Date: February 20-21
Destination: Stetattle Ridge, Sourdough Mtn (NCNP)
Party: Matt, GeoTom, Schmidt AltiBabe, Yukon222, Yana
Five of us decided to camp overnight high up on Stetattle Ridge.
The results confirmed that Stetattle Ridge is perhaps the premier view ridge for the North Cascades, with its broad crest providing panoramic views that just keep getting higher and better the farther you go.
And when you can camp high on such a ridge on a clear windless night and spend hours watching the sunset and sunrise light up the surrounding peaks, it’s difficult to get any better.
Background on Stetattle Ridge
Feel free to bypass this section if you just want to skip ahead to the pretty pictures.
First let’s clarify some nomenclature.
To get Stetattle Ridge, you start out on the Sourdough Mountain Lookout trail. But the trail is NOT on Sourdough Mountain, and it does NOT go to Sourdough’s summit. The trail begins on Stetattle Ridge, and only later traverses over to Sourdough’s lookout, which is not on the summit. So there’s no reason to go to Sourdough. Instead, continue up Stetattle Ridge, which runs much further and higher than Sourdough anyway.
Now let’s look at some topography, and a daunting lesson in cumulative elevation gain.
The trailhead is at 890 feet. Circa 1150 feet, you’ll pass a sign that says you’ll be safe from flooding if Ross Dam collapses. Circa 4100 feet, near the Park Boundary marker, the trail turns to head for Sourdough, but going off trail uphill a steep couple hundred feet puts one on the crest of Stetattle Ridge. From there it’s an easy ridge run to the only challenging spot, a narrow dip in the ridge at 5700. Then it’s more easy ridge walking to Lake 5916, which is also the junction between Stetattle & Sourdough peaks. (If you want Sourdough’s summit (6107), it’s only half a mile away and 200 feet higher from here.)
From here, Stetattle ridge continues another 4.5 miles onward, with no less than ten marked elevation points on the map. Was it some surveyor’s graduation project, or what?
In between every high point are multiple lower points, so the cumulative elevation gain adds up rapidly. But it’s such a seductive easy rolling crest, that each point just tempts one onward to the next, with views getting better at every step.
The most noteworthy points along the way are:
Lake 5916 (junction between Stetattle & Sourdough), 5000 gain, 100 loss, 3.7 miles.
Point 6010 (the first 360 degree viewpoint), gain 200, cumulative gain 5200. 4.0 miles.
Point 6308 (best viewpoint for day hikes), gain 300, cumulative total 5500, 4.7 miles.
Point 6495 (Stetattle’s south summit), lose 200, gain 400, cumulative total 5900, 5.5 miles.
Point 6728 (Stetattle’s main summit), lose 660, gain 900, cumulative total 6800, 6.9 miles.
Point 6154 (north end of the ridge), lose 800, gain 200, cumulative total 7000, 8.2 miles.
Our group camped on Point 6495, and made side trips to Point 6728 plus Sourdough’s summit.
(I also made another side trip, but I’ll explain that later.)
Sourdough Trial & Stetattle Ridge up to Point 6010
We found the trailhead covered by fencing debris from the former Diablo town pool. The smoothly graded trail made for easy elevation gain up to the snow line & park boundary, both about 4100 feet. Through the mossy tree trunks, we were tantalized by views of the Colonial group behind us and the east face of Davis across Stetattle Creek. Leaving the trail, we followed boot tracks up to the ridge crest, then snowshoe tracks on the crest. The narrow cut had enough snow to make for easy steps.
Break on Point 6010
At Point 6010, we took a longer break to enjoy the views that were now open in all directions. Overhead, the sky had only a single tiny cloud, positioned to shade our exact spot during most of the break, while everything else was in sunlight.
Point 6010 to Point 6308
Between 6308 & 6495
At Point 6308, we decided that we would make our camp at Point 6495.
The west side of the ridge was easy slopes, but the east side had become corniced cliffs.
Point 6495 (Stetattle Ridge South Summit)
Point 6495 provided a huge flat expanse for a camp with territorial views.
A single rock outcrop marked a safe high spot to stand near the eastern cornices.
Sunset & Evening at Camp
We spent the last hours of the day watching the evening turn to a glowing sunset on the surrounding peaks.
Camp near sunset:
Yana dug a walled cooking area into the snow for all of us to share, dubbed Fortress Radenska.
We kept three stoves going making hot water bottles to warm us through the clear cold night.
Sunrise & Morning at Camp
We all arose before dawn to watch the sunrise make its own artwork of the mountains.
As the earth rotated us upward into the day, a rainbow band of color descended down the sky and onto the peaks.
The peaks became a contrast of light and shadow.
The photographers kept busy as sunrise came down to us.
Our camp shone bright in the morning light.
And the glow spread further across the peaks.
The Elephant at the End of the Ridge
Across from the far end of Stetattle Ridge, Elephant Butte appeared to be in perfect condition for a winter ascent. All day yesterday I debated it. In this morning’s light, I decided to go ahead. I skipped breakfast, grabbed the pack that I already had prepared, and hurried out of camp.
Stetattle Ridge Point 6728
To get to near the end of the ridge, I first had to climb almost over the top of Point 6728, Stetattle’s main summit. That meant dropping about 450 feet, crossing several smaller bumps, and ascending back up to about 6600 feet.
Ahead and west of me, the early morning light brought sharp definition to the peaks.
Behind me, the eastern cliffs of Stetattle Ridge stood out in corniced crests and fluted flanks.
Back on Point 6495 (1.4 miles distant), the silhouettes of my companions and our camp were just barely visible.
Great TR and pics, Matt. Looks like a fun party. Stetattle Ridge is indeed a special place, one of the few overnight trips that feels like being wayyyyyy back in there.
ETA: in late season, one can take the trail all the way to Sourdough Camp (just short of SD Creek) and ascend up vegetated class 1-2 terrain (one short step of class 3) to hit lower Steattle Ridge ENE of Jeanita Lake, then follow Matt's route N-ward from there.
Jim, I've been up there late season -- it's one of my favorite overnights in the NC's* -- and I've long intended to do an early spring tour up there. The access route is pretty much deadass S aspect, but pretty densely treed. A couple weeks of warm spring weather should bring it into ski shape, though one should be prepared for some tree bomb action and grunt ski carry up the trail to 4000' or higher. Once on the ridge, there are oodles of ski run opportunities. The camping opportunities up there are endless.
*I forebore from posting a TR, lest I might popularize the place. But now the word is out.
ETA: Jason Hummel just demonstrated that one need not wait until spring for a ski tour up there.
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