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Complete Guide to Hiking Black Peak | North Cascades

Black Peak is an 8,970 ft tall mountain in Washington's North Cascades National Park that's popular with mountaineers and hikers around the country.


The peak is accessed from the Rainy Pass Trailhead and uses the highly-trafficked trail to Heather Pass.



Nestled in Stephen Mather Wilderness, Black Peak is a gorgeous, hikeable mountain that sees many ascents yearly.



Black Peak Images


Black Peak Directions

Follow the map below to get directions to Black Peak or paste the following coordinates: 48.5182, -120.7339.





When to Climb Black Peak?

The best time to climb is in the late spring to early fall. During the earlier season, some sections of the ridge may be perilously snow-covered, particularly if you're attempting the NE Ridge. It's best to wait until the vast majority of the snow has melted off.



Often, climbers are turned around in late September and early October due to ice on the rocks or surprisingly cold temperatures. No matter when you go, you should be prepared for the climb to take longer than you think and bring the right clothes.



View from Black Peak
View from Black Peak

If you're only interested in hiking to Lewis and Wing Lake, make sure to check out our guide!


Hiking Black Peak

There are a few different, commonly climbed routes up Black Peak:

  • South Route - the most commonly used route up the mountain. Doable by most fit hikers with no technical requirements. The most commonly used descent route as well. Many hikers choose to wear helmets while on the rockier part of the mountain as rockfall can be a hazard (especially on a busy day). You can expect 100+ hikers on a clear, summer day so arrive at the trailhead accordingly.

  • NE Ridge - Mostly Class 3 and 4 scrambling with one or more sections of low Class 5. It is usually pitched out with a rope but solo ascents are a regular occurrence. You may want to bring climbing shoes for this route. If you are pitching it out, climbers usually bring a standard rack of cams and nuts as well as plenty of slings of different sizes. Route finding can be quite hard and the rock quality is not always stellar. Be prepared to find loose handholds and footholds along the way.

  • Southwest Ridge - an easier path up the mountain that merges with the South Route near the top.

  • East Buttress - a less-commonly climbed route up a gully system with some Class 3 and 4 areas.



Rainy Pass Trailhead Coordinates: 48.5182, -120.7339


Black Peak South Route

The standard route up Black Peak is a doable day hike for someone willing to put up with a little suffering.

​Distance

Elevation Gain

​Time Required

​Difficulty

12 miles

5,100 ft

10-12 hours

7.5/10

The trailhead is off Highway 20 in the middle of North Cascades National Park. The hike starts from the Rainy Pass trailhead and up the Lake Ann trail, which you'll also see from along the trail.



Lake Ann on the Black Peak trail
Lake Ann on the Black Peak trail

When you hit a trail sign, turn right and move through the meadow with signs that inform you, very emphatically, that no camping is allowed in this area. In a few feet, you'll get your first view of Black Peak. It sits far in the distance, behind multiple talus fields, two lakes, meadows, snow and/or scree fields, and feels impossibly far away.


Read more about the South Route.



View of Black Peak from the talus field
View of Black Peak from the talus field


NE Ridge of Black Peak

The NE Ridge of Black Peak is another climbing route up the mountain that requires more technical skills and is usually climbed using a rope and trad gear.


Starting the climb from the same trailhead as the South Route, ascend to Wing Lake (where many groups choose to camp). From the lake, go up to a col between the obvious ridgeline (on the right side of the mountain) and a smaller rock protrusion, known as Point 8895. The route ascends right up the ridge with some sections of Class 5 climbing (most of the climbing is Class 3 or 4 at most).



The rock quality improves as the climb progresses but the ridgeline should not be underestimated as sections are truly loose and falls are possible. While climbing, hand, and foot holds may come loose when you aren't expecting them to so always maintain three points of contact at all times.


Gear Required: standard rack of cams, nuts, slings of different sizes, rope, helmet, climbing shoes (optional). Crampons and an ice ax may be needed to climb the snowfield.


Descend using the standard route on the other side of the mountain.


View along NE Ridge on Black Peak
View along NE Ridge on Black Peak


Black Peak Facts

  • Black Peak is the 20th tallest mountain in Washington State.

  • It isn't a volcano.

  • The first ascent was in 1926.

  • There was a proposal to name the peak Mount Wenstedt in the first ascensionists' honor but it was withdrawn.



FAQs

Where is Black Peak?

Black Peak is in North Cascades National Park in Washington State. The trailhead is off of Highway 20.


How long does it take to climb Black Peak?

It takes between 10 and 12 hours to climb the standard route on Black Peak. Your time may be faster if you have experience climbing Class 3 and 4 rock and moving over boulder/talus fields.


Is Black Peak hard to climb?

Yes, as a hike Black Peak is much harder than average. It requires you to move over different types of terrain and traverse long distances moving at a slow pace. It also gains more than 5,000 feet in 6 miles.


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