Mt. Outram
August 24-25, 1998

Mt. Outram is described by Fred Beckey as having "the finest assortment of arctic flora in the northern Cascades" - quite a claim, but made by someone who should know. This peak had been recommended to me during a swap of favorite climbing destinations on the top of Mount Dickerman a couple of years back, so this August Maren and I made the trip up to British Columbia to try it ourselves. The trail data sounded good - 6000 feet of elevation gain in 5 miles, and a class 3 scramble to the true summit at 8000+' (although we learned later that the trail had been regraded in 1989, and was now all of 5.5 miles (the 6000' vertical hadn't changed!) - still a steep little puppy!).

Maren at west entrance of Manning Provincial Park Although the peak is in Canada, the trailhead is just off of the Trans-Canada Highway, allowing us to make the drive from Seattle in just 3 hours - no longer than it takes to reach many of the peaks north of Mt. Baker. The trail takes off from the parking lot at the western entrance to Manning Provincial Park - it's hard to miss, with the statue of the giant marmot looking over the highway. Although I gather this is a fairly popular summit, there is no official trailhead sign here - instead, start out on the trail marked "Engineer's Road Loop - 20 minutes". This trail switchbacks twice in forest, then brings you out on the old engineer's road. There is a sign here, but it still has no reference to Mt. Outram. Turn right, and follow the old road for a few minutes, crossing a surprising amount of small blowdown. Up to this point I wasn't convinced we were heading in the right direction, but shortly after the blowdown you come to a trail heading north, and the trailhead marker there finally confirms that you're on the Mt. Outram trail. The start of the trail wanders pleasantly through forest for the first few hundred yards, then starts to get steep. Ridiculously steep! The payoff for the grade, however, is that you reach the high alpine country that much more quickly.

As you climb, you have the opportunity to look south into the North Cascades - Mt. Redoubt crowns the views from here, standing high above anything else south of Mt. Outram. The last running water we came across was around 5900', where the trail crosses a pretty little stream. We stopped here and filled our water bottles, not sure of the water supply higher up. We broke out of the trees around 6000', and could see where the old route headed steeply up the ridge we were on - thankfully, the new regrade took a sidehill switchback here, going through flower meadows (sadly, past their prime this year) and huckleberries galore. Around 6200' we finally found some flat terrain for setting up our tent - there's a small tarn here that still had plenty of water in it, which could have saved us a few pounds of water on the previous 700', had we known for sure it wouldn't be dry. Sunset this day was just after 8:00, and moonset was at 9:30. With no clouds in the sky, the stars were spectacular by the time the sunset glow had disappeared from the mountains.

Painted orange arrows on rocks in scree field of Mt. Outram
The next morning we headed towards the summit with light packs, following the large orange arrows painted on the boulders of the scree field leading to the summit shoulder. Now and then we'd pass a boulder with a large number painted on it - it started with a 12, and then began a countdown. We eventually figured out that they were letting us know how many hundreds of feet were left to the summit (and we're concerned about a few bolts here and there)! It took just over an hour to arrive at the false summit, with a wonderful bivy shelter built of rocks perched on top of it. The summit register was here as well, but the Beckey guide stated that the small summit just north of here was the true summit. Up to this point the "climb" had just been a steep walk - to get to the true summit, however, necessitated scrambling down about 30 feet into an erosion dyke, up the other side, then down another 30 feet into a second dyke and up to the true summit, all accomplished easily, but carefully. By the time we stood on the summit, some clouds had started blowing in from the south and east, and robbed us of what would undoubtedly have been glorious views. None the less, we admired the small hanging valley on the west flank of the mountain, and had peek-a-boo views down the NE ridge route, and the remnants of the glacier dropping off the north side.

We headed back down to our campsite, running into one of only three people we'd see on this climb. We ate a quick lunch before breaking camp, and chatted with two other day hikers as they walked by our camp heading for the summit. They were the ones who informed us that the trail had been regraded in 1989, adding a half mile to the distance. I can only imagine what it must have been like before the regrade! After breaking camp, we made our way (very slowly) through the huckleberry fields, finally starting to put on a little speed as the clouds that had been blowing in all morning started spitting a few rain drops. All the way down we were reminded of how steeply we had climbed the day before, and our thighs continued to remind us of this for the next couple of days!


Last updated: April 3, 2001