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Five North Cascades Fall Destinations You Can’t Miss

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North Cascades Fall Destinations
Looking for great North Cascades fall destinations? Nothing beats the historic town of Stehekin for fall adventure. Photo by John Chao, courtesy of The National Park Service.

Before the winter snow (and cold rain) starts to make outdoor excursions more a practice of survival than outdoor recreation, checkout Washington’s North Cascades region for wild recreation, wine tasting, and magnificent sightseeing opportunities.  The North Cascades National Park serves as the recreational hub, but outside the park the area comes alive with magical experiences from the wild to the refined.  Come with Seattle Backpackers Magazine as we take a tour of the area, stopping to highlight some of the special places adventurers can find in this gem of the northwest.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 1:  Mount Baker

Starting our trip in the north and approximately 31 miles east of Bellingham, Wash., you will find picturesque Mount Baker.  At 10,781 ft., Baker is one of many active volcanos in the Cascade Range and the second most active after Mount Saint Helens.  The mountain is a favorite of climbers, hikers, and snow sport enthusiasts.  Baker offers downhill skiing in the winter months with the season normally running from late November to early spring.  When ski season is over, the mountaineers arrive to attempt one of the premier alpine climbing experiences in the Northwest.  Hikers and backpackers can enjoy the unspoiled wilderness and dramatic fall colors throughout November. White water rafting is also available in the area on the Nooksack River.  Stop at the Glacier Public Service Center to plan your trip into the northern reaches of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

North Cascades fall destinations
Fire lookouts are a part of Washington’s history. Let your North Cascades fall destinations take you to some of the region’s best views. Copper Ridge Fire Lookout, photo courtesy of The National Park Service.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 2:  North Cascades Scenic Byway (Highway 20)

They say “getting there is half the fun,” and with the North Cascades Scenic Byway this is true. After enjoying Mount Baker, head south and catch the North Cascades Scenic Byway.  The byway winds 140 miles from Sedro-Woolley to Twisp and is part of the 400 mile scenic Cascade Loop.  Stop at the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount for the latest conditions and for help planning your fall adventure.  Continuing east, skirt the translucent green waters of Ross Lake before heading up into the mountains and awe-inspiring views of rock spires, hanging valleys, waterfalls, and alpine glaciers that give this area the nickname, the “North American Alps.” Reaching the high desert of the Methow Valley, enjoy all types of outdoor recreation, charming restaurants, and vibrant nightlife.  The byway is a favorite with cyclists looking to test themselves on the steep inclines.  Many of the popular hiking and climbing routes in the area start on trailheads adjacent to the byway.   This road truly traverses wild places and is therefore a seasonal road.  Check the latest travel advisories because the byway closes in late November when heavy snow hits the pass.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 3:  Ross Lake

Our next stop is the Ross Lake National Recreation Area for fall kayaking, camping, and a visit to the famous Ross Lake Resort.  Ross Lake is approximately 20-miles long from Ross Dam in Washington State to southern British Columbia.  Enjoy off-season quiet and watching the changing colors from the seat of your kayak or canoe.  Kayaking and canoeing are popular fall activities on the lake and the area features 19 boat-in campsites available along the shores for adventurous paddlers with a backcountry camping permit.  There is no direct road access to the Ross Lake; canoes, kayaks, and other portable craft can be launched on Diablo Lake and paddled five miles to the end of the lake and then ported over a mile around Ross Dam (that will get your heart pumping!).  Visitors can also hike to Ross Lake or take the Diablo Ferry.  Ross Lake Resort provides portage and water taxi service on the lake and rents out small power boats, canoes, and kayaks.  The resort was established around 1952 from an old floating logging camp.  The resort offers 12 individual cabins and three bunkhouses built on log floats. Guests can enjoy the scenic mountain views and kayak from their front door at this one-of-a-kind remote resort. Accommodations are available by reservation from mid-June to October 31, so put this destination on your list for next year.

