Mount Howard is the highest summit on the Nason Ridge which lies north of US Highway 2 about 10 miles east of Stevens Pass. With 2903 feet of prominence, it is not a technical peak but rather a very long and strenuous hike. The rock type is gneiss. There are some opportunities for class 3 and 4 scrambling, if desired. The view from the top includes Glacier Peak, the Stuart and Wenatchee Ranges, the Entiat Mountains and Bonanza Peak. A little bit of Rainier and Mt. Adams are also visible. Two other peaks, Mastiff and Rock are nearby and offer opportunities for traverses.
The USGS map quad sheet needed is Mount Howard.
US Highway 2 is reached from the west through Seattle, Snohomish and Monroe. From the east reach US Highway 2 through Wenatchee and Leavenworth. Map
There are 2 possible trailheads: Rock Lake and Merrit Lake. The Rock Lake trailhead lies 8.2 miles east of Stevens Pass or 11.7 miles west of Coles Corner (the turnoff to Lake Wenatchee, when coming from Leavenworth). The Merritt Lake trailhead lies 3 miles east of the Rock Lake trailhead. Both turnoffs are marked with a small brown US Forest Service sign right at the point you must turn. This could be a dangerous move, as traffic on US2 is heavy and the speed limit is supposedly 50 mph. Use the mileages to watch for the signs and turn off well ahead of time!
The signage and space for parking for the Rock Lake Trailhead occurs a few hundred yards after the turnoff. However, the powerline maintenance road continues and is not marked as closed. It is, however, very rough and steep. One can save some vertical and distance by continuing to drive up this road, but you need a high clearance car or truck. There are several places to park along the way. Apparently this is a high car prowl area, so driving on up the road keeps your car out of sight as well. You will be parking at anywhere from 2650 to 2800 feet elevation.
The road to the Merritt Lake trailhead extends up to the 3000 feet elevation about 1 mile from the turnoff.
Mount Howard is most often climbed on its south flank. One can reach Crescent Lake, which lies along the Nason Ridge trail from either Rock Lake or Merritt Lake. Once at Crescent Lake, walk around the NE side of it and ascend the slope due north. Although there is a formidable looking rock band half way up the slope, it is easy to find a way through it. Continue up to a large bench. From there, depending on conditions, one can continue directly up the south flank to the summit or traverse to the east to the Southeast ridge. Once on the ridge, follow it to the summit.
If coming from the east, from Mount Mastiff, cross the basin high above Canaan Lake and ascend the slopes to one of the notches on the Southeast ridge. Once the ridge is reached, follow it on the west side to the summit.
Figure 4 to 6 hours to the summit, depending on conditions and from which direction you approach Crescent Lake.
The SW ridge looks like it could be an interesting Class3 or 4 scramble. The notch at its base is easily reached from the upper end of Crescent Lake.
There are 2 summit registers on top. One is a slim tube with a soggy mess inside. The other a 1.5" diameter plastic pipe with a Seattle Mountaineers register book and a pencil. It appears that Mount Howard only is climbed about once every 1 or 2 weeks from May to about September.
The guidebook I consulted recommended the Rock Lake approach as the most direct. After having been there and after more careful study of the map, I would disagree. The Rock Lake trail is a horrendously steep trail that ascends in endless switchbacks about 3400 feet in 4 miles. From there you drop into Rock Lake and then follow the trail around, up to the ridge separating Crescent from Rock and then drop even further to Cresscent Lake. From there it is a little over 1600 feet to the summit. (see the attached profile image)
The Merrit Lake trail starts at 3000 feet, climbs 2000 feet in 2.5 miles, before you start the traverse over to Crescent Lake. Even with all the up and down to the lake, you still end up ascending 300 fewer vertical feet and the total distance to the summit is about 1/2 to 1 mile shorter.
If planning to also climb Mount Mastiff as a traverse, it is better to come in from the Merritt Lake side.
Accommodations and Camping
Many chose to do Mount Howard as one really long day, but camping is allowed everywhere in the area. The small lakes (Rock, Merrit, Lost and Crescent) are very lovely and offer many good campsites. Fishing looks to be good.
If coming from far away, Leavenworth and Wenatchee offer a variety of motels in all price levels. There are USFS campgrounds all along the way from Leavenworth onward.
When To Climb
The more snow up high (but not avalanche prone!) the better. Late spring, when the trails are melted out but the high boulder and talus fields are still snow covered is ideal. Summer and fall are fine, but the bushwacking and boulder hopping are more arduous. The pay off are the beautiful flowers and later the fall colors as well as the chance to see mountain goats and other critters (as we did).