Cascade Mountain is a remote and seldom summited mountain located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness
. The lack of summit attempts is not only a result of the peak’s remote location but also the variety of terrain, skills, and motivation necessary on its standard routes. Those people attempting to summit Cascade Mountain need to be determined and committed to doing so.
Although not tall by Washington standards, Cascade Mountain still ranks #52 on the Home Court Top 100
list. The peak is more of a long, multi-segmented major ridge than a single mountain, with its true summit located near the southern end of the ridgeline. The peak is located between the West Fork and East Fork of Miller River. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cascade Mountain was named after the major mountain range (Cascade Mountains) in which it is found. This might be because the peak basically has nearly every type of terrain and feature typical on the western side of the Cascade Mountains, minus glaciers. In addition, steep rockfaces and cliffs are found on most of the upper slopes, several alpine lakes are located on the mountain, and views from the summit are open and far-ranging.
The timeframe for summit attempts of Cascade Mountain is generally from mid-Spring through mid-Autumn. Winter is not recommended because snow should be consolidated and avalanche danger should be basically passed before making any summit attempts. Even during the advisable timeframes to make a summit attempt there are advantages and disadvantages for each choice. During mid-Spring through early Summer, possibly considered the optimum timeframe for a summit attempt, avalanche danger has passed, snow is easy to traverse (using snowshoes and/or crampons), maximum daylight available, and brush and bugs are at a minimum, but stream water levels are at their highest (from snowmelt) and the final 30’-50’ of the summit might be steep solid snow or ice (requiring skilled ice axe and crampon usage, and possibly a rope belay). During early Summer through early Autumn, the final summit ridge becomes a straightforward snow-free ridgewalk and stream water levels are lower, but brush (including thorny plants such as Devil’s Club and Salmonberry Bushes) and bugs are at maximum levels and can become quite problematic. During early Autumn through mid-Autumn, possibly the second-best timeframe for a summit attempt (although some might say it is the best), stream water levels are very low and bugs are minimal, but brush is still present and daylight is limited moreso than late Spring/early Summer.
Several approaches are possible for Cascade Mountain. The northern approach following the West Fork Miller River until west of the peak is the standard approach, offering the most straightforward route of those options available. It is also possible to approach the peak from the south, starting at Snoqualmie lake Trail #1002 along Taylor River and then heading up the Big Creek tributary to Dream Lake, although this route could be quite brushy and reaching the upper slopes and summit ridge of Cascade Mountain might require careful routefinding skills and skirting around cliffs. Yet another possible approach is from the east, following the East Fork Miller River until east of the peak and then cross-country near the Smith Creek tributary, but this approach is not recommended because it requires more bushwhacking, more skirting around cliffs, and more potential routefinding issues than the other forementioned approaches.
The standard approach requires a combination of road-walking and off-trail travel. The first 2/3 of the route follows decommissioned West Fork Miller River Road, an easy-to-follow old mining road that becomes more of an unmaintained and overgrown trail in various places rather than a dirt and rocky road. The final 1/3 of the route involves cross-country travel up steep brushy and forested slopes to Gouging Lake, and then around the lake to an open gully leading up to the summit ridge, and then to the summit. Some light scrambling and “veggie belays” might be necessary for several sections of the forested ridge. There are two major stream crossings along the standard approach, neither having any bridges. The first major stream crossing is Coney Creek, which becomes more of a small river than a creek during periods of snowmelt. The second major stream crossing is West Fork Miller River. At both crossings, it will be necessary to cross atop wet rocks, cross along downed trees, ford the streams, or a combination of these options. Other minor streams and tributaries might be encountered during the route, but nothing trivial or concerning.
During periods of snowpack, avalanche danger needs to be monitored before and during any summit attempt. Avalanches and snow/mud combination slides have been known to occur along multiple sections of West Fork Miller River Road, as well as on the open slopes above and beyond Gouging Lake. The summit can have deceptive snow cornices wrapping around its north and east sides, which if large enough can be seen from Gouging Lake. The peak might be best avoided during periods of rainfall, as rain can make the steep approaches considerably slick, problematic, and potentially dangerous in various places. Although not very technically challenging, approaches for this peak are not recommended for inexperienced mountaineers. Use caution and common sense during any summit attempts.
FROM SKYKOMISH, WA:
-> Drive west along Highway 2 for 3.0 miles.
-> Immediately after passing through a tunnel, turn left onto NE Old Cascade Highway (heading towards Money Creek Campground).
-> After 1.0 miles, turn right onto Miller River Road NE (which is generally unpaved).
-> After 3.5 miles further, the road splits. The leftside/straight road becomes Forest Service Road 6412. The rightside road, which is gated at its entrance, is Forest Service Road 6410, commonly known as West Fork Miller River Road.
-> Park near the gate for West Fork Miller River Road. Any street legal vehicle can reach this location. The hiking route begins at ~1300’ elevation.
Map Showing Overview Of Standard Route
Map Showing "Off-Trail" Section Of Standard Route
-> Hike south along the West Fork Miller River Road. The road is a dirt road in most sections, but a rocky road in other sections.
Following West Fork Miller River Road...