North Cascades fall destinations
Kayaking Ross Lake is one of the fun North Cascades fall destinations for the whole family. Photo courtesy of The National Park Service.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 4:  Methow Valley Towns

Continuing down the North Cascades Scenic Byway will take travelers through Mazama, Winthrop, and Twisp.  These towns serve as the cultural and recreational hubs of the North Cascades.  Mazama is on the Methow trail system and near well-maintained rock climbing routes.  Mazama is a popular stop year-round to fuel-up with great food and supplies at the Mazama Store while cross-country skiing, mountain biking, fishing, or hiking the Pasayton Wilderness.  Pedal power is a great way to enjoy fall colors, bike rentals are available in Mazama along with outdoor supplies and friendly local advice about the best places to go. The Old West town of Winthrop is next on the list of stops.  Winthrop has great restaurants and eclectic shops.  Outdoor gear and bikes can be purchased or rented at many of the outfitters that call Winthrop home.  Finally, at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow Rivers is the town of Twisp.  Twisp is home of a thriving artistic community that draws inspiration from the region’s natural beauty.  Stop for lunch and watch the golden leaves sway in the breeze on the banks of the Methow River.

North Cascades Fall Destinations 5:  Lake Chelan

Our tour ends at Stehekin, the quiet lake town nestled into the headwaters of Lake Chelan.  The remote town is connected to the outside world by foot, boat, or float plane.  The journey to Stehekin is part of the charm and ensures a quintessential North Cascades experience.  Early settlers established homesteads in Stehekin in the late 1800s and engaged in logging and agriculture.  Today there are several lodges and restaurants in town and approximately 78 campsites.  Free backcountry passes are required for most campsites; check with the Golden West Visitor Center for details.  Stehekin serves as a hub to explore the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and offers hikes for all abilities.  Visitors can also rent bikes and kayaks in town and even go horseback riding.  No trip to Stehekin is complete without visiting the Stehekin Pastry Company for amazing pies and cinnamon rolls. While it is possible to hike into the town, most visitors arrive on the Lady of the Lake ferry from Chelan.  Lake Chelan is over 50-miles long and the third deepest lake in the United States.  The lake hosts all types of water sports and fishing and is a great fall destination.  After a day hiking and taking in the fall colors, try one of Lake Chelan’s 24 shore side wineries and enjoy placid lake views while sipping some of the best wines in the country.

Mt. Rainier’s Northern Traverse

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Looking Down into the White River
Looking Down into the White River

Standing high above the White River, I gazed up at the looming heights of the Willis Wall, a vast snow encrusted cliff of black rock towering over verdant mountain slopes. Every now and again, a stream of ice would come tumbling down its flanks, adding to the frozen river that is the Carbon Glacier. Despite the magnificence of our location, the view was not so lovely as to lessen the trepidation brought on by the lateness of the hour and the length we had yet to go to reach that night’s camp. That our campsite was visible, only a few miles’ distance as the crow flies, did not lift our weary hearts. For though the waters of Lake James sparkled tantalizingly in the distance, between us and its azure surface lay the shadowy depths of the valley below.

Eleanor Creek Trailhead
Eleanor Creek Trailhead

The Wonderland Trail is world-famous – a glorious, symphonic meld of deep jungle and high meadows. What the throngs of hikers on that trail do not realize is that there is another trail, the Northern Traverse, hidden among the crags of Mt. Rainier’s Northern Wilderness. Here, one may stroll into the ranger’s station at the White River entrance and obtain a permit on the day of departure and not worry much about reserving campsites along the way. This is a far cry from the Wonderland Trail for which reservations must be made months in advance! The Northern Traverse is difficult, wild, beautiful, and, above all, a lonely trek.

Backpacking through Grand Park
Backpacking through Grand Park

Finding the trailhead is an adventure in itself – it’s not officially acknowledged by the park, and is marked only by a bullet-riddled sign on which may vaguely be read the words “Eleanor Creek.” From this elusive trailhead, the trail skulks from dark forest to woodsy Lake Eleanor, to the great, flat expanse of Grand Park. Aptly named, the meadows here seem to extend to the horizon, upon which Rainier floats like a great cloud. All too soon this gentle stroll ends, and one is faced with a great chasm. Thousands of feet of precious elevation are lost in the descent to the river – thousands of feet that must be instantly and painfully regained to reach the safe haven of marshy Lake James.

Lake James
Lake James

There are no good designated campsites along this trail; each is sunk deep in dark woods, where the sites have been hacked from the temperate jungle. Spend your time exploring finer places and relegate the campsites to sleeping only.

