The North Cascades! A new friend? With it only being my second visit to the range I suppose it would be too early to call them a good friend. Not like the Southern Appalachians, my first love, or the mountains of Colorado, my second, but yes I do feel my
falling for the North Cascades. Just like the mountains of Tennessee, North Carolina and Colorado, I suspect it won’t be long before I’ll be calling Washington’s North Cascades my good friends!
Ever since my trip there in 2013 I’ve been Jonesin for a visit back to the North Cascades. Fortunately for me, my son Andrew had some travel plans in Washington over the Labor Day weekend. Yes, for the third time in four years, my son and his “Davehead” friends ultimately decided the destination for my annual hiking trip out west, and this year it meant another trip to the North Cascades. It was pretty early this year but again it was one of those phone calls from my son informing me that the Dave Matthews Band would be playing for three nights over Labor Day weekend at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington (yes, that really is the name of the city!). He tried to lay some story on me about the fact that he was getting married in October, and spending Labor Day weekend at the Gorge with his Dave friends would be like a second bachelor party, and he’d get to spend a week in the mountains with his Dad before the big wedding day…but all of that talk was unnecessary. For me, it was a no brainer. A week hiking in the North Cascades? Sign me up!
Low on ambition and big on scenery would be a good way to describe my plans for the first two days of this trip, which we would spend in North Cascades National Park (NCNP)! While I have a number of peakbagging ambitions in the park, this truncated visit didn’t really allow for that. The visit was short because we would be meeting up with three of Andrew’s friends on Monday evening at Eightmile Campground at the gateway to The Enchantments. We were flying into SeaTac on Saturday so that meant just Sunday and Monday for hikes in NCNP. And since we would have to drive all the way to Leavenworth on Monday afternoon, we couldn’t get too ambitious on Monday’s hike.
Just two days for NCNP! Uhg!!! How do you choose just two hikes? Amazingly, it ended up being a fairly easy decision, picking one hike on the west side of the pass and then another on the east side of the park.
Hidden Lake Peaks Lookout
There would be three of us on the first leg of this trip, with Andrew’s friend Brandon accompanying us (aka Pettie for the rest of this write up). For our first day I chose the hike to the Hidden Lake Peaks lookout. This was a good compromise between Andrew and Pettie’s ambitions. Andrew wants to bag peaks but has little interest in particularly long mileage days. At about 8 miles roundtrip with 3,200 feet of elevation gain it was a great choice for him. For Pettie…well Pettie has pretty easy going expectations in the mountains. Actually, I…as well as a number of people I’m sure…could learn a little from his approach. He’s just happy spending time in the mountains, whether it’s sitting around camp enjoying some good beers, or just taking a short walk up the trail while the rest of us brutalize our bodies heading for summits. I had no idea how far Pettie would plan on hiking with us on that first day, but I figured I’d pick a hike where there was plenty of scenery without too much elevation gain involved. The Hidden Lake Peaks hike sounded like a great option, and none of us would be disappointed. The trail descriptions I had read said that the views opened up early, and after that, it ranked as one of the most beautiful hikes in the park. Sounded like a winner for all of us!
The drive to the trailhead proved to be a big enough adventure for Pettie. Andrew and I have driven worse, but the 4.7 mile drive up the unimproved road was slow and bumpy, and while I know a standard passenger vehicle would have made it no problem, I was glad we had the rental SUV.
The trail lived up to its billing. We made the short walk through the woods and before we knew it started heading up the switchbacks and the views just kept getting better and better as we moved up the trail.
Andrew and Pettie
It wasn’t long before we could see a snow clad peak, and again the views of it just got better and better as we gained elevation. I was curious which peak it was, and of course as is so typical with me, I didn’t bother to pull out the topo map to figure it out. I just kept admiring the views. It wasn’t until I got home several weeks later and did pull out the map that I learned it was Mount Baker. What a view, despite the distance away!
First View of Mount Baker
When we finally got the first view of the Lookout Pettie decided he’d come far enough. He told us to keep on going and he’d either find a good place to rest and enjoy the scenery, or maybe slowly make it up to the pass and the view of Hidden Lake.
First view of the Lookout
It's visible with some zoom!
Andrew and I made it to the pass and definitely enjoyed the views of the lake, as well as the surrounding peaks, then we continued on the obvious unimproved trail up to the final short scramble section below the Lookout.
There is an unimproved trail almost all the way to the summit.
The start of the short scramble section.
Of course, as luck would have it, it did start to sprinkle on us about the time we made it to the summit. We still enjoyed the views and stayed long enough to snap a number of pics and check out the Lookout. It wasn’t as relaxing a stay as I would have liked but that’s the way it goes sometimes.
Sahale and Forbidden
If there is one drawback to this hike, outside of how busy it is, it would ironically be the Lookout. In and of itself the Lookout is cool – and I understand their history, importance and significance. But it’s infrastructure! And leading into this hike I forgot about my disdain for infrastructure on summits. It just takes away from the experience! Although, that being said, this isn’t the real summit, and if I had to do it over again and actually planned a little better, I would have headed to the true summit versus the Lookout. But truth be told, I didn’t do any “summit” planning for this hike. Everything I read said “walk up” – which is mostly but not entirely true - so I went into the day with less than stellar beta. Oh well, you get what you plan for!
The hike down from the summit to the pass was a joy, I suppose just because of the views, which made for not stop eye candy. We met up with Pettie shortly below the pass. I was very happy for him when he informed us that he had indeed made it to the pass.
Hidden Lake on the descent
The hike down the trail seemed even more amazing than the hike up. The scenery is just non-stop!
