Climbing, Hiking & Mountaineering : SummitPost (2023)

Seeking Audience with the King

There are four "stormy" kingdoms in Washington (see the Mount Storm King page for more info). This particular stormy kingdom resides at the highest elevation of the four. It is, in fact, a member of the Washington Top 100, coming in tied for 51st on the fabled Bulger list (or 53rd on the 400P list). Storm King is located at the conjunctive head of Park Creek, North Fork Bridge Creek, and Thunder Creek. The mountain has a subsummit triangulated at 8,515 ft. This elevation is often incorrectly supplied as the height of the peak. There are two 8,520+ tops to the east of Spot 8515 that are definitely higher. The easternmost of these two tops is the highpoint.

Although the mountain is high enough to be a "Big Boy," it is a runt in its neighborhood. To the NNW is a bigger boy (9,087-ft Mt. Logan). To the west is a bigger boy (9,112-ft Buckner Mountain). And immediately to the southwest is the biggest boy, who is a full 700 feet taller (9,200+ ft Goode Mountain). Goode Mountain is also the biggest bully in North Cascades National Park. But Storm is the King of all that is his. And he even possesses a small glacier or two. The Wyeth Glacier occupies the high cirque of the outlier ridge connecting to Mt. Logan. This glacier is a meager measure of its former self (global warming). On the summit’s southeast and east sides is the upper lobe of the Goode Glacier extending up to the castrated notch between the King and Goode Mountain.

Storm King (often mislabeled as "Storm King Mountain" in trip reports and guidebooks) is a rugged set of rock towers laid out in an arc around an amphitheater of talus. There is so much talus (once the snow disappears) that this peak may have been more appropriately named Talus King. If approaching from the southwest (the standard approach), this talus seems to last and last, wearing the tread off your boots in real time. There are three major fins on the apical summit ridge and lesser outlying fins. There are so many fins, in truth, that discerning which is the highest of them all can be difficult. The main summit is in the middle. But how do you get up it? See the route page for this.

Rock on Storm King is Skagit not-so-gneiss, the same as on Goode Mountain. The first ascent was made by Forrest Farr and Art Winder in 1933.

Traveling to the Kingdom

This mountain is way the heck back there. It is one of the farthest Top 100 peaks from a road--especially now that the upper Stehekin River Road has been permanently closed due to multiple washouts. As a result of its isolation from civilization, three-day climbs should be considered the norm. There is essentially one route worth mentioning on this page: the route up the endless southwest basin. (A route does exist on the North Face, FA in 1978 by Dick Emerson and Walt Grove). The southwest route has three approaches. Each will be treated below. A fourth approach from Highway 20 using the Pacific Crest Trail down Bridge Creek will be omitted here since it intersects the Stehekin Approach at Bridge Creek Camp.

Approach from Stehekin

Note: Flooding from October 2003 washed out the Stehekin Valley Road in a number of places. See here for up-to-date information. After studies concluded last year (2006), it was decided not to repair the road beyond High Bridge (or just north of High Bridge). This is 11 miles from Stehekin Landing. Beyond High Bridge the road will be reverted to a trail where foot, bike, and stock travel will be permitted.

To get to Stehekin, it is necessary to take either a ferry boat, personal boat, or float plane. It is also possible to make a long hike to Stehekin (War Creek Trail coming over the mountains to the east being the shortest route). For information on the ferry boat(s), go here: Lady of the Lake.

Once you get to High Bridge, continue on foot or pedal up the flat road for 5 miles to Bridge Creek Camp thence another 2.5 miles to Park Creek Camp (2,280 ft) next to the creek. This is a good camp with multiple spots but it is unlikely it will be packed now that the road is no longer drivable. This camp is a good place from which to climb Storm King and back in a long day.

Note that the Park Service may in the future operate a shuttle service as far as Car-Wash Falls, which is two miles past High Bridge and three miles short of Bridge Creek. This section of road is not near the river and is therefore not prone to floods. It is easily driveable.

If you should desire to get closer to the peak, then proceed up the Park Creek Trail. The trail leaves the road on the west side of the campground (there is a sign). It’s not as far west as shown on Topozone. The trail climbs an initial 1,000 vertical feet through sometimes-brushy woods then traverses right to contour above the creek. The trail passes a large cliff on the left (west) and shortly thereafter crosses the creek. There is a small camp on the west side of the creek here (2 miles from Park Creek Camp). Continue up the trail on the east side for about two miles to where it crosses a large washout/rockslide of whitish rock. On the north side of this washout, about five minutes up-trail into the woods beyond, is where the boot path up to Storm King (and Goode) begins. There is or may be a small cairn marking the point where the boot path cuts off the main trail. It is before you get to any more small stream crossings.