Beyond Lake James, the trail climbs a rambling series of switchbacks and stairs to the lofty and rarely seen gardens of Windy Gap. Linger, if you have the time, by the numerous heather-rimmed tarns beneath crags and wooded hillocks. Venture north along a high ridge to a natural arch hidden in the cliffs high above Lake James. Unfortunately, you will soon have to leave this paradise for yet another long plunge to the valley below, and yet another campsite shrouded in forest gloom; though this location is mitigated by the presence of a nearby waterfall.

Windy Gap
Windy Gap

On the last day, you must once again make a wearying climb to the fabled fields of Seattle Park and Spray Park. Here, as at Windy Gap, you must control the impulse to linger amidst tarns and flower-filled meadows if you are to reach Mowich Lake before dark. By evening, the trail will dip down into the forest, with the ephemeral cascades of Mist Falls and the final vista at Eagle Rock being your penultimate farewell to the wonderland that isn’t.

Spray Park Tarn
Spray Park Tarn

I am a great believer in taking the road less traveled, and such a road is often fraught with difficulties. Perhaps if one of my companions hadn’t developed back problems that caused me to have to carry her pack in addition to my own, the valleys and ridges of the Northern Traverse would have seemed less pronounced, and I would have had more time to enjoy the quiet beauty of this lesser known side of Mt. Rainier.

Someday I hope to return, to perhaps hike the “Northern Loop,” which begins at Sunrise and combines both part of the route I have described and the Wonderland Trail. I might also go to explore even more remote and trackless places: Crescent Lake, Chenuis Mountain, Old Desolate and the Elysian Fields. To the intrepid explorer, the wilderness beckons, and none more strongly and strangely than that which is most difficult to achieve.


Spray Park
Spray Park

Two Dead as Teen Survives Washington Plane Crash after Days Alone in Mountains

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Washington Plane Crash
Veatch recovering in the hospital before being released to family on Tuesday. Source: KIRO

After two days alone in the wilderness, Autumn Veatch, 16 , walked out of the Easy Pass area near Mazama, Wash., in the North Cascades Monday. The Beech 35 plane carrying Veatch and her step-grandparents crashed in the rugged mountains Saturday around 3pm enroute from Kalispell, Montana to Lynden.

After the Washington plane crash, Veatch said she followed a river to a trail that led to State Route 20 near Mazama where she waved down a passing motorist. The motorist took Veatch to a store in Mazama where she called the authorities. According to the 911 call, Veatch’s step-grandparents, Leland Bowman, 62, and his wife Sharon, 63, of Marion, Montana, did not survive the crash. Veatch told the Okanogan County 911 operator that she had, “a lot of burns on my hands and I’m, like, kind of covered in bruises and scratches and stuff.”

Washington Plane Crash
Leland and Sharon Bowman in front of the Beech 35 plane that crashed in the North Cascades on Saturday. Source: Kouw

Veatch had suffered minor scrapes and bruises during her ordeal and was severely dehydrated and suffering from extreme muscle fatigue from her hike out of the mountains. Emergency medical technicians treated Veatch at the store in Mazama before transporting her by ambulance to the 3 Rivers Hospital in Brewster. Veatch was released from the hospital on Tuesday and returned home to Bellingham.

Washington Plane Crash
View of the rugged Easy Pass area of the North Cascades near Mazama. Source: WTA

During her ordeal, Veatch survived alone in some of the most formidable terrain in state. The hiking site classifies the Easy Pass area as a difficult hike adding, “This route was called ‘Easy’ Pass because it was the only place possible to put a trail across rugged, ragged ridges.” Family and medical personnel were surprised that Veatch was in such good condition after surviving the crash and over 48 hours without food or water. Veatch attributed her survival to watching the popular television program Survivor with her family.

Okanogan County officials said Tuesday that they located what they believe to be the plane piloted by Bowman, but could not reach the site. The search will continue on Wednesday.

What to do if Lost

Author of Deep Survival and researcher Laurence Gonzales says that, in survival situations, it is one’s mindset that often determines who lives and who dies. He offers these 14 steps for survival in the wilderness. Find out more about these steps here.

