Mount Daniel is roughly 15 miles and 5000 ft elevation gain round trip via the SE ridge so it can be done in one day. One long day, you know the kind where the last couple hours your feet are sore and your legs are tired and you wish you were back at the car already. In my research for the trip a lot of people who did this one in a day said if they had to do it over again they would do it in two days. This was good incentive for me to make this one an over nighter. On those long one day trips I’m usually go, go, go light and fast sometimes pushing myself to get up or down the trail as fast as I can comfortably go. Doing this in two days my plan was to take it slow and luxuriate in nature along the way, certainly a change of pace for me.
I had accumulated a bunch of new gear over the last few years for backpacking, but had not really had the opportunity to use it so I was excited to pack my new pack and see how much it weighed. After getting it fully packed, including 2L of water, it weighed in at 27 pounds! I was thrilled! I don’t think I’ve ever had an overnight pack less than 40 pounds so I was pretty excited about this. I set my alarm for 4:00, got up, hit the road, and made it to the trailhead around 8:00. I pulled into the last available parking space at the Cathedral Pass Trailhead, threw on my pack and hit the trail. My pack felt great! I’ve never been so comfortable backpacking, it didn’t feel much different than a day pack. I made my way up the well graded switchbacks taking my time and going a bit slower than my usual pace. As I neared the ridge and Squaw Lake I heard some noise behind me. An animal? Deer perhaps? I turned around and saw… a coupe hikers! I honestly can’t remember ever being passed on a trail with the exception of hiking with the family or an occasional trail runner. This was an unusual occurrence for me, but I moved to the side so they could pass without breaking stride. It was a guy and a girl, the girl said hi and thanks while the guy was silent. I would see them again later in the day.
Squaw Lake was a nice little spot. I took a couple pictures and continued up the trail. This was where things started to get good. Fall colors were out and the morning sun was illuminating the foliage in a warm light. I continued up the trail where the first views of Cathedral Rock greeted me. Man, what a pretty chunk of rock! In the early morning light the rock looked silver with streaks of lime green. Combine that with the fall colors, cool weather, and a comfy pack and it was about as good as it gets on the trail in! Shortly later I was passed by another solo hiker but it felt good to just meander up the trail rather than charge hard. I reached the PCT and shortly later the trail to Peggy’s Pond. After navigating the somewhat cliffy sections of the trail I reached the small basin below Peggy’s Pond where the solo hiker who had passed me was filling up his water and chatting with another solo hiker. The trail split and I took the wrong path so I bushwhacked a little to get to the right one before reaching Peggy’s Pond. It was nice. There were no campers at all which surprised me a little given that this is supposed to be a popular spot. There were a couple guys having breakfast by the lake, but I cruised by passing several open camp sites in search of
something a little more secluded. I had heard about a camp spot on the ridge above Peggy’s Pond so I hiked up there to look around but I wasn’t satisfied with the views so I descended into the basin to Hyas Creek. There were a few lovely camp sites here, and I almost took one, but instead I hiked up the creek and around a bend to where Hyas Creek runs north to south and found a large flat rocky area a short distance from the creek that had views of Mount Daniel and Cathedral Rock so I decided to make my camp here. After setting up camp, having lunch, filling up on water, and relaxing about an hour and a half I was ready for the push to the summit!
Being a fair bit north of the traditional SE ridge route, I started my ascent with a scramble up the NE slopes of the SE ridge. This proved to be quite a bit of fun as the terrain was rocky with some rather large slabs to scramble up. Further up the ridge here was a lot of talus and scree around the larger more stable rocks just to add some spice to the terrain. At this point it was getting pretty hot and I took advantage of a few cliffs that were tall enough to cast a shadow to provide some shade to rest in for a bit. Eventually I reached the ridge proper where I was greeted by stunning views of Circle Lake. I continued up the ridge admiring the views until I reached the gendarme section. Here I came across the solo hiker who had passed me on the trail in. He was on his way down and had some helpful advice for passing the scramble section. It wasn’t too bad, pretty easy scrambling. Soon Venus and Spade Lakes came into view as well as Bears Breast and the Chief grouping as well as the rock garden of Chimney Rock and Lemah. It was absolutely beautiful!
When I got to the base of the east summit it was time for the traverse over to the true summit. There are reports of this section being horrible, terrifying even, but I found these reports to be inaccurate at least for me. Sure the terrain is steep scree which is not ideal, but if you are sure footed and used to this type of terrain it is a piece of cake although there are a few sections where you must go slow and step carefully. When you start the route the trail leads to a small rocky cliffy area. It looks like the trail goes up, which I took on the way up, but there is also a trail at the base of the rock, which I took on the way down. The low route is the way to go. Part way across the traverse I ran into the couple who had passed me early in the day. They confirmed the low route is best, complimented my on my approach shoes (Salewa Wildfire), and we parted ways. Once across the traverse there is a horrible section of loose talus and scree to scramble up before reaching the final summit block which is a quick scramble. Success!!! The summit was amazing and fairly clear. There was some haze to the NW, but the rest of the views were spectacular. I signed the register and spent about 30-40 minutes on the summit admiring the views before heading back.
The route back to below the east summit was unremarkable. As I started my descent of the SE ridge there were a couple guys starting a descent of the Hyas Creek Glacier and headwall. As I made my way down the ridge I would glance back to check their progress. They were moving slow, very slow. I was half way down the ridge and they were not even to the glacier yet. They looked like they were having some trouble with the terrain and I worried about them but it looked like they were trying to traverse south to gain the SE ridge. I hope they made it out without any difficulty.
Sun was setting as I descended and shadows crept down the valley towards my camp. I spotted my tent from high on the ridge and noticed a pond right above where I had set up my tent. I left the trail and scrambled down the NE slopes of the SE ridge through some fun terrain of rocks, boulders, and slabs before I reached the Hyas Creek basin and my camp. I hiked up a small hill above my camp to check out the pond and found a sloping rock where a stone wind shelter for cooking had been built and a flat spot on a rock slab just big enough for a tent. Sweet! This was a much better spot, so I just picked up my tent with all my stuff in it and carried it up the hill and made my camp up there. The evening was amazing. I had some pu erh tea, made a mountain house for dinner, and watched the last light of the day creep up and over Cathedral Rock as I relaxed and took photos. As I lounged around I felt like something was missing and then I realized… there were no bugs! Not a single one! This area is renowned for being very buggy. Nearly every trip report mentions bugs at Peggy’s Pond but I suspect a freeze the previous week had killed them as there was not a one and my bug spray stayed in my pack all trip. Awesome! At night Mount Daniel looked like a fat man lying on his back gazing at the stars. There was quite a bit of wind which kept me awake, but eventually I fell asleep and slept well. My new 20 degree bag was a tad hot, I’d guess it only got down to the 40s.
In the morning I ate some oatmeal before packing up and hitting the trail. I made my way back past Peggy’s Pond to where the trail reached the PCT. Here I made a little mistake. My phone with GPS had died and the computer I tried to print a topo on wouldn’t print for some reason so I said forget it, I’ll just use my phone. Well I won’t be doing that again. As I was taking the trail down I reached a switchback and thought, that’s funny I don’t remember this but I kept going. I passed a solo female hiker and a few more switchbacks and after about 30 minutes I decided I had taken a wrong turn somewhere. I marched back up the switchbacks and caught up with the solo hiker who confirmed that I was on the PCT but going the wrong way. This little mishap added 2+ miles to my day which I was not happy about but a safe way to learn a valuable lesson. A couple of left ankle rolls and some sore feet later I reached my car. It was an amazing trip, one I won’t soon forget!