Total distance (Stehekin Landing to Park Creek) = 18.5 miles
Total distance (High Bridge to Park Creek) = 7.5 miles [foot or bicycle travel]
Total gain = +700 ft from High Bridge, +1300 ft from Stehekin Landing

Approach from Cascade Pass
This is a good approach if coming from the west and probably the shortest over all from that side if considering the extra drive time to get to Lake Chelan and time spent on the ferry up the lake to Stehekin. The distance on foot is about 5.5 miles farther than the Stehekin approach (on foot from High Bridge), though, and involves a climb up and over Cascade Pass.

From Marblemount (Hwy 20) drive east on Cascade River Road 22 miles to road’s-end at the Cascade Pass Trailhead (3,660 ft). Hike the 4-mile long and way too flat trail 1800 vertical feet up to the pass (5,400 ft), avoiding the tourist hikers as you go. From the pass take the downhill trail into Pelton Creek. This trail descends to the Stehekin River then follows it for several miles until it reaches the old road.

In 3 miles from the pass the trail reaches a junction at 3,640 ft. The left (upper) fork goes to Lower Horseshoe Basin. The right (lower) fork continues down valley. Take the right fork (it initially heads back west in a switchback). In another half-mile cross Basin Creek (3,150 ft). There used to be a nice camp here but flooding has rendered it an ugly place. There are still some spots among the debris and regrowth.

Now continue down the trail less than 2 miles to Cottonwood Camp. This was the end of the old road before flooding closed the road. The National Park Service used to operate a shuttle van that turned around here. Now all that’s there are a park service tent, a picnic table, an outhouse, a backpacker’s camp, and a horse camp.

From Cottonwood Camp you’ve only got 4 miles of boring road walking to go to get to Park Creek Camp. This is a good place to stop for the night if you only want to climb Storm King, as it can be done in a long day from here. If you are less fit or wish to combine Storm King with Goode Mountain then you’ll want to continue up Park Creek as far as you need to go. There is a camp with a couple of sites where the trail crosses Park Creek (about 2 miles from Park Creek Camp).

Total distance (car to Park Creek) = 14 miles
Total gain = +1800 ft, -3200 ft
Total time = 5-6 hours

Approach from Thunder Creek
This is the longest approach of all but is a viable route. It is a grind, though, so I don’t wish it on anyone. Drive North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) to Thunder Arm at Diablo Lake. Hike the Thunder Creek Trail southward for 19 bonebruising miles to Park Creek Pass. Cross the pass and descend into Park Creek. Eventually it should be possible to climb back up and left (southeast then east) toward the southwest side of the summit. Allow for 2 days to reach the base of the peak.

Rex's Red Tape

Storm King is located within North Cascades National Park so treat the area with a Leave no Trace attitude. Also, you will need one of those silly Trail Park passes for the Cascade Pass and Thunder Creek Trail trailheads.

A camping permit is also required to camp within North Cascades National Park and the Lake Chelan Recreation Area.

Peon Camping

There are several campgrounds available on the various approaches.

For the Stehekin approach, there are campgrounds at Stehekin, High Bridge, Bridge Creek, and Park Creek. There are other campgrounds at intermediate locations too. These are spaced every couple of miles though some may have been washed out by flooding. You will need a permit to stay overnight at any of these campgrounds. They probably use to be busier before the flooding, but even now the sites can be filled. The nice thing about the Stehekin approach is it is rather flat and ad hoc campsites can be made if you need to (like for emergency purposes).

For the Cascade Pass approach you will be within the park boundaries the whole time once you cross the pass. Therefore you will need a permit (available at the Marblemount Ranger Station). There is camping in Pelton Basin east of the pass and thereafter at Basin Creek, Cottonwood, Flat Creek (just before Park Creek), and Park Creek. The Flat Creek camp may have washed away.

For the Thunder Creek approach there is McAllister Camp at about 6 miles where McAllister Creek meets Thunder Creek. A mile or so after that, at Tricouni Camp, you will enter North Cascades National Park (you were previously within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area). There are other camps along the trail: Junction Camp at 9.5 miles, Skagit Queen Camp at 13.5 miles, and Thunder Basin Camp at 16.5 miles. Also, Park Creek Pass has camping

When to Seek Audience

Climbs of Storm King generally occur from June to the first significant snowfalls of autumn. You will be on snow more in late spring. In early spring (and winter), the upper ramparts may not have melted out enough to allow for easy climbing. Even in summer the summit requires technical climbing (loose Class 3 with some intermittent Class 4). The nice thing about early season snow cover is it can cover all that annoying talus.

The King's State of Mind

Localized Forecast


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