1. Do the Next Right Thing
2. Control Your Destiny
3. Deny Denial
4. Use a Mantra
5. Think Positive
6. Understand Linked Systems
7. Don’t Celebrate the Summit
8. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
9. Risk and Reward
10. Trust Your Instincts
11. Know Plan B
12. Help Others
13. Be Cool
14. Surrender, but Don’t Give Up

Where to Hike in 2015: North Cascades

in Community/Trails by
Where to Hike in 2015
Copper Ridge Sunset

This year’s warm start has me already thinking about backcountry trips. From the way it looks now, we may be heading for a wonderfully long hiking season this summer! The North Cascades offer so many opportunities for long and short trips; it’s hard to know where to start when making the summer wish list. Here are a few ideas on where to hike in 2015.


Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop:

This 3 to 5 day trek through the North Cascades National Park is one of the must-do trips in the Pacific Northwest.

Where to Hike in 2015
Chilliwack Salmon

Starting from the Hannegan Pass Trailhead, the loop visits Copper Ridge, plunges down to the Chilliwack River (filled with salmon in early August) and then loops around and back. A side trip to Whatcom Pass and the Tapto Lakes is highly recommended.


Sahale Camp:

This hike is frequented by day-hikers, but to truly appreciate its glory, you need to spend the night there. You’ll need a permit and will have to carry a pack up, but it’s infinitely worth it!

Where to Hike in 2015
Morning at Sahale Glacier Camp


Horseshoe Basin:

Horseshoe Basin is much less visited, though close by Cascade Pass. The circle of granite fangs draped with glaciers and waterfalls and filled with wildflowers is a sight to behold. Be sure to pay a visit to the Black Warrior Mine!

Where to Hike in 2015
Horseshoe Basin


Maple Pass – Lake Ann Loop:

This 7 mile loop trail is a favorite for a reason: It’s awesome! Camping is possible along the route, you can bring your dog and no permits are required. This hike is especially beautiful in late July- early August (because of the wildflowers) and also in early October for catching the larch trees turning color.

Where to Hike in 2015
Lake Ann from the Maple Pass Trail


The Enchantments:

Where to Hike in 2015

Who doesn’t want to be Enchanted? Gnome Tarn, Isolation Lake, Prusik Peak, Perfection Lake. These are all places you have got to visit. October brings orange larches, a spectacle not to be missed. Permits to stay overnight are offered through a lottery, which ends on March 3rd.

Where to Hike in 2015
Colchuck Lake, Enchantments


May this hiking season be your best ever!

Heliotrope Ridge

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Heliotrope Ridge

When I was growing up, my parents would regale me with stories of their adventures in Alaska— particularly their accounts of glaciers, which they visited by foot, ski or kayak. I have since been enamored of these ice rivers, but most of my hiking has been done in Southwest Washington or in Idaho, where there are few easily accessible glaciers. I have seen them in the distance— on the slopes of Rainier or in the crater of St. Helens— but for the most part they have been too far away to make a deep impression. My quest to encounter a real, crevasse filled, blue tinged, rock crushing glacier finally led me to Heliotrope Ridge on Mt. Baker, where the awesome spread of the Coleman Glacier lay waiting.

Heliotrope Ridge

We arrived at the trailhead on a sunny Saturday morning unprepared for the multitude that thronged the parking lot; climbers sorting their gear, parents sorting their children and bikers (who had pedaled effortlessly up the steep, winding road) sorting their already strained muscles, chaining their bikes and bounding off up the trail. We felt a little out of place among the super fit athletes hiking here. Many raced up the trail at light speed and were never seen again. A few, like us, took the trail a little slower. We ended up playing a complicated game of leapfrog with our fellow hikers, passing photographers absorbed in the scenery, only to be passed by them once again when we stopped to take photos of our own.
The trail gains a lot of elevation, but does so over many well maintained switchbacks, and those switchbacks can be tantalizing indeed; raising your hopes of rounding a corner for a fantastic view, but at the last moment zigzagging away. It’s not an arduous ascent due to the ever present cool breeze that wafts from Mt. Baker’s icy heights down through the shade of the forest. There were many glacial streams to cross along the way and, earlier in the season, some might be nearly impossible to ford. As it was, the late August heat kept the streams full of snowmelt, and it was a relief for many hikers to find that the Washington Trails Association (WTA) volunteers were there to help people safely cross the swiftest current.

Glacial Stream Crossing

In fact, the WTA volunteers were working hard all day, repairing a decaying boardwalk through the trees. When we passed, they were wallowing in the mud, attempting to extract a massive boulder that lay mired in the swampy trail where the old boardwalk had been. Without the work of the WTA, many of the trails we take for granted would be in an advanced state of degradation. Seeing them at work gave me a new appreciation of their contribution.

