simply stunning. It would be a great run later this season, if I for some reason wanted to run up Bridge Creek again. Don’t think that will happen.
I had waffled going into the trip about bringing an inflatable pad versus a foam pad. I ultimately brought my Thermarest Uberlite because I wanted less bulk while climbing, but I was disappointed to find a slow leak when I settled down for the night. Even with a tent body beneath us, the pointy rocks at the bivy site were too much for the ultralight fabric. Note to self: don’t bring inflatables when bivy camping again.
Sunday began clear and sunny, promising some serious heat.
The upper NE Face of Goode caught first light, glowing red. By the time we were packed, the seracs were simmering in the morning sun.
We moved up beneath the seracs and then left on easy slabs. From here, it was easy to step onto the glacier.
We walked over a little blue ice, which was fine in running shoes and aluminum crampons, and then higher before traversing right towards the obvious “red ledges” that Beckey describes. Getting off the glacier onto the buttress is usually the crux of the entire route, but we were fortunate to find a collapsed snow moat just beneath the red ledges that made things easy.
We started simul climbing, and I led us through some low 5th class climbing on precarious blocks to reach the buttress proper. Once on the buttress proper, we found some of the best 3rd to 4th class scrambling anywhere.
We continued directly on the ridge top for over a thousand feet. The climbing was fun and varied and never very challenging. The rock was goode-enough. The position was absolutely spectacular, with incredible relief down to the glacier and the valley floor.
Somewhere around 8000 ft, we ran into (what appeared to be) unprotectable 5.7 slabs on the crest, so we had to deviate rightwards before regaining the crest. The climbing gradually became more consistently low 5th class and I think we climbed some 5.4-5.5 cruxes in this section.
Thankfully, there were plenty of little snow patches where could stuff our bottles throughout the route. I’m not sure many will be there in a few weeks. Yet another reason why July is the prime time for this route.
Around 8500 ft, we reached the obvious bivy ledge. You could say this bivy ledge is even nicer than the summit bivy: soft and grassy. We traversed right to the right buttress at this point.
Steve was getting a little tired of moving slowly up the buttress so we decided to speed things up. He led a massive simul block from the ledge all the way to the summit! Beckey describes this section as “5 pitches of 5th class” but we actually found the climbing to be mostly easier than the previous section.
We reached the summit a little under 8 hours after leaving camp. This left… only 7 hours until sunset. We passed the time reading every name in the summit log (quite a few Megalodon Ridge ascents), naming every peak we could see (took me 20 minutes to go around the horn), and trying to escape the heat and lack of shade with unique engineering solutions.
There is room for about three to bivy on top, so we were able to spread out and relax. There was absolutely no wind, so it was surprisingly hot at 9000 ft.
The vantage point was most excellent. I could see almost every high peak I’ve climbed in the Cascades. I could see the entire Ptarmigan Traverse, Magic S Loop, Pearl Necklace, Triple Rainbow, Dakobed Range. This might be the best summit I’ve ever stood atop in the Cascades.
We were able to scramble a few hundred feet down to the next saddle to the northwest of the summit, where there was a huge snow patch to melt water. I think this water source will last through most of the summer.
Around 5 pm, the temperature started to drop. Around 6, the layers started coming out.
I don’t know much about photography, so it was nice to have many hours with incredible scenery, a decent camera, and a knowledgable teacher like Steve. I learned some good tricks, like how to create the starburst affect (high F-stop) and avoid grainy texture (low ISO).
I loved watching the rays of light stream through Cascade Pass and slowly creep up the Stehekin Valley. Each time I looked back, the lines were in a slightly different place, offering something new.
The triangular shadow of Goode slowly grew behind us. Other than the volcanoes, the only other peak I’ve seen to cast such a large, triangular shadow is Stuart.
There were so many compelling subjects that we were whizzing around on a swivel (Steve, literally on his tripod), taking photos at every angle. At most camps, there are one or two shots to wait on. Here, there were infinite. The details were intoxicating, and finally bringing a telephoto lens enabled me to capture those details, just like the eye and the imagination.
When the sun nears the horizon, colors and light change with an enhanced movement, racing into the darkness. You have to move fast, or you might miss the moment.
