East Ridge of Primus Peak via Thunder Creek and Lucky Ridge

East Ridge of Primus Peak via Thunder Creek and Lucky Ridge

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 17, 2018
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer

of Primus Peak via Thunder Creek, Lucky Ridge, and the upper Borealis Glacier

------------------------------------------- SUMMARY ---------------------------------------------------------------

DAY ONE -- Thursday, August 16, 2018

  • Glenn Glover and I hiked from Colonial Creek Campground on Highway 20 southward along Thunder Creek and then SSE up “Lucky Ridge” to a bivouac site near the northeast corner of the new lake at the foot of the Borealis Glacier.
  • The trail bridge 6.6 miles from the trailhead (near McAllister Camp) was gone; so we crossed Thunder Creek on a log at 48.62033 N x 121.05560 E after exiting the trail at 48.62172 N x 121.05611 E (about 6 miles from the trailhead and 500 feet downstream from the crossing log) to gain easy access to the creek bed.
  • Statistics:  Horizontal distance 8.25 miles.  Net vertical gain 4,760 feet.  Time from Renton to trailhead departure 4 hours.  My time from trailhead to camp 9 hours (Glenn arrived earlier).

DAY TWO -- Friday, August 17, 2018.   

  • We ascended from our bivouac site at 6,000 feet to 7,800 feet on the east ridge of Primus Peak, walked down the ridge to "Lucky Pass," and retraced our steps to camp.
  • We ascended by way of the north rim of the Borealis Glacier cirque and the upper Borealis Glacier.  
  • Glacier conditions:  Mostly soft snow but with short patches of glacier ice and a couple of apparent crevasse bridges.  Crampons were essential on the ice patches.
  • Statistics, camp to ridge:  1,820 vertical feet net, 3.3 horizontal miles, 5.5 hours.  Round trip time:  9.5 hours.

· DAY THREE -- Saturday, August 18, 2018

  • We hiked from our camp to the trailhead, retracing our steps.  Glenn’s time 7:2


Below are photos and topo map excerpts on which I've indicated our route in red.  They include the location of the log crossing of Thunder Creek that circumvents the washed-out bridge at 6.6 miles from the trailhead Thunder Creek Trail.  (Summit Posts's website was malfunctioning when I posted this report and was unable to associate the images with this trip report.  Below are the exact titles and image IDs of their Summit Post "objects.")

  • USGS topo -- route from upper Lucky Ridge to East Ridge of Primus Peak (image ID 1022023)
  • USGS topo -- location of log crossing of Thunder Creek (image ID 1022022)
  • Photo with route -- Primus and Borealis Glacier from N cirque rim  (image ID 1022021)
  • Photo -- route from camp to upper Borealis Glacier (image ID 1022020)
  • Photo -- Lake Borealis, bivi site, and start of route; from 7,170 ft, 0.21 mi NE of Primus (image ID 1022019)
  • Photo -- Lake Borealis, bivi site, and start of route; from 7,000 ft, 0.41 mi N of Primus (image ID 1022017)
  • Gaia topo -- overview of route from Colonial Creek Campground to Primus Peak (image ID 1022016)
  • Gaia topo -- location of log crossing of Thunder Creek (image ID 1022015)


      --------------------------------------------- DETAILED TRIP REPORT ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


      A wilderness permit was required, from the National Park Service’s North Cascades Wilderness Visitor and Information Center in Marblemount, which e call the Marblemount ranger station.  As of 9:00 a.m. on the morning of our departure, none of the six available permits had been issued for the zone of our camp, the Klawatti permit zone.  There was no charge for the permit.  We waited in line about 10 to 15 minutes.


      • Lucky Pass:  The col between Tricouni and Primus Peaks.
      • Lucky Ridge:  The steep ridge from 0.2 miles south of the confluence of McAllister Creek and Thunder Creek to the NE terminus of the Borealis Glacier (now the NE corner of “Lake Borealis.
      • Lake Borealis:  The new lake that has replaced most of the level area of the lower Borealis Glacier.
      • Marblemount ranger station:  National Park Service North Cascades Wilderness Visitor and Information Center, 7280 Ranger Station Road, Marblemount, WA 98267, 360-854-7245.  Summer hours, June 29 through September 3 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. seven days a week.  (Turn from Highway 20 at milepost 105.3, about 0.8 miles west of Marblemount’s central business district.)


