Cascades Slumber Party

Cutthroat Peak, Washington

Cutthroat Peak

Cutthroat Peak, Washington     Photo: Garrett Grove

Northwest climbers play favorites. Some swear by desert crags; some prefer the volcanoes, Mount Rainier and Mount Hood. When I moved west in 1995, I fell for Washington’s North Cascades. They’re steeper, wilder, and, with 600 glaciers, icier than almost any range in the lower 48. To climb here is to feel like a pioneer. So I was bouncing with excitement that August morning when my buddy Craig and I parked on the North Cascades Highway and started up Cutthroat Peak, an 8,050-foot thumb of gold granite that straddles the Washington and Rainy passes. A dozen little mishaps later—among them, following the notoriously sketchy directions in local legend Fred Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide—we summited around 5 p.m. After a half-dozen more errors on the descent, night had fallen. Then the rope snagged. We anchored into a slanty shelf, stuffed our shorts-clad legs into backpacks for warmth, and settled in for our unplanned bivouac, too angry to speak. I now remember that night as the most beautiful I’ve ever spent outdoors—the air still, the distant glaciers set aglow by the stars, the satellites spinning. And when you’re bivying on a ledge all night, sunrise is nothing short of a miracle. One day I’ll climb Cutthroat again, but I’m in no hurry. I like that the mountain rebuffed us. You have to come to the Cascades humble, flexible, prepared. And next time, with pants.

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