OverviewCopper Peak is a stellar mountain few have seen up close and even fewer have climbed. Yet, it is among the top 25 highest peaks in Washington. The reason for its obscurity is its position tucked away amidst higher peaks that receive more attention. The peak is on the ridge north of 9,249-ft Mt. Fernow, which is less than a mile distant. Also, five miles to the northwest is the mighty bulk of Bonanza Peak.
The peak is not aweless to the eye. If you've been to the Lutheran village of Holden then you have no doubt been made aware of it, for it towers to a pointed apex only two miles to the SSW. The vertical rise over this distance is 5,700 ft from Railroad Creek, meaning you have to tilt your head up 27 degrees to see the tippy-top. Furthermore, the peak is everywhere rugged and has no "easy" way to the summit. By "easy," I mean all routes are cross-country emprises of considerable routefinding problems. The easiest way up would be Class 3 if you're judicious on your route. But, more than likely, you will find yourself traversing steep snow or climbing short rock walls or ascending loose gullies to make your destination.
There is a remnant glacier on the SE side between the summit and the SE Peak (Pt. 8284). Other than that, the peak is largely devoid of ice. There are permanent snowfields on the East, West, and North faces but these are not what give the peak its general character. No, its character (at least as I see it) is given by its complex corrugation of gullies on the west and terraces and small rock faces on the east.
Holden Copper MineHolden was once a booming mining town. The ruins of the former copper mine at the NE foot of the mountain are where the peak gets its name. The mine buildings, shafts, and equipment have long been abandoned, but the evidence of the immensity of the operation is still evident. For one, the tailings pile east of town is big enough to land a large jet on. This would surely be a Superfund site if it were close to a large population center.
Output ore from the concentrator was taken down to Lake Chelan whereupon it was barged in huge containers down-lake to Chelan. This was the only way to get the ore out of the valley as the railroad in Railroad Creek never got built. It would have led up and over Suiattle Pass thence down the Suiattle River then on to the Puget Sound. Thank god this railroad never happened. The main reason for this was that the valley upstream from Holden is notorious for avalanches. Incidentally, I believe more than one of the ore barges foundered on the lake (the lake can see high winds and choppy waters), sending many tons of ore to the bottom. Since the lake is over 1,000 feet deep in the roughest spot, recovery was impossible.
Getting ThereCopper Peak lies entirely within the Railroad Creek drainage (on the peak's west is Big Creek; on the east is Copper Creek). As such, the only approach worth mentioning here is from Railroad Creek--specifically from the town of Holden. To get to Holden, there are two options: 1) take the ferry up Lake Chelan to Lucerne then take the shuttle bus to Holden, or 2) hike from Phelps Creek Trail over Spider Gap then down Railroad Creek to Holden.
Approach Option 1 (Lake Chelan Ferry)It will be necessary to drive to either the Chelan ferry dock or the one at Fields Point Landing. To get to Chelan, I'll let you be the Washington map scrutineer. Fields Point can be approached by the road that runs up the south side of the lake from Chelan. It is about 17 miles between the two on a road where the speed limit is about 35MPH, so plan accordingly. I wouldn't want you to miss the boat. Also, it plies the waters faster than you think. If you missed it in Chelan, you might have to hurry to still catch it at Fields Point.
Another way to get to Fields Point is to take the Navarre Coulee Road (SR 971). This road junctions off of Alt. US 97 about 20 miles north of Wenatchee. From this junction, it is about nine miles to the lakeshore then about eight more along the shore to Fields Point.
Here is the website for the ferry (The Lady of the Lake). Schedules and fares are given therein. Also, there will be a fee to park in the Fields Point parking lot (there is no alternative parking). The fee is something like $6 per day. The boat ride to Lucerne (where you'll be getting off) takes about 2 hours. From there, a bus (old blue school bus) shuttles you the ten miles or so up-valley to Holden (3,200 ft). The road is steep, the bus seatbeltless. You'll be puckering your butt cheeks as it wends its way up the narrow road. Not that the seatbelts would matter much as the bus tumbles and tumbles and tumbles and tumbles. There is a designated campground about 1 mile west of town.
