Watson-Bacon-Hagan Ski Traverse

Bacon by Baker

When people ask me for high route recommendations, I always say that the Watson Blum High Route is the most underrated route in Washington. This relatively obscure route traverses Watson, Bacon, Hagan, and Blum, four nondescript peaks, near Baker Lake in the North Cascades, crossing large glaciers and passing marvelous alpine lakes. I first did the traverse in September of 2020 on foot. On the way, I was impressed by the ski potential, so I wanted to come back.

For the last few years, I have had my eye on repeating the route as a ski traverse. The tricky part was timing – the approach road for Watson is very long and gradual, climbing to an elevation of 4300 ft. But the descent into Noisy Creek drops all the way to 3600 ft. I wanted to be able to drive relatively close to the trailhead, but have enough snow to ski down into Noisy Creek. It seemed like a narrow window each year. This year, I noticed on satellite imagery that the road might be melting out early with our low snowpack, but Noisy Creek seemed to still hold snow because of its shaded aspect. With a little storm passing through, could this be the opportunity to ski this traverse in powder?

Logan was already in the North Cascades, so I drove up separately and naturally we had two cars for the car shuttle. We slept at the Baker River Trailhead, left a car there, and drove up to about 3500 ft on the Anderson Lakes Road, where we encountered snow. We initially hiked through some patchy snow, but by 3800 ft, we found a consistent snowpack and were able to skin. By the time we reached 4300 ft at the summer trailhead, the snowpack was plenty deep. It seemed like our timing was perfect!

I figured we would be skinning through the forest at sunrise and thus miss it, but we happened to pop into an open meadow right as first light kissed Kulshan. We stood there for a while just watching the alpenglow. More perfect timing!

Kulshan at blue hour.

Skinning conditions were excellent. There was a dusting of fresh snow in places, with mostly a firm but edgeable crust. We followed sled tracks and an old skin track over towards the Watson Lakes, briefly transitioning for a short descent.

Watson Lakes and our first view of the Pickets!

It is rare to get to do these traverses with fresh snow coating the trees and peaks. It looked like winter, but the easy travel conditions and large ambitions felt like the spring – the best combination!

First light on Anderson Butte.
A beautiful tree without its upper half. Pickets behind.

Last time, I was blown away by the vast subalpine meadows and post-glacial terrain for such “low” peaks. There are so many turquoise tarns, stands of hemlock and fir, and lush green meadows. While most of that was covered at this time of year, I still found the terrain beautiful and so quintessentially North Cascadian.


Mount Watson is only a little over 6k ft, but still has permanent ice and vast rolling post-glacial terrain. In the morning light, it made for seductive curves.

The curves of Watson.
Logan crossing into the light.

During the day before, the Baker Ski Area recorded just 3 inches of fresh snow. In places, the wind seemed to have stripped all the fresh snow. But we had a hunch that the snow would be deposited on the northeastern aspect, which we planned on skiing.

Wind patterns on Watson.
What a morning!

And sure enough, we were right – on our ski line, the “3 inches” had drifted into bottomless powder. We skinned as high as we could, climbing a bit higher than strictly necessary. We knew we had a huge day in front of us, but we could not pass on such good powder!

About as good as it could be!

We enjoyed an awesome, rolling descent in the beautiful morning sun. Watson would be an incredible place to just farm powder on a nice day like this. In places, there was large ice debris, not from recent slides, but from larger glide avalanches on the steeper rocky slabs above.

Logan dances through a world of ice and snow.
Powder with a view!

Around 4800 ft, we cut a hard traverse to the right. After a short skin, we were able to drop down a north facing gully into Noisy Creek. Although the snow was not very good, at least coverage was adequate to get down to the valley bottom at 3700 ft.

Logan dropping into Noisy Creek.

This traverse is essentially a traverse of three high massifs – Watson, Bacon, and Hagan – with low crossings between. While this makes for long climbs, it also gives the opportunity for water refills at the low points.

Playing with sunlight down in Noisy Creek.

Noisy Creek was pleasantly filled in. With less snow, I imagine it could be very schwacky. There were multiple options for ascending the west flank of Bacon. We chose a snow gully. The booting was somewhat supportable, although we broke through every tens steps or so.

Booting up a gully in Noisy Creek.

Above the gully, we skinned very firm slopes, where ski crampons would have been nice. Above 6k, there was finally some fresh snow that had not been stripped by wind, so the skinning got easier. We battled vicious winds as we passed by the giant wind scoop, but the winds eased on the final ridge to the summit.

Logan emerging above the wind scoop. What a view!

