Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Hannegan Peak

Ruth Mountain and Mount Shuksan
10.5 miles round trip, 3200 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Hannegan Peak is a superb vantage point for studying the sprawling glaciers and jagged cirques that define Washington's North Cascades. This rocky peak provides an astonishing view of Mount Shuksan's rugged north face, including the Nooksack Cirque, as well as views deep into the Northwest's most wild national park. This is one of the many excellent hikes of the North Cascades and the Mount Baker region, so I won't recommend it above other nearby favorites like Ptarmigan Ridge, Heliotrope Ridge, Yellow Aster Butte, or Skyline Divide, but this is still an immensely beautiful hike that PNW residents should consider when exploring their scenic corner of the country.

I hiked Hannegan Peak in late August, during the brief window between July and October when the high country of the North Cascades is snow-free. From Seattle, I took I-5 north to Bellingham, where I then took Highway 542- the Mount Baker Highway- east past the hamlets of Maple Falls and Glacier until I came to the turnoff for the Hannegan Pass Road on the left, just before the bridge on Highway 542 over the Nooksack River. I turned left on Hannegan Pass Road and followed this gravel road to five miles to its dead end. In recent years the road had become infamous for potholes but maintenance in 2019 made the road an easy drive for any car. The current trailhead parking area is just short of the original trailhead: the last stretch of the road washed out a couple years ago. A short trail skirted the edge of the washout to connect the parking area with the old trailhead.

The trail alternated between open slopes and occasional forest, with impressive views of Mount Sefrit towering above when there was no tree cover. The trail was flat at times but generally maintained a gentle uphill grade.

Mount Sefrit rising over Ruth Creek
For the first 4 miles through Hannegan Pass, this hike follows the Pacific Northwest Trail, a 1200-mile long distance route connecting the Olympic Coast with the Great Plains in Glacier National Park. First conceived of and hiked in 1970s, the trail remains incomplete at the moment, following roads through stretches where no trail exists yet; however, its popularity is growing as an alternative to other long distance hikes, as it traverses some of the country's most spectacular alpine scenery.

Ruth Creek valley
As the trail made its way up the valley of Ruth Creek, Ruth Mountain, a pyramidal peak with a glacier cloaking its upper slopes, appeared at the head of the valley. Areas of exposed rock mark parts of the mountain that have only recently been freed from glacial cover; this glacier once carved the valley that I was hiking through.

Approaching Ruth Mountain
Around 3 miles in, the trail entered a denser forest with stately trees as the grade steepened slightly.

Trail through the forest
At 3.5 miles, the trail reached Hannegan Camp, which was off to the right of the trail in a meadow in a basin at the foot of Mount Ruth. After passing Hannegan Camp, the trail embarked on a stiff climb via switchbacks as it ascended to Hannegan Pass, passing through meadows along the way that offered increasingly awesome views of Mount Ruth and its sprawling summit glacier across the valley.

Icy Ruth Mountain from just below Hannegan Pass
Four miles into the hike, I arrived at Hannegan Pass, a a fairly unremarkable saddle with a nice meadow. Copper Ridge was visible across a valley, with the summit of Mount Redoubt just barely sticking out beyond that. There was a four way junction here: the Pacific Northwest Trail continued along the trail that led straight ahead, which entered the Chilliwack River watershed and provided access to Copper Ridge and the depths of North Cascades National Park. The right fork led towards Mount Ruth and the start of the technical glacial route to Ruth's summit. I took the left fork, which led just over a mile to the summit of 6190-foot Hannegan Peak.

Meadow at Hannegan Pass
The trail cut through a stand of trees and then emerged out into open huckleberry slopes, staying out in the open for the rest of the way to the summit. In August, many of the bushes were ripe with berries, providing ample grazing opportunities while I hiked. As the trail switchbacked up steep slopes, views of Mount Sefrit and Goat Mountain appeared to the west down the Ruth Creek drainage and icy Ruth Mountain emerged at the top of the watershed, just across the valley.

Mount Sefrit
Ruth Mountain
At the top of the switchbacks, the trail emerged onto Hannegan Peak's long south ridge. The summit itself was visible ahead; the trail followed the ridge there for the rest of the way. The trail passed by a tiny pond as it traced the ridge. The more open terrain of the ridge also provided more open views, with Mount Redoubt and Mount Challenger rising to the east. Shuksan and Ruth defined the skyline to the south.

Ascending Hannegan Peak
Pond on the ascent to Hannegan Peak
The trail continued ascending along the ridge until gaining the summit, climbing 1100 feet in a little over a mile from Hannegan Pass. The summit was fairly flat and capped with a small grove. The rock and heather edges of the peak provided incredible views of the surrounding wilderness. The view south was the most apparently spectacular: Mount Shuksan and the great headwall of the Nooksack Cirque rose behind Ruth Mountain. Mount Baker also joined the party, its cone draped with the Rainbow and Park Glaciers.

Blum, Ruth, Shuksan, and Baker from the summit of Hannegan Peak
To the west, Sefrit Mountain, Granite Mountain, and Goat Mountain towered over the Ruth Creek drainage. Tomyhoi and Larrabee Peaks were visible through the gaps between nearby peaks. Across the border, the sharp, jagged profile of Mount Slesse rose over the Silesia Creek drainage. Mount Slesse was the site of the one of the worst accidents in Canadian aviation history, when a Trans-Canada Air Lines flight in 1956 carrying Canadian football players from an all-star game in Vancouver crashed into the mountain, killing everyone aboard.

Mount Sefrit and Goat Mountain rising above the valley of Ruth Creek
Larrabee and Slesse
To the east lay the impenetrable interior of the North Cascades: Mount Redoubt behind layers of ridges and the Pickets, anchored by the massive Challenger Glacier in the north, rising above the Chilliwack watershed. Eldorado was visible in the distance, along with the sharp pinnacles of Triumph and Despair; Mount Blum's pyramidal peak with glacial accoutrements poked out above Ruth Mountain's east ridge. Mountains surrounded us on all sides, filling every gap on the horizon- a typical scene for the North Cascades but beautiful, nonetheless.

Redoubt and the Pickets
The North Cascades: Eldorado, Terror and Despair, Blum, and Ruth

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