Sourdough Mountain and Stetattle Ridge

“Where trails go to die…”

an observation while trying to find our way along Stetattle Ridge to Mis-kai-whu/Stetattle North Ridge Peak
Me, pointing out Stetattle North Peak (aka Mis-kai-whu mountain) in the near distance


All of the information you need to know about how to get here, passes, and trail logistics is outlined in one of these links, below. Note, I did not find a lot of information on the Stetattle Ridge hike (mileage for example) so I’ll add what I have from my adventuring to offset the content already out there. The Sourdough Mountain hike was surprisingly popular the day I went out there but even so, my hiking partner and I had the trail mostly to ourselves and the lookout and summit all to ourselves. No one really goes further than the Sourdough summit so we also had the entire Ridge to ourselves, too. Included in this post are my observations that might help someone planning to adventure up there like we did.

Thanks for checking out this post. Enjoy the read!

Sourdough Mountain

Stetattle Ridge

And, definitely checkout Willwhiteweb’s post. I, apparently, was not a good researcher and did the very thing he advises against! Note my time noted is elapsed time for each section.

  • 5.19 miles in 2 hours and 50 minutes to gain the Sourdough Mountain Lookout
  • 1. 62 miles in 57 minutes to reach Sourdough Mountain summit from the Lookout (and find the register)
  • 2.67 miles in 2 hours to gain the first peak along the Stetattle Ridge (6,493)
  • 6.57 miles in 3 hours and 27 minutes to make it back to the Trailhead (rating: BW5, similar to WI5 but Bushwhacking – thanks for that term, WillWhite!)

Total mileage tracked: 16.05 miles

Total time tracked: 9 hours and 14 minutes, and ~1 hour exploring between pushes to make 10 hours and 16 minutes car-to-car.

Stats by Graph, thanks to Strava – Time is moving time



First thing I noticed was the parking lot was full. I was not expecting this. For some reason, I thought this trail was a bit more obscure. There were maybe 7 to 10 cars…I didn’t count explicitly. Therefore, prepare yourself to have company along the trail, though the trail is steep and long enough that you will spread out nicely. My friend and I passed a few groups on our way up and had the trail to ourselves for most of it, including the Lookout, Summit, and the entire Ridge exploration and descent. There was a group of 4 climbers that we passed early on the way up Sourdough trail. They were returning down after retreating from their objective to climb some spires just past Elephant Butte. Unfortunately, heavy rains had come in that night and they opted to retreat. There was only 1 other couple returning down the trail higher up that appeared to have camped, not sure if they were climbing as well.

When I asked the party of 4 how it went and they talked about the rain and such, before we departed, they mentioned Big animals up there. I had heard this and read about that potential in my research, but we did not encounter anything ourselves.

Steepness/Intensity of the hike

After reading about the extreme nature of this hike, I was a bit intimidated heading up. However, at about the 2 mile mark, the trail eases back a tad, though there are still some steep stretches to gain the summit. The trail itself is in great condition. Very few downed trees, narrow in stretches but clean with not many tree roots to navigate and good stretches without a lot of rocky terrain to navigate.

The trail
More trail

There is a streak that you cross very early on and you parallel it for a stretch in the first mile, but the next place to get water is at Sourdough Camp. Tons of Blueberry bushes lined the Meadow from here to the Lookout and the views open up nicely making your ascent a bit slower if you want to take it all in.

Sourdough Camp

I expected Sourdough Camp to stand out more, but we walked right past it and started up the creek, missing the turn up towards the meadow. We made it a short way before questioning our direction and realizing our mistake. In all fairness, there was a woman sitting in front of the sign so we saw her, but didn’t catch the sign until our way back down the creek to the trail. When the trail hits the creek, look for the camp sign and then spot the single track trail that heads up on the other side. Cross the creek to gain that access. At this time of year (September) the creek was really low so not a concern to cross.

The Lookout

A view from the Lookout

After you exit the meadow, you have a choice: head to Sourdough summit or head to the Lookout. Since we were going to explore Stetattle Ridge, it made sense to head to the Lookout first. After having done the Sourdough Summit, I can say it goes on seemingly forever before you reach it and that the terrain is not particularly interesting nor the peak very prominent. Still, it’s a good hike with a few tarns (some dried up at this point), and great views looking back towards the Lookout.

Tarn with water
Looking back towards Sourdough Mountain

As for the Lookout, itself. I was surprised to see that it was boarded up and shut tight. I guess I overlooked this fact. From the earlier posts, the Lookout looked amazing, open, with the potential to sleep there. In fact, my original mission was to hike up there at sunset to catch sunset, the fires further east, and sunrise – all from the Lookout. Now that I’ve been up there, it’s not as “cool” as I thought it would have been. I still had great views, but my original mission would have been a let down not having the Lookout lit up at night for some amazing night shots. Maybe it will open again one day and I can try again then.

Sourdough Summit Register

We walked for a long ways before coming to what we though had to be the summit. Because it’s rather flat, the summit appears indistinct and hard to “find”. We scampered around looking for the summit register and after finding it and signing it, we found the cairn that marks the location you should head up to it. I noticed that although we know of some people who went there first, before going to the Lookout (since we passed them on the way up and on our way to the summit after our visit at the Lookout) that they either didn’t find the register or didn’t want to sign it. For the number of people coming up, it was surprising to see such a gap in dates in the register.