Above the wind scoop, it was like entering a different world! The Pickets slice up the sky in the distance, and the sedimentary layers (the slices of Bacon) create a unique visual landscape. Bacon has such an incredible position in the North Cascades, between so many impressive peaks. The position of this traverse is part of what makes it so special.

The final “kinfe edge” to the summit of Bacon, which we jokingly called “Fake Eldo”.

We were able to find a wind break from the east wind and enjoy a summit break. Logan was blown away by the views.

Looking back on Watson and Noisy Creek.

From the summit, we skied a nice east facing run down one of the glaciers. Even though this aspect had been in the strong April sun all day, the cold wind had kept the snow decent!

Me enjoying the incredible scenery and skiing!

Next, we skinned up towards the summit of Canadian Bacon, which would give us a pure north facing descent down to Green Lake. This gave us a great perspective on the Bacon Massif, which contains a bunch of glaciers and vast mellow ski terrain. It would be incredible to ski up here for a few days. If only it was easier to get to!

A cool “smokestack” feature on Bacon.
A Pickets Pano!

Our next descent to Green Lake was a long one, covering a distance of nearly 1.5 miles over 2200 ft descent! The upper half was lovely boot top powder on a wide open low angle glacier – the backcountry equivalent of a blue run. This descent definitely should be in the “50 classic moderate ski descents of Washington”!

Logan tastes the Bacon.
Wide. Open.
Descending to Green Lake, with Shuksan behind.

The snow was variable in the lower half, but we still had an awesome descent all the way down to giant Green Lake. In the summer, I had followed the ridges above the lake, so it was cool to be down in the belly of the beast this time. It reminded me of crossing Moraine Lake on the Forbidden Tour just a few weeks ago.

Green Lake is a vibe.

We took a water break near the outlet of Green Lake. Green Lake is a legendary spot amongst hardcore backpackers. The combination of glaciers, giant slabs, and perfect subalpine meadows make this an incredible spot.

From Green Lake, we ascended a short steep south facing slope that had almost melted out, before a long meandering traverse towards Hagan. This was one of the many sections that was much easier on skis than on foot. I remember the brush being formidable here, but the skinning was easy for us. I was even able to navigate the steep cliffy slopes above Pond 4556 without taking our skis off! This section was long, but went smoothly and we were soon back in the alpine.

Looking down Bacon Creek. We could see all the way to Bonanza.

Trailbreaking through the warm powder was tiring in the heat of the day, but I really enjoyed this climb. We took it easy and soaked in the incredible views all around us. Clouds drifted over the tops of the peaks, making the sky and snow pop even more. Maybe it was just me, but the sky seemed extra blue. It really was the perfect day for this.

A beautiful snowscape high on Hagan. Eldorado in the distance on the left.
The last bit to the Hagan col. Bacon looking huge!

On the other side of the col, we had a great view of Blum and Shuksan. We readied ourselves for more incredibly scenic, low angle skiing. Logan is one of the best skiers I know, but he is perfectly happy skiing the most gentle slopes in the most beautiful places.

Blum, with its south couloir.

It was afternoon, but the gentle north aspect still held boot-top powder. We made GS turns across the smooth glacier, aiming for the lowest Blum Lake nearly two miles away. All of our descents were great, but this one felt extra special.

More powder!
Pure bliss.

Thanks to relatively consolidated snow conditions, we were able to easily hold a high traverse all the way to the lowest Blum Lake. The memory of zipping along our high traverse, gazing out to Baker, Shuksan, and Blum, will stay with me for a long time.

Baker Bacon.

At the lower Blum Lake, we grabbed some more snow and prepared for the exit. The entire traverse had been bliss to this point, but I knew we would pay the troll toll on the exit.

We skinned up about 200 ft to an open slide path, where we started a descending traverse to the west.

Our first and only views of Baker Lake all day.
Looking back on our huge traverse down Hagan.

We were able to hold a nice traverse and contour the slope to the ridge proper. We skied a progressively thinner snowpack down to about 4k, where decided it wasn’t worth the effort anymore.

Nearing the end of the skiing.

I still had PTSD from the Blum Exit the last time. This “climber’s trail” is infamously steep and hard to follow. Higher up, it is actually pretty well defined and easy to follow, but it gets worse and worse as you get lower. We hiked down with skis and poles in hand to avoid snagging our skis on the numerous branches and logs.

Around 2950 ft, there is a slight bump uphill. The trail seemed pretty well defined and even flagged. But a hundred feet lower, it suddenly disappeared. We checked our phones and noticed we were further right than where we thought the track was. But we didn’t want to go back uphill, so we gave up and bashed our way downhill.

One of the easier sections.

