The Inspiration High Route
4-5 Days, June-October. Best done in July!
The Inspiration High Route is one half trekking, one half mountaineering, and a 100% adventure. This amazing glacial alpine traverse summits two iconic peaks and crosses five glaciers. Yet the glacier travel is straight-forward and easily within the reach of those without any prior experience.
If you have time to add a day, two more peaks are within reach, both require a small bit of rock climbing.
Day 1 - While picking up our permits at the ranger station in Marblemount, we'll shuttle a car to our journey's end at the Commonwealth Campground in North Cascades National Park. Then we'll drive up to our start on the Cascade River Road. We'll spend about 6.5 hours moving up through old-growth forest, sub-alpine talus, alpine blueberry and heather fields, and then finally stepping onto the Eldorado Glacier. Our first night will be at the toe of Eldorado Peak's East Ridge.
Day 2 - We'll step out first thing in the morning to climb the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak. To read more about the most popular route up the Queen of the Cascade River, click here: LINK. Afterwards we'll pack up camp and start crossing our second glacier of the high route, the Inspiration Glacier. A short jog onto the northern end of the McAllister Glacier gains a notch that leads to the Klawatti Glacier, which we'll descend and cross to camp lower on the ridge dividing it from the next valley north.
Day 3 - We'll turn the ridge into the next valley across snowfields or bare granite slabs (depending on the time of year) to gain the North Klawatti Glacier, glacier #4 on our tour. We'll need to cross and ascend this glacier to reach the west ridge of Primus Peak (8508' / 2593m), our second summit, and one of the most remote peaks in the North Cascades National Park. Ascending this peak is necessary to descend its east ridge, giving us access to the last glacier on the tour, the Borealis Glacier. We'll traverse across the glacier and descend to the new lake that has formed at its base to camp for our last night.
Day 4 - After one last alpine sunrise, we'll start following an old unmaintained prospect-turned-climber trail to the Thunder Creek Trail. It'll be a reverse of Day 1, descending through alpine heather and blueberry fields into sub-alpine and old-growth forest. Expect sections to be completely overgrown or obscured, creating route-finding challenges even for experienced Cascade backcountry travelers. Once we gain the Thunder Creek creek we'll follow one of the most popular hiking trails in the park to our second car, and then need to shuttle back around to the Cascade River Road start before having a celebratory meal in Marblemount.
Variation: Climbers' Option
Add a fifth day, and you can summit a peak on each full day of the high route. No prior climbing experience is necessary, but it is helpful to have prior belay and rapelling experience. Here's the difference:
Day 2: After traversing the Inspiration Glacier, we'll stop on the saddle where the McAllister and Inspiration Glaciers touch, called Klawatti Col. After lunch we'll climb the SW Buttress of Klawatti Peak (8485' / 2586m), a fantastic 4th class climb and scramble to an incredible view south where we've come from and north where we're heading. We'll camp that night at Klawatti Col.
Day 3: We'll spend a short time on the McAllister Glacier to gain the notch to the Klawatti Glacier, then drop our packs to ascend the glacier briefly before stepping onto talus to climb the East Ridge of Austera Peak (8334' / 2540m), mostly 3rd class but with two short 4th class steps. Afterwards we'll retrace our steps, reclaim our packs, then descend to the camp at the toe of the Klawatti Glacier and resume the trek described in the regular itinerary - climbing Primus Peak on Day 4 and descending on Day 5.
This high route deserves to be a classic in North Cascades National Park, equal to (albeit shorter than) the Ptarmigan Traverse to the South. After "discovering" this route in 2015 - I know of only two other traverses, one done 30 years ago! - I hope to get to cross the Inspiration High Route annually.
I offer this trip as a guide-employee of The Mountain Bureau.
Photo notes (Top-Bottom): Sunrise on the Inspiration Glacier, with Eldorado Peak on the left and Klawatti Peak on the right; the East Ridge of Eldorado Peak; traversing the Inspiration Glacier; climbing the SW Buttress of Klawatti Peak (on the 5-day variation); crossing the notch onto the Klawatti Glacier; climbing the final summit block on Austera Peak (on the 5-day variation); descending the Klawatti Glacier; Sunrise on Primus Peak, the Borealis Glacier, and Borealis Lake; first in a two-part panorama showing the Eldorado Glacier, Eldoardo Peak, Inspiration Glacier, Klawatti Col, and Klawatti Peak; second in a two-part panorama showing Klawatti Col, Klawatti Peak, Klawatti Glacier, North Klawatti Glacier, and Primus Peak.