Summit Chief Mountain + Little Big Chief via Pete Lake Trail / 主酋長山

  • Reading time:27 mins read

Summit Chief Mountain and Little Big Chief Mountain share a long ridgeline with Chimney Rock. One of the various routes to both peaks is through Pete Lake Trail. Meanwhile, to the north, atop Dutch Miller Gap, spans the notable Alpine Lakes High Route.

Summit Chief Mountain + Little Big Chief Mountain
Summit Chief Mountain from Little Big Chief Mountain
Summit Chief Mountain from Little Big Chief Mountain

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Summit Chief Mountain and Little Big Chief Mountain at a Glance

Access: Pete Lake Trailhead
Round Trip: 33.4 miles
Elevation Range: 2840′-7464′
Essential Gear: helmet, rock & rope
Route Info: Cascade Alpine Guide, Jeff Heidel, Monty VanderBilt
GPS Track: available
Dog-Friendly: no
Playlist: Ooyy


Friday, August 11

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Pete Lake + Summit Chief Mountain

The Preface

I returned after a trip to Chimney Rock and Lemah Mountain last year. But I visited their northeast neighbors, Summit Chief Mountain and Little Big Chief Mountain, this time. These two were closer together and more manageable.

I also brought snow gear as I toyed with the idea of including Overcoat Peak. But after climbing my two goals, I decided to exit early. Then that prompted me to loop through the remote Waptus Lake in the valley I hadn’t visited.

First light on No Name Ridge
First light on No Name Ridge

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Pete Lake Trail

I was on track to start walking at 4 AM like I did last year. But as I prepared to sleep by the trailhead, I realized I had forgotten to download maps of the area. So I drove out to get cell reception and didn’t start hiking until past 5.

After sunrise, I reached Pete Late and took a break by the campground. Shortly, a man hiking in the area appeared, and we briefly chatted. Before continuing, I took a photo of Pete Lake in case I came back through in the dark.

Pete Lake below Lemah Mountain
Pete Lake below Lemah Mountain

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Bypassing Lemah Meadow

From the Waptus Lake Trail fork, I crossed the dry creek bed that was a ravine up higher. The underground water would flow into Lemah Creek. After gaining 1000′ through tight switchbacks, I left the path at the 4000′ corner and went north.

The 600′ to the crest had many windfalls, plus pockets of vine maple. It shaved off three miles but had just enough brush to be annoying. Meanwhile, I avoided the would-be-busy Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) through Lemah Meadow.

A Northern Mockingbird keeping me company
A Northern Mockingbird keeping me company

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Ridge Traverse to Vista Lakes

The trail Jeff mentioned finding at 5000′, I started seeing it at 4600′. I followed the path before it faded past 5400′ as the scenic landscape slowly took shape. En route were glimpses of Bears Breast Mountain and Mount Daniel to the north.

I joined the upper PCT below 5600′ and headed west while rounding the ridge. During this, I met three northbound hikers and got the first look at Summit Chief Mountain. Before long, I reached the lower Vista Lake at the top of the PCT switchbacks.

This way to Summit Chief Mountain
This way to Summit Chief Mountain

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En Route to Summit Chief Mountain

It’s been bone-dry without any water since I left Pete Lake. So I enjoyed long breaks by the lakes while scoping out my first goal. Then it’d be two-plus miles of rolling ridge traverse before the bottom of the route.

Beyond the lakes, I followed the faint trail to the crest. Soon, I was overlooking Summit Chief Lake, where the path slowly dwindled. But I moved in and out of the slabs to minimize the elevation loss, thinking it was more efficient.

Summit Chief Lake and a sliver of Waptus Lake
Summit Chief Lake and a sliver of Waptus Lake

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Southeast Basin Route

But in hindsight, I should’ve dropped to 6000′ and taken the scree instead. It would’ve been quicker and not dealing with the steep, sloping slabs. Soon, I stashed my pack in the lower talus basin by the snowfield at 6300′.