The bushwhacking was never that bad, but it was pretty relentless and annoying. Our planning was rushed for this trip, so I didn’t have time to download my track from last time or investigate this section in more detail. I had a hunch that we were further left last time and maybe there was a trail over there, but I also remember it being awful, even if we were on a “trail”. We traversed down and left, but never quite found a trail.

It is amazing how the memory can forget such unpleasant experiences – I had forgotten the details of our previous descent. And hopefully I will forget this descent soon also. It felt surreal to emerge at a beautiful bridge above the Baker River. The North Cascades will really make you work for it.

Evening light down at the Baker River.

We had done the entire descent in ski boots, plunge stepping in the decayed matter that covers this nasty forest. So with only half a mile left from the car, we cleaned mud off our boots and skis, picked pine needles out of our clothes, and finally put on the running shoes we had carried all this distance. At least we were going to get out before dark!

At the trailhead, we ran into the first people we had seen all day. They immediately asked us “Did you do the traverse?” We were so stoked to get asked about our adventure by people who knew about the route! I waxed poetic on the beauty of the area and disaster of the Blum “trail”. They had spent the day looking for such elusive trails like the Blum trail. Hopefully I inspired them to finally try the traverse.

This was a special day, revisiting one of my favorite areas in a different season with a different mode of transportation. We enjoyed near perfect conditions, with easy skinning, pleasant weather, and good powder on each significant descent. This spring has opened my eyes to potential of doing big traverses in powder, like the Forbidden Tour and Spearhead Traverse. With the combination of weather, scenery, and snow quality, there really is nothing better.

As beautiful as this area is in summer, I think it makes for an equally fantastic ski traverse! With the caveat of a bitter bushwhack exit, this ski traverse is as beautiful as any in the North Cascades, and the skiing is enjoyable and easy. I’m not sure the Watson Bacon Hagan traverse will ever reach “classic” status, but it will certainly provide an unforgettable adventure for those who are intimate with the wonder of the North Cascades.


  • The traverse measured 24 miles and 10k+ gain. It took us a little over 15 hours. I think our pace was a little more chill than normal.
  • We had ideal timing, driving to 3500 ft while still having enough snow to ski down into Noisy Creek easily. On a typical year, this would probably be late May or early June even, but 2024 has been generally 60% of normal snowpack.
  • This traverse would make for a good corn traverse, since it skis east and then north aspects.
  • Watson could make for a decent late season ski destination by itself. The trailhead is high. Its north facing slopes hold snow late into the spring. There are east, north, and finally west aspects to ski on the exit.
  • We never used crampons or ice ax, as the terrain is pretty moderate. Ski crampons would have been helpful in our case though. Overall, the terrain is pretty simple and low angle, except for the Blum exit.
  • We did not bring glacier gear, but this depends on people’s comfort level. We also avoided the more crevassed sections of the glaciers.
  • Here’s the beta on the Blum Exit:
    • On my first time down, I think I followed the “trail” a little better, although it was definitely in and out in the lower 2000 ft. After the slight uphill around 2950 ft, I think the trail turns more southerly and descends closer to Blum Creek. This time around, we descended too far right after the slight uphill and could not traverse back left to where we should have been.
    • Even though we were not on a trail and had skis this time, we did the entire descent from 2950 ft to the Baker River Trail is nearly the same exact time as last time. So that shows you that the “trail” does not really help much.
    • In all, it took us about 2.5 hours to descend from 4k to the Baker River Trail at 800 ft. It was definitely nice to be doing this in the light. For this reason, I would not recommend doing this traverse in a day unless you are pretty confident you can get it done in the light.
Blue line was my first time down, red line was this time. I think the blue line more or less follows the “trail”.

6 thoughts on “Watson-Bacon-Hagan Ski Traverse”

  1. We did this summer traverse a couple of years ago and tagged the final summit as well, but we took several days. Totally agree skiing would be super epic, but it would take a little more memory loss to convince myself to do that final descent again – especially with skis!!! Good on ya!

  2. Such an inspiring TR! And awesome photos as usual.
    The Blum lakes trail is the most difficult approach/exit I’ve done. Almost gave up on the way in. Can’t imagine doing it in ski boots and skis on the back, that’s just a whole nother level of suck. Hmm actually maybe I don’t wanna check out this traverse 🙂

    1. Haha that’s why he held our skis and poles in our hand and just stayed in ski boots!

  3. Since you’re a ski traverse guy. You might like this article about Dwight Watson. Who is kind of the father of back country skiing. He pioneered lots of routes throughout the cascades. Dwight helped my grandfather Lloyd and Fred Beckey scout out forbidden in April and May before Lloyd Fred Helmy Jim crooks and Dave Lind(also a prolific skier). Did the first accent of forbidden peak west ridge in 1940

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *