Maudie, Alison and I decided to make an attempt at Black Peak this past Tuesday. As you can probably guess from the title of this TR, we weren’t successful at reaching Black Peak… but we were successful at having a fun day in the mountains, and doing the Heather-Maple Pass Loop without seeing a single other person. Maple Pass is one of the most popular trails in the North Cascades, so having it to ourselves was a real treat. (Turns out lingering snow is great for keeping crowds away.)
We left the trailhead at 700 am, and were at Heather Pass by 8:15 am. Up until Heather Pass, the trail was mostly snow-free with occasional patches of snow. No special equipment needed. At Heather Pass we left the established trail and started heading due west towards Black Peak. Our first glimpses of the mountain were awesome – it is definitely a gorgeous peak!
Before starting the traverse towards Lewis Lake we grabbed a quick snack, put on crampons, and swapped poles for ice axes. Then we started slowly picking our way across the slope. We all agreed this was a no-fall zone, with a cliff band below. There were still a few lingering cornices at the top of the ridge above us, and we saw evidence of a somewhat recent cornice failure/slide that had taken some trees down with it.
Approximately half-way to Lewis Lake we came to a spot where we could hear water running underneath the snowpack. Maudie probed around with her axe a couple times, and it punched through and down into open space below. After some discussion, we decided to turn around. It was already 9 am and I wasn’t comfortable with the combination of rotten snow with running water underneath, a steep slope with a bad runout, and lingering cornices – not at 9 am, and definitely not later in the day on our way back. If I were to attempt this again in the winter, I’d want to start before dawn.
After bailing on the Black Peak plan, we quickly formulated a Plan B: the Heather-Maple Pass loop. It was a perfect choice because Alison had done it numerous times and knew the route well. That said, the trail is completely buried in snow from Heather Pass, up and over Maple Pass, and back down the other side to approx 5500 ft, so be prepared for some route-finding. The snow was soft enough that we didn’t use crampons for the loop, although some folks may prefer otherwise, especially if you go earlier in the day. We did take our axes out in a couple places for added security.
The scenery was stunning and doing the loop was a great “consolation prize!” Lots of pics below.