After traversing the forest and fording the streams, the course of the trail finally took us over the ridge to the glacial valley itself. My parents’ accounts of the beauty and power of glaciers couldn’t prepare me for the scene that met my eyes. There were heaps of blue spires, like some fantasy movie creation, and deep azure crevasses slicing the surface of the ice. Here, the senses are overloaded; tumbling waterfalls, towering cliffs, bright meadows and, of course, the mesmerizing blue glow of the glacier that ripples below and above the ridge in frozen waves and icy crevasses. The power of the ice was evident in the rubble that was being torn and dragged from the edges of the glacier and incorporated into the moraines. No camera could do this scene justice, and I could only drink it in with my eyes and revel in the glory before me.Heliotrope Ridge

The atmosphere in the meadows at the end of the trail was that of a carnival; people from every corner of the world stared in wonder at the ocean of ice that flowed from the lofty heights of Mt. Baker. On such a summer Saturday there is no solitude; children play, dogs bark, climbers call and the chatter of many resting picnickers is carried through the meadows on glacial winds. Normally, I value solitude above all, but on this trip I had already resolved to be a tourist, and the overwhelming beauty made up for the lack of personal space.

Still, I can only be a tourist for so long, and I found myself dreaming of some of the other hikes nearby that might have had fewer people. There are several gravel roads that lead off to less popular places, such as Church Mountain and Welcome Pass, and I made mental plans to return to Mt. Baker to try these, too. I left the river of ice with the tide of humanity returning to the trailhead. Someday, I plan to return to Heliotrope Ridge on a weekday in the fall when the crowds will be thinner and the air sweet with the scent of autumn leaves and new frost. Instead of the chatter of the multitude, I would like to hear the screech of the marmot, the murmur of the waterfalls, and perhaps even the groaning of the ice, and the wind’s sigh of relief that the tourist season is nearly over.

It is 2 ½ miles and 2000 feet of elevation gain to the first viewpoint on Heliotrope ridge. To reach the trailhead drive one mile past the town of Glacier (Highway 542 from Bellingham) and turn right onto the mostly paved (but one lane and very curvy) Glacier Creek Road (National Forest Road 39) and follow it for about 8 miles. There is plenty of parking space near the trailhead, but late arrivals on a weekend may be forced to walk some distance to the trail.

Heliotrope Ridge

The Land of the Golden Larches

in Trails by
Golden Horn

Like the prospectors of old, I lust after gold. I leave everything behind in the endless hunt for “all that glitters”. But my treasure is no hard, cold metal-found in tiny grains amidst the pebbles of the stream bed or sequestered deep within the bowels of the earth. Mine is the glowing yellow shine of the waning day, filtered through the translucent needles of the alpine golden larches. Mine is the golden flash of scales deep within the azure waters of the mountain lake. Mine is the glow of golden granite, splitting the sky and lining the creeks. Gold is never found with ease. In the winter the landscape is buried beneath a shroud of snow. In summer, rainbow meadows blind the eyes with color. Only in the waning months of autumn is the gold rush possible in the North Cascades.

Golden Horn
The Golden Horn


It was not so long ago that all the country traversed by the North Cascades Highway was deep wilderness, accessible only by many days of hiking. Only Native Americans and explorers trod the rambling paths through this treasure trove of beauty. However, it could not remain a secret forever. Plans to build a road across the North Cascades were first proposed in the late 19th century. First, it was thought that a road might run along the length of the Skagit River into Canada, but that was scrapped when that area was found to be too rugged.

Rainy Lake BasinIn 1897, a route was planned and partially built over Cascade Pass, but flooding and misuse of funds caused this plan to be scrapped as well. A third plan called for the highway to cross at Harts Pass, but it, too, was stopped before completion. Finally, three dams were constructed on the Skagit River in the 1920’s-40’s, and a road was built to the upper end of newly created Diablo Lake. Plans were laid in the 50’s for huge logging operations that would justify the continuation of the highway beyond Diablo Lake, but fortunately for all of us, this idea was not realized. It was not until 1972 that the route across Rainy Pass was officially opened as a scenic highway through the wilderness. The road opened the floodgates to the hordes of golden larch seekers, and now many motorists scan the autumn hillsides for the wealth sequestered within the high and lonely basins.

