Looking at the Glass as Half Full
Unfortunately, we didn’t see a lot of sunshine on our three days in North Cascades National Park. While we had beautiful weather on Sunday up on Yellow Aster Butte
, by Monday a weather system that guaranteed clouds and rain moved into the North Cascades and stayed with us through Thursday. Fortunately we were still able to get hikes in on Tuesday and Wednesday. And while we didn’t have bluebird days, the scenery was still amazing.
We left the Mount Baker Scenic Byway under cloudy skies on Monday afternoon and headed for North Cascades National Park, as I had a campsite reserved at the Newhalem campground for Monday through Wednesday night. We would use that as our base camp for dayhikes up Sahale Arm and Trappers Peak, before packing up Thursday morning and heading to Rainy Pass for a shot at Black Peak.
With the way our visit started we should have figured the weather wasn’t going to cooperate with us during our stay. As luck would have it, we arrived at Newhalem about 15 minutes after the rain started. And it rained all evening! Fortunately, the boys brought along a dining canopy (which they needed for camping at the Gorge), so we were at least able to stay dry, have a fire and enjoy some cold beers while we sat around hoping for better weather in the morning.
Sahale: An Arm but not the Final Leg
I sat there looking up at the summit of Sahale Mountain wishing. It was so close, and there was only one thing standing between me and a summit bid, and that would be Sahale Glacier! I was pretty sure I could reach the summit, if I could only get over the glacier. But with no glacier travel experience I knew that it wasn’t going to happen and I really wasn’t tempted to go. I knew better! This wasn’t the time or place to go experimenting with glacier travel, so I sat there content just to soak up all beautiful scenery from Sahale Arm.
The hike up Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm ended up on my itinerary pretty early in the planning stages for this trip, as I had read that this is one of the most beautiful areas of the park. And while I normally plan all of my hikes so there is a possibility for a summit bid, I still picked Sahale Arm even though I knew beforehand that summiting Sahale Mountain wasn’t in the cards.
The hike almost didn’t happen due to the road washouts several weeks prior to our trip. Cascade River Road washed out about three miles from the trailhead. Fortunately this was cleared out by the time we arrived.
We woke on Tuesday morning to cloudy skies, but it wasn’t raining so we headed for the trail. It was a long drive of nearly 40 miles to the trailhead. With the last 10 or so miles of Cascade River Road being mostly single lane and gravel, this added a significant amount to the time it took to get to the trailhead. But what a stunning trailhead it is! The views were stellar just from the front seat. The clouds were pretty low so I imagine we missed quite a bit. But even with the cloud cover we were amazed at the scenery. The ridge that contains Cascade Peak, the Triplets and Mixup Peak had us mesmerized all day.
At the trailhead parking lot
Hidden Lake Peaks
Near Cascade Pass
My goal for the day was to get all the way to the toe of Sahale Glacier, so after reaching Cascade Pass we continued up to Sahale Arm where the views only got better. When we first made it up on the Arm the summit of Sahale Mountain was barely visible. Fortunately the clouds lifted. The view to the peak and down into Stehekin Valley were amazing.
On Sahale Arm
Andy’s knee started bothering him on the way up to Sahale Arm so we cut the hike a little short. We found a nice clearing pretty high up on the Arm that offered great views of Sahale Mountain, Cascade Valley, Stehekin Valley and back to Hidden Lake Peaks. I was more than content just stopping here instead of at the glacier. I still probably looked over to Sahale Mountain 100 times while we sat at the clearing, wishing. But it was all good! We were seeing some killer scenery, and the weather cooperated by not raining. Another day, another year for Sahale Mountain!
Hidden Lake Peaks
Descending Sahale Arm
Descending Sahale Arm
After the hike we headed back towards Newhalem, but stopped in Marblemount for dinner at the Que Car BBQ
. For me, it was the best restaurant in town. Good BBQ and ya’ gotta love the self-serve beer cooler!
Trappers Peak: A Small Slice of Carolina in the Pacific Northwest
Trappers almost didn’t happen! It was raining on Wednesday morning and the cloud cover was heavier than it had been on Tuesday. I wasn’t real interested in hiking 10 miles for a clouded over summit so I started looking at other options while Andrew and Andy stayed in the tent trying to get a few more winks amongst all the pitter patter of rain drops.
Fortunately, our good luck would continue, as it stopped raining by mid-morning, The hike was on! We made the drive up the gravel road to Thorton Lakes Trailhead. I had heard rumors that the road had been in bad shape in years past and that a 4 WD vehicle might be needed. The road ended up not being a problem for the Chevy Captiva. There must have been some recent grading completed on the road, as there were no big ruts or rocks to deal with. There were a few steep sections towards the top that engaged the traction control but other than that, it was no big deal. We even saw a Ford Probe at the trailhead, so high clearance isn't even a necessity.
