trip reports

August 25, 2019

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

This is definitely a trip I’ll never forget. We had permits for an epic campsite on Copper Ridge with views of endless peaks (including some in Canada!), and I saw my first ever BEAR on the trail right in front of me as we hiked out.

I also had a few struggles on this trip that are likely common amongst backpackers, including a back that tires far too easily, a throbbing sinus headache due to allergies, gut issues due to backpacking food, physical exhaustion due to physical exertion, and a few bouts of anxiety due to everything else listed here.¬†Regardless, I love backpacking more than anything else I can think of and I’m already planning my next (shorter and easier) trip before the season ends.

Day 1: Hannegan Pass trailhead to Boundary Camp

5 miles +2,000 ft gain -650 ft loss

Backcountry permits are required to camp in the North Cascades National Park, so I applied for our permits as soon as the application process began. I’d seen photos of a campsite on Copper Ridge that enticed me to this location, and I was lucky enough to snag permits for two nights at the same camp area.

The drive from Portland to the Hannegan Pass trailhead is about 6 hours total, including a required stop at the ranger station in Glacier to pick up our permits.

It was cool and foggy when we arrived at the trailhead. We met a group of four guys who had just hiked out and said they had no views for several days. The forecast for days 2-5 of our trip called for clear skies and warmer than usual temps, so we were happy with our timing.

The first several miles of trail to Hannegan Pass go through brushy exposed areas along a ridge with a few sections through the forest. We could only see glimpses through the clouds of the peaks above us as we hiked in.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

hiking in via the Hannegan Pass trail (photo credit: Sanjana Sachdeva)

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

cloudy conditions hide the views on the hike in

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

the trail passes through open brushy areas for most of the hike to Hannegan Pass

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

starting to see glaciers under the clouds

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

Hannegan Pass

 

After reaching Hannegan Pass, the trail switchbacks down 650 feet to our first campsite of the trip at Boundary Camp. The campsites aren’t very scenic, but it’s a good place to stop before heading up to Copper Ridge.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

entering the North Cascades National Park at Boundary Camp

Day 2: Boundary Camp to Silesia Camp

3.2 miles +1,300 ft gain -195 ft loss

In the morning, everything was fogged in and our tents were wet with condensation. We took a bit of time to dry gear while we ate breakfast, then we packed up to head to our next campsite at Silesia Camp. By the time we left camp, the fog was completely gone and we had clear blue skies for our hike.

The trail switchbacks up through a forested section, goes around several knolls and eventually climbs to Copper Ridge. All along the way, we were treated to views of the peaks that surrounded us.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

beginning the hike to Copper Ridge from Boundary Camp

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

clear skies and big views on the hike up

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

the higher we go, the better the views get

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

looking back towards Boundary Camp (at the bottom of the valley)

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

crossing through Hell’s Gorge

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

first glimpse of Copper Ridge area

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

walking along Copper Ridge

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

the trail continues up and around several knolls on the way to Silesia Camp

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

on top of the world!

 

As we neared Silesia Camp, we rounded a corner and a whole new horizon full of peaks came into view. There are only two campsites at Silesia, but no one was there when we arrived so we picked the spot with big views. : )

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

trail to Silesia Camp

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpack

our epic campsite at Silesia!

Since the campsite was quite small, we had to position our tents right next to each other to fit in the available space.

The camp has a bear box for food storage located between the two campsites, and a composting toilet with a great view is on the ridge below camp.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

composting toilet at Silesia Camp

 

Short hike to filter water: 1 mile -400 ft +400 ft roundtrip

There’s no water at camp, so we hiked down to Egg Lake to filter water to carry back to camp. Carrying eight liters of water is a slogfest when you are hiking back up hill.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

our water source, Egg Lake, is far below our campsite

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Egg Lake

At sunset, we wandered around taking photos while the peaks all around us looked magical in the light. Then we slept for a few hours until it was time to get up to see the stars and Milky Way. This place is incredible!

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

last light of the day

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

purple skies over majestic mountains!

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

sunset colors to the west

Day 3: zero day at Silesia Camp

At sunrise, one of my friends was already up and running around again with her camera. I could see the pink color in the sky from inside my tent and didn’t want to miss out, so I got up and grabbed my camera. The colors were amazing! After shooting a zillion photos, I went back to bed until I was too hungry to wait any longer for breakfast.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

photography time!

