With much of the cascades being hammered by poor weather for the weekend, I felt lucky to find a small corner of the North Cascades to have a short weather window. So, Big Craggy and West Craggy it was for the weekend!
In true PNW fashion, I quickly packed, threw a route map at my safety contacts, and ran out the door at 9 pm for the trailhead. The drive up was surprisingly free of cars and Highway 20 already had a dusting of snow for the year. All went well on the drive and I was near the trailhead in a camping site by 1:30 am.
The Copper Glance lake/mine trail is nice and easy as it winds along an old forest road. Being that it was about 6:30 in the morning and the sun had not yet risen, the gentle climb was a very welcome start to the day. After about 30 minutes I accidentally walked off-trail following some footsteps in the snow. I only realized I was going the wrong way when I almost walked inside the remnants of the Copper Glance Mine. Make sure to follow the trail, the mine is dangerous, do not enter.
As the sun was cresting the nearby hills I was exiting the woods. I began to notice Alpenglow spreading across the peaks above me. While Lost in the scenery, I nearly missed the turnoff to go to Big Craggy Peak. If you follow the Copper Glance Trail, it will lead up to the lake. While it looked beautiful from my views of it for the day, it was not my goal. If following the same route B\be sure to watch for the small trail that will lead off to Big Craggy Peak. It will be on your right-hand side and is easily missed with snow cover.
Once you find the cutoff it will wind through some old burned-out forest and cross a creek before it heads straight for the (southeast?) rib of Big Craggy Peak. There was a lot of snow up there this time and so I cannot speak for any summer ascents. But, if there is snow the route is a matter of choosing your way up the side of the hill toward the obvious summit block. I did not find any of this first section of Big Craggy Peak to be taxing. But, with as burned out as the forest below is I can imagine a summertime ascent is quite difficult due to the masses of downed trees.
As you work your way up the views finally start to become the typical North Cascades astonishing. Slowly you will work your way up to a small bench along the rib and from here the summit will look obvious.
The last 1300 ft or so from the bench (pictured above) is not too difficult. It is a little steep, but, the thing I was most grateful for was the snow on the ground. A couple of spots where it was rock were loose garbage and I was ecstatic to be kicking steps in snow. If it is summer when you go, plan on traipsing over loose scree on the upper portions of Big Craggy Peak.
From what I saw and experienced, this is far better as a fall-or spring climb. That way you can avoid some annoying climbing conditions.
Once you crest the final ridge, you will see the short walk along a ridge line to the true summit. Big Craggy peak has some incredible views to take in, especially of the next goal for the day, West Craggy peak.
After summiting Big Craggy, I was doubting how safe the traverse over to West Craggy would be. The weather report had shown a 12-hour window to climb both before a winter storm moved in. I expected a dusting of snow on these peaks. But, I had not anticipated the depth of snow I was encountering at higher elevation. Apparently the NOAA snow depth map should not be trusted...
Despite my apprehension, I chose to work my way over to at least check out the traverse route between the two peaks. It looked okay from above so I headed down toward the obvious ridge connecting Big and West Craggy. As I started to cross the ridge the snow was waist-deep in spots. It was that terrible mix of ice on top powder underneath that the north cascades love to give us climbers. Undeterred I pressed on with a determination to make it happen. It should be noted that with a heavier snow load this route could easily become a danger. There is terrain traps all around and the avalanche risk here will be bad during winter.
The worst part of the traverse is when it wraps around the other side of the ridge. At the time of this writing, it was all waist-deep snow, lots of step kicking, and a little scrambling mixed in. I can only imagine how much worse this entire section would be on scree in the summer months. Once again I was thankful for the snow on my climb of West Craggy Peak.
Working my way over to the broad steep gulley took a little less than two hours. Luckily, I kept trading places with the other team on the mountain for the day, so I did not have to kick all the steps.
The best part of the entire day was the last ~150 feet or so of the West Craggy gulley. There is a much easier way to the summit if you wrap around to the left and aim for the shoulder. But, I Chose to follow behind another climber on the mountain and head up through a very narrow couloir. This option reaches a staggering amount of perceived exposure. The real fall would not have been long, but the adrenaline from it was exhilarating.
The short summit push after the steep section was as straightforward as it can be. Reaching the summit was more than gratifying. I was happy to see the weather system moving in but still far off. After a quick snack, I headed straight back down and ran for the car.
On the descent, you can use the wide gulley on the side of West Craggy to descend. But, be aware that there are some tough scrambling moves near the bottom. If you can make it to the basin below the gulley, finding your way out from there is easy (navigationally at least).