Vesper Peak 6221′

I dunno if it means anything to you reader, but I had intended to climb Sperry Peak this time around, a jagged looking scramble above icy lake Elan and across from the focus of this entry, Vesper Peak. As I crested Headlee Pass, and started across that long talus traverse though, like everytime before when I get that first glimpse at the wide open ivory granite slopes of Vesper Peak, it beckons.

First look at Vesper Peak after Headlee Pass

A lot of climbs can be arduous, some wild and challenging, but there are only a few I would actually call pleasurable without a shred of hesitation in my voice, from the foot of those long smooth slabs to the summit, Vesper Peak is mountaineering bliss.

That being said, this is not an easy hike. The gain is over 4000′ in 4 miles or so, and the trail can be rough and difficult to follow. As always, be prepared.

So our journey begins about two miles off the Mountain Loop Highway down the Sunrise Mine road. You’ll catch glimpses here and there of the stone giants surrounding you, Sperry, Del Campo, Morningstar, so many mountains, so little time.

At the roads end there isn’t much of a parking lot, but there is room to park on the roadside.

The trail begins winding through the forest, crossing mountain streams under tall stands of timber.

Sperry Peak

You’ll break out into the first real elevation gain, switchbacking up open slopes of low shrubbery as you make your way up to Wirtz Basin. It’s good to hit this area before the sun really starts beating down, especially on a real scorcher.

Soon Wirtz Basin will open up before you, low brush and trees give way to open talus while you amble up between steep spires making up the basin walls. Looking up toward the head of the basin you might wonder how exactly are we going to climb out of here.

Heading up into Wirtz Basin

The trail starts to vanish when you hit the upper portions of the fractured talus, watch for cairns to help guide you up.

After working your way up and up the trail will reappear and so will the previously hidden Headlee Pass. The switchbacks here become steep and tight, so much so that if someone is just ahead of you, your head will be at eye level with their boots.

There are a lot of loose rocks along this part of the trail so be mindful of this in both your steps, and the steps of others. A cantalope sized rock to the cranium would not be conducive to continued existence.

When you reach the top of Headlee Pass a sign will greet you with the elevation. (4600′) Strangely for some, this is the end of the line. I wonder if they realize what awaits just a comparatively short ways away.

Hikers on the talus traverse from Headlee Pass

Leaving Headlee Pass you’ll soon find yourself on a wide talus traverse and also get your first glimpse of Vesper Peak. Depending on your overall constitution this view may either make or break the rest of the trip. (first picture)

A: We’re going up that!? or B: We’re going up that! Hopefully you’ll take option B.

While crossing the talus you may notice a few adits blasted into the steep rock across the way. This is the Sunrise mine. I personally have never ventured over there, and frankly it looks rather perilous, but hey, I ain’t gonna tell you how to do your job. If any of you do head over there, feel free to share some words and pics about it with me

Lake Elan outlet, Vesper Peak on the left

Ahem, back to our trip. Shortly along you will get to the outlet of Lake Elan, a great place to fill your water bottles for the trip up Vesper. You’ll notice here that the trail splits, off to your left the trail heads up, this is the way to go up Vesper, the trail to your right will take you into the bowl to the shores of Lake Elan.

There is room to camp in this area, but like the Forest Service says, use established fire rings and no raging infernos. The intrepid press on, overnight kit in tow, for a nights stay at the beautiful meadows just west of the summit.

Whatever your nights plans are, you’ll now follow the trail up through heather and diminutive trees to the base of Vespers polished granite slopes.

Base of Vesper’s slabs

From here on out it’s kind of a free for all, you could make it into a scramble, or for the most part, simply walk to the summit. It is a great climb, totally open, yet for the hiking acrophobic, never feeling too airy.

There is something of a route marked by cairns, it heads toward the middle of the mountain, before veering off towards the north and following that ridge to the summit.


The views are indescribable, perhaps one of the best perches in the Cascades.

I set up camp not far west of the summit, hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. Had a six pack of beer chilling in the snow and waited for nightfall.

♪♫When the lights, go down, in the sit-tay♪♫

I camped just behind a large rock that bore an aged, unintelligible message that you can view in the picture. Who wrote these mysterious words so long ago, and why? What do they say, and what do they mean? Tell you what, if you can decipher them I’ll take you out for burgers and beer, No shit, my treat.

My best guess is : YES KEEP CAMP GUN OMA KEH DOH…. cryptic to say the least. Perhaps one of the Cascades greatest mysteries.

Mysterious spraypaint-o-glyphs

Alas the northern lights never did show, but watching the sun cast it’s final rays on the ancient peaks to the east and the stars and moon taking their places in the sky was fantastic in it’s own right. Looking west I watched as little by little the lights of the Puget Sound “super city” came on until it was a sea of multicolored lights.

Sittin’ on top of the world

Sort of a surreal place to be, essentially isolated, 6000′ above and miles away from the sprawl of suburbia yet bombarded by it’s presence, while the lands to the east only bore the astral light that the universe gave them. I know, pretty deep, huh?

Whether or not you get lost in deep reflection sleeping on top of a mountain, or simply just wanna get outta Dodge for a few, a trip to Vesper Peak will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you’re anything like me, it may become one of those places that requires at least an annual pilgrimage.

Copper Lake
Vesper’s crazy north face
Backside of Big 4 mountain

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