Day 1: Heading to Jackita RidgeI wasn’t certain what to expect, but I assumed it would be a fun adventure on my first ever backpacking weekend in the Northwest and found the exquisite beauty of the North Cascades to be more than I had hoped for. My fabulous tour guide/peakbagger extraordinaire Paul Klenke mapped our route as we headed out for a two-night, three-peak, forty-mile weekend.
It was a cool, crisp morning—exactly what you hope for in late September. We left the car around 11:00AM at the Canyon Creek Trailhead (NW Forest Pass required), which seemed to be quite empty for such a nicely maintained parking area, along with the fact that it was an early Saturday afternoon. However, no complaints because this could mean there would be low traffic on the trail.
We started out with Klenke’s hikers imperative of “stashing the brew” in Granite Creek (along the Canyon Creek Trail). We then made our way across a hiker’s bridge, crossing Granite Creek, started up the Jackita Ridge Trail and quickly came upon a series of switchbacks. I recall looking at the Topo map Paul provided prior to our departure for the weekend and remember thinking that there seemed to be quite a few switchbacks on this initial ascent up the trail. The hike up the trail is fantastic: not too steep and quite manageable without taking a break. There is a great deal of shade and foliage so one is certain to not have to endure too much sun exposure, which is fabulous for an initial ascent and around 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Early on, we ran into a gentleman who seemed to clearly be shortened of breath, only later learned from his girlfriend that it may have been “too much Tequila last night.” We never saw them again on the trail. (Note: it is highly recommended to avoid the Friday night party before ascending this trail) Approximately 90 minutes later, we heard what seemed to be a large group. We stopped briefly to chat, mostly curious as to where they were headed. They were hoping to summit Crater Mountain or to stay somewhere along Crater Lake for the night.
We continued up and reached the ending of the switchbacks at around 4,800 ft and met a duo of hunters on horseback. This was just near the Crater Mountain-Jackita Ridge trail junction. It was here Paul asked them about the area we were headed, mostly finding out about potential water sources, and then give them “a heads up” about our weekend plans which I found to be a very wise move. We moved up the trail about 50 yards past the junction and stopped at an excellent camp area for our lunch break.
We then headed along through the beautiful meadows of McMillan Park. This part of the trail is somewhat long and flat but with a short 300-ft decline to the pass before Devils Park. It seemed the huckleberry leaves were just beginning to turn red, but there were still a few berries on them. I also noticed in this area that it was completely bug-free, which is not what I was expecting at all. We stopped for a quick photo opportunity. But, unfortunately, a few dozen minutes later Paul realized he somehow lost a three-quarter-full Nalgene with lemon-lime Gatorade in the area. (Ouch! And this isn’t exactly a water-plentiful area!)
We continued on, our destination being a TBD campsite just under Jackita Ridge. We soon made it to the Devils Park shelter occupied by two hunters who at that point were unsuccessful in their hunting. We then took a quick shortcut just behind this shelter. This shortcut shaved off a good 20-30 minutes of trail. I cleverly named this “dookie hill” as it looked as if every creature made this hillside its toilet al fresco. We came back upon the trail some 600 vertical feet up and continued on heading NE toward Jackita Ridge. We soon noticed the amazing bright yellow larches were present and this pleased my companion very much (like a seven-year-old on Christmas morning).
We soon after approached the area where Paul was hoping to find a great campsite; and we did. We set camp on a small ridge just below and west of Pt. 7248. At that time when we were descending down this short ridge, I noticed my knee felt achy and sore and “descending” was getting tough. I just figured it was the 20-lb pack on my back and ignored it. The location was amazing and we arrived just before sunset. We were directly east of Jack Mountain and Crater Mountain. This site is highly recommended!!
We settled in and enjoyed some Makers Mark bourbon, which we consumed from the recently purchased and fabulous invention of my new Nalgene Flask (what a great idea!). We cooked up some grub and finished our evening with cinnamon tea and Rumple Minze. As the booze settled in we stared up at the thousands of stars in the sky and also observed satellites and shooting stars. Later in the tent, as we were almost drifting off to sleep, I heard some light stomping outside. After listening to my companion speak of bears and how much he wanted to “find them” for me on the trail—he not realizing how I wasn’t too excited about them being found—I was a bit alarmed for a moment. I then realized by the resonance of the “stomping” that it was merely a deer passing through. Paul then promptly gave me his earplugs (smart man) and I soon drifted off to sleep.
Day 2: Off to Daemon PeakI awoke to my first morning in the N. Cascades and it was the most beautiful morning I could imagine. The air was cool; the beauty of the mountains was breathtaking. Now I was the kid on Christmas morning! Just to the west of our campsite was the glowing alpenglow on the glaciers of Crater Mountain and Jack Mountain (without a tripod and long exposure it was deemed too difficult to capture, so I did not). And perhaps some things are better if you experience them first hand.
We set off for “Daemon Peak” (Pk 7514 north of Jackita Ridge) at around 7:00AM and immediately descended steep talus just off the ridge where we had set camp. We hiked for about 4 miles down this steep trail (part of the trail of the moderately popular Devils Loop) and my knee started to give. Looking to the brighter side of things (because that’s what I do) I was fortunate that my knee did not bother me when ascending, however descending even a one-percent grade caused a great deal of pain; so much so that I was happy Klenke was far ahead as this gal was cursing like a sailor. I therefore (recently learned expression) “orphaned” Daemon Peak and decided to watch the master “do his thing” up the basin and very shortly thereafter up the ridge at skyline right; which only took him about 20 minutes (yah, big shock huh?). I was very jealous though, but knew I just had to suck it up and deal with it.
