Bonanza Peak (WA)

August 5-6, 2022


Holden Village, WA

Bonanza Peak is the highest non-volcanic summit in Washington and one of the crown jewels of mountaineering in the Cascade Range. This peak is a massif of multiple summits and glaciers and there’s no “easy” route to the top. The standard route via Mary Green Glacier involves steep and exposed scrambling and/or rock climbing, glacier and steep snow travel, as well as camping and complicated logistics, although I did not find it to be nearly as difficult as I was anticipating, partly due to the fact I was quite experienced in all the terrains that this climb involves. The standard route starts from Holden Village which itself is difficult to get to. There’s no road connecting this village to the rest of the state and the only way is to take a boat across Lake Chelan and then a bus from Lucerne landing to Holden. The travel time is about a full day from Seattle so considering the out-and-back nature of this trip one must plan two full days just for the logistics. In the high summer tourism season it’s not even a guaranteed thing to be able to reserve the boat and/or bus rides, especially at the last minute.

Selena and Max invited me to join their trip almost a month ahead and I immediately said yes if weather would work out. Indeed, the weather was mostly fabulous albeit a bit too warm to be pleasant towards the end of the trip. We together only had 4 days and the plan was to ascend all three Bulgers in the area – Bonanza, Martin and Copper. This group usually would require 5 days. We figured it’s possible to cut one day off but we must be efficient on all three ascents. We reserved the boat rides via Lady Express about 3 days before the trip when it was almost sold out. The reason to wait until the last minute was to make absolute sure about the weather, but we learnt that reserving such transportation, especially if overlapping a weekend could be a massive gambling game. The cost for the boat rides was 91 USD per person so that’s another reason why we waited until the last minute so absolutely make sure we were going. Selena then filled in a form and emailed Holden Village to reserve the bus spots but we did not hear back from them until just one night before the trip. We all started to get anxious and I didn’t even know how should I pack. The ride was 11 miles each way so it’s possible to walk but that would turn this trip into a brutal slog. None of us was looking forward to that, so we were very pleased that the lady from Holden eventually confirmed our bus tickets.

Bonanza Peak, Martin Peak and Copper Peak from Holden. GPX DL

The boat from Fields Point landing would depart at 10:30 am and the drive from Issaquah would take 3 hours. Counting the unexpected delays we must leave early. It’s about 2.5 hours drive from White Rock down to Issaquah my choice was to either drive down the night before and sleep in Selena’s place, or to wake up at an ungodly hour on Friday AM. I opted for the former. I made to Selena’s home in Issaquah by 10 pm and Max was also there, and the three of us woke up at 5 am and left in Max’s vehicle. I slept through most of the drive but did get a McDonald’s somewhere in Wenatchee. We made to Fields Point landing with time to spare and the boat arrived in time. We loaded the heavy packs and walked onto the boat. This would be my first time seeing Lake Chelan so I was quite excited about it. About an hour later we arrived at Lucerne with 3 more hours to kill to wait for the bus. I had brought two rolls of sushi for lunch. The bus arrived an hour earlier but the reason was to unload the packages and wait for the “slow boat” to arrive and by 1:30 pm we finally could get on the bus. There’s absolutely no extra room in the bus so it was very important to reserve the spots. The driver treated everyone as tourists and lectured all of us some rules in Holden before letting us to get off the bus, and we didn’t manage to start the hike-in until 3 pm. We carried the uber-heavy packs for about 1 mile to Holden Ballpark campground before unloading all the extra shits that was brought for Copper Peak into the bear-proof box.

