North Cascades National Park Service Complex
Climbing Notes 2003
National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
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North Cascades


North Cascades National Park personnel responded to 16 incidents in 2003, two of which were assistance in adjacent USFS areas. The total unprogrammed emergency cost to the National Park Service was $21,118.00, of which $8277.00 was for helicopter evacuation. Also noted, that 50% of the total accidents involved the evacuation of hiking related injuries. Four of the 2003 incidents are summarized below.

DECEMBER 2, 2002

A climbing party was reported overdue on the North Face of Mount Shuksan. A helicopter was dispatched with park rangers to locate the overdue party. The climbers were located on the descent route below Fisher Chimney. Climbers reported being disoriented in the Winnie's Slide area of the route and had taken an extra day to locate the Fisher Chimney descent route. The overdue climbers were contacted and were willing and able to complete their trip without additional assistance.

JULY 6, 2003

Three climbers were completing a climb of Mt. Logan, Banded Glacier when two of the party decided to scramble (unroped) a nearby adjacent peak. On the decent they were in different gullies, of the climbers fell, cart wheeling with a large rock fracturing both fibulas and sustaining a head injury. One member hiked out through the night to make notification. The injured party was assisted through the night by a highly prepared bystander party. In the early morning, NPS rangers and an ER physician (volunteer Mountain Rescue member) were flown to the scene. The seriously injured climber was short hauled to a staging area where an air ambulance waited. After transfer to the second helicopter, he was flown to Harbor View Hospital.

AUGUST 17, 2003

Three climbers were completing the Ptarmingan Traverse when one climber sustained a lower leg injury and was unable to continue the trip. The party sent one member out to contact the NPS and request assistance. Park rangers flew to Kool Aid Lake and evacuated the injured climber to Marblemount.

OCTOBER 5, 2003

Two climbers were ascending the southwest face Mt. Shuksan. The climbers ascended the first 250 feet without setting protection due to the cracks being filled with soil and vegetation. The leader wearing a heavy pack set up the initial belay station and continued to climb setting a piece at 20 feet. The leader climbed an additional 40 feet when he found himself located under a roof with minimal places to set protection. The leader cleaned the crack and set a piece of rock protection in order to traverse under the roof. While traversing he fell, pulling the protection, striking the face several times and sustaining a serious shoulder and lower leg injury. His climbing partner was able to lower the injured climber to the lower Curtis glacier and hiked out for assistance. NPS rangers evacuated the climber from the Lower Curtis glacier. He was treated for the lower leg injury. The climber later reported that the combination of wearing a heavy pack and not being able to set appropriate protection on a frequent basis attributed to his fall.


Where are your footsteps landing and what locations do you choose to place your tent? There is a lot at stake in how you answer these important questions. A single climbers footsteps may be insignificant, but consider multiplying one set of footsteps by 1248 visitor nights during one climbing season

Boston Basin is often considered one of North Cascades National Park's higher -use climbing destinations. Those that have climbed there have noticed the awe inspiring peaks, but have you noticed the areas that are without alpine vegetation?

So what is the best way to address wilderness impacts?

Historical climbing use can be dated back to the early 1930's when climbers explored and summited many of the surrounding peaks. 362 overnight backcountry permits were issued in 2003 for Boston Basin crosscountry zone that allows climbers to select their own camping locations. Current impact monitoring documented 43 individual impacted camp sites for Boston Basin.

In October 2003, North Cascades National Park staff met on location in Boston Basin to discuss the landscape's dynamic environment and to consider the trade off of implementing stricter permit allocations verses continued LNT emphasis. High overnight use combined with an increasing number of day climbers have contributed to impacts at this very busy climbing destination. And what of reducing impacts?

North Cascades National Park adheres to the Leave No Trace (LNT) skills of traveling and camping on durable surfaces. Following the LNT guidelines will reduce additional alpine vegetation impacts and help control already existing impacts.

Remember, footsteps matter. Where are your footsteps landing?

Are You a Minimum Impact Mountaineer?

Bivy...picket...Golite umbrella— cookies— bags!?! Whoa, hold it right there!

Yes, it's true—while planning for your awe-inspiring, challenging summit assault, it is critical to think not only of your personal and culinary enjoyment, but also of how your presence might affect the wilderness. It's part of a climber's code of ethics.

Take this quiz to see how well you know your mountaineering Leave No Trace:

Q: Throwing my poop into a crevasse is an acceptable disposal method on a glacier.

A: False Most Pacific Northwest glaciers are too small, and glacial runoff carries pathogens into the water stream (sometimes as quickly as one hour later!).

Q: Even if I am "just bivying on the ridge," I still need a backcountry permit.

A: True — Yes, even if your bivy site is really, really small and rocky...anytime you spend the night in the park complex, you need to get a free backcountry permit. Permits help reduce crowding, distribute use more evenly, and reduce route impacts.

