Planning a Climb

East Ridge of Eldorado Panorama
View from the East Ridge of Eldorado. Photo NPS/ W.Tarantino

Food Canister requirements in portions of some popular climbing zones

From June 1 to November 15, allowed hard-sided food canisters are required for camping below the vegetation line in Boston Basin, Eldorado, and Sulphide Glacier cross-country zones. This is not a blanket requirement for the entire park or for all portions of these zones, and was purposely limited, after two years of internal review and public comment, to areas of high use by both humans and wildlife, where wildlife has become habituated to getting human food, and other methods of food storage were ineffective, improper, or impossible. Although food must still be stored securely from wildlife, canisters are not required for camping or bivying on glaciers or on high routes along ridge lines. For more information on food storage requirements see this page.


Backcountry Permits

A backcountry permit is required year-round for all overnight trips within the park complex, climbs included. Permits are mandatory any time you plan to spend the night, whether in a tent or at a bivy site. Backcountry permits are designed to prevent over-crowding at some sites and to disperse visitors throughout the park at a rate which is less damaging to wilderness resources such as native vegetation, soils, and wildlife. Permits also allow for a variable level of solitude and a high quality climbing experience, with less crowding on routes, and less impacts such as human waste, trampling, or garbage at camping locations. Please check the backcountry permits page for more information, including when and how permits are obtained.

There are no entry fees or parking fees within North Cascades National Park Service Complex; however, many routes or trails begin on National Forest land, and a parking pass is required (i.e. Mt. Shuksan via Shannon Ridge or Lake Ann, and many other climbs). The Northwest Forest Pass or the federal interagency recreation pass (America the Beautiful Pass) are honored at parking sites and are available at all ranger stations.

A ranger ascends the Fisher Chimneys on Mt. Shuksan
A ranger ascends the Fisher Chimneys route on Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Baker stands in the background. Photo by NPS/ W. Tarantino

Current Conditions

The latest climbing conditions reports are obtained from climbing and wilderness rangers, the voluntary climbing register, and reports from other climbers. To make a climbing report, please e-mail the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount. Please include the route, snow level, any hazards encountered (or not), peak(s) attempted, and whether your party successfully summitted.

Many areas of the park are remote and seldom visited, with few or no current conditions reports. These are wild places of true exploration, adventure, and often epic stories of physical challenge. Find these places your own way. When you return from your adventure, you can submit a conditions report if you like-or, you can decide that some places are best when you discover them on your own.


Leave No Trace for Climbers

The low-impact principles of Leave No Trace are important no matter what activity you are engaged in, but in the alpine and in popular climbing areas, some practices become critical to the ecological health of the area. Here are some important reminders to help protect the places and routes where you love to climb.

Care for the trees (and flowers and meadows)
As a climber, you will be in a land of fragile vegetation—treat it with great care! Heather and huckleberry are woody species whose stems break under the weight of boots, packs, or tents. All meadows are susceptible to trampling damage, and erosion from too many boots trodding one path can dislodge plant species and cause more erosion. If there is a trail, use it—even if it means taking the 37 switchbacks instead of heading straight to your climb. You’ll save yourself energy and you’ll protect the wilderness. If there is no trail or designated camp, always look for rock, snow, or bare ground to travel or pitch camp. When you must cross a vegetated area, spread out so that all your footsteps don’t crush the same plant.

Upper Boston Basin composting toilet
Composting toilets are located where the sun can assist in the breakdown of human waste.  Please don't deposit trash. Upper Boston Basin.

Rosemary Seifried

How do you deal with human waste?
Human waste is a pollutant to both land and water, a potential health hazard, and a repulsive eyesore on a route or near a bivy site—or when your climbing rope drags through it. Never bury waste in snow, throw it in a crevasse, or smear it near your route or camp. There are composting toilets at climbing areas in Boston Basin and the Sulphide Glacier on Mt. Shuksan. If there is soil, dig a small cathole 6 – 8 inches deep and bury waste. If you are in rocky or mineral soil without other good options, bury your waste in a shallow hole. If you are on snow or bare rock, you must resort to the final option: blue bag it! Pack your waste out in a blue bag or other pack out system (kitty litter in a paper bag, PVC “poop tube” or whatever other inventive contraption you would like to carry).

Know and follow these “do’s and don’ts” for dealing with human waste.
Don’t bury your waste in snow—it melts out in a few days, looking just the same.
Don’t toss it in a crevasse—glaciers of the Pacific Northwest are relatively thin and it melts out quickly.
Don’t smear it on a rock nearby—it gets in the water, and if you camped here, someone else probably will, too. Would you want to drink or even filter the water if someone else had smeared human waste nearby?
Don’t be shy about dealing with your human waste. Everyone confronts this same issue in the backcountry.
Don’t let members of your group get away with leaving a pile of poop in the wilderness!