The wind picked up right as the sun went down and temperatures plummeted. I crawled into my 14 oz down quilt and leaky sleeping pad, but had to sit up just a few times to say goodenight to the North Cascades.
I slept surprisingly well, only waking a few times to reinflate my pad. Nonetheless, I was ready for sunrise, and sunrise delivered.
The layers of warm light to the east were wonderful.
The mix of rock and ice in the Cascades adds an extra dimension of texture. in low light.
Knowing this would be a long day, we got moving by 6 am. The rappels back down towards Black Tooth Notch were sort of sideways and offered plenty of opportunities to catch the rope. It was only 4th class so we definitely could have downclimbed, but did not feel like it early in the morning.
Getting up to the notch required one exposed 4th class move, which definitely was cruxy with the rope dangled around Steve’s body. At the notch, we made two 30m rappels before reaching nice soft snow. We exited skier’s left at the base of the snow, scrambling terrible, crumbly ledges before finally reaching easier ground.
We reached the heather benches around 7400 ft just as the morning sun hit us. With flat spots, trickling streams, a few larches, and blooming heather, this would be an idyllic place to camp. If the summit bivy was full, this would be a wonderful consolation.
We traversed skier’s right above some waterfalls for a bit before finally reaching the burnt ridge that divides the drainages from Goode and Storm King. Extensive wildflowers turned into soot and ash lower down, but the descent was overall pretty fast and easy, until the schwack the last few hundred feet to reach the Park Creek trail.
It got hotter and hotter as we neared Stehekin. I later read it reached 98 degrees in Stehekin that day. No wonder Steve and I felt swamped as we started the long climb back to highway 20.
At the actual bridge across Bridge Creek, we met an interesting family backpacking, complete with a grandpa, baby, kids of various ages, and two dogs. The grandpa was a former Navy Seal and had no trouble carrying the baby.
The heat was some of the worst I have experienced in the Cascades so Steve and I dunked ourselves in every possible water source along the way.
A few miles from 20, we passed a father and three young girls, headed for the Rainbow McAlster Loop. Their packs were almost bigger than their bodies. The girls asked me many questions, like “When do we start going uphill already?” and “How are the views at Rainbow Pass, are they a meadow or expansive?” and “Where are the best camps?” At their age, I don’t think I would have made it two miles from the car before complaining. They are going to crushers when they get older.
The hike out to 20 passed sooner than we anticipated. In total, it took us only 10 hours to go the 24 miles from the summit back to the car, including 5 rappels. Still, it felt like a pretty steep exit price to pay, but well worth it.
It’s a tossup to say if the NE Buttress of Goode is my favorite Cascade alpine climb, but I certainly feel that it is the quintessential Cascade alpine route. It has a little bit of everything – slabs, glaciers, rock, and a long ass deproach. The summit bivy is unparalleled. As a cohesive experience, it felt like it captured the essence of alpine climbing in the North Cascades: remote, beautiful, stunning, and wild.
- Definitely take the direct approach like we did. Climbing just right of the leftmost waterfall and then following the path of least resistance is virtually brush free and fast. The slabs would be spicy if wet.
- There appear to be 2 campsites beneath the glacier and then room for maybe up to 4 people on the summit. There is a huge bivy ledge around 8500 ft and then a few other sub-optimal ones near Black Tooth Notch. The heather benches after the rappels would be ideal for camping.
- Over three days, the trip felt pretty relaxing. Our first day was 6.5 hours, second 7.5 hours, and third 10 hours. The last day will be the longest for most parties, and there’s no real way around that, unless you take the ferry out of Stehekin.
- I climbed the route in light approach shoes and Steve wore climbing shoes. Sure, mountain boots would be fine for the climbing, but not fine for all the hiking! Trail runners are at absolute must for the long trail approach and descent. Climbing the route in runners would be fine, but the added security was nice.
- We brought camps .4-2, nuts, tricams, and 9 slings. Next time, we would bring more smaller cams, ditch the larger cams, and bring more slings for longer simul blocks. The tricams were very useful.
- A 60 m rope works fine for the rappels.
- Water sources might be a challenge later in the season. The snowpatch just north of the summit down in the notch probably lasts well into August.
- Be prepared for shenanigans getting off the glacier onto the buttress. The moat may not be easy to bridge, leading to downclimbing or rappelling on steep snow or ice.