Q: When I am off trail in a crosscountry area, I can camp wherever I want.

A: False (or—True with caveats) Choose a site well away from water, on rock (smooth slabs are clean and durable) or snow. Never pitch your tent or take a break on any heather or woody plants—even if they're already bedraggled. The damage from just a few footsteps and tents can be irreparable.

Ultimately, Leave No Trace is about considering your potential impact, and trying to make the best choices you can each time. Awareness is half the battle—so keep yourself informed about impacts and new techniques. The choices you make today will shape your wilderness of tomorrow.

South Face of Forbidden Peak, fixed rope removed

In August of 2003, a NPS Ranger removed 2 fixed climbing ropes — that are estimated to be at least 25 years old, from the south face of Forbidden Peak.

The 150 foot climbing ropes were the remnants of a climbing accident that occurred in the 1970's. The two climbing ropes, which are now faded white from their years in the sun, were visible from camping areas in Boston Basin. The climbing ropes were also visible from the East Ridge of Forbidden, a popular climbing route. Besides the visual impact that the climbing ropes left on the aesthetics of the Boston Basin area, the fixed ropes represented a safety concern to the Wilderness District of North Cascades National Park.. On at least one occasion, climbers camping in Boston Basin mistakenly reported the ropes as a sign of a climbing accident and reported it to park rangers, thereby representing a false alarm to the district.

To remove the ropes, which were attached to an anchor about sixty feet below the East Ridge climbing route, a climbing ranger rappelled 250 feet down the south face to the base of the lines. The fixed lines were wrapped around a huge boulder perched on a ledge 1500 feet above the glacier. After freeing the ropes from this boulder, the ropes were then removed and hiked out. The ranger noted several other rappel/fixed anchor stations in the vicinity of this ledge.

No one is quite sure of the history of the fixed ropes, but they are most likely the result of a climbing accident in the late 1970's. Although climbing accidents may result in the abandonment of gear, most ordinary trips into the mountains make an effort to leave no trace. Yet, the proliferation of un-necessary and poorly maintained fixed anchors in the park is an on-going problem. On the south-east ridge of Sharkfin, a very popular climb, a climbing ranger found ten slings at the rappel station, yet only two slings were in decent shape.

The NPS is not responsible for the condition of these anchors, yet rangers encourage climbers to replace and maintain rappel anchors responsibly. Make it a habit to remove the ratty slings and build solid anchors. Carry extra webbing, rappel rings, and knife for removing old slings. Plan to spend a few extra minutes on the descent removing old slings and replacing anchors — so that remnants from this generation of climbers are not visible 25 years from now.


The October 2003 flooding of the Skagit River and Stehekin River watersheds have damaged and in some cases destroyed traditional accesses points to North Cascades National Park climbing areas.

Record flood waters from the accumulation of rainfall in excess of 20 inches fell in the North Cascades, washing away roads, bridges, and culverts.

The Cascade River road was hit hard when Boston, Midas, and Morning Star Creeks floodwaters eroded culverts and compromised the roadway. Access to popular climbing area such as Boston Basin and Cascades Pass have been reduced to foot travel, until repairs can be completed by park service road crews.

The Stehekin River also flooded, sending 25,900 cubic feet per second of water toward Lake Chelan in the second flood within six days. Climbs of Mount Goode by way of Stehekin will have longer approaches. The NPS shuttle will be unable to travel the Stehekin Valley road due to flood damage.

Wilderness trail bridges, foot logs, and bridge abutments were hit hard as well. The bridge over Thunder creek at McAllister camp once provided climbers completing the Inspiration Traverse with a reliable way to cross Thunder Creek until the floods of October. A tentative replacement date is set for June 2004.

Late 2003 preliminary repair costs for roads and trails have been estimated at 2.7 million dollars. Availability of funding to complete repairs and length of time needed is yet to be determined.

Repairs to wilderness structures (bridges and constructed trail features) will adhere to the Park's Wilderness Management Plan. This means that only storm affected areas that lie in already maintained zones will receive repairs. In some cases, environmental assessments (EA's) must be completed if significant alterations are considered, and this could extend the time frames to 2005 or longer. Storm effects in cross-country zones will not be altered even when known routes (ie. "climbing trails") exist. The spring 2002 avalanche across the Boston Basin route was an example of this situation.

What does all this mean to the wilderness traveler?

Prior to planning your trip contact the North Cascades Wilderness Information Center to obtain valuable information about any limitations to road and trailhead access. Call the Wilderness information center at (360) 873-4590 ext. 39 or park Headquarters at (360)856-5700 x515.

Road access may be limited so allow time for additional foot travel on some routes.

The absence of wilderness bridges and foot logs that previously provided access will challenge wilderness travelers to explore safe, resource friendly alternatives to cross those early season high water areas.

Climbers should remember that weather conditions and time of year will affect accessibility and degree of challenge.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-1998