      Drinking water:  

      • Along Thunder Creek:  Several small side streams crossed the first six miles of the trail, but the trail stayed  away from Thunder Creek itself.
      • Lucky Ridge had no apparent snow or running water.
      • At camp at 6,000 feet:  At the bivy site we got water from “Lake Borealis.”
      • Above camp we found running water on rock slabs at 7,000 feet on northwest part of the upper Borealis Glacier, about 0.5 miles north of the summit of Primus Peak.
      • On the upper Borealis Glacier, a couple of rivulets ran down short sections of bare glacier ice under the summit of Primus Peak.

      Bugs that bite:  I encountered virtually no bugs that bite or sting during the entire trip --- not even along Thunder Creek.

      Snow on trail:  Our route was completely snow-free from the trailhead up to about 6,800 feet, at the north end of the upper Borealis Glacier.

      Food protection and wildlife:  The food and gear we left unprotected on the ground at night and during our climb were never disturbed.  (Bear-proof food containers were not required where we camped.)  Other than birds, I saw no wildlife, and I noticed no scat near our bivy site.  Around dusk on day 2 I heard the whistle of a distant marmot above camp.

      Flora:  Many different wildflowers were in full bloom above the 6,000-foot tree line, among the rocks and heathery meadows of the northern rim of the Borealis Glacier cirque.  Almost none were blooming in the forest along Thunder Creek or on Lucky Ridge.


      Road conditions:  Paved to the trailhead.

      Trailhead:  The clearly marked trailhead for the Thunder Creek Trail was at the south end of the Colonial Creek Campground, 25.6 miles east of the Marblemount ranger station.  Overnight parking was allowed about 150 feet north of the trailhead, near a restroom with cold running water. 

      Trail:  The Thunder Creek Trail was superbly maintained -- not a single fallen tree in six miles.

      Bridge washout:  The former bridge across Thunder Creek at about 6.6 miles from the trailhead was gone, reportedly washed away in the fall of 2017.  We needed to find a way to cross Thunder Creek for the ascent up Lucky Ridge.

      • Thunder Creek was much too deep and fast to safely ford, according to Glenn, who is a former professional rafting guide and expert white-water kayaker.
      • My friend Don Graydon hiked in the day before, scouted possible crossings, and met us on the trail.
      • Don found a log that had been felled across Thunder Creek at N 48.62051 x W 121.05550 -- about 1,000 feet downstream from the site of the washed-out bridge and about 900 feet upstream from the confluence of Thunder and McAllister Creeks.
      • The crossing log is at the bottom of a steep wooded hillside and is not visible from the trail above until you pass it and look back from several hundred feet upstream.
      • The easiest way to reach the log was to exit the trail about 500 feet downstream from the log, at 48.62180 N 121.05602 E, where the trail is not so far above the creek bed.  We then walked the creek bed upstream to the log.
      • The log, a tall Douglas fir, was two or three feet in diameter at its east end but narrowed to about 10 inches in diameter at the other end, with a somewhat nerve-racking sway over the most torrential part of the creek.  Its deeply corrugated bark was intact and still firmly attached to the trunk, so the footing was good. 
      • The log was so low to the water that the underside of its east end was submerged.  Glenn surmised that high water in the spring of 2019 might wash it away.
      • Don did not find the zip line another hiker reported seeing near the site of the washed-out bridge.  Shortly before our trip, an NPS person at the Marblemount ranger station had confirmed the existence of the zip line, but said that the public was not authorized to use it and it might already have been removed.

      Finding the Lucky Ridge boot path:  On the opposite side of the creek, a way trail led from the creek to the short segment of  trail that parallels the west side of the creek.   Shortly upstream, closely uphill from  the site of the former bridge, we found the distinct boot path leading up Lucky Ridge. 