Fields Point landing in the morning
Just a view of Lake Chelan from the ride with Lady Express
Nearing Lucerne now, looking up the lake
About to dock at Lucerne landing
Max arriving at Lucerne with his heavy pack
The boat went to Stehekin and then came back to Lucerne..
We killed 3 hours here. The chipmunks were really aggressive.
The bus finally arrived but we still had to wait for about an hour to get on
Lake Chelan from the bus ride from Lucerne to Holden
Arriving at Holden Village

Max then set a steady pace up the Holden Pass trail into the endless switchbacks zone. The views were already great from this area but the slog in the afternoon heat was brutal. I had to call for a break at one point to drink some water and reload the water bottles. The water sources were abundant on this trail and we should have not carried more than 500 mL of water at any given time. We did not come with the water sources “beta” so unnecessarily made the packs heavier. The slog from Holden Lake to Holden Pass was the worst part of this approach but I’ve heard it’s already improved recently. The climber’s path was reasonably easy to follow and there’s virtually no bushwhacking involved. The mosquitoes were a bit horrendous at a swampy section and I made another stop for bug jacket and also to switch footwear to mountaineering boots. We then scrambled a long zone of boulder fields and picked up the trail again. Near the pass we made a short detour to load up 4 L of water (each) and then carried onward to the pass. To our surprise there’s still a patch of snow at the pass but having liquid water was still much better than melting the (dirty) snow. The pass was not super flat but we did manage to erect the two tents we had brought here. It was already 6 pm so with less than 3 hours of daylight we decided against climbing Martin Peak in the evening. That was a good call as minutes after dinner we got hammered by an unexpected thunderstorm for at about an hour. This thunderstorm dumped fair amount of hail to the area including the route on Bonanza Peak.

Just one microscopic section of the plod up Holden Lake trail
An afternoon view of Copper Peak looming more than 1 vertical mile above
Hopping one of the many dead-falls.
Arriving at Holden Lake. The bugs were the worst here but not as expected
The typical grunt for a few hundred more meters to Holden Pass
Looking back towards Holden Lake
We loaded up about 4 L of water each at the last possible stream
One of the millions of water falls coming off Bonanza Peak
The final grunt onto Holden Pass
Home for 2 nights…

The night and the morning was unexpectedly cold and I was shivering in my +2 C sleeping bag even while wearing all the layers. I was thinking to wake up pre-dawn but decided against that. It turned out that nobody even had set an alarm so we eventually got out of the tents when head-lamps were already not required. About an hour was then spent doing the morning routine so we really didn’t do an alpine start for Bonanza Peak. We picked up the climber’s trail ascending steeply above the pass to the treeline zone and then easily traversed to the infamous waterfall slabs. The slabs didn’t appear difficult but turned out to be the crux of the trip. There appeared to have multiple options so we just picked the one route that worked for us. Max soloed some exposed, sketchy and wet slabs that neither Selena nor I felt comfortable about. I eventually committed to a set of 5th class moves on steeper, but dry slabs while Max prepared to toss the rope down to Selena. We then had another long zone of class 3+ slabs to scramble up before reaching the edge of Mary Green Glacier. We roped up for the glacier with me leading in front, picking a route staying far on climber’s right to access the key traversing bench. The bench was then traversed at around 2450-2500 m elevation and just before the bergschrund crossing we picked up the set of foot prints from the previous groups. The crossing of the bergschrund was trivial and after that we traversed a long slope of steep-ish snow (40 degrees) far to climber’s right to access the rock. The transition from snow to rock was not a problem given the higher-than-normal amount of snow in this year.

Morning alpenglow on Bonanza Peak
About 20 minutes on the climber’s trail we exited the trees
Morning view down to Holden Lake.
Selena hiking past the last larch tree into the alpine
The first snow slope that we traversed across
Max leading us accessing the waterfall slabs
Selena negotiating some unpleasant terrain to get onto the slabs
Max soloing a wet corner with exposure. Not my like…
Selena then climbed a more direct line with a belay
The edge of Mary Green Glacier with the summit behind
Selena getting onto Mary Green Glacier with Martin Peak behind
We ascended on the far climber’s right for a long while
About to start the long traverse across the safe bench
Selena and Max plodding across this bench. Behind is just one of the sub-peaks
Plodding past one impressive crevasse
This is the infamous bergschrund. Easy peasy in this year’s high snow level
Selena and Max crossing the gigantic snow bridges
Looking back at that sub-peak, now looking rather tiny
Above the bergschrund now, looking back
Me and Selena about to commit to the upper snow traverse
Selena and Max following me traversing the only steep snow on this route
Yet another sub-summit of Bonanza Peak massif
Max about to down-climb a few steps to get onto rock