Do talk about waste disposal options and plans with your group.
Do ask an experienced ranger how many piles of poop he or she has seen while on patrol, and you will realize that this problem is bigger than you want to think.
Do ask rangers about your bathroom options in various climbing areas—rangers are happy to answer questions.
Do pick up blue bags at a ranger station and keep some handy on every climb!

Bear tracks in snow on Neve Glacier
Fresh bear tracks in snow on Neve Glacier

Beau Bracken

Protect wildlife and your gear
Urine and sweat are not considered health hazards, but they are both salty and thus an attractant to wildlife, especially rodents, deer, and mountain goats. Protect your gear and keep animals wild by urinating on bare rock, far away from camping areas, and by keeping salty gear and other food items out of reach of wildlife (use a bear canister, or hang food from tree limbs or large boulders). Take a walk before dinner and find a scenic site far from your camp area to cook and wash up. This will help reduce smells and animal visits to your camp. The tent you save from being gnawed by a rodent might be your own. If you think bears never travel above treeline, think again: bears have been seen trekking the Quien Sabe Glacier in Boston Basin, glissading on the Neve glacier, and swimming in a sub-alpine lake near Mt. Prophet, to name a few. It only takes one instance of a bear obtaining food from a climber to cause a problem—don’t be the one who makes this mistake.

Flagging and webbing are trash, too
Flagging and excessive webbing are considered trash—pack them out like you do all of your other garbage! In recent years, many climbers have noticed and complained, with bitterness touched by sadness, about the myriad of fluttering flags found along many, many routes in the North Cascades. Where can one go to explore and test one’s limits and skills when others have left such copious markers of human presence? Webbing left behind on climbing routes has also become an eyesore—pounds and pounds of colorful, fraying webbing clutter some climbs. Learn to navigate using map and compass, or harness the technology of GPS. If you feel you cannot safely navigate the terrain without leaving a marker, label your stakes or flagging and then be diligent and responsible in removing each and every one. If you must leave a piece of webbing during a rappel, remove one or more of the ratty slings already in place, and use a natural color webbing that will not be visible from a distance.

Fires – Don’t burn it
Use a backpacking stove for cooking. Bring layers of fleece or wool clothing and a good sleeping bag to keep warm. Fires are a pleasurable, old-fashioned pastime but they are not necessary for cooking or warmth. They are also illegal in all crosscountry zones.

Climber disappears into thick brush
A climber wades into the deep brush of Luna Access Creek.

R Dalton

Learn to co-exist with the devil’s club
Many a climber on a long, back-breaking approach has cursed thickets of devil’s club or slide alder or the clinging snags of downed trees. But, try to remember this: the thick wall of greenery that you must push through on a climb is part of what makes climbing in the Pacific Northwest unique and challenging, sometimes epic. Learn to appreciate and respect this signature ritual of Cascades climbs. Also remember that in this wilderness park the vegetation is protected: cutting, limbing, or destroying vegetation is illegal and can result in a serious citation.


Safety Considerations

No trip planning is complete until you consider the most important element of any climb: returning safely and without injury. No summit is ever worth injury or death. Turn around when conditions or common sense tell you to do so. Route and glacier conditions undergo significant changes during the course of a season. Climbers must have the proper equipment, skills, and experience for a given route. Many injuries occur on the approach, when climbers often let their guard down, but the most serious injuries can occur during a climb. Weather can be severe in the North Cascades. Climbers should monitor the forecast diligently before beginning a trip and turn around if conditions deteriorate. Check the weather, avalanche forecast, gear recommendations, and more on the safety page.


More Climbing Resources

Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount – find out current ranger station hours, phone number, and location for the backcountry and climbing information station for the park. Climbing and wilderness rangers are on hand to provide advice, answer questions, or assist in trip planning.

Guidebooks – Numerous popular climbing guidebooks are available for learning about routes and peaks in the park. The books listed below are examples of titles available on this subject (listing does not imply endorsement by the National Park Service).

  • Cascade Alpine Guide - Climbing & High Routes: Rainy Pass to Fraser River, Fred Beckey (also known as the “red Beckey”)
  • Cascade Alpine Guide - Climbing & High Routes: Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass, Fred Beckey (also called the “green Beckey”)
  • Selected Climbs in the Cascades, Volumes I and II, Nelson & Potterfield
  • Classic Climbs of the Northwest, Alan Kearney

Authorized guide services – If you are just learning to climb or are looking to expand your mountaineering skills, a guided course or class might be right for you. Guides must be licensed by the park in order to operate legally—please use the current list of guide services only.

Last updated: June 6, 2022

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