Ptarmigan Peak is a high rounded massif if viewed from the south but it has a precipitous north side. This north side is seldom seen due to its location north of where most backcountry travelers go deep in the Pasayten Wilderness of north-central Washington. Ptarmigan is approximately the 40th highest peak in the state but is not a difficult peak to climb. The hardest part of climbing it may well be getting onto it (brush in the valleys and rough terrain on the ridge traverses). The peak is approximately 2.4 miles due north of Mt. Lago
and can be reached via a long ridge traverse from the same. The treeless slopes between Ptarmigan and Dot Mountain to the south are reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. Immediately north of Ptarmigan Peak the terrain subsides to a parkland region around Tatoosh Buttes.
Dot Mountain, Dot Lakes, and Dot Creek were named after Dot Wernstedt, Lage Wernstedt's wife. Mr. Wernstedt is one of the most notable figures in Northwest climbing history. He mapped many of the peaks in the Pasayten in the 1920's and is credited with many of the first ascents therein. He may have even been the first to stand atop Ptarmigan Peak. Ptarmigan Peak is itself named after the bird, not the Ptarmigan Climbing Club famous for the Ptarmigan Traverse from Dome Peak to Cascade Pass.
Ptarmigan Peak is a long way away from any road. The shortest approach is from the end of Eightmile Creek Road 10 miles to the southeast of the peak. This approach takes the Eightmile Pass-Hidden Lake Trail for approximately 15 miles to Ptarmigan Creek northeast of the Peak then 2 or 3 more miles to the base of the mountain. Another approach would be via the Lost River-Monument Creek-Ptarmigan Creek Trail (starts on Harts Pass Road at the Lost River/Methow River confluence), but this is about 22 miles to the the base of the mountain at Dot Creek. Alternately, one can get to the peak by starting at Slate Pass and taking the trail up the Middle Fork Pasayten River to Berk Creek then up to Freds Pass and across the head of Eureka Creek to Shellrock Pass for a good camp for doing Ptarmigan the next day. Still another route, which may be shortest of all, would be from a trail beginning in Canada where the Pasayten River flows across the border.
Permits are not required in this region of the Pasayten as far as I know. You won't be seeing many people back there. Those you do see are more apt to be on horseback than foot, as most of the valley trails are pack trails.
When To Climb
Ptarmigan Peak could probably be climbed in every season except winter. Access depends on conditions for getting to the trailhead. The Slate Pass trailhead is ~6,200 ft up. Eightmile Creek Road's end is <3,500 ft. The snowier the approach, the longer time you'll need to get in and out.
If you're going to go climb Ptarmigan Peak you could probably get in and out in three days. However, you might as well make it a multi-day trip and climb other peaks in the area from a base camp located somewhat closer to a road (such as near Shellrock Pass). Each peak (and the region in general) offers excellent vistas--especially for photography.
There are numerous campsites en route to the peak. The terrain in the valleys is not rugged, which is conducive to many camps being available. However, the Forest Service does request that you use designated campsites along the trail. I do remember seeing a large though uninspiring camp in the deep woods along Ptarmigan Creek perhaps two miles north of Butte Pass. Also, unless the Forest Service has done some work, the Ptarmigan Creek Trail between Butte Pass and Dot Creek is heavily windfallen. Trees of all sizes lay across the trail practically every 100 feet.
When I climbed Ptarmigan Peak in August 2001, I was snowshowered on lightly for one night at my 7,500-ft camp and then intermittently throughout the day. Knowing this, plan your clothing appropriately. It can be hot or cold or in between in the Pasayten. Ordinarily, you won't get much rainfall as the wilderness is far east of the Cascade Crest. However, when I was there, it rained for 36 hours straight. I stayed in my tent nearly the whole time.