By the time we hit the woods though, the rain started coming down. It was slow enough that it was mostly just a nuisance, but it would end up becoming a drag. The rain stayed with us through the drive into Marblemount, where it continued to pour on us while we filled up our rental with more cold beer and firewood. We followed that up with a less than stellar dinner at the Marblemount Diner. Fortunately it stopped raining by the time we made it back to our campsite at Newhalem so we were able to enjoy a number of cold beers as well as a good fire for the evening. Morning would come soon enough and we’d have to break down camp and start heading for the east side of the park.
Maple Pass Loop
This hike was an easy pick! It helped that the trailhead was in the direction we needed to drive later that afternoon.
This was a day I was happy to play the touron! The Maple Pass Loop is one of the many ingenious trails designed by the NPS that allows you to see an insane amount of scenery with not all that much effort, with a distance of just seven miles, and a smidgen under 2,200 feet of elevation gain. I had planned on hiking at least a portion of this loop on my first visit to the North Cascades back in 2013, but that never happened as we got rained out – big time – that day. I can still remember the drive from our campsite at Newhalem over the pass that day, the same drive we would be making today. That drive in 2013 was so disappointing! I had hoped to get some spectacular views of the mountains and Ross and Diablo Lakes. All I saw was a whole lot of low lying clouds and nonstop raindrops on my windshield!
So to add to the ultimate in touronism I made sure we would enjoy the long drive down Hwy 20 to the trailhead, with my highest priority being getting some outstanding views of the lakes. Once again, the NPS didn’t disappoint. The views from the Diablo Lake Overlook were impeccable this day!
Colonial from Diablo Lake Overlook
Davis from Diablo Lake Overlook
Picking the Maple Pass Loop was a no-brainer! Besides the fact that the Rainy Pass trailhead was in the right driving direction, the loop is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the park, I was also very interested in the trail because of Black Peak. Back in 2013 I had planned on attempting Black but obviously due to the weather that didn’t pan out. While I would have liked to have given Black Peak another try this year I knew that from a timing standpoint it wasn’t going to work. We wanted to get to the campsite at Eightmile in time to meet up with Chris, Wes and Tyler and based upon their arrival time, even attempting to get to the saddle below Black would have been too long of a day. So with that I was content with just doing the loop. I could handle an easy seven mile day with non-stop stellar scenery! Just like with the Hidden Lake Peaks hike, the scenery did not disappoint.
Pettie was reaping the rewards from his solid day on Sunday, and had no problems passing on doing the entire loop. His legs were toast so he was going to take his own pace and hike up to Lake Ann. We left him at the car and told him we’d see him in four or five hours.
We elected to complete the route counter clockwise and after the short hike through the woods the views started to open up and we enjoyed the overlook towards Lake Ann.
Molar Tooth and Cutthroat
My next point of interest would be Heather Pass, which is the cut off for Black Peak. Even though we weren’t heading to Black Peak this day I was still curious about the route. When we reached Heather Pass the cutoff trail was obvious and I asked Andrew if he minded if we took the trail for a while, hoping we’d get a good view of Black not too far down the line. I was also just curious about the route. While I wasn’t peakbagging this day, I’m pretty sure that someday I’ll be back for Black. So besides hoping for a good view of the peak, I suppose this little side trek was a mini reconnaissance mission. We enjoyed a number of stellar views of Black Peak and then made it back to the main trail and continued our hike towards Maple Pass.
From here to the pass it was non-stop sensory overload. The views in all directions were amazing!
Cutthroat and Lake Ann
Looking west from the just below the pass
Looking east from just below the pass
Corteo and Black
Andrew, skipping along, just below the pass
Despite how popular this hike is, I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of other hikers on our ascent to the pass. This would change at the pass, where we were greeted with a number of other parties enjoying the beautiful day and views. That being said, it wasn’t exactly crowded. I was content to take a break and enjoy the views but Andrew had other plans. He spotted a short little scramble up above the pass and started heading up without even asking me. I trained him well! We continued on past this first scramble, continuing up a nice little ridge. It made for some fun scrambling and it also meant solitude! We finally decided we had gone far enough and stopped to enjoy our lunch and the views…all to ourselves.
Not a bad spot for lunch!
Our view west
Our view east
Corteo and Black
Molar Tooth and Cutthroat
After our little break we discussed possibly continuing up this ridge a little longer, but checking our time we knew Pettie was waiting for us at the car so we decided to start heading down. But before leaving, unlike on the Hidden Lake hike, I pulled out the topo to get a perspective of where we were. I had completely forgotten about this peak, but soon realized we were on the lower north ridge of Frisco Mountain. I had done some prior research on the peak leading up to the 2013 trip, so this was a welcome find.
North ridge of Frisco
We made our way down the trail to the car, although I must admit it wasn’t a particularly fast hike down. There was too much scenery so there was plenty of time spent stopping for pictures and to ogle over the views.
Frisco Mountain left of center
Corteo and Black
Always being the critic that I am, despite the amazing views on this hike, there is one drawback. The proximity to Hwy 20! On the way up the trail and then on the way down, the noise from the Hwy 20 traffic did take away from the experience. It was short lived in both cases, but still there. Keep that in mind if you decide you ever want to head up this loop. That being said, it definitely is not a show stopper. For us hiking junkies, this is a must do loop!
Hwy 20 from the trail
We made our way back to the trailhead and met up with Pettie. He had made the hike to Lake Ann and was thrilled with his day. So was I!
It was a short but sweet two days in North Cascades National Park. I would have loved to stay longer, but we needed to hit the road. The Enchantments were calling…