I have been up to Sahale Camp countless times and hiked up and over Park Creek Pass and along the Stehekin River road many times as well, but somehow never made it to Horseshoe Basin, which lays in between. This summer I charted a route over Cascade Pass, down through Cottonwood Camp, up Park Creek Pass, and then (with a detour up to Sahale Camp) back the same way.
Well, things never seem to go exactly as planned, but the trip was awesome!
On day one we schlepped up to Cascade Pass and down to Basin Creek Camp. One nice surprise was the creek and waterfall that bisect the trail on the east side of Cascade Pass, providing a much needed break and swim.
We made it to the trail junction with the spur to Horseshoe Basin, dropped our packs and headed up for a look-see.
The basin was aglow in the afternoon light, orange granite spires surrounding the lip like fangs, too-numerous-to-count waterfalls glistening, their sparkling waters plunging down into the valley. There were wildflowers popping out everywhere, yellows and purples, reds and blues, all accenting the deep green of the basin floor.
The trail follows the stream up into the valley, it follows a course along the stream, across the stream and in the stream, brushy and wet. Shortly the trail emerges into a clearing where boulders dot the basin floor. Climbing up on the largest, the view is transfixing. The green bowl is surrounded with grandeur, full of color and drama.
We hurried on, racing the sun, heading up the valley. Climbing across boulders and scree, on to a snow field, up to the gaping hole of the Black Warrior Mine.
The North Cascades are full of old mining claims; piles of colorful tailings and rusted remains of sluices and Pelton wheels littered about. But I had never visited a mine that I could enter and explore. The Black Warrior Mine operated until the mid-1950’s and is a National Historic place. There is a sign at the entrance giving a brief history of the mine, the names of the prospectors and mis-led investors who poured their mostly futile efforts into this hole. There are two main cavernous rooms blasted into the mountain side which make the opening of the mine. Wooden supports and floor boards are flooded with water. Old tables and remains of habitation litter the floor. The shaft of the mine runs deep; several miles of tunnel remain, open for any brave person to explore.
The wonder of the place is still with me. Maybe its the history, all of the people who worked so long and hard here, digging and scraping for naught. Here, as in many of the North Cascade valleys, it was miners who blazed the trails that we now use to visit the high country. The road from Stehekin, long ago, came all the way to the mine entrance. Over time nature has reclaimed the road, now vehicles can only go as far as High Bridge, 17 miles downstream.
The falling sun chased us out of the valley, we camped at Basin Creek camp that night and then next day headed down the valley, east, towards Cotton Wood Camp.
The allure of fresh pastry made us alter course, and instead of heading up Park Creek Pass, we opted for a trip to Stehekin. Our timing was perfect, we made it to High Bridge (On the Stehekin River Road) at 9am and caught the North Cascades National Park tourist bus down the valley. We conversed with a through-hiker, almost at the end of his trip from Mexico. Along the way we passed a black bear and her two cubs foraging for berries; I was disappointed to miss the chance to visit and capture a few images, but my chance would soon come!
The Stehekin Pastry Company is rightfully famous. Delicious, fresh treats, ice cream, espresso, friendly staff and a comfortable place to relax…
The hike along the Stehekin River Road is in itself fantastic. The river cuts a deep cleft through the cliffs at High Bridge and the confluence with Bridge Creek creates a wondrous series of cataracts and islands.
Heading back up through Cottonwood and the upper valley on a bright summers day, with a welcome breeze we crossed Basin Creek again and started up towards the pass.
It was early in the morning when we came back to the trail junction with the Horseshoe Basin trail. I wanted to have another view, this time with different light. So we stopped and were having a snack before heading up the valley when we had a visitor.
The main trail coming down from Cascade Pass makes a long traverse of the mountainside, descending towards the valley floor. At the elbow of a switchback the spur trail heads up the Basin Creek draw to Horseshoe Basin. We were sitting at the junction, relaxing, when I saw a black bear heading down the trail towards us. My camera was nearby and I ran for it, got the settings adjusted and started shooting. As the bear approached she spied us and slowed her pace. My pulse was pumping with excitement as she got closer and the images clearer. I was viewing the entire scene from my view finder and suddenly had the realization that the bear was getting pretty close!
I lowered the camera and considered what to do. The bear was now at the trail junction, about 15 feet from me, she paused, considering her options. My friend and I both realized that she was wanting to pass up the spur trail to the basin, right past us!
We sort of backed up, along the hillside, and spoke soft words to the bear. She gave us a look of resignation, then headed further down the main trail, cutting across the hillside, just below our spot, traversing below us for about 50 feet, then popped back up through the brush and back onto the spur trail. She gave us a last look, and continued her way on the trail up to, we assumed, good foraging grounds in Horseshoe Basin.
Exulting in our good fortune, excited and energized, we finished our snack and followed her up the valley to the basin.
Tracing our earlier steps from a few days ago, we hiked up into the valley, but this time not all the way to the mine entrance. I worked on my mostly futile efforts to capture the grandeur of the flowers, spires and waterfalls, then we headed back down to our packs and stated the long climb up to Cascade Pass and Sahale Glacier Camp.