Fall is a special time in the North Cascades. Everything from berry bushes to cool larches change color and make this state have some of the best color in the United States. Cool, crisp nights and warm sunny days make this season a special time to get out and enjoy the mountains. It was good to see fall come in after the record breaking warmth in the Seattle Metro Area along with all the terrible forest fires that did serious damage to this state.
Luckily I took of the right day from work and seemed to have nailed the perfect time for a trip into larch nation. CascadeCohen and I decided to head out to the mountains just east of Winthrop in order to see the great larch color. The ultimate goal of the trip was to head out to the Tiffany Mountain area in order to tackle some very cool summits. Though things on this trip did not go completely perfect we were able to tackle three very cool summits along with taking some good pictures of the nice larches.
The Trip to Where we wanted to go.
After a couple hours of planning CascadeCohen and I headed up to the Withrop area via the Washington Pass drive. Anyone who knows this drive knows that on a clear day this can be one of the prettiest drive in the United States. On September 29th, 2015 it was a very pretty day to be in the North Cascades. We stopped at Washington Pass in order to take a break and move our feet around. Luckily there is a very nice 1/4 mile nature trail which leads out to excellent views of Wallaby Peak and Kangaroo Pass. After a quick resting of our feet we then headed on back to the car and went over to our destination.
Wallaby and Kangaroo Ridge
We then stopped of in the town of Winthrop for a little bit before finally heading to our camping destination by Tiffany Mountain. Unfortunately on our way to Tiffany Mountain we somehow missed a turnoff and somehow headed up in a very thick burn area. Soon we were not on Forest Road 37 like we were hoping but were instead on Forest Road 51 and heading up to a dead end. After a quick checking of our map we realized that we went the wrong way. With the sun heading down it became very important for us to head back to Winthrop so we could figure out what happened. We found a cheap hotel in town and decided to stay the night in the town of Withrop where we could regroup to plan out the rest of the trip.
Fall by Chuwach River
Middle Tiffany and Rock Mountain
Map of the Route
Okay once we woke and saw the error in our path we woke up and decided head back up to NF-37. This time though we got the right the road and were on our way to do some hiking and peakbagging. Forest Road 37 was a typical gravel road but nothing a normal passenger car could not handle. Unfortunately we passed on through yet another burn area which was very disappointing considering we were specifically looking for fall color. We then turned on NF-39 which lead to Tiffany Springs Campground. The road seemed good at the beginning but once we went over the pass the road became increasing rough and steep. I was somewhat wonder while driving to Tiffany Springs Campground if we were going to make it back on this road. But with some careful driving we made to Tiffany Springs Campground where got ourselves ready for our first major hike, a Middle Tiffany and Rock Mountain combination.
We were again disappointed to be yet again in another area of burnt forest but we took it all in stride got our packs on and headed for both Middle Tiffany and Rock Mountains. We took the Tiffany Lake Trail which at first loses several hundred feet of elevation gain down to Tiffany Lake before heading back up to Honeymoon Pass. It was at Tiffany Lake where we got to see our first round of excellent fall larch color. While the terrible burns from the forest fires were disappointing, the view from Tiffany Lake was very special looking towards the steep eastern face of Tiffany Mountain and the larches that near it.
Tiffany Mountain from Tiffany Lake
We headed all of the way up until we reached Honeymoon Pass. Once at Honeymoon Pass we decided to go off-trail up to the gap between Rock Mountain and Middle Tiffany Mountain. By this time the afternoon sun was up beaming down on us and with very little in terms of tree cover we were really feeling the sun. We were also feeling some of the altitude as well because we had spend most of our summer on smaller mountains. Hiking up to the gap between Rock and Middle Tiffany Mountain though really was not that bad and soon we were up at the gap between the two peaks.
