And The Cradle Will Rock! Rock The Cradle of Love!
The Cradle isn't a baby mountain. In fact, it is the highest point in the subset of the Wenatchee Mountains NW of the Stuart Range and east of Mt. Daniel. Yep, you guessed it, The Cradle is another one of Klenke's 2,000-ft prominence peaks (2,107 ft to be exact) and as such has a USGS quadrangle named after it. The mountain is the dominant point of a circular group of ridges bounded by French Creek on the west, Meadow Creek on the south, Jack Creek on the east, and Icicle Creek on the north.
The mountain is so-named because it has two summits separated by a depression that looks like a cradle. Not so much like a baby cradle but more like the arc of a cot. Well, supposedly, that's the connection. To me it just looked like your standard saddle between two peaks. Maybe I didn't see it from the correct angle. Anyone who has hiked up to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass to the west has surely set eyes upon The Cradle across French Creek. Yet, the mountain is easily forgotten. I bet if I polled all my climbing friends, only 20 percent of them would know of the peak. Probably they'd say something like, "Oh, I've heard of that" or "I've seen it in Beckey" and "Where is it, exactly?"
Anyway, the mountian is fairly rugged. The easiest route is Class 3. It holds perennial snow on its east side (well, it used to anyway; global warming may have changed that) while the west side is a complex corrugation of ribs and gullies, the latter of which can remain choked by snowfingers until August. As said, the peak has two summits some 300 yards apart. Interestingly, both are triangulated at 7,467 ft. Fred Beckey says the South Summit seems higher. I think I would have to agree, or at least state that at the time (1999) I climbed the South Summit I didn't bother going to the North Summit (it's sort of a hassle to get over to it). Since I'm a strict peakbagger, I imagine at the time I concurred with Beckey. Now, sitting at my desk, I can't say. A friend of mine climbed it this year and said he couldn't decide one way or the other which peak was highest.
There are two approaches to elaborate on here. One is shorter but requires a hump up and over the next ridge to the west. More elevation gain then loss then regain. The other is longer but is a straight uphill jaunt. The first route can be done in a day though an overnighter with a camp at Paddy-Go-Easy Pass would be more enjoyable. The second route is definitely an overnighter. It has two approach possibilities (French Creek or Jack Creek) that can be combined into a loop trip.
Route from the West
First one must get to the trailhead. Then one must get to the mountain. Then one must climb it. No helicopters allowed.
The first order of business is to get to I-90. Once on I-90 you want to take it east or west (depending on the direction you're coming from) to the exits for the town of Roslyn (where that show Northern Exposure was filmed). If coming from the west, you want to get off at Exit 80 and go north on Bullfrog Road to Hwy 903, taking it left (north) into town. If coming from the east, you want Exit 84 (Cle Elum Exit). Take a left (west) at the main road through town. A little way to the west Hwy 903 to Roslyn cuts off to the right. Roslyn is about 5 miles from Cle Elum.
Once at Roslyn continue NW past Cle Elum Lake to Salmon la Sac Campground (2,365 ft). At this point the road pavement ends and FR-4330 begins (Cle Elum River Road). From here continue 11 miles to the Paddy-Go-Easy Pass Trailhead, which used to be poorly marked. It is about 0.8 miles past the Fish Lake Campground/Guard Station. Trailhead elevation = 3,370 ft.
Note: There is a problematic ford on the road to the trailhead. In high run-off conditions it can be difficult for smaller cars (rocks on the ford knocked off my muffler).
The Paddy-Go-Easy Pass Trail is 3.5 miles long to the 6,080-ft pass. The pass is 1.6 miles SW of The Cradle, which is on the next ridge to the east. A trail descends from the pass for about 1.5 miles to the French Creek Trail, meeting it at 4,900 ft. Take the French Creek Trail right (south) for a short distance to a meadow.
Alternatively, you can visit Sprite Lake 0.4 miles SE of the pass then descend mostly open terrain to the French Creek valley somewhere in the vicinity of the aforementioned meadow. One can go back this way on the return to the pass.
Route to Summit via South Ridge
From the meadow (c. 4,910 ft) down in French Creek, take to the semi-open/semi-brushy slope leading NE. It's the type of slope with open grass conduits through and around bushy boscages. It is easy to pick a way up through it. This slope is right of a small stream. A timbered slope left of the stream might also work but it isn't necessary.
Climb all the way up to the alpine environment, which starts at about 6,200 ft, thence to the ridge crest (c. 6,800 ft) about 0.3 miles south of the South Summit. Cross over to the snow or talus slope on the east side and arc around the minor basin there en route to the summit. Mount the minor east spur of the South Summit then turn left to finish the climb. The east basin is steep when snowcovered. The last stretch of rock scrambling is loose Class 3.