Trappers would be different than all of the other hikes we did the entire week, as you have to earn the views! On Trappers, you don’t show up at the trailhead and get stunning scenery. No, Trappers reminded me of many hikes that I have been on in North Carolina, as we walked through the woods for nearly five miles looking at trees on each side of the trail. The species might be different than North Carolina, but the view was the same. This isn’t what I expect when I hike out west. Normally, the hiker is spoiled by putting in very little effort to get amazing views. I cut my hiking teeth on the trails of North Carolina and Tennessee, and have spent many days hiking well over five miles to get just a single beautiful view of the Blue Ridge. Well, Trappers was just like that. We were past the Thorton Lakes cutoff before we even got a glimpse of Thorton Lakes and Trappers Peak.
The trail itself even had that Carolina feel, as it was the most rugged trail we would hike on all week. Once we hit the switchbacks we seemed to be hiking on endless tree roots and the trail undulated quite a bit as it was so close to the base of many many trees. For a while I thought I was hiking in Linville Gorge
! And the short scramble section above the Thorton Lakes cutoff had Andrew and Andy talking about our many hikes up to the Chimney Tops in the Smokies.
After that though, many of the comparisons do stop. Yes, the scenery is just very different than the Southern Appalachians.
Once up on the ridgeline, all the way to the summit, the scenery is spectacular. The clouds were still pretty low, but we had great views. I personally loved the look the low lying clouds gave the ridge over to X Mountain. There is supposed to be a stellar view of the Southern Picket Range from the summit, but the clouds never lifted high enough for us to get that. We got a few teasers, but never the full deal. And we never did see what is supposed to be a stellar view of Mount Triump either.
Early View of Trappers Peak
Once up on the ridgeline the hike to the summit is fun. There is a boot path nearly all the way to the summit, but the ridge does narrow in spots and there is plenty of exposure. The rock is solid so the narrow ridge is easy to negotiate, but it does add to the fun.
A clouded over Southern Picket Range
Ridge to X Mountain
Thorton Lakes and X Mountain
Southern Picket Range
Exposed section on the south ridge
Lower Thorton Lake
Best view of the Southern Picket Range that we would get
We drove back into Marblemount for supper and hit the Que Car again. We weren’t sure if we would make it on time as it was just after 7 PM when we pulled in. Fortunately they live up to the billing on their sign which says they close at “7 PM or so”.
Rained Out at Rainy Pass
After dinner we drove back to Newhalem hoping the rain would stay away for the evening so we could enjoy our last night camping in the park. Well, the sky started crying
about 9:30, and she would cry all night! The rain came down hard and never let up. I was hoping for an early start on Thursday morning as I figured Black Peak would make for a long hard day. At 6 AM it was still raining. I tried to sleep but couldn’t, tossing and turning for another few hours, which brought no change to the weather. It was 9 AM by the time I threw in the towel. Even if the weather miraculously made a change for the better, it was too late for today’s goal. I still had hopes that maybe we could at least start the hike, as the scenery on Maple Pass Loop is supposed to be stellar.
We finally got out of the tent and broke down camp. We pretty much threw our gear in the car and headed for Rainy Pass. On the drive, it continued to rain hard and the clouds were very low so that view of Diablo Lake that I wanted so badly to see will have to wait for a return trip. Due to the rain it was a long slow drive to Rainy Pass. When we got there it was still raining and the clouds were still low, so we just kept on driving. We were staying in Ellensburg that night so we were heading in the right direction anyway.
I was disappointed that we didn’t get a shot at Black Peak, as that and Chikamin Peak were my two main summit goals for the week. Again, another day, another year, and a good reason to make a return trip.
We headed to Ellensburg as that was where Andrew and Andy were meeting their friends on Friday morning to head to the Gorge. Of course in Ellensburg the weather was gorgeous. 90 degrees and sunshine! We stayed at the Motel 6 for the night and used the mostly empty parking lot to spread out all of our wet gear so it could dry.
My original plans did not include a hike on Friday. I was going to camp at Salmon la Sac on Friday and Saturday night, but I figured it was going to be too late for me to get a hike in by the time I dropped the boys off at the Gorge and made it to camp. Fortunately there was a change in plans and all I had to do was get the boys to Ellensburg where they would jump in a camper. As long as their friends arrived early on Friday morning I had a shot at a hike.
Fortunately, the drop off happened around 10 AM. I had plenty of time now for an afternoon hike! So the boys headed for the Gorge and I turned the car west and headed for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, for what would be two stellar days solo on the trail.