      Lucky Ridge:  The boot path stayed very close to the ridge crest as it ascended steeply and directly about 4,000 vertical feet up Lucky Ridge, with very few  switchbacks.  The path became indistinct in several places where fallen trees force detours, but we were always able to find it again after the detours.  The route I had downloaded from GaiaGPS.com turned out to be very accurate (and especially useful on the descent, when the boot path was harder to follow in steep cliff bands).  It took me nearly six hours to ascend the ridge, including rest stops, even though my pack weighed only about 37 pounds at the base of the ridge.  Glenn is faster, so near the top he scooted ahead to scout for bivi sites.

      Camp site:  At 6,000 feet, the booth path emerged from forest onto bare dirt and rocks.  Here one can continue another 100 vertical feet up a rocky slope to the ridge’s apogee on a bare rock knob on the cirque rim.  Instead, we contoured right and found gravel bivouac sites in the nearest of two defiles the old USGS topo map shows as stream gullies draining the north end of the Borealis Glacier.

      • The two streams the USGS topo shows draining the north edge of the glacier no longer exist; the level of the lake is too low.  The lake’s only outlet now appears to be at its eastern corner, at the toe of the north ridge of Tricouni Peak.
      • The eastern former stream bed, a deep and nearly-level notch in the cirque rim, had several gravel spots level enough for bivi sacks within a few hundred feet of the lake.  Only one of these spots, however, appeared big enough for a two-person tent -- the bivi site roughly 150 feet from the lake shore.  This one also had a good view of the glacier and of Primus and Tricouni Peaks.  (On our second day, we passed two or three level but small and isolated sand-or-gravel bivi sites farther west on the north rim of the cirque.)  We stayed off the level spots that were green; those had very fragile vegetation and very delicate and stunning flowers.
      • Lake Borealis, as I’m calling it, was a cloudy, milky green.  Several small icebergs floated near our corner of the lake.  The lake’s water was silty enough to slow down my Sawyer water filter a bit, but not enough to clog it.
      • At night, although the forecast was for lows around 40, the surface of the lake froze thinly.  To keep warm in my one-pound sleeping bag and bivy sack I had to mummy up and don my puffy jacket.  Ice and debris periodically fell from the upper Borealis Glacier and tumbled down rock cliffs with loud whooshes like jet airplanes.

      From camp to the east ridge of Primus Peak:  We followed the cirque rim counterclockwise from camp to 6,800 feet, traversed the upper Borealis Glacier almost to Lucky Pass, and then ascended a a snow field that extended all the way to the crest of the east ridge of Primus Peak at 7,800 feet.

      • The two streams that used to drain the north end of the Borealis Glacier cirque each ran through a deep notch in the north rim of the cirque.  Our camp was in the east notch, which had a steep wall in the direction we wanted to ascend on our second day.
      • To sidestep that wall and the west notch, about 800 feet west, we traversed toward the lake, staying low and close to the lake at the notches and scrambling higher at the noses (class 2).
      • After the second notch, we scrambled up onto the rim of the cirque (class 2) and ascended the cirque-rim ridge west, walking up gently pitched rock slabs and then heather meadows dotted with larches.
      • At 6,800 feet, we left the ridge crest and traversed left on snowfields through a shallow draw and along a snow ribbon that took us to the north end of the upper Borealis Glacier.  At a rock outcrop at 7,000 feet we gathered cold water gushing from the edge of the snow, roped up, and donned crampons.
      • The cirque was sunny, warm, calm, and relatively clear of wildfire smoke.  The seasonal snow cover on the upper Borealis Glacier had been in the sun all morning, so the snow was soft enough for good footing.  Crampons were essential, however, for crossing short sections of bare glacier ice.  We used pickets and one ice screw to protect short sections where an ice ax arrest would have been difficult or impossible, particularly at bridges over crevasses and on the steep slope just below the crest of Primus’s east ridge. 
      • Instead of traversing the upper Borealis Glacier all the way to Lucky Pass (the col between Primus and Tricouni), we turned uphill and ascended a steep but crevasse-free slope on snow that reached all the way to the crest of Primus’s east ridge at 7,800 feet. 
      • Above us, the ridge appeared snow free except a small patch at about 8,000 feet.  After a late start, several stops for photos, and a couple of slow-downs negotiating snow bridges – and with one headlamp working only intermittently – it was too late to go to the top of Primus.  So we turned around at 7,800 feet.
      • Looking east and north from the ridge pass, we could see the summit bowl of Tricouni Peak and the mushroom clouds of several wildfires above thick layers of distant smoke.  Looking southeast and south, we saw Logan, Goode, Buckner, either Boston or Sahale, Forbidden, the Boston Glacier, Torment, Johannesburg, Glacier Peak, Klawatti, and – a half mile below – the emerald Klawatti Lake.