Sourdough Summit Register

After finding the cairn that should have told us where the register was, we tried to make the cairn more obvious from the trail, hoping others wouldn’t pass it by like we did. The summit register is still a bit damp but it had lots of blank paper left and a pencil. I did my best to wrap it tightly in the plastic bag and not overtighten the canister when trying to seal everything back up. I had heard that the register could be wet so I was mentally prepared to bring dry paper and a dry bag for it. Once we found the register, though, I realized I’d forgotten all of that. I was relieved that everything appeared to be in good enough condition that my forgetfulness didn’t really matter.

Sourdough Register Canister

Stetattle Ridge

We cut over to Stetattle Ridge and with a lot of dead end trails, made our way as far as we could, hoping to summit the North Peak. We were also determined not to hike down in the dark and therefore set a turn around time of 4 pm. We could have stretched it further but by the time we hit the summit around the mid-way point to the North Peak, we knew there was about an hour or more left to gain the North Peak. Because the ridge was slow going trying to find the trail, or a passable means in the direction we were trying to go, and the descent was a complete unknown to us since we weren’t retracing our steps back to the Sourdough trail, we kept to our turn around time.

The views!

The trail seemed easier (but not easy) to follow on the way back, avoiding some of the ridges and scrambles we had done on our way up. The scenery from the ridge was breathtaking. Cliff edges that dropped down in the Valley to the North, The Pickets ever present to our West with stunning Valley’s to our South. Looking back east to Sourdough, despite the clouds, left me feeling like I’m in this wonderous playground surrounded by a vast beauty of Peaks and Valleys…just me and them….a place I didn’t want to leave.

In my research, I couldn’t find exact mileage to get to the North Peak so the notes I’ve provided above are the best I can say about how far it is to gain the mid-point. I do believe it was about an hour-ish to gain the North Peak. The Ridge takes you up and down in elevation, alot. So, when thinking of continuing (in a car-to-car push like ours), definitely start earlier than we did or do it earlier in the season when the sun is up longer. Otherwise, I believe most people camp up there to make it in 2 days. And, it’s definitely worth camping up there because it’s just gorgeous! Plenty or tarns for water, some glacier ice lingering at this time of year, and lots of flat places to pitch a tent. Just mind those Big animals!

Stetattle Ridge Descent Back to the Trailhead

Returning to the “trail”

Because we left the Sourdough trail far behind, we knew we needed to get down via an alternate path. After making it back to the Sourdough Creek ridgeline on the Stetattle side, we found some cairns that took us down, following the creek below. However, just when we thought we’d have a well-marked trail and maybe even a trail not unlike the Sourdough one we came up on, we found ourselves scrambling a short bit to navigate a bowl that took us to around to a ridge. The trail seemed to continue for a bit, then we lost it and had to bushwhack our way down trying to follow Gaia tracks to help avoid getting cliffed out.

This was not fun! The terrain through here is overgrown with down trees, thick brush, steep slopes, slick terrain from the dry soil, and low visibility due to the growth. This is what Will White warned against. But, we were committed at this point. We wanted to be out of the bushwhack and onto the Sourdough trail before dark so we pressed on, Yevhen relying heavily on Gaia, and me trying hard to keep up and not lose him. I have a knee issue just now that was getting pretty aggro by this point and made it difficult for me to move swiftly.

We weren’t even sure how far up or down the Sourdough trail we’d cross. When we finally reached the trail, we were just less than 2 miles from the trailhead. I was a bit annoyed considering how steeply we had traveled but simultaneously relieved to finally be on a real trail. Despite the aggro knee and the fact that we still had plenty of light (ie. we made it to the trail before dark!), I just wanted to be off this mountain. I checked in with my friend and he let me run it down. Getting back to the car felt amazing. I really enjoyed my time up there but honestly, the bushwhack was just gross and long. It definitely added to the adventure but like Will White, I don’t recommend this approach.

When we were discussing our descent, there were 2 options. The first was to follow the creek the whole way down to Sourdough Camp. I think this could have been possible because the water was so low but we don’t know for sure what we would have encountered so we decided to see where the cairns took us. The second decision point came at the scramble at the top of a bowl. We could have descended the bowl and tried to link up with the Sourdough trail higher up. It was obvious there would be some bushwhacking involved and considering Will White’s advice, I thought maybe it was better to just stay on the trail we were on and navigate this exposed bit to hope for a more direct but navigable path. Boy was I wrong! By the time that trail turned into bushwhacking, we were super committed lest we backtrack and find ourselves running out of daylight high up on the mountain.

In the end, I believe we made the right choice but if anyone has the beta for this descent that isn’t returning to Sourdough Trail, please share this with me. I’m not sure I’ll be going back up there anytime soon, but there is so much to explore that perhaps another day I will.

Trailhead amenities

First, there are no public restrooms that I saw at the trailhead. Maybe there are some nearby, but I didn’t go looking for them.

Next, the parking is designated and parallel parking. I’m not sure what you do for overflow.

Third, there is a gate that can close and from my research people have found themselves behind this gate. I don’t know if this is a daily occurrence (like after a certain time of night it closes) but I fortunately, didn’t have any issues with the gate. It was, however, another factor that motivated us to make it back to the car before dark. Neither of us wanted to be locked in for the night.

About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climbing athlete and computer software/technology enthusiast.
This entry was posted in Climbing, hiking, Road Trip, Writings and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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