But by staying glued to the seat of your car, you will only catch glimpses of high country gold. Some of the best trails in the North Cascades are found along State Route 20, and hikers of any skill level will find plenty to do here.

Rainy Lake, Maple Pass Loop.

Perhaps the most rewarding day hike in existence, the Maple Pass Loop has it all: lakes, glaciers, hundred mile views and brilliant groves of golden Larches. At 7 miles long, the hike can be challenging, but every step brings a new and better view.

Lake Ann
Lake Ann from Maple Pass

For travelers in a hurry, Rainy Lake can be reached in 1/2 mile from the same trailhead. The trail is paved all the way and is mostly level, and the lake is truly spectacular with 850-foot Rainy Lake Falls tumbling onto the opposite shore.

Blue Lake.

Blue Lake
Blue Lake

For a moderate hike, the 2-mile trail to this stunning, opalescent green lake, guarded by massive cliffs on one side, and cloaked by golden larches on the other, will satisfy the average treasure seeker. The larches light the upper portion of the trail, and if the winds are calm, their flaxen reflection in the lake is an artist’s dream.

Cutthroat Pass. 

Cutthroat Pass
Cutthroat Pass

This is a long, but easy ascent 5 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail to a high pass with views of Silverstar Mountain and the icy peaks of North Cascades National Park and, once again, many golden larches. For experienced backpackers, a further 6 airy miles of ridge-walking bring you to Snowy Lakes: alpine jewels reflecting the luster of the forests and Golden Horn.

Harts Pass

At the end of a long, harrowing drive up an intimidating gravel road, Harts Pass is the start of many ridge-top trails all lined with groves of golden larches. The best hikes here follow the Pacific Crest trail North to Windy Pass and South to Grasshopper Pass. For easy views simply continue driving to the lookout on top of Slate Peak. This is the highest road in Washington as well as the highest existing lookout at 7440 feet (although the road may be closed just before the summit).

Lone Fir Campground.

A ten minute drive from Washington Pass, Lone Fir Campground is the closest place to camp if you want to catch the sunrise on Liberty Bell. Sites are well spaced and fairly private, and many are located near to Early Winters Creek. The short Lone Fir Loop trail (located at one end of the campground) makes for a fine after-dinner stroll.

Bridge Over
Lone Fir Loop trail-bridge over Early Winters Creek

Colonial Creek Campground.

A large and developed campground on the shores of Diablo Lake, Colonial Creek Campground is a bit far from the high country. They compensate for this by the many nearby trails through deep old-growth forest. A good trail is the Thunder Knob trail, an easy stroll less than two miles long with good views at the top.

Harts Pass Campgrounds.

Several good campgrounds are located at Harts Pass, and once you’re there, the driving is done because half a dozen wonderful trails start right from camp!

So join the Gold rush of the North Cascades. Time is short. Like a mining boom, the golden views last only a fleeting few weeks in the middle of autumn. However, if you are visiting in late spring or summer you will be greeted by golden granite and budding larches; their young shoots are such a vivid green it might be mistaken for the gold hue it will turn in fall. My bags are packed, all my mining tools gathered together: camera, tripod and warm sleeping bag. I’ll see you in the high country!



Diablo Lake
Diablo Lake

By: Andy Zahn

Dreams of Summer Hikes in the North Cascades

in Community/Fireside/Trails by

Editor’s Note: We’re in the thick of winter. Many fantastic trails are closed or inaccessible and some of our most beloved peaks are out of reach. These photos from Mark Griffith’s late summer climb up Ruth Mountain are gorgeous reminders of just how awesome the North Cascades are after winter has melted away and the trails meander freely through both snow and heather on their way to our favorite summits. Mark’s pictures and musings have all of us at SBM dreaming of summer and adding Ruth Mountain to the 2013 tick list. Enjoy!

RuthMt-North Cascades

Good Morning Ruth

View of Ruth Mountain coming along the ridge of Point 5930′.


Awe and Wonder

Laying on the trail at Hannegan Pass. Facing Ruth the heavens lay above me like a black canopy stretched out; dotted with the million pricks of light, almost tangible and within reach at times and at others far off with a vastness that was overwhelming. How seldom do I contemplate the awe of the heavens. How seldom do I have the opportunity to lay beneath its black cloak? The Milky Way stretched wide across the sky, a band of unfathomable depth, silhouetted on one side by mighty trees rooted to the earth, with their branches seeking skyward.