I waited long enough to where I could no longer see Paul and headed back along the Devils Loop Trail to an area where we had stopped for a break. I dilly-dallied on the trail a bit and also thought about making my way to a small lake below but that would require descending about 500 feet and that wasn’t going to happen. I continued on to the ridge and I was there for only 20 minutes when who should arrive, catching up? Yes, that would be the man who just bagged Daemon Peak…in perhaps record time? All I know is I was truly impressed that he had already returned to our meeting place. At that point, Paul wanted to head straight up to another “peak” (Pk 7270 forming the north end of Jackita Ridge). He invited me to join him and I was tempted; it wasn’t that I did not want to summit this peak but I knew my descent would be long and miserable – and I really didn’t want us to return to camp in the dark on my account. So, off he went.
My continued hike back to our camp area just simply sucked for me. My knee felt as if with each step a dagger was piercing the exterior ligament. Paul and I were to meet back up at the creek crossing at the head of the North Fork of Devils Creek (below and west of Anacortes Crossing). It was at this point that I was desperate to do something to alter this miserable pain. I thought to myself how it didn’t hurt on an incline, perhaps it was the force of my body weight on my knee, so I decided to try and hike down the trail backwards. Yes, backwards. And with trekking poles, some good rhythm, and great balance, it wasn’t too tough. I was certainly moving faster. I made my way to Anacortes Crossing, looked up for Paul and didn’t see him. I thought at this point some of the ice cold water from the water source below was just what this gal needed. I soaked my knee for about 30 minutes; Paul soon after met up with me. I told him about walking backwards, his response: “You’re not going to do that the entire way back to the car tomorrow are you?” I’m thinking, heck I don’t know. Right now, I want to get back to camp, take some pain reliever and drink some more bourbon. We continued on the trail and thankfully at this point we were at the lowest altitude of the trail (approx. 5,200 ft) and were headed back up to our camp (roughly 6,700 ft). And up we went… and up, and up, and up, and up, and up…you get my point. The talus on this ridge (along with a bit of fatigue) left us longing for the good things awaiting us at camp. Thank goodness there is always a reward to keep you motivated.
We arrived at camp and within 5 minutes I took about three or four “pugs” of that bourbon and four Advil. I was soon giggling and feeling no pain. We continued our evening; I consumed my first mountain dinner of yummy chicken enchiladas (not half bad) however the piece de resistance was dessert, the remainder of the bourbon, and one stinky yet fabulous cigar. But that was still not enough. We then consumed our bedtime sore-muscle numbing remedy of gourmet hot cocoa and Rumple Minze. Ahhh. The perfect ending. More star-gazing, more satellites…beautiful!! Off to bed now.
Day 3: Off to Jackita BM and off to BeerWe awoke around 7AM after a very restful night and headed up and over Pt. 7248 then along the ridge to Jackita BM (7,350 ft). There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the morning was crisp and cool. I wasn’t sure how far I’d go but promised to continue as long as I wasn’t feeling any pain, as my greatest concern was being able to handle the 10+ mile descent back to the trailhead and NOT having to walk backwards. We quickly scrambled down the ridge and, as I looked back at where we had just descended, resolved that it would be “pathetic” for me to orphan Jackita BM too; that and I knew Paul really wanted me to hit a summit this weekend – as did I.
Considering our starting point (on the ridge in the above photo), this was an easy peak to “bag” and we quickly ascended to the summit on mostly Class 2 terrain. It was a perfect morning on this peak. It was just beginning to warm up, a clear indication that it was going to be a very warm day. We hung out at the summit for a while, took some photos, and enjoyed the beauty around us. We also made certain not to get blown off the summit by that unexpected yet invigorating gust of wind that came whipping through. Klenke did say that was the first time anything that surprising had ever occurred while he was on a summit.
We headed back to camp to pack up. In lieu of heading back up and over the ridge, we decided to climb down to the steep talus then across it then back up to camp. The climb down here was fun; I was yanking on trees and branches like a monkey. That’s the kind of stuff I enjoy most, a scramble along a dangerous ridge notwithstanding. The talus below was tough to contour across, but with Klenke by my side I learned some new moves to make it much easier. Oh, and amazingly – the Advil and bourbon was just what this gal needed as I was feeling no pain and was grinning from ear-to-ear.
We packed up and headed out of camp at around 1:00 PM, giving us just enough time to return through Devils Park with Nalgene bottle retrieval in mind. Again, we took the short cut through “dookie hill” and continued through the meadow. It was at this time that Klenke informed me that I would be writing this trip report (yah, no pressure).
The rest of our hike was somewhat uneventful. We did however retrieve Klenke’s Nalgene bottle. Yummy. Warm Gatorade. It was indeed a warm day and we were relieved to get into some shade about 2 hours into the descent. My knee was doing okay, although I knew the switchbacks were going to bring some discomfort. In an effort to get my mind off my knee, we started counting the switchbacks. The final number was 55. So, have fun on those switchbacks kids!
We arrived back at Granite Creek, dropped our packs, retrieved our beer, removed our boots, and soaked our feet. Ahhhhh!
It was a great trip and it comes highly recommended for late September when evidence of autumn is all around. And, don’t forget that campsite!
For the entire photo albim, click here!