Middle Tiffany Mountain from the Gap between Rock Mountain and Middle Tiffany Mountain
From there we decided to head up Rock Mountain first. This was a very easy off-trail walkup to the summit where we were surprised to find a Snotel research station on the summit. To find anything on this little known summit is quite shocking and to find a research station is even more shocking. We took it easy on this summit and took in the views. Their were some good pictures of larches right on Middle Tiffany Mountain but there was also tons and tons of burnt trees that seemed to go for miles. In some ways it was very depressing but with climate change being a reality I guess I can expect to see more of this damage in the near future.
Middle Tiffany from Rock Mountain
Look towards the Cascade Crest from Rock Mountain
Surprised to see this on Rock Mountain
Larches east of the Rock Mountain summit
From there we headed back doubt to the gap and up Middle Tiffany Mountain. Middle Tiffany was a little steeper and the summit rockpile was much more of a Class 2 scramble. CascadeCohen and I made good time making it to this second summit where more excellent views await. The view back towards Tiffany was definitely amazing and the best view that I remember from the whole trip.
The summit rocks of Middle Tiffany Mountain
Looking east from Middle Tiffany Mountain
Looking northwest from Middle Tiffany
Rock Mountain from Middle Tiffany
We again spent some time on this summit and then decided it time to head back to camp and enjoy a nice meal of scrambled eggs and chirizo sausage. Heading down from Middle Tiffany was not bad at all. The open field trip back to the car was actually very easy and we made short work of the trip back to camp.
Tiffany Mountain from the slopes with CascadeCohen in the foreground
The next day we woke up and we broke up camp. From there we got ourselves ready for the big prize, Tiffany Mountain. To be honest the night before I had many nightmare of not even being able to even drive back up to the parking area. The road back up to Freezeout Pass was vey steep and rough in places and I did not know if my car could handle it. But the car did very well thankfully and soon we were on the trail to Tiffany Mountain.
Life through the burn area
We started up the Tiffany Mountain Trail from yet another burn area. It did though help that the underbrush though was in full fall colors. CascadeCohen was really disappointed at first because most of our hikes involved burn areas. But soon we got higher and ran into a nice groove of larches which changed both of our spirits. We continued up the trail past the timberline and soon we were within site of the summit area of Tiffany Mountain. The rounded bald summit was not very impressive to look at but we both knew that the views from the summit were going to be impressive. We slowly hiked up to the summit. This hike tired us out going up a lot more than we thought it would largely because both of us were a little tired from the day before.
A good grove of larches
Tiffany Mountain through the larches
We fought through it and we soon were on the summit of Tiffany Mountain where excellent views down to Middle Tiffany and Rock Mountain to the east along with Windy to the north and the Cascade Front of to the west of us. On top we ran into a very nice Canadian Guy who we spoken to over 30 minutes. After talking his head off we spent the ret of the time exploring all the cool sub-peak and looking over the eastern wall of Tiffany Mountain. Within an hour on the summit we decided it was time to get off this cool summit and head on home.
Rock Mountain from Tiffany Mountain
The south side rocks
Larches under the cliff
Larches, lakes and tarn from Tiffany Mountain
The Ride Home
Aspen growing over a burn
Okay the ride home was really uneventful, except for the beautiful group of aspen we saw while coming off of Tiffany Mountain. It seems that the burn area which was once home to mostly evergreens is now being completely replaced by groves of beautiful aspen. Though at the present time these trees are very small one could see this place in 20 years being a very special place to go to see amazing fall colors.
Aspens on fire. I would love to see this place in 20 years!!
Aspens starting to fill in on the burn area.
From trip through Washington Pass was equally as scenic with the stunning larches showing all of their color as we passes on through. By the time we got through the North Cascades the sun had set though and that was the last our scenic trip over this area.
Last shot of the trip
This clearly was the highlight trip of the fall larch season. Though I had planned a couple more they did turn out well due to car issues on one trip and weather coming in for the season on many of the other trips. I did manage another fall trip down to see the western larches down by Mount Rainier but because of the weather we were only half successful with the climbs that we did. Still this was a good trip to remember the season. Though the trip did not go out completely as planned, it was a great success and something that I can grow on for the coming hiking season.