Sahale Arm

The Sahale Arm is one of the most visually striking hikes in the North Cascades National Park. Even before arriving at the Cascade Pass trailhead you know you’re in for a treat as you peer up at peaks that rise to amazing pinnacles and hold massive glaciers. As you pull into the parking lot you get a full blown view of Johannesburg Mountain adorned with hanging glaciers. Take a few minutes to relax after your drive and listen as the nearly constant ice falls will surely yield an auditory treat. Luckily even though the valley feels rather small, the icefalls are far away from the trailhead and trail.

The View Towards Johannesburg from the Parking Lot ©Erik Turner

Beginning the hike towards Cascade Pass you’ll walk along an easily graded and well maintained trail. The path takes a meandering casual route up to the pass and what you give up in increased mileage you gain in a relaxing rate of ascent. The forest is rather thick and you’ll only get glimpses back towards Johannesberg, but on the upper part of the trail you’ll cross avalanche chutes that have knocked down the larger trees allowing wonderful views. Bring a map and see if you can pick out the pyramid shaped peak of Eldorado’s summit block to the North. Climbing higher and now very close to the pass the trees begin to thin and the views open up. You can see down open slopes back towards the parking lot and you get the sense that something special is about to happen.

A Hiker Approaches Cascade Pass; Beautiful Views are Just Around the Corner ©Erik Turner

And indeed something special is about to happen. Topping out at Cascade Pass for the first time is an experience. A whole new set of glaciers and peaks present themselves all at once, thrusting themselves into view. Take a few moments and relax on the benches at the pass and take in the views of the peaks before you- Johannesburg Mtn, Cascade Peak, Triplets and further South: Mixup peak, Cache col and Magic Mtn.

Some of the Cascade Pass Peaks as seen from the Sahale Arm ©Erik Turner

In the photo above, Cascade Pass is out of sight in the foreground on below the ridge connecting to Mix-Up Peak.

A few trails leave the pass- the route up the Sahale Arm turns sharply North and begins to climb immediately. If you begin to traverse and eventually drop in elevation, you’re headed for Stehekin, and hopefully turn back once you realize your mistake, or have a few nights food with you. The grade is much steeper now and the trail a bit rockier, but still very easy going. Some hikers will enjoy poles but nothing is very exposed or treacherous yet. The path continues up aiming to gain the ridge that makes the skyline above you. After gaining the ridge you’ll lean to the left and work your way around to a wonderful viewing spot of even more Cascade classics: Torment and Sahale and the Eldorado and Inspiration glaciers.

This is an excellent destination in its own right, especially if the clear skies afford views all around. Make sure to look down into Doubtful Lake, the body of water that is nestled around by the spiraling ridge which is the namesake of this hike: Sahale Arm. From here it should be clear why this ridge got its name- the prominent ridge the trail follows bends around just like an arm cupping Doubtful Lake.

A hiker with Johanessberg behind ©Erik Turner

The trail then ascends up a well worn section meandering through the relative flat grassy ledges of the Sahale Arm. Beautiful views of Johannesburg treat hikers as they walk along this stretch. The trail steepens and slowly disappears into rocky fields that lead up a carined path to the Sahale Glacier camp. This treat of a backcountry campsite features numerous tent spots with one of the best sunset views in the North Cascades not to mention one of the most picturesque pit toilets ever.

Colorful evening light seen from Sahale Glacier camp ©Erik Turner
Dazzling display of stars above Sahale Peak ©Erik Turner

Above the backcountry camp lies Sahale Glacier which is an excellent first climb for the aspiring mountaineer due to its low crevasse danger and generally mild slopes. Some parties choose not to rope up, but there are some small step over crevasses to be negotiated, usually by stepping over them. Sahale Peak rises above the glacier in a pyramid shaped rocky summit which can be reached after climbing the glacier, but a day hike to any of the outlooks or the backcountry camp yield amazing views in their own right.

Climbers planning their route up to the summit, shown by orange dots from Sahale Glacier camp up to summit. ©Erik Turner
Descending the glacier back to camp ©Erik Turner


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