Choosing the RouteCascade is a mountain that I had wanted to tackle for the last couple of months. I would drive in the valley and look up at it every day, counting down the days to when I could start my conquest of Cascade Mountain. I researched this hike for months and had chosen August 1st as the big day. In my research, I read about so many options on how to climb this mountain. I could try the Big Springs approach which would be about a 15 mile journey, I briefly looked into Bunnel's Fork, but it sounded like that trail is pretty much overgrown and forgotten due to recent avalanches. Looking at scaling Cascade via the Upper Pole Couloir with the 3000 ft elevation gain in a little over 1.3 miles, all the while scrambling up scree didn't look all that appealing either. I decided to go with the Dry Fork Trailhead. After reading other trip reports, it sounded like the best route, which also would give us options to head up a number of gullies on the approach to cut out a couple extra miles of the projected 13.5 mile hike if we so desired.
Hitting the TrailheadI determined that I wanted to be on the Dry Fork Trailhead at 6am since I figured we'd have a long day, I thought it best to start out as early as possible to try and avoid being out in the heat of the day. One of the guys couldn't make it so it was going to be five of us. Kyle (kteichert) and Teresa who I've hiked with before, are great hikers. They brought their dog Ginger along for the trip. My friend Amanda and her roommate Jeniel rounded out the group.
It turned out that a 100 kilometer trail run was being held that same morning, so we shared the first couple of miles of trail with the first five trail runners who were taking the Dry Fork Trail up and over the Cascade saddle and down Big Springs. About one and a half miles down the trail we came to meadow where we could see how the trail wound all the way under the cirque below Freedom Peak and along the terraces under Shingle Mill. We decided to head up a straight north up a slight gully from the meadow. Once at the the top of the gully, we would be about about a half a mile west of the Cascade saddle, which cut off about 4.5 miles from the anticipated 13.5 mile trek. While the slope was a little steep, it was only through wildflowers, no scrub oak luckily!
The Endless Ridge WalkThis was probably the toughest part of the hike, going from the ridge just west of the saddle to the south summit. So much elevation gain and loss, and we lost the game/social trail a time or two. We made it to the south summit at 1030am, which took a little longer than anticipated. We signed the registry located underneath the cairn. Only three other people/groups of two had signed the registry in the last year. However, I was not about to stop. My goal all along had been to make it to the true summit, even though that was going to entail an additional 2 to 3 hours. The ridge walk from the south summit to the true summit was probably the most pleasant part of the hike. We made good time to the summit. Kyle, Teresa, Ginger the dog, and I reached the true summit in around 45 minutes. While Amanda and Jeniel were making there way to the summit, Kyle and I decided to make our way over to the northernmost peak where the radio or weather antennae is located. We figured that we might as well hit all of the peaks while we were there. After making our way back to the true summit with the girls, we all had lunch, took some pictures and began to make our way back around 1pm. The views were incredible in all directions, and the great sense of accomplishment was felt by all.
Bushwhacker's ParadiseWe made great time back to the south summit and then it was slow going as we kept losing the trail. Kyle and I talked with the girls and he and I had eyed a ridge and gully on the way up which looked favorable to descend on the way back. We consulted with the ladies and started heading down to the ridge, which was a lot more steep than we had expected. The first thousand feet down to the ridge consisted of only wildflowers...
However, the farther down the gully we hiked, the wildflowers began to transition to scrub oak, which is where the bushwhack fun was really going to began. We decided to take the ridge instead of the gully since the gully was steep and full of scree. After picking our way through the crappy scrub oak, which was only a foot or two tall at first, then came the aspens bushwhack. I was praying that this ridge would in fact run into the trail and not end at some sheer cliff band. About half way down, we did navigate around a small cliff band and continued the bushwhack. I saw the trail about 500 ft below and made a beeline for it while the others went about a 1/4 of a mile to the east of me on the ridge. I was fortunate to find a scree field which made the last 500 feet rather bearable. Finally, we arrived at the our cars at the trailhead at 530pm, some 11.5 hours after we started. Our final mileage was only 9.75 miles, so this shows how much the the descent slowed us down. I've bushwhacked and done routefinding before, but this was hands down the hardest bushwhack I'd done yet. We all got torn up from the crappy scrub oak, but we made it!