Despite the leftover snow in the gully, I avoided it by hugging the buttress on the right. The terrain briefly steepened before leveling off in the upper basin. I soon pinpointed the ramp noted in the reports before moving again.

Upper southeast basin with Summit Chief Mountain summit spires
Upper southeast basin with Summit Chief Mountain summit spires

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The Final Stretch via the Southwest Gully

I walked through the edge of the snowfield while aiming at the 7000′ ramp. But it took some time to step up the steep hard dirt as I tried not to trigger any rockfalls. Then I made a rising traverse through more talus to the notch at 7200′. 

Soon, I headed north around a minor buttress and into the gully below the summit. Then I hugged the cliffs to avoid sliding on the loose rocks en route. The final airy moves took me through unstable rocks over a dipping slab.

Southwest gully finish
Southwest gully finish

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Summit Chief Mountain Summit Views

Chimney Rock and Overcoat Peak were the main features here. It was hard to believe the jagged landscape was only within 10 miles of Snoqualmie Pass! Meanwhile, the Alpine Lakes High Traverse peaks loomed above Foss River Valleys.

The afternoon lighting blended Little Big Chief Mountain into Bears Breast Mountain. But the view of Waptus Lake I’d only seen from Goat Mountain, was excellent. The southern peaks had begun to show their shadowy sides.

South panorama from Summit Chief Mountain
South panorama from Summit Chief Mountain

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Northbound Traverse to Camp

I slowly retraced my steps to the lower basin before heading north. I stayed around 6200′ below Middle Chief Peak to avoid losing altitude. But again, it would’ve been ideal to drop to 5800′ below the buttresses instead.

Weaving through the mounds of talus below Little Big Chief Mountain took a while. I later crossed the east notch at 6500′ and glanced at the route. Then it was apparent that there wasn’t a good way to descend to the snow. 

Traversing below Middle Chief Peak
Traversing below Middle Chief Peak

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Little Big Chief Mountain Northeast Basin

After checking the holds, I downclimbed the rock pillars to the moat. So glad that the debris had filled the gaps as I carefully climbed out from the west end. I reached the lower snow and soon descended through the waterfall gully.

I’m unsure why I was dead set on camping on Dutch Miller Gap. But before going any lower, I realized climbing back up in the morning made zero sense. So I went back up through the shrubs and set up the tent at 5700′.

Overlooking Dutch Miller Gap from the east notch
Overlooking Dutch Miller Gap from the east notch

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Saturday, August 12

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Little Big Chief Mountain + Waptus Pass

Little Big Chief Mountain Climb

The following day, I went back through the waterfall gully to 6000′. Then I headed northwest over the minor crest coming off Little Big Chief Mountain’s north ridge. Among the slabs nested several small ponds available for camping use.

I took the mild ramp north of the shrubs to the top of the north ridge. Soon, I was heading south on the broad crest with stunning views on all sides. Then the ridge narrowed as I went through the more jagged terrain.

Little Big Chief Mountain, 1500' above the camp
Little Big Chief Mountain, 1500′ above the camp

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The Ridge Gap Problem

Above 6600′ was the low-fifth ridge notch, with a large crack on the other side. Monty noted that the left side was more manageable for their group. But I didn’t care for the higher exposure there and went straight up the gap in the rock.

Jamming my boot into the gap felt awkward without rock shoes. But the holds were decent and got me to the narrow platform above the crux. With a few steps, I reached the top ledge and spotted the old anchor behind the thin shrubs.

Looking across the ridge gap
Looking across the ridge gap

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Southeast Ridge to Southwest Gully

I looked at the notch from the other side and was glad to have brought a rope for later. For now, I made a rising traverse through the visible ramp east of the crest. Soon, I was on the southeast ridge past the last snow but knew I was off-route.

Here’s where the Cascade Alpine Guide’s descriptions became fuzzy. So I explored by taking the narrow ramp into the southwest gully, which looked doable. En route, I noted the notch above a sizeable sloping rock south of the cliffs. 