I could feel my mind and heart expanding at times to embrace in wonder the awe of their immensity and at other times the shrinking insignificance of my place relative to their vastness.


Shy Baker

View of first Shuksan and then Baker behind the lower ridges of Ruth Mountain from the heather saddle below Ruth and Point 5930′


Ridge Line Around

View back down on Point 5930′ and a crevasse on the upper snow slopes of Ruth Mountain. This was the only real crevasse and easily avoided. The snow was soft and crampons were a bit of an overkill but the ice axe was necessary.


Nooksack & Shuksan

The Nooksack Glacier hanging above the deep valley on the backside of Mount Shuksan.


Pointy Peaks

The spires of the Pickets as seen from the summit of Ruth Mountain.


Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

in Fireside/Trails by

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.

Horseshoe Basin and person


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.

Em in 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.

Mine from the inside

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 Stehekin Pastry Company

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!

Black Bear at Horseshoe Basin Junction

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.

Horseshoe Panorama


Cathedral Peak and Amphitheater Mountain Photos

in Community/Trails by

Need some ideas for your summer explores? Andy Porter told us about this lovely place recently, but just in case that wasn’t enough, here are some more of his gorgeous mountain photos of the Pasayten Wilderness. With names like Cathedral Peak and Amphitheater Mountain, how can you go wrong?

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Cathedral Peak and Amphitheater Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness

in Trails by

I had a window of freedom for half of July and needed to find some trails relatively snow free. Studying maps, I mapped out a loop through the eastern Pasayten wilderness to Upper Cathedral Lake.

The route began at Thirty Mile trailhead and went north along the Chewuch River. I memorized the route, got all provisioned up and hoped for nice weather. About a week before the trip I visited the US Forest Service web site for the Okanogan National Forest and discovered that the first four and a half miles of trail were littered with more than 550 down trees!

I located an alternate trail. This one was 27 miles one way to Cathedral Lake, maintaining an elevation of 6,100 to 7,800 ft and promised great views. The only downside was that we would need to drive nearly an extra 3 hours, but that was much more appealing than clambering over 550 dead trees!

Cathedral Peak from Upper Cathedral Lake ©Andy Porter

Our new route took us over Loup Loup Pass and through the towns of Omak, Tonasket and into the small town of Loomis. From there we headed up the Toats Coulee Road to the trailhead. The road was easy to follow, and not a challenge for our 4-wheeled friend.

I love hiking in the Pasayten. Not only are there long and wonderful ridges to hike, but there are fewer trees and immense meadows. In July and early August the meadows are carpeted in flowers. “Upholstered in herbaceous wildflowers” is what one of the guidebooks said. I have been to many places in the Cascades and seen lots of flowers. But nothing like the Pasayten. In other places there would be a meadow and clumps of flowers here and there. In the Pasayten the entire meadow, as far as you can see is completely filled with columbine, paintbrush, lupines and countless others blanketing the ground. It is really something to see an entire mountainside literally covered in the blooming colors of nature.

Pasayten Wildflower Garden ©Andy Porter

And the trees. Interspersed between the rocky summits and explosion of flowers are perfect clumps of trees. Each element serves to offset the other. The result is that the Pasayten is like a Zen Garden. Every stand of trees, rock outcropping, and flower display has a special feel, like it was all painstakingly handcrafted. Nothing looks out of place.

Our first night we camped in the middle of Horseshoe Basin, right on the tundra and anticipated out journey the next day. This was our first long hike of the year and we were not acclimated yet. The next day’s hike (we were on the Boundary Trail, part of the Pacific Northwest Trail) took us by Louden Lake and around Rock Mountain. We lazed at a fine looking creek and enjoyed a hot lunch, and made it as far as Teapot Dome to camp. Our campsite was another meadowy-tundra-like concoction full of flowers and bugs, LOTS of bugs.

Louden Lake ©Andy Porter

Early the next morning we were on our way. We stayed on the Boundary Trail, which maintains its elevation, traversing along the western side of Bauerman Ridge, through Scheelite pass and again traversing along Wolframite Mountain. The weather so far was perfect, cool at night (we had a few nights with frost) and warm in the day. The entire route on this day was on south facing slopes. It was clear that the trail was normally quite dry, but as we were so early in the season there was a flourish of small almost desert like flowers all over the ground.


