Switchblade Peak + Copper Benchmark by Washington Pass / 跳刀峯

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Switchblade Peak and Copper Benchmark border Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness and North Cascades Scenic Highway Corridor. Both peaks overlook Copper Pass as well. Notable places nearby include Early Winters Spires and Kangaroo Ridge.

Switchblade Peak above Copper Creek Basin
Switchblade Peak above Copper Creek Basin

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Switchblade Peak and Copper Benchmark at a Glance

Access: Copper Pass Trailhead @ Highway 20 MP 160
Round Trip: 13.5 miles
Elevation Range: 4900′-7840′
Gear: helmet, snowshoes, crampons, ice ax
Route Info: Eric J. Johnson
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no

The Preface

So far, we’ve made four trips through the old burns in the heart of Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness. So we could use a change of scenery. Then this week, we made our way up to Washington Pass.

Before the trip, I researched and found Copper Pass Trail that bypassed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). So I made sure that the area has been free of wildfires in recent years before firming up the plan.

North Cascades Highway milepost 160
North Cascades Highway milepost 160

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Copper Pass Trail

Over the years, I’ve driven past the unsigned trailhead on numerous occasions. But I never knew that a trail existed. So I parked by the milepost 160 marker just east of State Creek before the guardrail.

Despite the snowy ground, I found the trail soon after leaving the highway. Then the higher we went, the snow and handful of down trees dwindled. Later they all faded as we rounded Peak 7509.

There's a trail somewhere
There’s a trail somewhere

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Copper Creek Basin

It rained a few times as we went up steep hills through switchbacks. Views were spotty in the forest. But as we began to move east, terrain widened, and clouds dissipated to show the nearby peaks.

Sunshine had glistened the southern valleys for some time. But before long, the sun came our way as we roamed the lush hills full of glacier lilies. Meanwhile, I got a glimpse of today’s goal–Switchblade Peak.

Copper Benchmark above Copper Pass
Copper Benchmark above Copper Pass

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Copper Pass

I’ve been on the Washington Pass side many times. So it’s exciting to see the area to the south for the first time. But it’s also strange to think that we’re only a mile away from the pass.

Later I saw a couple of skiers below Copper Pass. Then they made their way over to the saddle left of Copper Benchmark. Shortly, we found ourselves on the saddle looking south.

Copper Pass west view
Copper Pass west view

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Twisp River Basin

North Fork Twisp River began here. After stashing overnight items, we headed south through the basin. At the same time, we aimed at the bottom of the buttress to the west.

Later we bypassed the buttress at 6600′ via a steep heather slope between snow. Then on the other side, the top of Switchblade Peak poked out from behind the gully.

North Fork Twisp River Basin
North Fork Twisp River Basin

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Switchblade Peak Southwest Route

From there, we moved southwest and later crossed the broad gully east of Switchblade Peak. Then we made a 400′ rising traverse to the peak’s south side. Soon, the serene, snowy Stiletto Lake came into view.

I didn’t find sufficient info on the climbing routes. But judging by the slope angle, the southwest side looked to be our best option. So at 7000′, we crossed the talus over to the north shore.

Switchblade Peak southwest route
Switchblade Peak southwest route

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Switchblade Peak Climb

Steep snow above the rocks got us higher on the otherwise rocky terrain. But it also complicated things a bit. So I spent time finding a way among snow ramps and the annoying krummholz.

As we rose higher, the steeper it became. So we later made our way over to the south and then the east on the milder ground. Then the final 100′ up to the top was on even steeper snow. Eek!

This way to Stiletto Lake
This way to Stiletto Lake

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Switchblade Peak Summit Views

Things would for sure go a lot smoother without the snow. Most recorded climbs take place in August and September. So go figure. But first, the incredible views!

It was the closest I’d seen the Liberty Bell Group from the south. To the northeast was the impressive Kangaroo Ridge wall and Cooper Benchmark. But too many peaks here to name them all!

Northeastern panoramic view from Switchblade Peak
Northeastern panoramic view from Switchblade Peak

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Back to Copper Pass

I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to climb Cooper Benchmark on Sunday before the rain came. So I wanted to see about tackling it today as well. Besides, it’s just over half a mile east of Copper Pass.

I didn’t care for our way up. So I scoped out the steep east ridge and, surprisingly, found two cairns past the north gully. Then we worked our way down the northeast crest using ledges and snow ramps.

Copper Benchmark west ridge
Copper Benchmark west ridge

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Copper Benchmark Climb

It only took half of the time to return to the pass. So we still could check out our second goal. Then from the would-be campsite, we continued east on the snowy west ridge for a bit.

Soon, the snow faded. Then we bypassed a short section of slanted slabs from the south. Later, snow showed up again at 400′ above as terrain flattened. Then it was another 400′ of a scenic stroll up to the top.

Looking back at Copper Pass and Switchblade Peak
Looking back at Copper Pass and Switchblade Peak

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Copper Benchmark Summit Views

The evening’s rainy forecast never happened. So views were far as the eyes could see. But I vividly remembered seeing cornices over the eastern cliffs three years earlier. So, in turn, we steered clear of the snow arête.

To the north was the unique view of Washington Pass‘s hairpin turn. Then back where we had just come from was the impressive sight of Switchblade Peak. Plus, the Twisp River Valley to the southeast was front and center.

Western panoramic view
Western panoramic view

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Outro

At first, I was on the fence about going back to the car tonight. But after tossing the idea back and forth, I decided to go for it. In turn, we would also miss the rain the following day.

Had I known we’d finish sooner, I would’ve brought a daypack instead, and I could move faster as well. So the overnight pack ended up as my training weight. Grr.

Thanks for a beautiful day
Thanks for a beautiful day

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