What is azurite? Azurite is hydrated copper carbonate [Cu3(CO3)2(OH)2] and is very close in chemical structure to malachite, which has only two copper atoms. It is used as an ornamental stone and as a pigment. The color is blue, hence its typical use for naming lakes around the world. In the U.S. alone there are seven Azure lakes and one Azurite Lake. In Washington there are two Azure lakes. Interestingly, the Azurite Lake and one of the Azure lakes are right next to each other (see here
) in Washington. Hmmm, you learn a new thing every day. For more information on the mineral azurite, click here
. There are many other descriptive pages on the web.
So now that you know about azurite, what about Azurite the summit? According to my search of the USGS database, there is an Azure Mountain
in New York and an Azurite Peak in Washington. This is the page for the latter.
Azurite Peak is a member of the Washington Top 100
, ranking approximately 76th. Further, with 1880P, it almost makes the 2,000-ft prominence list. The mountain is the highpoint of the mess of ridges north of Golden Horn and Tower Mountain. On the long, high ridge trending north from the summit is another "Big Boy" of Washington--Mt. Ballard (est. 8,340 ft).
Azurite is characterized by a complex set of ribs and gullies on the West Face and more of the same on the East, although the East Face contains more in the way of even steeper gullies and sustained walls. Climbing history of these walls is uncertain. An ice remnant occupies a narrow cirque below the East Face. The easiest flank is the South Ridge but this is only for the lower part up from Azurite Pass. The closer one gets to the peak the more haphazard the ridge gets, not to mention there is a obstructing lower south summit. Climbs generally finish in the gullies immediately southwest of the summit tower. There is a north summit that is slightly lower than the main summit. Apparently, a tedious traverse can be made up and over it to get to the long ridge leading out to Mt. Ballard. The north summit does possess one novelty: it is a "triple boundary point" for Skagit, Whatcom, and Okanogan counties.
There are two approaches worth noting--one via Canyon Creek to Mill Creek to Azurite Pass and the other up the Methow River to Azurite Pass. The two approaches are about the same length. However, the latter can be biked for the first 10 miles and is allowed by the powers that be. The former can only be biked for six miles to the Mill Creek junction and the powers that be won't be too happy.
Mill Creek Approach
This approach begins from the North Cascades Highway at the Canyon Creek Trailhead. If coming from the west the Canyon Creek Trail is 22 miles east of Newhalem. If coming from the east, the trailhead is 16 miles west (NNW on the map) of Rainy Pass. Trailhead elevation is 1,900 ft. This is the location of the Granite Creek Gaurd Station.
Hike the trail for 6 miles to the Mill Creek Trail on the right at 2,800 ft. This junction is a third-of-a-mile beyond the trail's crossing of Mill Creek (see map
). This first 6 miles can be biked, or so I've heard, but it is in a wilderness.
Continue up Mill Creek. In another 5 miles or so the defunct Azurite Mine
will be reached. Keep going southward up the valley. At 3 miles past the mine (14 miles from the car) you can leave the trail at approximately 5,600 feet and climb the west slopes of Azurite. Or you can continue for 1.5 miles to quaint Azurite Pass (6,680+ ft).
NOTE: A recent trip report I read said this route is badly overgrown and the author recommended the Methow River approach instead.
Methow River ApproachNote: When this route has been cleared it is a great bike trail. In fact, even with the long distance, the peak can be climbed car-to-car in a day with a bicycle. However, trail maintenance can be lacking to clear windfall and cut back brush. So it is best to do your research like calling the ranger station in Winthrop before committing to approaching Azurite from that direction.
To get to the Methow River Trail (Methow is pronounced Met-how
) take the Lost River Road northwest out of Mazama (northwest end of the Methow Valley). Continue on the road as if driving up to Harts Pass. At 8.7 miles from Mazama just beyond the Ballard Campground, take a short spur westward to River Bend Campground. A little farther on is the end of the road and the trailhead at a wooden fence (2,700 ft). Note that the Rattlesnake Campground no longer exists, or so it appeared.
Hike or bike the trail up the valley. A forest fire of 2003 burned much of the valley. This has caused invasive fireweed to encroach on the trail. Without proper brushing out, the trail could become quite burdensome in a few years. The trail is fairly flat and wholly bikable except for a couple brush-encroached swathes and an annoying up and down on the north slope about five miles in.
At 8 miles (4,280 ft) the trail meets the Pacific Crest Trail at aptly named Brush Creek. Continue west on the valley trail (the PCT through here) for about 1.5 miles farther to 4,400 ft. An obscure side trail junctions off on the right and climbs steeply up to Azurite Pass. Stash the bikes at this junction as the rest can't be biked. The trail junction is located at the far (west) end of a clearing about 50 yards before the main trail goes back into thick forest. Look for a cairn on the other side (south side) of the junction.
The side trail climbs to Azurite Pass (6,680+ ft) in about 2.5 miles. There are several spurs to this trail that can confound. The idea is to stay initially right (east) of Jet Creek then cross left of it higher up. The trail crosses the creek a final time at about 5,800 ft (5,600 ft?). It is advisable to fill up with water here as the stream is below ground not too much higher up the slope. Unless, of course, it's early season. In which case, water should be more prevalent at or just below the pass.
Azurite Peak is close to the Pasayten Wilderness but not quite in it. It is in the Okanogan National Forest, though. You don't need a camping permit for the area. I don't recall there being a day-use permit box at the Methow River Trailhead.
When To Climb
The best time to climb this peak would be May through the first significant snows of Autumn. In May snow may slow efficient progress. This snow may or may not make the summit gullies easier to handle (who likes scrambling in chossy gullies when you can ascend snow instead?). In June the snows will have dwindled but water will still be prevalent at Azurite Pass. By late season water may be more scarce.
There are several campgrounds available on the Methow River driving approach.
But once on foot, Azurite Pass would offer the most exquisite views. There is plenty of flat ground but a filter would be advisable for collecting water out of ponds. For the Mill Creek approach, if you can't make it all the way to Azurite Pass, there is probably ample camping along the trail--especially at elevations above 5,200 ft. A camp could also be made on Azurite's South Ridge above the pass. There is an acreage of flat ground at 7,400 ft
. But there's not much reason to haul heavy camping gear up there.
Views from the Mountain I
Views from the Mountain II