-> After ~2.5 miles, Coney Creek is encountered (~2000’ elevation) and needs to be crossed. The creek can be crossed by jumping atop wet rocks, climbing along fallen logs (if any cross over the creek), fording, or a combination of those options. Completely fording Coney Creek is not recommended during periods of snowmelt when the water level is high.
-> Continue following West Fork Miller River Road. The road is still easy to locate but becomes much brushier and more more like an unmaintained trail than a road.
-> After ~1.5 miles beyond Coney Creek, the road ends at a small open basin near the river (~2400’ elevation). This is near where some old mining claims are/were located.
-> Cross the West Fork Miller River. The river can be crossed by jumping atop wet rocks, climbing along fallen logs (if any cross over the river), fording, or a combination of those options. Completely fording West Fork Miller River is not recommended during periods of snowmelt when the water level is high. This river crossing represents the beginning of the completely off-road/off-trail section of the route.
West Fork Miller River
Log Found & Used To Cross Miller River...
-> After crossing the river, a steep forested slope is immediately encountered. This slope is part of a ridge originating west of Gouging Lake and heading northwest to West Fork Miller River. The ridge has multiple sub-ridgelines on it; the hiking objective is to follow the north-northeast sub-ridgeline between the creek tributary to the east originating from Gouging Lake and the smaller stream tributary (or tributaries) flowing down the center of the ridge.
-> The ridge is very steep and brushy in places. A lot of slide alder and similar flora are found on the lower half of the slope; it might be necessary to use those plants for leverage and assistance where ground is loose or potentially problematic. Some light scrambling might be necessary in a couple of sections along the lower half of the ridge, depending on route and conditions.The upper half of the slope is primarily evergreen forest; several large old-growth and second-growth stands still remain, and the upper forested ridgeline is relatively easy to traverse.
Forested Slopes On Upper Sub-Ridgeline
-> Once at ~3800’ elevation, begin side-traversing east and then southeast around the ridge, gradually gaining elevation, until reaching the outlet of Gouging Lake (~4050’ elevation).
Approaching Outlet of Gouging Lake...
-> Begin traversing around the lake until reaching a large gully on the southwest side of the lake. The east side of the lake might be easier to traverse than the west side. Cascade Mountain can be seen looming above, immediately southeast of the lake.
Cascade Mountain and (Frozen-Over) Gouging Lake
-> Once at the base of the gully located on the southwest corner of Gouging Lake, begin steeply ascending the gully south towards the ridge above.
Looking At Base Of Gully Ascent...
Ascending Steep Slopes Of Gully...
-> At ~4500' elevation, the gully slope temporarily becomes less of an incline as it enters a basin, which during snowpack is a "snow bowl". The slope once again becomes very steep on the other side of the basin as it approaches the ridgetop looming above.
Entering "Snow Bowl" (Basin) In Upper Gully
-> Upon reaching the ridgetop (~4800’ elevation), begin following the ridge east up open slopes to the summit (5591’ elevation).
Climbing Final Steep Summit Slopes...
-> The summit offers a 360° panoramic view of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness interior, as well as further areas and major peaks such as Wild Sky Wilderness, Glacier Peak, and Mount Rainier.
TOTAL ROUNDTRIP HIKING DISTANCE
: ~13 Miles
TOTAL ROUNDTRIP HIKING TIME (ESTIMATED)
: 12-14 Hours
During periods of snowpack and while conditions are ideal, the western slopes of the summit ridge offer excellent opportunities for glissading, as does the gully leading down from the ridge to Gouging Lake.
The following mountaineering gear is recommended for the standard (northern) approach:
-> 10 Essentials
-> A GPS device is highly advised. An altimeter is highly recommended if no GPS device is present.
-> Trekking poles.
-> Hiking boots.
-> Snowshoes (if snow is present).
-> Crampons or microspikes (if snow is present).
-> Some people might feel safer with a helmet for the final slopes above Gouging Lake, but it is not considered essential.
-> A rope with belay equipment might be very useful during mid-to-late Spring if snow (or rime ice) is still present on the final steep 30’-50’ of the summit slope but the snow is not soft enough for plunge-stepping or decent footing.
Considering no official or maintained trails are used, no hiking permits or registrations are required. However, it is highly recommended to use a Northwest Forest pass (parking permit) so vehicles do not appear abandoned.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness regulations prohibit any campfires above 4000’ elevation in this region of the wilderness area.
An old unmaintained campground (West Fork Campground) exists within a short hiking distance along the route from the beginning of FS-6410/West Fork Miller River Road, with various rugged campsites present. Backcountry camping is allowed anywhere along the standard route for Cascade Mountain, including near Gouging Lake; the best options might be to camp near the southern end of West Fork Miller River Road or near/at Gouging Lake.
Alpine Lakes Wilderness regulations prohibit any campfires above 4000’ elevation in this region of the wilderness area.
-> The summit of Cascade Mountain is found near the northern end of the “Snoqualmie Lake” USGS Map.
-> The standard (northern) approach of Cascade Mountain can be derived entirely on the “Skykomish” (Map #175) Green Trails Map.