Rat Trap Mountain from Mount Pugh
Rat Trap Mountain is the unofficial name given to a 5420' peak located 11 miles E/SE of Darrington, WA. Rat Trap Mountain is greatly overshadowed by White Chuck Mountain to the west, and Circle Peak to the east, and does not have the 360 degree summit panoramas that these mountains offer. It does, however, have better than expected views, and an admirable 1160' of prominence (49th in Snohomish County), which may be enough to tempt local peakbaggers. Rat Trap Mountain will probably not ever be a popular destination in its own right, but it can easily be combined with an ascent of Circle Peak for a quick "2fer". This is particularly true now that a newly reopened forest service road has made access to these peaks more practical.
From Darrington, follow State Route 530 north for 7.5 miles. Here, make a right hand turn onto the Suiattle River Road (immediately after crossing the Sauk River). Follow the Suiattle River Road for 9.8 miles, then make a right hand turn onto FR25 (you will cross the Suiattle River immediately after making this turn). Follow FR25 for three miles, then turn right onto FR27. Follow FR27 for two miles, then turn right on FR2703. (At this point, a sign informed us that the road was closed at 1.7 miles, and until recently, this was the case.) Follow FR2703 for seven miles, until reaching the end of the road (N48 12.628 W121 20.103 Elev. 4100'). Now turn around, and backtrack for approximately 0.2 miles, looking for the short side trail that will lead to the Circle Peak trail on the southwest side of the road (I gave the directions this way because the trail is much easier to see driving northwest on FR2703). As of this writing (October 2013), I would recommend a high clearance vehicle for this road (My Subaru made it through just fine - be careful if you're driving anything lower).
Note: It may be advantageous to park at the end of FR2703 and walk back to the "trailhead", as there is really not much room to park at that location.
From the "trailhead", hike uphill a few hundred feet, until reaching the well-defined Circle Peak trail. Turn right (left will take you to Circle Peak), and follow this trail a short distance, until reaching a very obvious saddle (N48 12.550 W121 20.370 Elev. 4250'). Here is where you will begin your scramble up Rat Trap Mountain's east ridge. (If you were to continue on the main trail from this point, you would eventually arrive at Crystal Lake.)
Rat Trap Mountain route map. A small portion of the Circle Peak and Crystal Lake trails have been added for reference.
From here, the ridge leading to the summit is very well defined and obvious. There is very little brush, and very few blowdowns to deal with. Unlike most of my offtrail scrambling, this ridge almost bordered on "pleasant". At times, you will come across various colors of survey tape, which should just be ignored. Some of the survey tape trails will lead off of the ridge crest, which is completely unnecessary, as the ridge crest will be no harder than class 2 at any point.
Rat Trap Mountain east ridge. It's hard to believe such an easy scrambling route can be found on a low elevation peak in Western Washington.
After approximately one mile, you will arrive at Rat Trap Mountain's false east summit (5180'). From here, drop down about 100' in elevation, and continue west for one-third of a mile to the main summit ridge. Rat Trap Mountain does not have a well defined summit, so just wander around until you are satisfied that you have found the highest point. This is also advantageous for picture taking, as there is no one spot to get a 360 degree view. By visiting about four different spots on the summit, you will be able to take in views in most directions.
White Chuck Mountain from Rat Trap Mountain. A small part of Thornton Lake can be seen in the photo.
Rat Trap Mountain summit view facing north
Rat Trap Mountain summit view facing southeast
As of October 2013, there is no requirement for a Northwest Forest Pass to park at this "trailhead". My suspicion is that this road will eventually be closed again. When that happens, the easiest way to access Circle Peak and Rat Trap Mountain will most likely be from the Crystal Lake trailhead just south of Rat Trap Pass. (See the Meadow Mountain
page for directions to this trailhead).
When to Climb
Rat Trap Mountain can probably be safely climbed almost any month of the year. The most limiting factor will be the ability to drive within a reasonable distance of the mountain, which would equate to June through October for most parties. Approaching Rat Trap Mountain from the Mountain Loop Highway (FR23 and FR27) and ascending via the south ridge would probably allow earlier and later trips into this area (I have not been on the south ridge - it appears to be a simple scramble from looking at photos and maps).
If I were to make an overnight trip into this area, my first choice for camping would be the summit of Circle Peak (nice flat summit where the lookout was once located). If a lake is more your style, Crystal Lake would be just a short side trip away if approaching from FR2703, or you have the option of approaching from the Crystal Lake trail.