Big Jim through a burn on the Hatchery Creek Trail
Cashmere Mountain from Hatchery Creek Trail
Big Jim Mountain is named for the famed first American to summit Mt. Everest in 1963, Jim Whittaker. Big Jim lies to the north of Big Lou, named for Lou Whittaker and twin brother of Jim Whittaker. As it happens, the peaks are twins also, rising to the exact same elevation of 7,763 feet. However, only Big Jim is officially named on USGS quads.
Big Jim lies on the southeastern extreme of the Chiwaukum Mountains, a subrange within Washington's Cascade Range. With their often reddish rock and tundra upper slopes, these mountains resemble Colorado's mountains more than what is typically thought of as the Washington Cascades. It is a good mountaineering objective when clouds cover the wetter western slopes of the Cascades, as it is much drier here. It is best to climb this peak in cooler weather also, as it can get very, very hot here. Spring or summer weather in the 60's in Seattle is ideal time to tackle Big Jim.
Big Jim Mountain is nine miles from the nearest road; hence, it is most often reached as an overnight trip. There are wonderful campsites along the way to this mountain. However, with an early start, the summit is attainable in one long day. Accessible from either its north or south ridge, Big Jim offers a beautiful vantage point of the Chiwaukum Mountains and the famous Enchantments.
Getting There: The South Ridge
Meadows near Lake Augusta
Waterfall near Lake Augusta
The South Ridge has the advantage of gaining more elevation on trails rather than difficult cross-country travel and has an easier ascent route. It is longer, though, with an approach of nine miles one way to the summit.
Drive US Highway 2 West from the Bavarian hamlet of Leavenworth about 10 miles to the bridge where the highway crosses over the Wenatchee River. Just north of the river on the west side of the highway, looked for an unsigned road following the course of the Wenatchee River for a few hundred yards. This is the Hatchery Creek Road. Follow this road to the parking area at road's end, 2800 feet.
Follow the very steep, brushy Hatchery Creek Trail for 3 miles and 2500 feet elevation gain to a junction with the Badlands trail. Stay straight, hiking another 3.5 miles to the junction with the Icicle Ridge trail, 6700 feet. From here, turn north onto the Icicle Ridge trail, first dropping 350 feet, then gaining it all back and more on the 1.7 mile hike to Lake Augusta, 6854 feet. From Lake Augusta, the most direct route is to follow the eastern shore of the lake to the head of the cirque and climb 500 feet of easy (but loose) rock to the south ridge of Big Jim Mountain. Alternatively, you can take the Icicle Ridge trail to intersect the south ridge of Big Jim, but this will be less direct and will involve climbing over some rocky sub-summits to reach the easy upper slopes of Big Jim. Follow the South Ridge due north to the summit of Big Jim.
Trip Stats: Distance: 18 miles roundtrip, 5,300 feet elevation gain, Class 2.
UPDATE: As of October, 2017, the Hatchery Creek Trail is in decent shape and fully accessible.
Getting There: The North Ridge
Summit of Big Jim
South Ridge of Big Jim and Big Lou in the distance
The North Ridge is the shorter route but involves more elevation gain (and loss) and more cross-country travel.
Follow the driving directions as described above and hike the three miles to the junction with the Badlands trail as as per the South Ridge route. At the junction with the Badlands trail, turn right and drop an immediate 500 feet, then gain it all back and more, reaching an area on the map called the Badlands at 6200 feet. From here, there may be a climbers track to Big Jim Mountain Lakes. Follow this trail, or the north ridge cross-country about 2.5 miles to Big Jim Mountain Lakes. From here, it is possible to scramble to the summit. While Jeff Smoot's guide book makes the climb of the north ridge sound very straightforward, every account of an ascent of Big Jim from this direction that I have read has avoided the actual north ridge. Looking at the map, the contours show a very steep climb up the north ridge, which may account for this fact.
Trip Stats: Distance: 16 miles roundtrip, 6000 feet elevation gain, Class 2 or higher, depending on which route taken.
Red Tape & Camping
Upper Slopes of Big Jim
Chiwaukum Mountains from Big Jim
You will enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness about 1 mile into the Hatchery Creek Trail. All Wilderness rules apply. Permits are available at the trailhead on a self-served basis. To park here, it is required to have a Northwest Trail Park Pass ($5/daily, $30/annually) or an interagency pass ($80/annually).
There are many excellent campsites at Lake Augusta. Lake Augusta is seems to be well stocked and full of trout, so fisherman will have a good time there too. Camps also sprinkle the trail to the Icicle Ridge junction. There are excellent sites in the meadows leading up to Lake Augusta too.
The closest ranger station is in Leavenworth. You can contact them at:
Lake Wenatchee Ranger Station
State Route, Box 109
Leavenworth, WA 98826
For links to the Forest Service and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, go to:
Alpine Lakes Wilderness