Climbing
Non, Snow/glacier/ice route
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade II
Elevation Gain
5,500.00 ft (1,676.40 m)
Distance
15.50 mi (24.94 km)
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The West Ridge of North Twin Sister is the pre-eminent non-technical ridge scramble in Washington State, providing 1,500 feet of perfectly aesthetic climbing without the need for ropes. The scramble takes place entirely on extremely high-quality rock called “olivine”, which weathers from a deep green color (visible at fractures) to a red-brown, and is rarely found in such large formations. Olivine is remarkable to climbers because it is absurdly grippy, and makes scrambling feel extremely secure. This route provides climbers with incredible summit views of Mount Baker, the rest of the Twin Sisters Range, the Olympic Range, the North Cascades, and even the Coastal Range on Vancouver Island, British Columbia on a clear day.

The single drawback to this route is that the land between the Twin Sisters and the nearest road is owned by Weyerhauser - a large logging company that gates their access roads. As a result, climbers must travel 5 miles and 2,000 feet of climbing up logging road before reaching the turn-off for the West Ridge of North Twin. Unfortunately, this road portion of the trip is heavily traveled by logging trucks as well as clearcut, so it’s not very scenic, though there are good views of Mount Baker occasionally. Most choose to mountain-bike this road portion of the trip so that the end of their day is a fast cruise back down to their cars, though fast-and-light runners may choose to jog it out instead.

This route, while it doesn’t require ropes, requires climbers to be highly proficient in the alpine. If you’re extremely experienced, you should consider doing the Twin Sisters Traverse, which involves climbing up and over both Twin Sisters (North and South), by crossing the Twin Sisters Glacier (between the two mountains), though this guide will not cover that trip. 

 

Notes

  • Seasonality: This route is best between late May and late September, though earlier in the season will require a fair amount of snow travel to get from the road to the base of the ridge. The benefit of climbing in the earlier season is that you can potentially glissade down part of the descent, provided you have an ice axe! And after late September, the route can still go, but snowstorms are much more likely to mess up your trip.

  • Gear

    • Scrambling gear: For the ridge itself, you won’t need much gear - a pair of grippy shoes (well-sized approach shoes are best), as well as a pair of grippy gloves to protect your hands from the sharp rock, a helmet, and whatever other gear you typically take on an outing. 

    • Approach gear: This part gets slightly more complicated.

      • The Road

        • Via Bike: The road is extremely steep, so if you’re planning to bike, make sure your bike has granny gears, otherwise you may be walking up and pushing your bike.

        • Via Ski: We’ve heard of adventurous early-season travelers skiing up the road to the base of the route, but you’d almost certainly have to do some bootpacking before you get to the snowline, unless you do the route in true winter.

        • Via Foot: You can also run the road if you’re a real masochist!

      • The Bike Stash to the Ridge: Between the bike-stash and the ridge, you’ll need to climb up around 2 miles and 1,500 feet of gain, and this section is often snowy in early conditions, so you may need an ice axe and crampons, especially if you're considering glissading part of the descent from the summit.

  • Bike Stash: If you bike up, stash it in the woods around this GPS coordinate (48.7225, -122.0320).

  • Navigation/Self-sufficiency: There are a lot of reports of climbers getting caught in unexpected storms and suffering scrambling-related injuries on this route, so make sure you’re bringing appropriate safety and navigation gear!

  • Number of Days? Most climbers will do this trip in a single day, though many will choose to spend the night before bivying in/by their cars. There are multiple pull-offs near the trailhead if this is your plan. If you want to extend your trip, you may choose to spend a night up in the Twin Sisters Range itself. There are some great campsites in the basin between North and South Twin Sister, though this is off the standard route, and somewhat inconvenient to get to if you’re only doing the North Twin. 

 

The Climb

You’ll start down in the jungle of the Nooksack River corridor, parking on the north side of the river by a gated bridge. Make sure you’re out of the way of whatever logging trucks will be coming through this gate. If the gate happens to be open, do not drive through it. There are stories of climbers who did this only to find that they were locked in when they drove back down and were then fined before being allowed to exit.

You’ll lift your bike over the gate, and begin slowly climbing up the hill. Be aware that logging trucks use this road, and be ready to jump off to the side if they come barreling through. The hill is surprisingly steep, especially for the first 3 miles, so don’t be surprised if you have to jump off and walk for a bit. As you climb higher, you’ll begin getting views of the Twin Sisters and of Baker, but keep climbing, it only gets better! You’ll need to take a few turns on the logging roads (which aren’t signed at all) so make sure you’ve got a good map or GPS of the area.

At about 5 miles in, you’ll reach this GPS coordinate (48.7225, -122.0320). Stash your bikes here and then turn left, where there will be an old doubletrack road heading up the hill between bushes.  From here, you’ll follow the doubletrack as it switchbacks up to 4,000 feet. Here, there should be a cairn showing you where to leave the road and head up the ridge proper.

The bootpath up should be obvious, with cairns marking the way occasionally, though it is quite brushy and overgrown at points. At around 4,900 feet you’ll begin transitioning onto the ridge proper, though it’s still low angle here.

As the ridge-scrambling truly begins, you’ll put your gloves on (to protect from the sharp rock) and start following your nose to find the best route for you. If you follow the ridge proper, you should find nothing more difficult than continuous third-class scrambling, though you might feel some exposure at points. There are many alternatives if you want to make the climbing spicier, including some areas where it might be low-fifth class, but these are easy to avoid if you pay attention. If you’re looking to lessen the exposure, you can often get climber’s right, where there is generally a lower-angle cairned climber’s trail to bypass steeper sections.

You’ll continue climbing up the ridgeline until you come to a final summit ridge scramble, finishing on the obvious summit. Straight west you’ll see the North Twin false summit, and behind it, you’ll see South Twin and the ridgeline leading over to it, with the Twin Sisters Glacier on the north side of this ridge.

If you raise your eyes higher than the nearby peaks, you’ll see Mount Baker covering most of the eastern skyline, to the west you’ll see the Olympics, and to the northwest, you’ll even see the Coastal Range of Vancouver Island.

When you’re ready to descend, you’ve got a choice. If there’s continuous snow up to the summit, you can consider glissading down the north face of the mountain. But if it’s melted out, you’ll just turn around and downclimb the route. Remember, if you’re in frighteningly exposed terrain, take the time to find the easier route, it’s almost always nearby.

Once you’re back at your bikes, bomb all the way back down to your car in only a few minutes!

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

NW Forest Pass

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Extended scrambling on olivine rock. Mountain views.

Cons

Long approach. Logging area.

Pets allowed

Allowed with Restrictions

Trailhead Elevation

1,218.00 ft (371.25 m)

Highest point

6,570.00 ft (2,002.54 m)

Features

Glacier
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Access

Hike-in

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Primary aspect

West facing

Drinking water

Snowmelt

Location

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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