Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of postcards from lesser-known locations in Cascadia and beyond.
By Aubrey Laurence
Deep in the North Cascades, I’m standing on Abernathy Peak’s 8,321-foot summit. This small and airy perch at the headwaters of Twisp River offers magnificent views in every direction, and it provides me with an indescribable sense of freedom. But the feeling is ephemeral, as a brutally cold gust of wind stings my face, and I realize it’s time to go back down.
My wife and I wanted to climb Abernathy for years, but kept putting it off because it’s not an easy summit to get to. It requires a four-hour drive from our home in Bellingham, a 10-mile (round-trip) hike and roughly a mile of elevation gain. We finally decided to give it a go last fall after wildfires subsided.
The route to Abernathy’s lonely summit passes by Scatter Lake, which is a worthy destination on its own, especially if you can time it when the larch trees are in full “bloom.” Unfortunately, on our visit the needles had already faded and fallen in the cold autumn air.
The route up the ridge across the lake is intimidating, and at first glance it looks unclimbable. One guidebook recommends going up the left side of a rock rib north of the lake. This rib stands out because it has small trees and other greenery on its lower half. For one reason or another, we preferred the look of the rib’s right side and went that way.
After following a faint trail on the right (east) side of the lake, we bushwhacked to the base of the scree slope. At first it wasn’t so bad. But the higher we climbed, the steeper it got. With every grueling step up, we slid half a step back down. When we found ourselves scampering on all fours, we decided to scramble up some of the more solid rock to our left.
After gaining the ridge, the true summit of Washington’s 93rd-highest mountain is just a short way farther. The wind picked up and clouds began to billow as we reached the summit. I quickly drank in the amazing 360-degree views, kissed my wife, and then we retreated.
We made quick work of the descent, scree skiing most of the way and setting off mini rock slides with every heel plunge. We had the mountain all to ourselves, so we didn’t have to worry about accidentally kicking rocks down onto others. I looked at my wife and said, “This is definitely one of those one-and-done climbs.”
But deep down inside, I knew that sentiment could change. I’ve re-climbed many worse mountains that were much less rewarding than Abernathy.
Aubrey Laurence is an artist and a freelance writer who has written about craft beer, hiking and climbing for a variety of publications in Colorado and Washington. He lives in Bellingham with his No. 1 climbing partner, his wife Jen.