      Descent:  Instead of descending the steep side-slope of the ridge, we walked down its gently sloped crest to “Lucky Pass,” the col between Primus Peak and Tricouni Peak, from where we could easily traverse back to the not-so-steep part of the upper Borealis Glacier.  From there we retraced our route -- back to camp that evening, and back to the trailhead the third day.


      Datum:  The datum for all GPS coordinates in this report is NAD 83/WGS 84.  Location data and photos for this report are from the app “Gaia GPS: Hiking, Hunting Maps” version 7.0.9 on a Samsung Galaxy S7 (Android) phone.  For navigation, we used Gaia topo and USGS topo base maps overlaid with routes gleaned from Gaia Topo.

      Route photos and topos:  The routes shown in red on my photos are approximate.  The routes shown in red on the topo maps here are more precise because they are based on our actual tracks as recorded by Gaia GPS..  As of August 22, 2018, the route is posted at GaiaGPS.com as a public route called “Colonial Creek Campground to East Ridge of Primus Peak."

      Fuel consumption:  One small canister -- 211 grams gross weight, 110 grams net weight -- of "MSR Isopro all-season fuel blend" was enough to boil water and rehydrate two dinners and two breakfasts for two people, with a a little bit left over in the canister.  My MSR Reactor 1-liter stove system used about 25 grams of stove fuel per person per night.  Each night's use included bringing filtered cold water to a boil for rehydrating a dinner and a breakfast, and making hot drinks.  We also purified one liter of water by boiling it for a couple of minutes.  

      ITINERARY (times are approximate)

      Thursday, August 16, 2018

      · 6:40 a.m.  Left Renton.

      · 8:40 a.m.  Arrived at ranger station at Marblemount.

      · 10:40 a.m.  Left the trailhead at Colonial Creek Campground

      · 12:45 p.m.  Rendezvoused with Don Graydon along the Thunder Creek trail.  Don showed us where to cross Thunder Creek.

      · 1:49 p.m.  Started up the boot trail that ascends Lucky Ridge.

      · 7:42 p.m. I arrived at our bivi site at the edge of “Lake Borealis.”  (Glenn had already scouted ahead.)

      Friday, August 17, 2018

      · 10:32 a.m. Left bivouac site at the NE corner of Lake Borealis.

      · 1:10 p.m. Stopped for water at 7,000 feet.  Roped up for glacier travel.

      · 4:02 p.m. Arrived at crest of east ridge of Primus Peak, elevation 7,800 ft.

      · 4:50 p.m. Arrived at Lucky Pass, elevation 7,250 ft.

      · 6:10 p.m.  Arrived back at water stop at 7,000 feet.

      · 8:01 p.m.  I arrived back at camp.  (Glenn arrived earlier.)

      Saturday, August 18, 2018

      12:30 p.m. Left camp.

      5:35 p.m.  Arrived at west bank of Thunder Creek.

      6:00 p.m.  Left east bank of Thunder Creek after crossing and filtering water.

      7:50 p.m.  Glenn arrived at trailhead.

      8:41 p.m.  I arrived at trailhead.


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