Friday, July 24, 2020

Route Profile: Ruth Mountain Climb

The trail leading up to the summit of Ruth Mountain (Shuksan is in the background on the right). Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

This summer I had the opportunity to climb Ruth Mountain for the first time. It proved to be a great peak-bagging adventure--I did it in a day, but you could also break it into two days if you're looking to take your time and spend a night out in the mountains. I'd say this is a great weekend jaunt for someone with backpacking and at least beginner mountaineering experience. You do have to travel on a glacier to reach the summit, but the crux of the route is the trail, which is extremely rocky, root-y, washed out, and occasionally quite exposed. We also guide this route occasionally during our AMTL 1 courses or private climbs at AAI, so coming up with mountain with us is an option if you don't want to do it on your own.

Getting to the trailhead

To reach the trailhead, drive along the Mount Baker Scenic Highway (State Route 542) east towards the Mount Baker Ski Area. You will drive past the town of Glacier and eventually come to signs saying Hannegan Trailhead. Take the dirt road on your left all the way up until you reach the trailhead. There is a campground here you can stay at if you want to get in the day before starting your climb. The road leading up to the trailhead is very bumpy and potholed so four-wheel drive and/or high-clearance vehicles are recommended.

The hike up

Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

For the first several miles the trail is straightforward. It's hot here in the summer so start as early in the day as you can. The trail is very brushy and buggy, and also quite rocky so watch your step to avoid ankle rolls, etc. There are a few areas where you cross over steep scree or dirt slopes like this one:

Trekking poles are nice to have in these areas for extra stability.

Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

Eventually, you will reach Hannegan Pass and the trail will split off in three directions. The trail to the left goes up towards Hannegan Peak and the center trail goes down toward another area. Take the trail to the right to continue up toward Ruth Mountain.

The trail will quickly lead you to a camping area with water access. This is the main area where people camp if they are attempting the route in two days.

From camp to summit

Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

From camp, the route immediately becomes more tricky. You will head up a steep slope that is very washed out and where footing is tricky. Be prepared to use tree roots as handholds.

The trail will be increasingly exposed from here until the summit. There are areas where it would be easy to slip off and have a huge fall. You will have to traverse several scree slopes in addition to traveling on rocky/root-y trails and ridges. Early in the summer, you may still have snow on this part of the route and need to carry (and know how to use!) an ice ax here.

Ridge leading to the summit. Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

Eventually you will gain a ridge leading up to the glacier and the summit of Ruth. You will need an ice axe and familiarity with glacier travel for this part of the climb. There are open crevasses to the left and the right of the track going up but the crevasses are small (no more than 10 feet deep).

Two climbers nearing the summit of Ruth Mountain. Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

From the summit you'll be greeted with spectacular views of Baker, Shuksan, and the Picket Range. There's a summit register in an old Gatorade can up there, so add your name to the list!

Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

The descent

Take care as you make your way down the mountain--all of those exposed spots on the trail are still exposed! If you climb this as a two-day route, you will summit on the morning of day 2, then return to camp and pack up your stuff and hike out.

Gear to bring

If you do this route in a day, you can pull it off with minimal equipment.

Photo by Shelby Carpenter.

Here's what I had in my kit:
-Camelbak Lobo backpack
-Ice axe
-3L hydration bladder
-Mini first-aid kit
-Cell phone and headphones
-Delorme InReach Explorer
-Space blanket
-Snacks and lunch for the day
-Pee rag
-Patagonia Houdini jacket in case of wind/light rain

With this gear I had food and water to last for the day, a first aid kit and communication devices in case of emergency, and an extra layer and space blanket in case something happened and I needed to make it through a night up there.

This is a great route, and I encourage you to get out there and check it out!

-Shelby Carpenter, AAI Instructor and Guide

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