Time: 1.5 hrs from car to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass + 4 hrs from pass to summit
Gain: 1,200 ft car to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass + 2,600 ft from French Creek + 1,200 ft to get back to pass = 5,000 ft TOTAL
Distance: 3.5 miles to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass + 3 miles from pass to summit
Routes from the North
First one must get to the trailhead. Then one must get to the mountain. Then one must climb it. The start point for this route is completely different than for the route from the west.
Drive to Leavenworth, Washington, which is on US-2 about 15 miles west of the city of Wenatchee. From the west end of town (at the last gas station before the highway goes into the canyon beyond) turn left (south) on Icicle Creek Road. Continue all the way to Rock Island Campground (2,800 ft) about 16 miles from Leavenworth. Turn left here and cross Icicle Creek. In 1.8 more miles the road ends at Black Pine Campground (2,840 ft). The French Creek Trail starts here.
If you desire to go up the Jack Creek Trail, stop at Chatter Creek Campground (2,700 ft) about 14.5 miles from Leavenworth. A footbridge crosses Icicle Creek. The first part is the Trout Creek Trail. The Jack Creek Trail junctions off less than a mile after the bridge.
French Creek Trail Approach
The first 1.5 miles from Black Pine Campground is on the Icicle Creek Trail. The French Creek Trail begins on the other side of the footbridge across the creek (2,900 ft). There are several trail junctions along the way:
At 3.5 miles (3,320 ft) the south end of the trail that traverses French Ridge goes right (west)
At 4.5 miles (3,350 ft) the trail up Snowall Creek goes left (east)
At 5.5 miles (3,680 ft) the trail up to Klonaqua Lakes goes right (west)
At 9.0 miles (4,900 ft) the junction with the trail to Paddy-Go-Easy Pass is reached.
To continue to the summit, see Route to summit via South Ridge above.
Jack Creek Trail Approach
From Chatter Creek Campground (see above), take the Trout Creek Trail for 0.8 miles to 3,060 ft. The Jack Creek Trail junctions off to the right here. The following distances are from the parking lot:
At 4.0 miles (3,640 ft) a trail goes left (west) up and over Blackjack Ridge and connects back up with the Trout Creek Trail
At 5.0 miles (3,660 ft) the Meadow Creek Trail goes right (SW). Take the Meadow Creek Trail.
At 6.1 miles (3,980 ft) a trail goes right (north) up to Cradle Lake (6,170 ft). This is a possible cross-country shortcut to The Cradle. The type of terrain one would encounter would surely be complex (crags, basins, meadows, and cliffs). It will be shorter in distance but not in time. You might as well continue all the way to the head of Meadow Creek.
At 10.0 miles (5,340 ft) reach Meadow Pass.
To continue to the summit, climb roughly due north up to the ridge above somewhere near Pt. 6655. Turn left and follow the ridge as best as possible until finally reaching the route to summit via South Ridge described above.
Route up Snowall Creek
This is a possible route. The state of the trail is unknown. If it is manageable, you can take it to the east side of The Cradle. From the 4.5-mile point (3,350 ft) on the French Creek Trail, the Snowall Creek Trail extends 6 miles to Cradle Lake. Beyond the lake the trail connects up with the Meadow Creek Trail (see Jack Creek Approach).
To climb The Cradle, take the Snowall Creek Trail for about 4 miles to the timbered basin (c. 4,900 ft). Leave the trail and head upslope westward through timber to reach the high basin due east of The Cradle's two summits. To climb the South Summit veer to the left (south) to mount its east spur ridge. To climb the North Summit climb up to the notch on the right (the closest one to the North Summit) then continue the climb along or near the crest (Class 4/5) or try a possibly easier route on its north side.
The Cradle and its approaches are in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness so standard wilderness policy applies.
A Trail Park Pass would be required at the Icicle Creek approaches. I don't know for sure on the Paddy-Go-Easy Pass approach. There's not much of a trailhead there but the forest service doesn't seem to care. Both north and west side trailheads should expect to be patrolled--especially on weekends in the height of summer.
When To Climb
The best time to climb The Cradle is in late-spring, summer, and fall. It could be easier on the upper east side when there's snowcover. For the west side of the south ridge an enjoyable glissade might be possible. Biting bugs will probably be in full force in summer.
There are several campgrounds along the approach roads of Cle Elum River and Icicle Creek. As for camping in the mountains, the best place to camp for the west approach is at Paddy-Go-Easy Pass (6,080 ft). Ample spaces can be found. Sprite Lake to the SE of the pass would be nice. For north approaches, I imagine you could camp wherever you pleased. The underforest is pretty open. There are also several meadows along the way. Your whims for camping are merely your whims. They are not mine.
Cle Elum Forecast