Copper Slam Ridge Traverse / 紅銅滿貫縱貫山脊

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Copper Peak from Mount Fernow

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This climbing season, I was grateful to have great weather, optimal physical conditions, and new climbing partners. Late snowfall this season allowed me to climb a few more peaks on the Bulger List before calling it good.

Despite the iffy weather forecast for this weekend, I still set my heart on climbing the Copper Slam. But I wasn’t super excited about the possibility of no views on Mount Fernow on the first day. On the other hand, I was very much looking forward to the stellar weather on Copper Peak on day two.

The Lowdown on Copper Slam

Copper Slam = Mount Fernow + Copper Peak
紅銅滿貫=費諾爾山+銅峯

Access: Phelps Creek Trailhead
Round Trip: TBD
Elevation Range:  3520′ -9249′
Gear: helmet, rope
GPS Track: available

Approach to Mount Fernow

I slept at the trailhead the night before to get an early start. Then the next morning, I hiked to Leroy Basin under the partly cloudy sky. Seven Fingered Jack and Mount Maude were just as impressive as I remembered. More clouds rolled into the area a short while later. Soon, I made my way down into Gloomy Basin from the access notch.

Soon, clouds obscured Mount Fernow. So I couldn’t see much past the waterfalls above the 8200′ basin. This trip was my first time camping without the pups. It was especially hard to shake the uncanny feeling that I was most likely not alone on this mountain.

Next up, 8200' basin
Next up, 8200′ basin

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In Search of the Access Keyhole

The west wind began to blow fiercely. Just as I slowly made my way toward the mountain’s south ridge in poor visibility. At one point, it became so unbearable that I ducked behind a big rock. I layered up and hoped for the wind to stop. Thirty minutes went past, and the wind still showed no signs of letting up. Then I decided to start moving before losing any more daylight.

The “keyhole” was just as detailed in several reports. There was enough room for one person to crawl through to the other side. Oddly, the minute I got up on the ridge, the wind speed decreased suddenly. But the visibility was still weak, with a few cairns guiding the way. Soon, I was at the base of Mount Fernow’s summit block.

The keyhole
The keyhole

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Mount Fernow Summit

A nicely constructed bivy fort below the summit block awaited my arrival. I left my overnight gear there and quickly went up to the top. The climb via the east ridge was straightforward. Soon after I got up to the summit, the west wind started back up again. So I took shelter on the east for another 15 minutes. Finally, the wind died down for good.

I spent sunset time on the summit. Gradually, clouds began to shift downward and formed a temperature inversion–one of nature’s most significant phenomena! I got a glimpse of some of the top 100 peaks before the clouds completely devoured them. Copper Peak looked very bleak from this angle, especially in this weather condition.

Temperature inversion at sunset
Temperature inversion at sunset

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Summit Bivy

After sunset, I made my way back own to my bivy spot and ate dinner. The thought of spending the night alone for the first time above 9000′ felt uneasy. Glad I had brought music to take my mind off horror films and urban legends.

Shortly, a pika appeared from behind a pile of rocks while hunting for dinner. It then tried to chew through my bivy sack and steal my food. But I was happy to have another living thing around to keep me company.

Good morning Entiat!
Good morning Entiat!

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Copper Peak Climb on a Glorious Morning

Next morning I got up before sunrise and spent some time savoring the sky colors. Then after breakfast, I climbed up to Mount Fernow’s east summit. From there, I scoped out the two routes to Copper Peak based on the two reports in hands. One climber climbed the peak via the receding glacier east of the connecting ridge. While the other traversed the crest itself.

An hour of finding a way to get down onto the glacier was a total waste of time. So in the end, I resorted to the ridge route. This alternative plan a much better option as I had decided not to pack snow gear for this trip. Also, by staying high would, in turn, offer excellent views.

The mile-long ridge traverse to Copper Peak
The mile-long ridge traverse to Copper Peak

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The Ridge Traverse

At first, the mile-long Copper Slam ridge traverse from Mount Fernow to Copper Peak looked intimidating. In one report, the climber traversing from Copper Peak to Mount Fernow and back. So I was pretty confident that there wouldn’t be too many issues in terms of route finding.

It was hard not to constantly glance back at the jagged ridgeline and feeling the airiness at every turn. I took a good look down into Holden Village. Then I start remembering us making a stopover there on the way to climbing the Bonanza Slam.

Holden Village
Holden Village

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Route Finding Fun

Overall, this was a fun and thrilling traverse. There were a few class 4 moves along the way, plus a couple of places to rappel over cliffs. On the 8500′ notch below the south ridge, I contemplated dropping down into the east gully. From there, I could climb via the east ridge/face. But then I decided to remain on the ridge crest.

Getting up to 8600′ via a steep, loose gully was a bit tricky. The choice turned out to be more technical than anticipated. But I took my time looking for solid holds to avoid any mishaps.

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Mount Fernow from Copper Peak

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Copper Peak Summit

Three and a half hours of intense rock scrambling later, I finally made it to the summit of Copper Peak. I felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment as I looked all around me. Tears began to swell up in my eyes. But mostly, I felt a sense of gratitude I to have made it out here alive. But now that I’ve made it here, I just needed to do it all again to complete the Copper Slam!

Dang, there wasn’t a pen in the summit register, and I didn’t think to bring one to sign it.

Summit exhaustion
Summit exhaustion

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Back to the Other Side

There was plenty of daylight after sunset to get back to Gloomy Basin without using the headlamp. I had initially planned on hiking out to the car. But as soon as I noticed a pair of blinking eyes at dusk, I quickly changed my mind. Some animal was near the access notch over Leroy Basin. I prayed for what it was to stay put.

It was a moonlit night. And as I lay underneath the stars, I replayed images in my mind from the past two days of climbing. Hm, I wondered whether I could squeeze in another climb before snowfall.

Bonanza Peak
Bonanza Peak

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