Sperry peak tends to leaves an intimidating first impression when viewed from either the north or east sides. The north face rises 3000 feet in a half mile while the east face rises over 2000 feet in a third of a mile, both culminating in the three sided summit pyramid. There are numerous technical routes on these faces which can make for some exciting climbing. The much smaller west face terminates in a minor cirque at Lake Elan, a mere 1000 feet below the summit. Lake Elan is shared by both Sperry and Vesper Peaks, Vesper being Sperry's closest neighbor, to the west. Sperry and Vesper share a high connecting ridge just north of the little cirque.
There is some evidence that a massive glacier existed on the north face 100 years ago. Only a small patch of ice remains to testify of this glacier. Sperry Peak was named after Dick Sperry, a mining prospector and resident of Silverton in the 1890's (Photo: Dick Sperry holding a dog). The first ascent was made by Norval Grigg and Art Winder in 1927. These pioneers made use of the west ridge above Lake Elan, which is now the standard route, although several variations occur between the west ridge and west slope. There is a trail all teh way to Lake Elan.
The typical summer ascent of Sperry Peak involves a short romp through the forest with stream crossings, ascending a brushy avalanche slope, passing through a long basin full of talus, climbing the steep slope below a tiny narrow pass, traversing to a high alpine lake and then scrambling to the summit. This route circles most of the way around the mountain as it climbs higher. The major draw for Sperry Peak, as with many of the mountains on the Mountain Loop Highway, is that in a short distance you get to experience many different types of terrain. The result is a well-rounded mountaineering experience. The talus walking in the Wirtz Basin can be arduous, but it has it's perks too, for in summer and fall it's a great place to watch Pika and stuff your face with blueberries.
The main route starts at the end of the Sunshine Mine road (2100'). There's a pull-out along the road with some pretty good views of Sperry and Morning Star. Most folks coming to this area are only looking to get up Vesper Peak but the strong ones climb both Sperry and Vesper in the same day. Morning Star is rarely climbed and probably only sees a few ascents on the average year.
The first part of the trail is wooded and easy to follow. After a half mile it crosses the headwaters of the South Fork Stillaguamish river. Normally this crossing is easy and the river resembles a minor creek, but it could be more difficult depending on the time of year. Beyond the crossing the trail ascends and open slope on the north side of Morningstar Peak before turning the corner and entering the lower Wirtz Basin. In the right season the huckleberries and salmon berries are plentiful here. When entering the Wirtz Basin, it may be impossible to judge at what point you may exit. In fact, it appears to be a dead end. In the upper Wirtz Basin it is easy to lose track of the trail, especially during the descent. There are numerous cairns in place, so that may help. Up to this point, the trail and elevation gain is moderate. At Headlee Pass that changes.
Headlee Pass is the first potential objective hazard. When it's snow filled or icy, use extreme caution. If the slope below the pass is not completely melted out, then ice axe and crampons are a must. Many accidents and injuries have taken place here. The Pass tops out at 4600 feet where Vesper Peak comes into view. From the pass, the trail traverses more talus to the outlet of Lake Elan. There has been a lot of confusion about the name of this lake due to the fact that it is not labeled on maps. Many references call it Vesper Lake.
Follow along the east side of Lake Elan and scramble up some slabs to gain the saddle between Sperry and Vesper. The saddle tops out around 5300 feet. There's not much of a path going up through the saddle but once on the southwest slope of Sperry there are sections of trail to follow. The west ridge / slope is not difficult until the upper third. There is a down-sloping talus and heather bench which separates the upper and lower cliffs. Above this bench, the route becomes less obvious. See these route images (Image 1, Image 2). There are a couple spots with a exposure but not bad. Beware of loose mud of the ground is moist.
For the technical routes of the north and east faces, please refer to Fred Beckey's Cascade Alpine Guide 2. Also, check out Peggy Goldman's 75 Scrambles in Washington which has a Sperry-Vesper route.
Getting ThereFrom Seattle take I-5 North to Exit 194. Follow Highway 2 East for 2.3 miles, stay in left lane, go to Lake Stevens Highway 204 East, in 2.2 miles take left (north) on Highway 9 to Lake Stevens, in 1.7 miles take right (east) on Highway 92 to Granite Falls, in 8.4 miles turn left (north) to Mountain Loop Highway. Follow for about 30 miles to the Sunrise Mine Road on the right. Road dead ends in about 1 mile where parking is limited to one side of the road. Leave room for others to turn around.
Camping / Red TapeLake Elan is a wonderful camp spot. There are some nice flat slabs of granite which make for a good tent platform. But please remember to do your part in preserving this beautiful area. LEAVE NO TRACE.
Contact the Verlot Ranger Station for more info.
NW Forest Pass required at trailhead.
Trip Reports From NWHikers.net
- October 2010 trip report by seattlehikertoo
- December 2009 climb of the east face by Jim Dockery
- June 2009 trip report by Bryan K
- September 2006 trip report by dacker