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Trip Report

Cougar Divide — Friday, Sep. 4, 2009

North Cascades
Chowder Ridge Crest with Mount Baker in the background, September 2009, Marty Barney
Cougar Divide and Chowder Ridge ... Why we go high! First some notes of caution!!! This trail is essentially abandoned by the Forest Service. I know of no maps available for purchase that show it. The road is not much better, however kudos to the Forest Service for brushing and grading the road last year. Use a high clearance vehicle and don't hike this one alone without the gear and knowledge to spend the night just in case. The road past the bridge over Wells Creek has several deep drainage dips and the final traverse crosses a rock slide area that sheds large rocks regularly. The trail past the first high point is an obsticle course of large deadfall, tricky rocks, steep ups and downs, and could easily turn an ankle or knee. Hence, the gear to spend the night. Cell phones only talk to the mountain spirits up here. Alright, now the good parts. I started late and hiked for only 3 hours. Went just over 3 1/2 miles, which put me at the crest of Chowder Ridge, elevation 6600 feet. The views here extend from Bellingham (hiding behind Skyline Divide), clockwise past Church, Mt McQuire (Canada), Canadian Border, American Border, Tomyhoi, Larrabee, Herman, Table Mountain, Shuksan, Hadley Peak, and Mount Baker. Plus everything in between you and those peaks such as Skyline Divide, the ridge from Church to Bearpaw, the High Divide, Ptarmigan Ridge, Lasiocarpa Ridge, and Cougar Divide. The first high point is 6/10 of mile at 5400 feet. Obvious trail from the parking area through some forest and across blueberry fields to here. Elevation gain is about 500 feet. The trail is a boot path and also doubles as a run-off ditch. The high point is marked by a rock cairn and has great panorama views in 360 degree. Continuing, follow the obvious trail up the ridge. You will come to a sort of junction where the trail braides. Stay left, the way right goes a few hundred feet, downhill, through over-grown and red flagged trail. The way left is clear. I went through the flagged area on the way up and the other path on the way down. On the way down, the trail naturally leads you into the better route. The last high point with good views is reached at 2.7 miles and 5900 feet. Here you are looking right up at Chowder Ridge with Mount Baker rising behind it. To the west, across the deep Deadhorse Creek drainage is Skyline Divide. To the east, Cougar Ridge drops off to Dobbs Creek, Dobbs Cleaver, and Bar Creek. Drops off about 1000 feet on both sides! If you continue on the climbers trail from the last high point, just follow the boot tracks when the trail worn into the meadow gives out. At 3.2 miles and 6100 feet, you will find the climbers camp and water from a snow melt fed stream. I saw my only wildlife of the day here ... a Rock Ptarmingan. Another 1/2 mile and 500 feet of elevation gets you to the crest of Chowder Ridge. This is where Skyline Divide and Cougar Divide meet. There was enough snow and ice free ground to crest the ridge. Not sure how far I could have gone on the south (opposite) side of the ridge. I was out of time and had to turn back. The total elevation gain was 2500 feet due to the series of 5 ups and downs along the ridge. Goes something like this: up 500ft, down 130ft, up 100ft, down 100ft, up 300ft, down 100ft, up 400ft, down 80ft, and finally up 750ft. This hike is described in "100 Hikes in the North Cascades", but not in Craig Romano's new "Day Hiking North Cascades". Marty
Chowder Ridge from Cougar Divide last high point, September 2009, Marty Barney
Cougar Divide from Chowder Ridge Crest, September 2009, Marty Barney
Skyline Divide from Chowder Ridge Crest, September 2009, Marty Barney
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