Mt. Bigelow is a fairly obscure peak in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness (LC-SW) just east of Lake Chelan. Actually, it's not that the mountain itself is obscure, just that the wilderness seems to be forgotten by climbers of the Seattle milieu. They're always more interested in climbs in the Enchantments or the North Cascades. And this is good, for it keeps the crowds down in the LC-SW. In fact, it is partially because of this obscurity that this wilderness has always held an abstract attraction for me. Sure, a fair share of the named peaks in the area are as boring as potholes on a logging road. But there are others that hold enough visual and climbing appeal to make the area a pleasent place to excuse oneself to. Examples of interesting peaks in the area are: Star Peak
, Oval Peak
, and Martin Peak. These are all peaks in the Washington Top 100, of which there are nine in total for the wilderness (the others being Switchback Peak, Raven Ridge, Hoodoo Peak, Courtney Peak, and Reynolds Peak).
Mt. Bigelow itself is a rugged peak, and though it is only the sixth-highest Top 100 peak in the wilderness, it is probably second only to Star Peak in terms of the total surface area of cliff, part of which is overhung. The entire north side of the peak makes up a broad amphitheater that is half-a-mile in diameter from end to end. On a topographic map, this amphitheater is reminiscent of the breach of volcanic Mt. St. Helens. It even cradles a small rock glacier. Then there is the East Wall of Mt. Bigelow. This wall extends pretty much all the way to Pt. 8202 6/10-of-a-mile south of the summit. This wall presents itself as a formidable barrier toward gaining the summit from the east side--especially from Upper Eagle Lakes. However, the wall does relent just enough to allow a class 3 finish in one location at its north end. Most of the wall is class 5 or unclimbable cliff. A few choppy and/or slabby cuts may be class 4. The gentlest side of the peak is that of the west side where it is largely an all-talus hike up from the Summit Trail which skirts the peak. However, to do the peak by this easy route would take more time. Either way, it would be possible to climb the peak car-to-car in a day.
To get to Mt. Bigelow, the simplest way is to take the Eagle Lake Trail No. 431 (starts at 4,740 ft at the trailhead designated as Crater Creek Trail No. 416) for about 5 miles. At this point, one can either 1) take the left fork past Lower Eagle Lake (6,490 ft) to Horsehead Pass (7,520+ ft) in order to cross Sawtooth Ridge and complete the climb via the easy west slopes, or 2) take the right fork to Upper Eagle Lake (7,110 ft) and then bear northwestward from the lake toward the summit, keeping right of the prominent rock wall until at its upper end whereupon an exposed class 3 finish can be made. One can also approach Bigelow from the Crater Creek Trail ENE of the peak. This would require you to gain the long East Ridge of the peak by way of the benign north slope of Pt. 8356 then take the East Ridge westward to the summit. The East Ridge is rugged but manageable on the south side or on the crest. Be aware, however, that it is a vertical and sometimes overhanging cliff on the northwest side of Pt. 8356. This is part of the aforementioned northern amphitheater. The Crater Creek trail approach is a couple miles shorter and does well as a scenic loop return route. Lastly, the peak can be approached from Lake Chelan by way of the Prince Creek Trail No. 1255 after being dropped at the lakeshore. No one would come in this way merely to climb Mt. Bigelow though.
The Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness is most easily accessed by driving to the Methow Valley east of the wilderness. There are multiple access points into the wilderness. To get to the Crater Creek trailhead, take Gold Creek Road off of SR-153 about 5 miles south of Carlton. Crater Creek Road No. 3109 junctions off of Gold Creek Road at 6.9 miles. Take this road 4.8 miles to the trailhead at 4,740 ft--a nice high elevation to start.
Permits are not really required in the region though one of those annoying Trail Park Passes may be requested.
When To Climb
The best time to climb the mountain is from late-May until October. Access would largely depend on snow totals from the winter before or whenever the first significant autumn snowfall occurs. After all, the Crater Creek Trail starts at 4,740 ft. September and October might be the best time to visit in order to view the lovely larches that dot the area and turn a bright yellow as fall approaches.
There isn't really much camping to be found on the trail until you get into the vicinity of Eagle Lakes, at which point there is plenty of flat, open terrain. Albeit, it is important to try to use designated campsites to maintain the areas pristine nature. Note: motorcycles (and snowmobiles in winter) are allowed on many of the trails east of the Sawtooth crest, but I'm pretty sure they are not allowed to go all the way to the lakes. The motorcycles make the trails excellent for walking on (if a bit dusty). The horse manure on the other hand...
It can be hot or cold or in between in the Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Ridge Wilderness. Ordinarily, you won't get much frontal rainfall as the wilderness is far east of the Cascade Crest. What does blow over is usually highly dissipated or scattered once it gets to the area. However, the area is prone to thunderstorms in the summer. I have been snowed on in the area in early September.