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

sunrise at Silesia Camp

 

It’s probably hard to believe that the sky looked like this, with bands of pink and blue above the peaks, but this is exactly what it looked like.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

sunrise over Ruth Mountain and Mount Shuksan

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

pink and blue bands in the sky at sunrise

 

I was feeling exhausted most of the time on this trip, and then I woke up with a throbbing sinus headache, so I decided to skip the day hike I had intended to do. Instead, my friends hiked to Copper Mountain Lookout and Copper Lake while I stayed at camp and rested.

I spent some time taking photos with the Peakfinder app to identify all of the peaks I could see, and did a quick photo shoot of a new water filter that I’m testing for a gear review. Then I spent the rest of the day relaxing and soaking in the views while waiting for my tent to be in the shade so I could take a nap. It was incredibly quiet all day, with hardly any sounds other than from the Chilliwack River far below Copper Ridge.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Ruth Mountain, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker, and Hannegan Peak

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Whatcom Peak, Mount Challenger, Crooked Thumb Peak, Mount Terror, Mount Crowder, Forbidden Peak, and Mineral Mountain

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

view of our camp area with Mount Redoubt, Mount Spickard, Bear Mountain, Indian Mountain, Red Face Mountain, and Mount Prophet

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Two of the peaks labeled in this photo are in Canada: Slesse Mountain and Middle Peak! Copper Mountain is in Washington.

 

On our last night at Silesia, we repeated our sunset and midnight photo shoots. We were in one of the most incredibly scenic places we’ve ever been to and we didn’t want to miss anything, especially since the conditions were perfect… warm and dry weather with clear skies. The sky was streaked with pink rays and it didn’t look real, even when I was standing right there admiring it.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

a cloud streaked sky added drama to sunset

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

beautiful and quiet

Day 4: hike out to trailhead

8.5 miles +835 ft gain -3,275 ft loss

On the last day, we had planned to hike 5 miles to Hannegan Creek Camp to spend one more night before hiking out to the trailhead the next morning. However, hiking all the way out added only another 3.5 miles to our day, so we decided to go for it. An added benefit was that we’d be driving back at night and would miss rush hour traffic in Seattle and Portland.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

hiking out up and over several knolls

I was in the front on our hike out, and after rounding a corner, I found myself standing less that 10 feet in front of an almost full-sized bear! It was¬†right on the trail! I didn’t attempt to take any photos… we were both startled as we looked at each other, then it decided it was more interested in the huckleberries than in me, so I turned around to tell my friends about it before they ran into me and the bear.

We decided to give the bear plenty of space, so we backed up and waited while we called out to let it know we were there. We didn’t have a clear view of the bear, but we could see the shrubs moving and the top of its head bopping up and down as it ate. After about 10 minutes, we didn’t see any movement and decided to continue on the trail. Slowly. While we called out “hey bear” the entire time. One of my friends on this trip has previous experience with bears, so I asked her to lead us past this part of the trail. Soon enough, we felt safe and continued hiking at a normal pace. We sang all kinds of “hey bear” related songs for another 15 minutes or so.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

the forested section in the middle of this photo (just to the right of the rocky chute) is where I saw the bear

I needed one more Peakfinder photo so could identify all of the peaks around us on this trip. This was a view on the hike out.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Icy Peak, Seahpo Peak, Ruth Mountain, Nooksack Tower, Mount Shuksan, and Mount Baker

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

view of Mount Shuksan through the forest

 

I’ve been having back issues all year and it was hurting quite a bit on the last several miles of this hike. We stopped at Hannegan Creek to give my back a break, have a quick lunch, and filter more water for the hike out. Since it had been cloudy when we hiked in and was now clear and sunny (and hot!), we had new views to discover on the hike out.

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

Ruth Mountain

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

the last several miles out were exposed… and hot

North Cascades: Copper Ridge backpacking trip

looking back at the view of Ruth Mountain that we missed on the hike in

In spite of any difficulties I endured on this trip, I absolutely loved this place! I’m already planning future trips to more locations in the North Cascades. : )

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