Picket Ranges. Photo © John Scurlock
  North Cascades
National Park, 2007
  by Kevork Arackellian  

Ohe 2007 climbing season was perhaps most notable for the complete absence of mountaineering accidents in the park. Long time Wilderness District supervisor Kelly Bush cannot recall another such accident-free season in the past 25 years. To be clear – wilderness travelers did have accidents and mishaps in the Park, (see below) including mountaineers with minor injuries on approaches, but not a single serious incident occurred while climbing. 2006 likewise marked a drastic decline in mountaineering accidents in another park, the upper mountain of Mount Rainier. Whether these declines are the start of a trend is not clear. Whether lower mountaineering activity or greater mountaineering savvy by climbers is responsible for this decline has yet to be determined. But we all hope that this decline in accidents will continue in 2008.


A significant access issue for climbers in 2007 was the early season closures of Cascade River Road. The last three miles, from Eldorado to Cascade Pass Parking lot, sustained damage in the winter of 2006-2007 from Boston Creek and the North Fork of the Cascade River. Temporary repairs were made and the road was reopened in early August. Climbers should expect future closures as additional work is performed to permanently repair the damaged areas. Fallen trees from strong winds also created considerable trail damage throughout the park. North Cascades National Park (NCNP) trail crew cleared hundreds of trees on popular approach routes along Fisher Creek and Thunder Creek Trail. Climbers are encouraged to check with the Wilderness Office for the latest information on routes and backcountry conditions.

Climbing Statistics

Boston Basin Cross Country Zone (2.5 miles past the road closure) and Sahale Glacier Camps accessible from Cascade Pass Trailhead (3.0 miles past the road closure) experienced drops of 14% and 27% in overnight camping visitations respectively, which is no coincidence given the extended closure of Cascade River Road at the Eldorado Parking area. During the 2007 season, Boston Basin, considered one of the most popular climbing areas in the Park, reached its limit of permits issued for overnight camping 6 times. Sahale Glacier Camps filled up 8 times, the Sulphide Glacier Cross Country Zone 4 times and Eldorado 3 times. As expected, the first few weekends in July and August were the busiest. The following table records the number of registered backcountry users (not the number of parties) in each backcountry zone.

  2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Boston Basin 628 631 668 630 629 542
Colonial 104 47 36 87 47 81
Eldorado 493 435 467 359 500 498
Goode 51 75 21 17 35 18
Klawatti 94 86 44 28 55 75
Logan 56 57 26 27 43 60
Sahale Glacier 517 617 415 613 514 374
Sulphide Glacier 638 607 685 628 530 463
Terror Basin 45 55 36 56 81 52
Triumph Col 68 66 61 46 75 51

Washout on the Cascade River Road. Photo © Mack Kolarich.   Helicopter short haul. Photo ©Kelly Bush.   Climbing Mt Buckner North Face. Photo © Erik Seihl.
Washout on the Cascade River Road. Photo © Mack Kolarich. Enlarge   Helicopter short haul. Photo © Kelly Bush. Enlarge   Climbing Mt Buckner North Face. Photo © Erik Seihl. Enlarge

2007 Projects in Cross-country/Climbing Areas

Waste Management and Wilderness Clean-up
Waste management and maintenance of backcountry toilets continues to be a big part of Ranger patrol duties. Wilderness rangers maintained 18 composting toilets throughout the season. Two of the last six composting toilets purchased from Romtec Company in 2005 were flown into the backcountry to replace aging and failing units at Boston Basin and Cascade Pass. Fifteen buckets (75 gallons total) of waste were flown out from the Sahale Glacier composting toilet. The highest number of improper human waste disposal occurrences continues to be observed in the Eldorado and Sulphide Glacier cross country zones. Wilderness staff will continue to provide free blue bags and encourage climbers to use them in areas where composting toilets are not available.

This year climbing rangers removed old webbing from Mount Torment and the Fisher Chimneys route on Mount Shuksan. Roughly 380 pieces of flagging were collected just from the Stetattle Creek trail. However, we are encouraged that more and more climbers are following Leave No Trace practices as evident from the overall state of popular climbing areas.

Leave No Trace Practices
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

In the alpine environment and in the absence of composting toilets the only acceptable practice for human waste disposal is to pack it out. For the less frequently visited forested or sub-alpine regions, where organic soil is present, digging a six to eight inch cathole is also an acceptable method of human waste disposal. Be sure to be at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.

Backcountry Rangers (Staffing and Patrols)
One permanent and twelve seasonal rangers worked full time in the North Cascades National Park during the 2007 season. Volunteer rangers made invaluable contributions to the wilderness program. In addition to monitoring the more popular climbing destinations such as Boston Basin, Eldorado and Mount Shuksan, rangers also patrolled the remote North and South Pickets, Klawatti, Colonial, Snowfield, Logan and Price Glacier Cross Country Zones. A total of 340 patrol days (well over 3000 hours) were documented in the back country of the North Cascades National Park.