As we approached Tungsten Mine my friend gave me a sort of garbled hush noise and pointed up the hillside. It was a huge bear, much bigger than any I’d ever seen, I would guess 800 lbs or more. Both of us thought it sure looked like a Grizzly. She sure had the face of one, she was there maybe 20 yards off the trail in plain view. She got a good look at us and vamoosed off, up the hill.


We continued to the mine where there are all sorts of intact buildings and other man-made remains. There is an old long and low bunkhouse, which is empty now except for an old cast iron wood stove. The walls and woodwork inside are literally covered, almost every square inch with the carvings of the names of hikers who have passed through. Nearby is a newer looking A-frame structure with an old bathtub sitting out front. It looked inhabited, and we looked around outside but didn’t see the miner or anyone else.

Bathtub at Tungsten Mine Pasayten Wilderness ©Andy Porter

From the mine it was a relatively short and easy hike up to Apex Pass (7800 ft). Once we came out on the west side of the pass we were astounded, shocked, surprised and generally overwhelmed with the view.

The trail guide we had raved about the beautiful tundra and didn’t make much mention of Apex Pass or Cathedral Peak, so we weren’t expecting any thing special. The view was astounding. We could see the eastside of Amphitheater Mountain, and next to it the triangular spire of Cathedral Peak. Across the valley to the southwest Remmel Mountain reared up. There was a bright blue sky, white puffy clouds and lots of green meadows (tundra?) all around.

Amphitheater Mountain Reflection ©Andy Porter

We just stopped there in awe, I was running all over like a 6 year old, taking pictures and exclaiming loudly how awesome a place it was. After running out of cool shit to say and taking maybe 200 pictures we saddled up to tackle the final two miles or so Cathedral Pass. The closer you get to Cathedral Peak the more you stop and stare. The southeast face of the peak is remarkably steep and actually looks out of place. The eastern Pasayten is better known for its rounded peaks than its jagged summits. This entire area looked more like it belonged in the Southwest than the Northwest!

After untold numbers of stops for more picture taking, we arrived at the pass. And there was heaven! Amphitheater Mountain on the south shoulder of the pass and Cathedral on the north, to the west a sweet basin containing Upper Cathedral Lake. Amphitheater Mountain is a very long (1.5 miles) sweeping, rocky ridge. Viewed from Cathedral Pass its quite a sight, Amphitheater makes a 100 degree turn and so you can view both faces, or arms of the mountain from one spot.

Amphitheater Mountain from Cathedral Pass ©Andy Porter

We strolled down into the upper basin where there was a large snowmelt pool. The view from here of Cathedral and Amphitheater was so incredible we decided to camp right there and leave further exploring for the next day. The pool provided many reflective photo opportunities when the sun started setting.

Before starting our trip back we took a few minutes to head over to Upper Cathedral Lake. The lake was more than half covered in snow and ice, the southwestern end of the lake ripples at the sheer base of Amphitheater Mountain. There are many great camping spots and we saw several anglers trying their luck. The classic view of Cathedral Peak is taken from this SW corner of the lake. From here one can see that the entire basin is filled with larches. Coming back when they turn yellow will definitely be part of the plan for the fall!

The marker says “Good Enough Peak” ©Andy Porter

The only single thing detracting from staying at Cathedral was the bugs. The incessant drone of mosquitoes compelled us to consider finding a new camp for the night. The day before when we were at Apex Pass we hadn’t noticed many bugs, and the view was fantastic, so we packed up and headed back there to camp. We arrived and found a place to set up the mesh tent in the shade, where we had a stupendous view. It didn’t take long before we realized that A) there were even more bugs at Apex Pass, B) even with a mesh tent in the shade we were literally cooking in the tent. Our view was beyond compare, but as the day got longer we grew hotter and grumpier from being held captive in out stupid tent. There were a few more hours before it got dark, so we quickly packed and hit the trail.

Passing through the mine again did not reveal any more grizzlies and we made it back to Scheelite Pass as darkness fell. The following day we hiked to the other side of Sunny Pass, passing through Horseshoe Basin. This time we spent some time at Louden Lake and got some great pictures of the lake and the wildflowers. We made it back to the car and headed off for our next Pasayten adventure.

On the Boundary Trail, Horseshoe Basin ©Andy Porter
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