OverviewEmerald Peak is a striking mountain located at the head of the North Fork Entiat River. The peak is neighbors with two other Top 100 mountains: Saska Peak on the west and Cardinal Peak on the southeast. The three peaks make for a nice weekend destination--especially, perhaps, in fall when the larches will have turned yellow. In the height of summer, it may be possible to climb all three peaks in the same day. Certainly Saska and Emerald can be climbed on the same day. They are only about six-tenths of mile apart.
Emerald has a craggy appearance from most vantages. In fact, it is one of the more eroded hulks in the area. Yet, this erosion has allowed for an easy class 3 route to the summit, despite intimations that no easy route exists. The summit itself is cleaved into two halves. The north summit is slightly higher. The south summit, some 100 feet distant, is slightly lower and consists of a more steeply inclined slab. Slip on this slab and it's off the East Face you go. Actually, the entire summit area (both summits) is quite small and quickly becomes exposed a few paces away from the relative safety of the center. Rock is part of the Cardinal Peak pluton (granodiorite and hornblende quartz diorite).
Getting ThereThere are a number of ways to get to this peak (see below for more info). One is via the North Fork Entiat River drainage. Within this drainage, there are three trail approaches that could be used. Another way to get to the peak is via Emerald Park Trail No. 1230 to the north side of the peak. This trail starts from Lucerne on the shores of Lake Chelan. Note that there are a myriad of trails in the area. Some of these, such as the Snow Brushy Creek Trail, could be used to access the area from other areas deeper in the wilderness. These trails will be omitted here.
All three N. Fork Entiat River trail approaches begin at the North Fork Entiat River Trail No. 1437. To get to the trailhead, exit Alt.US-97 just south of the town of Entiat on the west side of the Columbia River and take the Entiat River Road northwestward. Keep on the road (paved for most of the way) for 32.5 miles to where North Fork Entiat Road No. 5606 junctions off to the right. (If you come to North Fork Campground, you've gone too far.) Take the North Fork road for about three switchbacking miles to its end at ~3,700 ft.
To get to Lucerne for the Emerald Park route, it will be necessary to take The Lady of the Lake to Lucerne and start from there. This slow boat leaves from the south end of Lake Chelan once a day. Faster boats make two trips a day.
Entiat Approach #1 -- North Fork Entiat TrailYou can take this trail all the way to the south foot of Emerald. It is the least scenic (forest-bound river views notwithstanding) of the three approaches but the most direct. The trail follows the river for the first 7+ miles to 5,800 ft at which point it turns sharply right (east) to ascend a half-a-mile or so to a junction with the Pyramid Mountain Trail at 6,600 ft. This junction is about a mile southwest of Cardinal's summit. Go left (north) at the junction and walk the trail for maybe a half-mile to an open area. Good camping here. Total distance to camp = 8.5 miles; gain = 2900 ft.
Entiat Approach #2 -- Pugh Ridge TrailThis trail follows semi-alpine Pugh Ridge. It is quite scenic but not as direct and certainly more of a grunt--especially in the approach direction. It can be used as a deproach route to make for a nice loop back to the trailhead. This is what I did. However, I shall describe this way as if it were to be used as an approach to Cardinal. Take the North Fork Trail as per Approach #1 for about 5 miles to the 4,280-ft level a couple of hundred yards past a creek crossing. A trail (possibly signed as the "Pugh Ridge Trail"), will lead off to the right. The trail climbs steeply up the north bank of the (unnamed) creek crossed previously. In three arduous miles on a trail haphazardly strewn with debris, pine cones, and burned forest (I don't think the trail is maintained), you will finally reach the crest of Pugh Ridge at 6,600 ft. The views now open up to you and you'll be glad (relieved) you went this way. Turning left (north), the trail then follows the crest. Beige pumice from Glacier Peak covers much of the ground. About two-tenths of a mile from where the trail gains the ridge crest there was a strange manmade metal tower (near triangulation Pt. 6661) which baffled me as to its purpose. The trail keeps to the crest for 1.5 miles before dismounting it. At times the "trail" does not exist and one must instead follow cairns. But this is not a problem, for the cairns are generally placed in the grasses within easy site of each other. The trail leaves the crest and descends 400 ft to Buck Camp (6,527 ft). (Note: this camp is at a big meadow. If coming this way on the deproach, it can be difficult to locate the Pugh Ridge Trail. It sort of starts up the other side of the meadow. There might be some marker cairns. If you start descending a trail that follows the creek draining the meadow then you've gone the wrong way). The Pugh Ridge Trail ends at this camp whereupon it junctions with the Pyramid Mountain Trail. Go left (north) at the junction and hike up to Grouse Pass (7,160+ ft). There is another camp along the trail at the head of Grouse Creek (it may be called Grouse Camp). From Grouse Pass to the junction with the North Fork Entiat Trail it is 2.6 miles. Go straight (north) at the junction and walk the trail for maybe a half-mile to an open area. Good camping here. Total distance to camp = 13 miles; gain = 4100 ft (more ups and downs).
Entiat Approach #3 -- S. Pyramid Creek TrailI have not been this way for the lower half. The upper half coincides with the Pugh Ridge approach past Buck Camp. Before Buck Camp, the trail is the South Pyramid Creek Trail. After the camp, it goes by the name Pyramid Mountain Trail. Take the North Fork Entiat Trail for two miles to where it crosses South Pyramid Creek at 4,000 ft. The SPCT junctions off a couple hundred yards past the crossing. The SPCT follows the north side of the creek for a little over a mile then crosses to the south side. The trail may meet two old connector trails along the way. Keep straight paralleling the creek. The trail crosses the creek three more times before finally reaching Buck Camp in 5 miles. Hike up to Grouse Pass (7,160+ ft). There is another camp along the trail at the head of Grouse Creek (it may be called Grouse Camp). From Grouse Pass to the junction with the North Fork Entiat Trail it is 2.6 miles. Go straight (north) at the junction and walk the trail for maybe a half-mile to an open area. Good camping here. Total distance to camp = 10.5 miles; gain = 3000 ft.
Emerald Park Approach & North Face ClimbFrom Lucerne (1,100 ft), find the trail up to Domke Lake. In about 1.5 miles at 2,180 ft, stay right at the junction (the left fork goes to the lake). In another 0.5 miles is another junction. This time take the left fork and climb the long forest slope above Domke Lake until the trail comes to Emerald Park Creek, whereupon it follows the creek southwestward. Emerald Park (5,400 ft) is reached in 6.5 miles. Probably good camping here. Milham Pass (6,663 ft) is two miles further on.
For a climb of the North Face, bear south from Emerald Park toward the peak, which should be obvious above. A cliff band at 6,200 feet on the approach may force a detour to the left side. Continue up to the face, which starts at about 7,800 ft. Moderataly difficult class 3 scrambling gains the summit.
Red TapeThis peak resides at the edge of 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 trailhead.
When To ClimbSpring to fall.
CampingSee the approach descriptions for campsites. Most of the terrain is fairly open, meaning you could camp just about anywhere. But for the sake of erosion, it is best to select unvegetated ground.
Mountain ConditionsLocalized Forecast
Stehekin weather (the nearest town with weather info)