Glacier Study
According to NPS physical science technician Jeanna Wenger, 2007 marked the fifth consecutive year of negative mass balance (net ice loss) for all four of the glaciers monitored in NCNP. In the Boston Basin Area, rangers have observed that over the past few years the southwest facing glacier below Forbidden Peak (known by the wilderness staff as the Jeff Clark glacier) has almost completely melted out. A below-average snow pack made even early season access to the West Ridge of Forbidden Peak more challenging than usual.

Although not confirmed, several rangers, on two separate patrols reported observing a pack of wolfs in the McAlester Pass area. In late September, a ranger patrolling the upper Boston Basin witnessed predation on marmots by a coyote. Seeing coyotes so high in the alpine is unususal. Some speculate that global warming is responsible for pushing the range of some predators into the alpine zones. Marmots are yet another species that could be significantly affected by such climate changes.

Search and Rescue Training
All wilderness rangers and volunteers participated in early- and mid-season rescue training - from low angle carry outs to steep terrain lowers and raises. 2007 marked the second year for North Cascades National Park’s helicopter short-haul program. All climbing rangers were re-certified as short-haulers. This program has allowed Rangers to train and practice efficient insertion and retrieval of rescuers and patients in mountainous terrain under realistic conditions. This technique became extremely useful in the recoveries outlined in the sidebar.

Search and Rescue Incidents
North Cascades National Park rangers responded to 12 incidents in 2007, of which 8 were major Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The total emergency cost to the National Park Service was $51,700. While no mountaineering accidents were reported, 2007 had a number of hiking related SAR responses. Two of those incidents involved fatalities that required short-haul techniques for recoveries. The most expensive search operation in the park’s history involved a multi day, multi agency response for the search – and ultimate rescue – of a lost hiker. The resources spent on this search accounted for 32% of the total cost for all SARs in the Park in 2007. This underscores the importance of leaving an accurate trip plan with a responsible party and updating this person when plans change. These simple steps can greatly speed up searches and help improve the odds of a successful SAR. The Wilderness Office at Marblemount maintains a voluntary climber’s register that can also be used by backcountry travelers. By providing additional information, including the expected check-out day, rangers will quickly be alerted for any overdue person in the Park. Selected summaries of the incidents are in the sidebar.
2007 Notes
No Climbing Accidents 2007

Upper Cascade River Road Closure
Lengthy closure due to flood damage decreased access and mountaineering in the area; it reopened in August.

Glacier Retreat Continues
West Ridge of Forbidden Peak has more challenging access due to early meltout and glacier retreat.
Search & Rescue Highlights

• Pyramid Peak
In early March, a party of four attempted to climb Pyramid Peak. The group retreated when they encountered winter conditions for which they were unprepared, and chose a “shortcut” straight down to Diablo Lake and the highway instead of following the ridge down. The group encountered very steep slopes and gullies. The leader took a sliding fall and suffered a leg injury. Fearing a femur fracture, two of his companions hiked/rappelled down to the road where they contacted a Ranger. A rescue party was organized and the subject was evacuated using a Navy helicopter.

• Sulphide Creek
A fatal fall occurred when two hikers attempted off-trail travel through very exposed terrain in the Sulphide Creek drainage on the lower flanks of Mount Shuksan. The two were attempting to descend a series of gullies when one slid off a cliff and free fell about 300 ft. The partner successfully hiked out and reported the incident. The victim’s body was removed in a multi-day effort involving volunteer Skagit and Bellingham MRA members and park rangers. They performed a technical raise to the top of the cliff, then short-hauled a ranger in to the cliff and out with the victim.

• Berdeen Lake / Mount Blum
A party was traversing through the remote Berdeen Lake / Mount Blum area when one member slipped and broke his ankle. His partner hiked up to 6,000ft and called 911 using his cell phone. Two rangers were able to reach the patient and evacuate him with a helicopter.

• Stetattle Creek
After a solo hiker was reported missing, her friends launched a search near Darrington where she said she had gone. Her car was not found at the trailhead, but Park Rangers found a matching vehicle at the Stetattle Creek Trailhead, 50 miles away. The hiker had changed her destination without notice to anyone. Over 40 searchers, 4 helicopters, 5 dog teams, a Whatcom county scuba and dive team and a Snohomish County tracking team became involved. Rescuers found two notes the hiker left indicating that she was lost, in need of help and hiking downstream. On the third day the search was expanded up the Stetattle as far as appeared hikable, where the hiker was found over 2 miles upstream from her notes. She later stated that, after leaving those notes, she thought that traveling downstream was the wrong direction, and left a third note indicating she turned upstream. Unfortunately the last note was not found by the searchers.