Copper (N Ridge, 5.5?), Fernow

Copper from Fernow

Copper from Fernow


Copper and Fernow are two high peaks in the Entiat Range south of Holden. Fernow, popular as one of Washington’s 9000-foot peaks, is normally reached from the south via Phelps Creek, a long approach that has defeated me a couple of times in the past. From Holden, both peaks are normally scrambles via Copper Creek, but its current closure for mine remediation forced me to consider other options. Both are accessible from their western cirque above Big Creek, via snow and gully climbs. However, I chose to climb Copper’s direct north ridge from the mouth of the creek, then follow the ridge south to Fernow. Beckey’s guidebook offers little information about the former route, and none about the latter; this turned out to be a fine, challenging adventure, my first this season. The north ridge took about 4h30 from camp, the traverse about 1h50.

On my way back from Bonanza the previous afternoon, I had spent some time finding a good route across Railroad Creek. It turns out that the log I had seen earlier is accessible via a game trail just west of where I had seen it, and provides a perfect dry crossing. Using this crossing, I reached the south side of Railroad Creek reasonably early, where I found excellent game trails once I escaped the creek-bed.

I had been thinking of climbing the obvious, steep snow/ice chute on Copper’s north face, but I decided en route that it would be somewhere between unpleasant and dangerous in running-shoe crampons. The north ridge, described by Beckey as “moderate, exposed climbing, first ascent by two unknown miners” sounded more appropriate. Re-routing, I headed toward Big Creek for a bit, then jogged back southeast and uphill on more steep, wonderful game trails.

Reaching base of north ridge

Reaching base of north ridge

I quickly gained elevation on the terrain between Big Creek and the brushy gully north of Copper, eventually reaching the crest of the north ridge between 5000 and 6000 feet.

North ridge from base

North ridge from base

The lower ridge is undulating, rounded granite with sparse trees, so I moved quickly despite occasionally losing elevation. After a broad 3rd-class hump, the ridge narrows and is split by two classic vertical clefts, requiring some 4th-class downclimbing. I eventually reached a headwall where I probably joined Beckey’s vague route, and things quickly got serious.

Looking down into crux notch

Looking down into crux notch

With the right-hand side vertical, and the left consisting of outward-sloping lichen-covered slabs and sometimes-rotten rock, I started directly up the ridge crest. This soon became too steep for my taste, and I was forced out onto the left side, carefully traversing the slabs and backtracking several times until I found cracks to advance from one slab to the next. I eventually found a route back to the crest, culminating in a step-across into a grovel-y knee jam, after which the climbing eased off. Since this part felt close to my current limit in running shoes, I’m calling it 5.5.

Crux and upper ridge

Crux and upper ridge


The remainder of the ridge has numerous towers, most of which are best handled by climbing straight over the top, or heading briefly right before returning to the crest. The climbing is mostly class 3-4, with a few easy 5th class sections getting up the towers. As it joins the northeast ridge near 8000 feet, the difficulty abruptly eases, and the remainder of the climb is a simple class 2-3 scramble.

North ridge from Copper summit

North ridge from Copper summit

Fernow from Copper

Fernow from Copper

I found a relatively old register with a few entries each year, most from people scrambling up from Copper Creek. However, I did find one party who had apparently climbed the north ridge and, encouragingly an individual traversing from Fernow. I took in the impressive view of Bonanza across Railroad Creek, then looked south toward Fernow, my next goal. The ridge looked long, chossy, and intricate, but fortunately nothing like the impossible monster leading to Bonanza’s west summit.

Copper from south ridge

Copper from south ridge

Descending the east side, I regained the ridge at the first notch, then traversed around west to the next, losing more elevation on terrifyingly loose fins and gullies. Properly chastened, I stayed on or left (east) of the ridge thereafter. Lines around to the east and directly along the crest seemed equally efficient for most of the rest of the ridge, with mostly 3rd class scrambling on loose but not terrible rock.

Near Fernow’s east sub-summit, the east side has been cut by a glacier, and becomes both steeper and looser. After some scary scrambling on the east side, I switched to the crest and (somewhat improved) west side, reaching easier terrain a bit below the sub-summit. From there, I followed something like the standard Copper Creek route to the summit.

Copper from Fernow

Copper from Fernow

The summit was perfectly calm, and warm enough to sit around in just a t-shirt.
It tastes better here

It tastes better here

After perusing the 2011 register, I sat down to unwrap one of yesterday’s gifts: roast beef, pepper jack, mayonnaise, onions, and spinach on wheat. What a treat after hours of sweet “fuel” and days of utilitarian gruel! As a nearby pika kept me from napping, I sat and gazed north for awhile, then slowly started back. Less than 100 yards from the summit, I was surprised by a voice behind me. I returned to the summit to meet two men who had just arrived from camp in the Leroy Creek basin. We traded picture duty and chatted for a bit, but I was antsy to get back and unsure if they wanted to talk, so I did not stay long.

View up Fernow Glacier

View up Fernow Glacier

Rather than descending the snowfield to Big Creek and bushwhack out, I decided to return via Copper Creek, then do a (hopefully easier and shorter) bushwhack above the mine remediation. After a shortcut down the Fernow Glacier that probably did not save time, I reached the head of Copper Creek and picked up the trail. This being the second year of the closure, the trail has seen almost no recent traffic, and the upper portions are well on their way to being reclaimed by the woods. After briefly losing the trail, I regained it lower down, where it is still in good shape. Hopefully someone will do trail maintenance in a few years when the area reopens.

As the trail makes its final steep descent into Railroad Creek, I headed west on low-angle ground, hoping to find a relatively easy level traverse around the mines.

Serious log crossing

Serious log crossing

This worked until I reached Copper Creek, where I carefully scooted across a log high above the scary-looking torrent. The slope unfortunately steepens on the other side, and game trails are few and bad. I eventually reached an old mine road, which I followed until it came undesirably close to hardhat-land. I repeated my maneuver a couple more times, bushwhacking sideways until I ran into an old road, then following it until I got close to construction, and eventually reached Railroad Creek just west of the woodpiles. I continued upstream for awhile, crossed on a log, and finally picked up the trail leading to the back side of my campsite.

After packing up camp, I reached Holden just in time for dinner. I was a bit put off by the $8 price tag — not “cheap” in my book — but got far more than my money’s worth. With the mining company catering for everyone, meals have apparently been extravagant, and I was there on an especially good night. After a first course of salad and salmon, I returned for steak and mushrooms, more steak, cheesecake, and a couple of cookies for the road. (My patron saint, finding the last insufficient, added more cookies and a steak.) Starting down the road to Lake Chelan in the evening, I wished I had scheduled more time in Holden. I don’t see it happening this season, but maybe next year.

Leave a Reply