Ptarmigan Speed Traverse


Colin Abercrombie and I completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 18:10 from the Cascade Pass parking lot to the Downey Creek trailhead. We set out at 2:05 am and reached the official end at the Suiattle River Road at 8:15 pm. Due to a washout on the Suiattle River Road, we walked an additional 8.5 miles to the car over another 2.5 hours.

Gorgeous White Rock Lakes

Gorgeous White Rock Lakes

Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time
Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 02:05
Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 55:03 / 55:03 / 03:00
Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 2:13:13 / 1:18:09 / 04:18
Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 4:59:33 / 2:46:19 / 07:05
Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 6:20:09 / 1:20:36 / 08:25
White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 9:50:45 / 3:30:35 / 11:56
Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 11:54:44 / 2:03:59 / 14:00
Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 13:41:32 / 1:46:48 / 15:47
Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 16:29:45 / 2:48:12 / 18:35
Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 18:09:36 / 1:39:50 / 20:15

[Car at Milepost 12.5: 20:48:24 / 2:38:48 / 22:54]

Traverse from Yang Yang Lakes to the LeConte Glaicer

Traverse from Yang Yang Lakes to the LeConte Glaicer

The Ptarmigan Traverse is a high alpine route along the spine of the North Cascades crest traveling through some of the most remote and wild terrain in the contiguous United States. The route was first pioneered by the Ptarmigan Climbing Club over 13 days in July 1938. The second traverse was in September 1953 from the traditional direction. The Ptarmigan has since become world famous for its breathtaking scenery, but it remains remote and challenging and most parties take between 4-7 days to complete the traverse. The fastest known time on the Ptarmigan is held by Joe Stock and Andrew Wexler in 15:40.

Looking back at the traverse from Spider-Formidable Col

Looking back at the traverse from Spider-Formidable Col

The traverse begins in North Cascades National Park at Cascade Pass, but the majority of the route is located within Glacier Peak Wilderness. Numerous glaciers are crossed en route and routefinding skills are required. After miles of snow, ice, crags, and rock, the Ptarmigan concludes with a classic Cascades bushwhack in Bachelor Creek followed by the old growth forests of Downey Creek.

Traverse to Spire Col

Traverse to Spire Col

Colin and I did the Ptarmigan Traverse in 2004 over 5 days, which helped immensely with routefinding. Four years ago, we would have never thought to do it in a single push, let alone 18 hours. In discussing this trip, we had hoped to go under 20 hours, but knew it could run longer a la Mount Fury last week. We were able to exceed expectations on the traverse portion, and despite brush-choked Bachelor Creek taking longer than expected, a consistent and focused effort throughout the traverse allowed us to make great time.

Complete trip report and many more photos HERE.

2 Responses to “Ptarmigan Speed Traverse”

  1. Jared Says:

    Dude, that is absolutely incredible scenery and terrain. Fine work. Wow, you have gotten me psyched for the Cascades, a range that I’ve not spent much time in. Thanks for the post!


  2. Buzz Says:

    Excellent! Someone told me last year that I “must do the Ptarmigan Traverse” so I looked into it briefly. Your report is a great help, as I would be too lazy to do overnights on it. So many places to go … that I may never get to … so your excellent photos help.

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