To the East of Surprise and Glacier Lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness stands a high ridge of exposed granite featuring sharp gendarmes that have become renowned climbs in the area. One of the famous fins of rock is Slippery Slab Tower, which is just south of Trap Pass, the low point of this ridge reached by Trail #1060A. South of Slippery Slab is Nimbus, whose name is quite fitting since it sits next to Thunder Mountain and Thor Mountain.
Thunder Lake from near Summit of Nimbus
Nimbus peak is a fun, easy little scramble, unless you want to summit the very tippy-top. The summit is actually a large 15x30' boulder that involves a short Class 5 move with much exposure. Most people are content to stop just a few feet short of that and come home alive. According to latest reports, some have built little stone stairways to make the final move more palatable. Even so, it still would be an exposed Class 4 move.
Located just North of the Thunder mountain lakes area, Nimbus lies about 1 miles south of Trap Pass, and perhaps 1/3 miles south of Slippery Slab Tower. Most folks hit this peak when headed over to Thunder mountain and Thor.
The General Area
While the trail to Surprise Lake can be quite crowded, once on the spur trail to Trap Pass, you will likely encounter nobody. This makes the appeal of this area all the more interesting, because it offers a lot of high camping and roaming potential. One of the more renowned climbs is Slippery Slab Tower.
At the Base of Slippery Slab Tower
Because this area gives access to many other peaks in the area, there exist many different climbing objectives that can be combined with a climb of Nimbus Peak. Some of these Peaks are Point 6804 (Thor Mountain) and Mac Peak.
Point 6804 (Thor Mountain) from the shoulder of Nimbus Peak
Mac Peak from over Thunder Lake
For the shortest approach, use the Surprise Lake Trail. Drive US-2 about 10 miles East of Skykomish just past the tiny hamlet of Scenic to the service area of the Cascade Railroad Tunnel. Pass over the railroad tracks and turn right about 1/4 miles to the parking lot at the end of the road. Find the Surprise Lake Trailhead here for Trail #1060. This approach may be a mile shorter but it is an extra 800' or so gain. It also is in the trees for the entire hike. Take the Surprise Creek trail (#1060) 4 miles to Surprise Lake. From just before Surprise Lake turn left on Spur Trail #1060A. Ascend this trail of many switchbacks to Trap Pass at 6,200 feet. The trail is poorly maintained, and at last viewing, had a lot of fallen timber cover the lower part of the trail.
Distance: 12 Miles Roundtrip. Elevation gain: About 4,500 feet with ups and downs. Difficulty: Class 2.
Alternatively, a longer approach would be the Tunnel Creek Trail to the PCT.
Take the Tunnel Creek trail (trail # 1061) for 1.6 miles. The trail ends at Hope Lake. From Hope Lake head South on the PCT trail. You hike up switchbacks for about .5+ miles to a saddle and then it levels out a bit. One you cross the ridge you start to traverse the slope on the south side. You come into a meadow and then the trail basically levels out and traverses for a couple of miles (with great views and meadows) till you start the switchbacks up to Trap Pass above Trap Lake.
TH at 3100'
Hope lake at 4400'
Trap pass around 5800'
5.6 miles to Trap pass on easy trail.
Crossing Surprise Creek
South of Trap Pass, Looking Toward the Chiwaukum Mountains
From Trap Pass head South on a well established climbers path that takes you along the ridge. The path is easy to follow. Ascend to around 6200'. This is when you come into the first open meadow just below Slippery Slab Tower. Before mid-July this basin will likely be filled with snow.
From this point on you are in the open. The main path dwindles into granite slab and boulders. There are several paths that take you to Thunder pass. They are easy to lose but show up again.
From the base of Slippery Slab, traverse your way around the ridge for about 1 mile with many ups and downs and gaining only a couple of hundred feet. You will then come to the ridge that you must cross to drop down to Thunder lakes. Take the right saddle. This will take you to the base of the South ridge of Nimbus.
In the basin below Nimbus Peak
Once in the saddle turn right and head north up the south ridge. There is a path that kind of fizzles out once into the rock. You can tell folks have been up there though. It will be Class 2 all the way until the summit block.
Final Scramble of Nimbus from South Shoulder of Peak
It is class 2 all the way to the summit block then a slight bit of class 3 over some fun boulders. You can climb up to a flat boulder bask in the sun and take in the great views. The summit register is located on this flat boulder under a small cairn. From there you can toss a rope over and climb up the last few feet of the summit boulder. The summit "fin" involves an exposed Class 5 move. The latest news is that other climbers have placed rocks to make the last move easier. It is still an exposed Class 4 move in that event.
Several choices for camping along the entire route. You can camp at Hope lake or trap lake. Trap lake is incredible and has good views compared to Hope lake.
There are some great spots just past Slippery Slab Tower with some great views. Water might be an issue late in the season.
Thunder Lakes is the best spot to set up camp, though. Incredible views of the Stuart Range and to the SE. There are some great spots tucked into the granite slabs.
One can also find a good spot up on the ridge and Thunder Pass area. Unless there is snow one would have to drop down to get water from the lakes.
Red Tape and Links
Hiking to Surprise Lake will put you in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Wilderness permits are available at the trailhead on a self-service basis.
You will need a NW Forest Pass to park at the trailhead. These are available on a daily basis from the Skykomish Ranger Station ($5/day), or annually ($30/year). You may also use an Interagency Pass ($80/year) which is good at any Forest Service trailhead or US National Park.
trip report by Fred Beavon
Gabriel's trip report and site