Arts Knoll is a small peak in the Glacier Peak Wilderness of Washington state. With a modest elevation when compared to the other nearby peaks such as Mount Formidable, Mixup Peak, Spider Mountain and Hurry Up Peak, it has a resounding presence on the Ptarmigan Traverse as the famous "Red Ledge" ever so cleaverily cuts a path right through a cliffy section of the west ridge of Arts Knoll, allowing hikers on the traverse to easily pass this obstacle without a serious detour. From Cache Col on the north end of the traverse, Arts Knoll and the Red Ledge can clearly be seen. An ascent of Arts Knoll is quite possibly the best side trip to make while on the Ptarmigan Traverse if you are looking for a very short detour (less than 2 hours). Most of the peaks you pass while on the traverse take anywhere from 3-6 hours to ascend making any given day considerably more difficult. Views from the top are just as incredible as any other nearby peak so it is a worthy side trip.
An ascent of Arts Knoll will almost always be done as part of the Ptarmigan Traverse. From Seattle head north on I-5 to Mount Vernon and continue east on WA Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway) to Marblemount and veer right onto the Cascade River Road just as the highway makes a sharp left turn. Go 23 miles on this road until its end at about 3,600 feet elevation. The final 3 miles are steep. From the trailhead, hike the "stupidly inclined" Cascade Pass trail which ascends 1,800 feet in 36 switchbacks to 5,400 foot Cascade Pass. This is the most popular climb in the North Cascades National Park so expect to see other people and rangers patrolling the area. From the pass, take the small trail to the south passing the "Toilet" signpost and continuing up through heather bushes and traversing on the slopes below Mixup Peak. At some point you will probably hit snow and many people use crampons on this traverse which marks the start of the Ptarmigan Traverse (if going north-to-south). Round the rib, drop 100 feet to the Cache Glacier and ascend the glacier to 6,950 foot Cache Col. This col is the higher, left col you see when on the Cache Glacier. The lower, more rugged right col is Gunsight Notch. Do not ascend to this col. It usually has a nasty bergschrund as well.
Once at Cache Col, locate the small trail traversing down to Kool Aid Lake, a small pond at 6,100 feet. This is the only logical place to camp in the entire area and this is also the typical first camp spot for people doing the full traverse. From Cache Col you can see Arts Knoll and once you arrive at Kool Aid Lake, it is the most noticeable peak you see above the lake. The hike from the trailhead to Kool Aid Lake typically takes between 5-8 hours.
West Ridge - Class 2
This is the standard route up Arts Knoll and is a short class 2 stroll to a small summit with beautiful views. From Kool Aid Lake, continue on the Ptarmigan Traverse path and cross the Red Ledge. This crossing can be very difficuly when early season snow still covers the ledge. Parties have been forced to turn back here before or even set up a roped belay with snow anchors. In later season (after mid-July) the ledge tends to be melted out enough for easy crossing although steep snow is usually always traversed to get on the ledge itself. Once across the ledge, stash your big packs and ascend 550 feet up grassy slopes on the broad west ridge to the summit which is marked by a small cairn. Views of the north face of Spider Mountain are very impressive.
East Ridge - Class 5.4 to 5.7
This route is rarely done as it requires a small climbing rack and rock climbing to complete and few people doing the Ptarmigan Traverse carry rock climbing gear. There are two distinct variations that can be done and I'll describe them both here. To approach the east ridge, hike south and make an ascending traverse up the snow or talus slopes above the Ptarmigan Traverse path aiming for the saddle between Arts Knoll and Hurry Up Peak. These slopes are typically snow covered to some extent all year but never exceed 35 degrees. Reach the 6,900 foot saddle and turn right and begin scrambling up the east ridge. The summit is only about 300 feet above the saddle so the remainder of the route is short but a fun one. The first 100 feet of the ridge consists of some loose class 3 and 4 scrambling with quite a bit of exposure to both sides. Carefully test every hold the higher you go. Reach a tiny notch with a 10 foot step in the ridge and sneak around on the left side where you will be able to see some slings in a couple places. Perhaps a safer alternative to scrambling up the ridge to start the route is to descend about 40 feet down the opposite side of the 6,900 foot saddle and traverse snow or loose talus westward and climb loose class 3 to the same spot described above where you may find some old slings. Once here, there are 2 routes to choose from.
Route 1 - Two 5.4 pitches/70 feet each - More or less stay on the ridge crest and climb a short ways above the long slings to the right (on the ridge). After about 75 feet of low 5th class face climbing (spotty protection), You will get to the base of a ~75 foot inclined (60 degree) slab with numerous cracks dissecting it. There are another set of slings around a huge boulder here which marks the rappel. Climb this slab which goes at about 5.4 and top out on a large ledge where you can set up a belay anchor in some nice cracks. The summit is a short 20 foot scramble above the slab.
Route 2 - One 5.7 pitch/150 feet - This route sort of climbs the edge of the southeast face up a right facing chimney with a tricky start. From the 10 foot step in the ridge as described above, make a short traverse to the left and locate the other set of old slings around a great horn at the base of a steep chimney. Belay here and climb the right facing chimney which requires you to smear your right foot on a fairly smooth slab and pull yourself up over a slight overhang. I rated this start at about 5.7 however once you pull the first few moves, the chimney gets much larger and you'll enter it and finish the pitch by stemming up the chimney walls to the same large ledge at the top of the slab in route 1. There is a lot of loose rock including a death block in the chimney higher on the pitch so be sure you stem up on the solid sidewalls to avoid killing your belayer! Reach the summit by the same 20 foot scramble.
Descent - You have 2 options for the descent. You can walk off the west ridge and return to Kool Aid Lake by crossing the Red Ledge. This however requires you to carry any extra gear up the route (which is much easier done on route 1). If you decided to stash gear at the base of the technical pitches or even at the 6,900 foot saddle, you will have to descend the way you came up. Descending the upper part of either one of the routes is tricky because there are no good rappel anchors to sling near the summit or on the large ledge 20 feet below. When I did the route, I lowered my partner down Route 1 and he placed a few pieces of protection on the slab on his way down. I then downclimbed it on belay and picked the pieces up. You may be able to find something to rappel off just below the summit but if not, this is your best option. Once you are at the base of the technical route options, you can use the old slings which should be wrapped around a large boulder on the ridge crest and rappel down the loose terrain 40 meters to easier snow or scree below and traverse back to the saddle. A 70 meter rope will almost make it to easy terrain but some down climbing will be needed.
Red Tape/CampingThis is a wilderness area. Leave no trace and respect other parties. Remember there is no camping at Cascade Pass. You are within the North Cascades National Park until you cross Cache Col at which point you enter the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Free permits are required if you do plan to camp in the national park and in the Cascade Pass area camping is only allowed in designated sites which fill up fast in summer. Best to get over Cache Col your first day. Camp at Kool Aid Lake...it's the only place that makes sense!
When to ClimbJune through September is the typical summer climbing season. Keep in mind that June will still have a lot of lingering snow and it can still storm and dump heavy snow so be prepared. It has been known to snow in July and August here as well. Check the weather before you go.
BLUE: Ptarmigan Traverse Approach - Class 1 and 2
GREEN: West Ridge - Class 2 (May be steep snow on Red Ledge)
RED: East Ridge - Class 5.4 to 5.7