Mt. Triumph is an important mountain in North Cascades National Park. It is located about six miles WNW of the town of Newhalem, WA. It lies entirely within the Skagit River drainage. The peak is not as high as a lot of the other important peaks of the park, yet it possesses just as much chutzpah. Certainly, on the whole, it is more precipitous than most of those peaks. You can see the very top of the peak from Marblemount as it rises over the nearer summit of Oakes Peak. This extra rise hints at its prominence above peaks immediately to the south. Mt. Triumph is connected via Triumph Pass to a slightly higher Mt. Despair--an aptly named tandem if their ever was one. Although Despair is an easier climb than Triumph (at least in terms of the climbing on the mountain itself; Despair requires a longer approach) maybe the peaks should be named in reverse. But then, one feels triumphant to have climbed Triumph, for there is no easy way up it.
Yes, Mt. Triumph is characterized by verticality and sharpness. It is rugged on all flanks. On a topo or from directly overhead, the peak has the appearance of a three-bladed propeller. Evenly spaced Northeast, Northwest, and South Ridges divide evenly spaced East, North, and West Faces. The mountain cradles two rapidly declining glaciers below the East and North Faces. In particular, the eastside glacier is very sickly. It is much reduced from that depicted on topographic maps. A veritable pool table slate of slabs below the glacier makes for quite the tumbling ground for billiard cubes of ice excising themselves from the glacier's lower terminus. The northside glacier isn't faring much better. On both of these we often heard blocks of ice careening down the slabs.
A note about the name: Triumph was named by Lage Wernstedt, the famous surveyor of the North Cascades (namely, in the Pasayten region) in the early part of the 20th Century. In addition, Wernstedt was responsible for the naming of Mt. Despair, Mt. Fury, Mt. Terror, Mt. Challenger, Inspiration Peak, and the "Picket Range." It should be noted that Wernstedt did not climb any of these peaks. Information courtesy of Harry Majors.
The standard approach to Mt. Triumph is by way of the Thornton Lakes Trail. If climbing Triumph's South Ridge or Northeast Ridge Route, then you want to take the trail all the way to the lake. If climbing Triumph's West Face or Northwest Ridge, then you want to leave the trail after about a mile then proceed cross-country to the other side of the peak. For the latter approach I will not specifically comment since I have not been that way (Fred Beckey's Cascade Alpine Guide seems to give a suitable description).
For the South Ridge and Northeast Ridge Routes, the idea is to take the trail all the way to the lakes. The trail starts at 2,500 ft. First it goes to an overlook (4,900 ft) above Lower Thornton Lake in about 4.5 miles then drops down to the lake (4,486 ft) before more or less becoming merely a boot path. The boot path leads to Middle Thornton Lake (~4,700 ft). From this lake it is then necessary to slog up a steep ravine/gully leading northwestward from the north end of the lake. A thin climber's path up the ravine's right-side heather greatly speeds progress and abates the slip factor. That heather would not be fun to climb up if wet. There is a good camp at the 5,840+ ft saddle at the top of the ravine. Another bivy site is located on the rocky hump a couple of hundred feet down the north side of the col. Still another tiny bivy site is located a couple of pitches up the Northeast Ridge, but it's quite the schlep to get there.
Mt. Triumph is located in North Cascades National Park. As such, permits are required for camping at the lakes or at the 5,840+ saddle northwest of the middle lake. Permits can be obtained at the Marblemount Ranger Station. The road up to the Thornton Lakes Trailhead is rough in a couple of spots but otherwise offers no problems for cars. Turning around at the tight parking area that is the end of the road could be a problem on the weekend. Those annoying Trail Park Passes are currently required at the trailhead.
When To Climb
This peak is really only good for late spring or summer ascents. The steep and sometimes crumbly rock (Skagit Gneiss) of the peak would not be safe to be on if plastered with rime ice or snow. In fact, I don't think there has even been a winter ascent (strawman comment). In early season there may be sufficient snow to make the crossing on or below the eastside glacier easier. However, it is no big deal to cross the glacier or below it on slabs in summer. Crampons would be necessary either way. Access to Thornton Lakes by way of the trail would largely depend on access to the trailhead then one's ability to suffer through a fair measure of snow kickstepping. Certainly, with adequate snow cover, you could make a more direct ascent from car to lake, maybe even directly up Thornton Creek (beware of avalanche potential).
You can camp at Lower Thornton Lake (there is a camp near its outlet called "Thornton Camp"). The next best place to camp would be at the northwest end of Middle Thornton Lake. I have no information to give concerning the upper lake. In fact, I never even saw it because it is tucked away behind the Southeast Buttress of Thornton Peak. If planning on climbing Mt. Triumph, then the camp at the 5,840+ ft saddle northwest of the middle lake is the place to go. The campsites are located on the left just before the saddle (a boot path leads to them in about 100 ft).
It can be hot on the approach to this climb. At the saddle camp, breezes can pick up rather readily, so keep this in mind when planning what clothing to bring along.