The standard route to the right of the summit
The standard route to the right of the summit

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The Final Stretch from the East

Halfway up, the gully ended short of the cliffs below the summit. Then I compared photos with the route, and nothing looked familiar. Since I couldn’t continue upward, I wanted to try the notch above the boulder I noticed earlier.

An awkward move soon put me at the crest above the choss. Then the notch took me back to the east, where I finished the final bit over class 4 terrain. Meanwhile, I saw the standard route directly below me, whatever people.

Taking the southwest gully on the left
Taking the southwest gully on the left

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Little Big Chief Climb Summit Views

South views were still grand but not as dramatic as seen from Summit Chief Mountain. There was the tiny tip of Chimney Rock and no signs of Overcoat Peak. Vistas in all other directions were more or less the same.

But the best part was seeing seven lakes, including Crawford Lake and the distant Cooper Lake. After staring at Waptus Lake for a few, I decided to loop through the lake basin instead. I also wasn’t too keen on traversing back the way I came.

Southwest panorama from Little Big Chief Mountain
Southwest panorama from Little Big Chief Mountain

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Leaving Summit Chief Mountain and Little Big Chief Mountain

From the top, I downclimbed the class 4 terrain to the top of the old anchor. But I only brought a 30m rope and continued down the grass slope. Then I rappelled off a decent size chockstone lodged behind a giant rock to the snow.

Back at the ridge gap, I made another rappel to the other side before continuing. Soon, I reversed the route through slabs and the waterfall to camp. But with 17.5 miles ahead, I skipped my nap and packed to leave the area.

En route to Dutch Miller Gap
En route to Dutch Miller Gap

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Dutch Miller Gap to Ivanhoe Lake

Despite the mild slope angles on the map, cliffs lined the south side of the pass. So from 5400′, I moved east to the stream from the waterfall above. Then the creek bed led me north to the broad, woodsy gap I’d only seen on the map.

As I walked down the trail, Ivanhoe Lake below Bears Breast Mountain soon appeared. There’s also a path along the east of the water. After several photo stops by the west shore, I crossed the outlet to the east by the damaged bridge. 

Ivanhoe Lake below Bears Breast Mountain
Ivanhoe Lake below Bears Breast Mountain

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Waptus Lake Basin

Dutch Miller Gap Trail made many tight switchbacks before dropping into Waptus Lake Basin. Soon, the trail faded under the tree debris after passing the wetland. I’d somehow disturbed a wasp nest while taking photos atop a down log.

I ran after two stings but dropped my phone during the ordeal. Luckily, talking voices from the podcast I’d been listening to let me recover the device quickly; whew! I then found the trail again and headed north on the PCT.

Waptus Lake in the evening
Waptus Lake in the evening

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A Night on Waptus Pass

After crossing the Waptus River over the sturdy bridge, I briefly chatted with some thru-hikers. I got on the lakeshore trail and ate dinner by the water as the sky dimmed. Afterward, I shortcut through the horse trail past the campsites.

Without logs, I forded the shin-deep river with shoes on. Then it was bone-dry four miles before finally finding water by the Escondido Lake Trail crossing. I found a nearby camp and soon dozed off to the sound of the small creek.

The source of Cooper River below Waptus Pass
The source of Cooper River below Waptus Pass

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Sunday, August 13

Overview > Day 1 > Day 2 > Day 3

Pete Lake + Exit

Waptus Pass to Pete Lake Trailhead

It was another day of sunshine ahead as I awoke to birds chirping. I packed up with breakfast on the go and soon crossed Cooper River. Before long, I was back where I’d left the trail for the ridge traverse two days earlier.

I met a family of four on their way to Cathedral Pass by the switchbacks. Then with little stopping, I finished the 4.5 miles from Pete Lake back to the trailhead. En route were a dozen hikers on their way to the busy lake.

Cooper River in the AM
Cooper River in the AM

See more trip photos here.

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