The rock scramble did not appear nearly as daunting as from afar so we decided to scramble as much as possible while trying to stay on class 3 ish terrain. We ditched all of the snow equipment as well as some extra water bottles. Max and I took turn leading, by firstly staying on climber’s right and then gradually traversing leftwards linking up ledges. The route-finding was definitely complicated and the exposure was deadly the whole way, but we did manage to keep the technical difficulty within class 3 until the very summit ridge. The last few moves before the ridge were very loose and we together dislodged several large blocks of rocks. The summit ridge was not easy that we all climbed some 4th class steps. The exposure was severe but the holds were reasonably solid, and before realizing we were already on the summit, about 3.5 hours after leaving camp in the morning.

Max and me starting the scrambling.
Max starting the lower ledges
Max leading the way for a while here
Max leading Selena traversing a slightly different line than I took here
Class 3 ledges with Mt. Fernow massif behind
Selena finding her route up the next weakness
Selena scrambling some exposed terrain
The chossy step onto the summit ridge
Max scrambling the summit ridge, very close to the top now
Summit Panorama from Bonanza Peak. Click to view large size.
The west summit of Bonanza Peak with the ridge traversing towards Dark Peak…
Dome Peak in foreground left with Mt. Baker behind on the skyline
Looking down Company Creek towards Stehekin area
Mt. Fernow is the tallest with Copper Peak on left and Seven Fingered Jack on right
Mt. Rainier pokes behind Clark Mountain and Luahna Peak
Three Fingers and Whitehorse Mountain in the far distance
Goode Mountain is the tallest in this group. Picture shows its easier side.
Tenpeak Mountain and Kololo Peaks
A zoomed-in view of the east side of Glacier Peak
Buck Mountain at center shot is another Bulger in the area
Me on the summit of Bonanza Peak
Selena and Max reading the register
Me doing my obligatory Instagram thing on the summit…
Our group shot on the summit of Bonanza Peak

The decision was then made to rappel the 4th class section on the ridge but then to scramble down as much as possible. One 60 m rope was sufficient enough for that rappel and then we basically reserved the exact route we took on the ascent, linking up endless ledges with some key steps that we could only remember from the ascent by paying extra attention. I think some moves were 4th class but majority of the terrain was only 3 class, but a mistake could be fatal on any part of this route. About an hour later we all gingerly down-climbed the ledges back to the crampons and took another long break to get mentally and physically prepared for the snow parts. The traverse out from where we ditched the gears was a bit tricky in the slushy conditions but the rest of the glacier was very simple. The water level was much higher now so we did two rappels to get down the waterfall slabs and then we were not far from the camp. Overall this climb was fun and challenging, but not as bad as people made it sound like. I do agree with some that the waterfall slabs are the actual crux.. I think we all enjoyed this one more than Martin and Copper. Once back to camp we decided to take an hour-long break before starting the steep scramble up the west ridge of Martin Peak.

After down-climbing the summit ridge this is looking at the west peak
Martin Peak in the foreground looks tiny from here
Me starting the rappel. Max’s photo
Selena down-scrambling the ledges
Max finishing the only rappel we did on the upper route
Selena negotiating the very typical terrain
Max about to commit to a harder move following my morning’s line
Typical, typical… Class 3 but very consequential
Very careful footwork needed to safely get down this peak
Almost back to the ditched snow gears
Max down-climbing a few steps of steep snow at the start of the traverse
Looking down at the yawning bergschrund
The steep snow traverse on the upper glacier
Me leading us down towards the ‘schrund.
Already below the bergschrund now
Martin Peak in the afternoon lighting
Selena refilling the water bottles just above the waterfall slabs
Selena on the first rappel off the slabs
Max finishing the second rappel off the waterfall slabs
Another look at Martin Peak. The route goes up the ridge at center…
A review shot of Bonanza Peak and Mary Green Glacier
Afternoon view looking down to Holden Lake
Back to camp. We would have one hour break before starting the next ascent…