Editor’s note: This information was originally posted 4/15/08.
This ski or snowshoe ascent of Mount Mastiff (el: 6,741’) climbs through beautiful old-growth forests below Merritt Lake that are an interesting mix of Eastside and Westside tree species. Eventually you cut tracks directly below the northeast ridge of Mastiff with wide open faces that are swept by avalanches to your left and an airy, precipitous freefall down into the Little Wenatchee River valley to your right. A flat island in the sky is secured when you finally step onto the summit. From here, you can identify a gazillion peaks—that is, if you brought along a good map or a knowledgeable Cascadian climber.
Activity: Backcountry skiing or snowshoeing.
Nearest Town: Stevens Pass.
Skill Level: 3 (advanced).
Fitness Level: 2 (intermediate) to Merritt Lake, 3 (advanced) to summit of Mastiff.
Distance: Roughly 11 miles.
Elevation Gain: 5,000 vertical feet.
Recommended Season: Winter and spring.
Drive Highway 2 west of Leavenworth some 20 miles. Two good access points exist for this tour. In mid-winter and early spring, you can use a large pullout on the south side of the highway at milepost 77.25 ( a rock bluff borders the highway on the north side of the road). When the snow level is higher and you can drive some or all of the gravel road leading to the Merritt Lake summer trailhead, turn north off Highway 2 at milepost 76.1 and drive some or part of the 1.5 miles to the trailhead.
Map: View our topo map below (8.5’x11” landscape).Note: use ‘Print Preview’ before printing to properly scale this map to a full sheet of paper.
–From the lower parking area at milepost 77.25 (el: 2,540’), walk downhill on the highway’s shoulder about 100 yard to get around the rock bluff bordering the road. Scramble onto the snow. Following a true bearing of 340 degrees, work your way uphill to the summer trailhead. Note: the first few hundred vertical feet of this approach are steep and irksome, then the pitch mellows. Despite the tricky start, the fall-line descent makes for a sweet return.
–From the summer trailhead (el: 3,000’), ascend uphill following a true bearing of 304 degrees. On the upper portions of this leg, you’ll end up on a little ridge with steep sided slopes falling away to your right.
–Somewhere between 4,300 feet and 4,500 feet, contour these steep sided slopes on your right (general bearing of 296 degrees) and traverse over to much flatter ground. Follow bearings and elevations noted on our topo map up to Merritt Lake (see Merrit Lake Guidebook Post) (el: 5,000’).
–Cross or skirt Merritt Lake and climb the slopes confining the lake to the east and to the north up to the col (el: 5,580’) between Merritt and Lost lakes.
–Head down to Lost Lake, first by making a descending traverse to the northwest and then to the west; and then descending a drainage system to the lake. Note: Following the fall-line from the col directly down to Lost Lake is not recommended because there are a number of crags and cliffs to negotiate this way.
— Cross Lost Lake (el: 4,930’) and climb up the bottom of a large avalanche runout zone to reach the northeast ridge of Mount Mastiff.
— Follow the northeast ridge, generally staying slightly below the crest of the ridge, to the summit. Even when there is considerable avalanche hazard, you can stay close to the ridge and use the terrain to pick a fairly safe route. Keep in mind, however, that the ridge itself is often corniced on the opposite side and is fatally steep on that side – don’t wander along the actual crest of the ridge unless you see rocks and trees marking safe zones.
–From the summit of Mt. Mastiff, you can ski fairly easily over to the summit of Mt. Howard if time and energy allow. See our map.
–For the descent, retrace the general line of the ascent if you are concerned about avalanches. If you’re confident the snow stability is good, you can ski off the summit and descend the 2000-vertical-foot east face right down to Lost Lake. This face is interrupted by crags, rock bands, and gullies, so identify landmarks on the ascent that will help you ski a continuous line down to the lake.
Cons / Hazards:
Even when there is moderate avalanche hazard, this route can be done in a relatively safe fashion, but it requires good route finding and route selection skills. There’s plenty of room to get lost or wander onto a slide path if you’re not on top of the game.
–Extend the route by bagging Mt. Howard while you’re in the area.
–Map study would make it appear that climbing the south ridge of Mastiff from Merritt Lake would be an easier approach. However at Point 6125’, the south ridge pinches down to a thin catwalk that is usually capped by cornices. This can create a wintertime impasse for non-technical types. The book, 100 Classic Backcountry Ski and Snowboard Tours in Washington (talk about a long title), says that here, “it may be necessary to descend to the east side of the narrow summit ridge, then climb the steep east slopes to the summit.” I’ve skied to this pinch point on two different occasions, didn’t like the cornices we needed to go over or under, didn’t want to play around on the steep slopes below the cornices without an ice axe (and maybe even a rope), and turned around. The route we describe is longer but eliminates the pucker factor of this one problem area.
Land Ownership: Forest Service.
Fees/Permits Needed: None needed for winter use.
Other Maps: USGS quad of Mt. Howard.
Reporter (and date): Andy Dappen, 4/15/08.
Leave It Better Than You found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull noxious weeds along your route, disperse old fire rings (they encourage more fires), throw branches over spur trails and spurs between switchbacks (make it harder to do the wrong thing than the right thing).
Important Disclaimer: Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Things change, conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes, fail to give complete information, or may not know all the issues affecting a route. Forget about finger pointing: If things go wrong, you are completely responsible for yourself and your actions. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.