Approach Option 2 (from Phelps Creek Trail)To get to the Phelps Creek Trail, let me again shamelessly quote Bob on his Maude page: "For the Chiwawa River / Phelps Creek / Leroy Creek approach, drive east from Stevens Pass or west from Leavenworth on US Highway 2 and turn north toward Lake Wenatchee. After the Wenatchee River bridge go right at a Y, then drive 1.1 miles on county road 22 and turn left on Chiwawa River forest road number 62. Drive 24 miles to near the end of the road and turn right on the Phelps Creek road. Drive to the end of this road to the trailhead." The trailhead is at ~3,500 ft.
Hike the Phelps Creek Trail to 4,750-ft Spider Meadow (5.3 miles). Continue through meadow to its north end (0.5 miles). In another 0.5 miles where the trail enters a stand of trees there is a trail junction at 5,300 ft (left goes to Spider Meadow, right continues to the head of Phelps Creek. Go left and climb up to hanging valley occupied by the Spider Glacier. Continue north along the margin of the glacier to Spider Gap (7,040+ ft). Distance from trailhead to Spider Gap is approx. 7.9 miles. From the pass, take the one-mile way trail down to the receding terminus of the Lyman Glacier. A trail then continues for about 2 miles to Lyman Lake (5,600 ft) and a junction with the Railroad Creek Trail. Go east down the RCT for 7.8 miles to Holden (3,200 ft). Total distance from car to Holden = 7.9 + 1.0 + 2.0 + 7.8 = 18.7 miles. Gain = +3,500 - 3,800 = net -300 ft (better to take the boat). There is a designated campground about 1 mile west of town.
East Face Direct & Southeast "Glacier" RoutesSee Route pages for these: East Face Direct, Southeast "Glacier"
Other Routes (see Beckey Guide for more info)Southwest Gully: Accessed from the Big Creek side. From Holden, hike up the Railroad Creek Trail 1.5 miles (to 0.5 miles west of the campground) to where Big Creek joins Railroad Creek. Leave the trail, ford Railroad Creek, and head into Big Creek's drainage. There may be game trails or a minor climber's trail. There is no designated trail in this valley. The first mile to 4,100 ft should be in forest. The next 0.4 miles crosses a brushy area (don't know how brushy). Eventually, like at maybe 2 miles from Railroad Creek (c. 4,500 ft), begin climbing SE away from the creek up to the basin and glacier between Fernow and Copper (3 miles from Railroad Creek). Look for the Southwest Gully and climb it to the summit. Class 4/easy Class 5. Allow six hours.
Northwest Couloir: Accessed from lower Big Creek. This is an ice climb. As per route above, hike into Big Creek valley to about one mile from Railroad Creek (where the first brushy stretch comes into play). Climb SE away from the creek (can stay in trees at first?) to talus. Keep going up into the basin on the northwest side of the summit. Find the couloir in question and climb it. The final portion leaves the ice for Class-4 rock.
North Ridge: This is the ridge that trends NW off of the NE Ridge about 0.4 miles north of the summit (i.e., it does not connect directly with the summit). From the top right corner (NW corner) of the brush/forest interface mentioned for the East Face Direct Route (c. 4,700 ft), a prominent gully (snow filled most of year) will lead west to the crest of the lower NE Ridge at 6,700 ft. The original party (two miners) gained the North Ridge at the 6,500-ft level by first crossing SW from the lower NE Ridge. Sustained Class 3/4 with two gendarmes to negotiate.
Northeast Ridge: Climbs west of the ridge from its lowest part above the old mines. From Holden, take the old mine road that ascends the north side of the lower ridge to about 4,100 ft at the last switchback. Ascend brushy rock SW keeping well below the crest until you can round a NW trending spur ridge of the lower NE Ridge. Turn left (south) and climb up to the ridge crest somewhere near Pt. 7371. Climb on the east side of the crest to the summit. Class 3-4. Allow 6+ hours (probably longer). A friend of mine reported much Class 4 climbing lower down on the ridge (at c. 5,600 ft). They did not summit.
Red TapeThis peak resides in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, therefore the "leave no trace" policies, etc. apply here. There would probably also be a Trail Park Pass requirement for the Phelps Creek Trailhead. Also, there are certain policies in effect for the ferry (best to consult the the ferry website).
When To ClimbSummer and early fall.
CampingThere is a designated campground about one mile west of Holden. Another good campsite for the Southest Glacier Route is at the flat area at ~5,600 ft near Copper Creek. Any other campsites would be at your discretion in the middle of nowhere.
Mountain ConditionsLocalized Forecast
Stehekin weather (the nearest town with weather info)