The Triad Traverse

Doug and Liz wanted an "alpine adventure".  They envisioned traveling for a few days above the treeline, crossing a glacier, perhaps climbing a peak.  They imagined being away from the crowds along the popular trails and climbing routes, of high mountain views, and incredible skylines.

We won the lottery on this trip.

Since we needed to meet in Marblemount, we took advantage of having two cars and planned a point-to-point hike from Sibley Creek to Roush Creek.  This would take us across Hidden Lake Basin, underneath Triad Peak to the Eldorado Glacier.  After the first two hours this route would be entirely cross-country until we reached the climbers track from Eldorado Peak down along Eldorado Creek to the second car.

After a mad scramble to find my car keys underneath Doug's backseat, we were ready to go.  The trail to Hidden Lakes Lookout is a popular day hike, as the filled parking lot attested, but for the first two hours we encountered relatively few people and steadily climbed up into the sub-alpine, where the trees started to really show the effects of the harsh long winters and became krummholz, which is one of my favorite words in climbing!  We left the trail at the treeline and started up the basin towards Sibley Creek Pass, a low point on the Hidden Lakes Ridge north of the Hidden Lakes Horn - actually Pk 7088, which looks like a really fun scramble along the North Ridge!

I knew that NOLS courses used this approach to in their Cascade Mountain trips, but I was still surprised to find a pretty well-defined use trail that followed the ridge to the north, clockwise around the basin.  The ridge quickly narrowed, and we were walking along a dirt trail on a ridge that was only about 10 feet wide, but covered in grass and alpine flowers.  It was spectacular!  An hour later the trail ended, and we were forced to drop down a gully, through some very steep and slippery heather and grass to a bench at 6200' to spend the night.

We woke up in the morning in good spirits, but that was quickly extinguished when the notch into the next drainage east turned out to be a drop-off.  We hiked back down to a second notch that didn't go either, then back up even higher than before to a third.  But from a vantage point, looking back down the ridge, I could see a possible heather ramp that was hidden in between our first and second attempts.  Frustrated and starting to discuss bail-out options, we hiked down to take a look.

The Ramp is left in the photo.  Doug and Liz are
traversing the snowfields bottom right.
100' feet of steep heather down-climbing - about a 35+ degree slope - separated us from the Triad Basin.  So we put on helmets and harness and I belayed Liz and Doug one at a time, for the full length of the rope, to easier slopes below.  It was stressful and nerve racking but they handled it great, and I very carefully solo'ed down to them.  From there it was an easy walk across snow fields and granite benches to the other side of the basin, where a final steep grassy slope was climbed using marmot and deer trails, with two bucks to show us the way, to the ridge dividing Eldorado from Triad Basins.

The view was incredible.  We could see nothing but mountains for 360 degrees, with Triad and Eldorado breaking our view to our north, but stretching out to the horizon in all other directions.  We were perfectly positioned for sunset behind Hidden Lake Horn, sunrise over Boston Peak, and all the light playing across the mountains to Glacier Peak in the south.  We could also see an easy entrance from where we were standing onto the snowfields below the Eldorado Glacier.  This had to be camp.

In the morning we woke up early to great the sun, and headed out for the last day.  The travel across the Eldorado basin was relatively straightforward, with a rising traverse across the Eldorado Glacier to the Inspiration gap, where we re-joined the climbers track and started to make our way down.  The talus fields were crushing, and we slowed down markedly even after we left them for the final steep dirt trail.  The end of never in sight, until we finally reached the Cascade River, walked the log across, and reached the car at 6pm.

This hike had it all for me - beautiful views, hard route-finding, physically challenging, and great partners.  Liz and Doug were ready for anything, and willing to follow me anywhere, and knowing that lessons a lot of potential stress.  We didn't climb anything - but we got to see the North Cascades in a way that few others ever do.

Notes: The Sibley Creek Pass approach is mentioned in the guidebooks as an alternate way to reach Eldorado.  And it is effective - the elevation gain is much more reasonable than considerably steeper and rougher climb up Eldorado Creek, but the route-finding along the traverse underneath Triad Peak is challenging.  Finding that ramp is key.  This approach could be done in one long day, providing you hit the ramp spot on.

Leave the Hidden Lake Lookout trail a little bit later than you may expect, after the final switchback and when you reach a granite knoll with a few gnarled trees on it.  An un-maintained trail should head up towards the very obvious low point in the ridge, Sibley Creek Pass.  Continue to follow a track along the Hidden Lake Ridge clockwise around the basin until you reach a dead-end.  Drop down right/south and aim for a bench you can see down skier's left at the tree-line at aprox. 6200 ft.  Drop your packs here and scout out for the ramp.  It should be about 100 ft above you and to the east.  If you aim low you can climb heather slopes along the ridge to the obvious ramp.  If you aim too high you'll end up on a precipitous, rock ridge that isn't easy to travel on.  So aim low.  Early season snow would make this a much easier undertaking then late season heather.  This ramp is key and not mentioned in Selected Climbs in the North Cascades, Vol. 1, 2nd ed., by Nelson and Potterfield (page 168-169).  Crossing the Triad-Eldorado divide, in contrast, was relatively easy.  It was very straightforward to cross is on grassy slopes between 6600-6400 ft, although a higher snow col was also identified at 7200 ft.  Still, I'd probably take the lower route again.

Statistics:  Pro Guiding Service, 3-5 September.  The Triad Traverse, 10 miles / 16 km, 5710 ft climbed and 7130 ft descended.