Beckey describes Pica Peak as “a small rock point on the Early Winters valley rim”. From the south and the west, this is probably an apt description, but from the north and the east, the peak is much more defined.
While the southwest and southeast slopes are relatively gentle and provide great skiing in the early season, the north and east aspects of the peak are very attractive and offer several rock climbing routes and some steep early season snow.
The summit is unnamed point 7565 feet on the map. Beckey applies the name “Pica Peak”. It is also known as “Poster Peak” by many local skiers and climbers.
The shortest access is from the hairpin curve (large pullout – ample parking) to the east of Washington Pass.
There is a trail leading south from the hairpin curve into the basin to Kangaroo Pass. To access Pica Peak, you must leave the trail early and make a rising traverse to the southwest under the prominent buttresses. Trying to go straight up or down from further south will get you involved with cliffs.
To find the trail from the pullout, head toward the large talus slope just south of Spire Gulch. The trail skirts the bottom of this talus – watch for cairns and follow them carefully until you reach a good spot to start the upward traverse to the peak.
The south side of the peak can be accessed from the Copper Pass Trail in the vicinity of Copper Pass, from the area of Blue Lake Peak, or via a large gully immediately on the south side of the peak. It is also possible to traverse north from Copper Point.
Guidebook: CASCADE ALPINE GUIDE, VOL 3: RAINY PASS TO FRASER RIVER: Climbing & High Routes, 2nd Edition by Fred Beckey.
SW & SE Slopes The summit may be easily reached via the southwest or southeast slopes which lead to a short class 3 bit to the top of the summit block. The south slopes may be reached from the Copper Pass Trail, from the area of Blue Lake Peak, from Copper Point, or from the east via the large gully (loose scree and talus) to a notch just south of the summit. This is the large gully immediately south of the “Blue Buttress”. This gully is the best descent route back into the basin above the hairpin.
There is some minor confusion regarding the ridge / buttress routes on the northeast side of the peak.
Beckey describes a SE Ridge and a NE Ridge. Consensus is that Beckey’s SE Ridge is in fact a ridge that faces ENE and is locally known as “Blue Buttress”.
“Blue Buttress” This is the southern most of the ENE facing ridges on the peak. It is immediately north of the large gully leading to the ridge crest just south of the summit block. Opinions vary greatly regarding difficulty, length, and quality of this route. We climbed this way and believe that the different opinions stem from the fact that the buttress is quite broad providing many different possible lines of ascent. There are very few places on the route where you are “forced” to climb any particular pitch. Many of the potentially more difficult pitches can be bypassed – mainly on the north side of the buttress.
Some of the rating opinions (see External Links for full trip reports):
Beckey: “a moderate scramble and rock climb with a steep portion just below the top. Here are several class 4 to 5.3 pitches.”
CascadeClimbers.com TR: “8-10 pitches of 4th to mid 5th class climbing on generally good rock. The butt steepens near the top and gives better climbing for the last couple of pitches at around 5.5-5.6”
NWMJ Issue 1: “about 12 pitches, with the most difficult near the summit at 5.7.” “Grade III 5.7”
CascadeClimbers.com TR: “only a couple of 5.7 cruxes and at least one can be avoided if desired. Most of the climbing is low fifth class - Grade II-III”
CascadeClimbers.com TR: “There wasn't lots of mid 5th, perhaps a dozen moves.”
Fred & Moni: The way we went was mostly 4th to mid 5th class with too many trees and too much loose rock to be really all that enjoyable. We would call it Grade II, 5.6
NE Ridge Beckey says: “The lower crest is a pleasant Class 3 scramble for several hundred feet. Cross two prominent intersecting snow gullies, then reach steeper rock (class 4-5). Just below the summit and to the left one can climb a short overhanging pitch (5.6) or avoid this by taking a gully to the right."
One CascadeClimbers.com TR describes a first pitch of 5.8 with fixed pins…………
This must depend on where you start.
E Face Couloir and upper NE Ridge (Beckey) a 600 foot couloir with 40 degree snow leading to the upper NE Ridge.
Red Tape and General Forest Information
A Northwest Forest Pass is NOT required to park at the hairpin.
South of the main divide, you are in wilderness. If you plan to camp there, see the Okanogan National Forest web site for rules and regulations.
The Okanogan National Forest web site has current information regarding road and trail conditions, closures, campgrounds, etc.:
Okanogan National Forest
CampingThere are official USFS fee campgrounds on both sides of Washington Pass. The nearest is Lone Fir to the east with Klipchuck and Early Winters a bit further east, but at lower elevations and thus open earlier in the season.
Some folks "bivouac" at the Blue Lake Trailhead or even at the hairpin curve.
Beckey and others discourage camping in the basin above the hairpin for obvious environmental reasons.
External LinksTR CascadeClimbers.com (2003)
TR CascadeClimbers.com (2004)
TR CascadeClimbers.com (2007)
Short Report NWMJ Issue 1 (2004)