In early July, my friend from Michigan, Nick, came to Seattle for a visit on a long road trip. Last time we hiked together was on Mt. Timanogos in Utah! I figured since he already had plans to visit Olympic and Mount Rainier National Park, I’d show him a little bit of our least-visited, third national park: North Cascades.
Unfortunately the weather was a little bit cloudy for us as we climbed toward Cutthroat Pass, a high mountain pass with trail access located just east of Washington Pass on SR-20. I didn’t realize until the trailhead that the Cutthroat area is not really in the park boundary. Nevertheless, any day in the North Cascades is a good one. We hiked along easy trail to Cutthroat Lake, occupying the head of the valley, and snapped a couple of photos before beginning the well-graded switchbacks up to the pass.
We soon broke out into the open, alpine terrain that makes north central Washington so beautiful. This area would be ridiculous in fall – I’ll need to come back and visit or maybe move a little bit east to the Pasayten Wilderness for a more extended trip.
We met up with the PCT at the pass and walked along it for a mile or so before encountering some lingering firm snow slopes that we elected not to cross over. Instead, we enjoyed the views with lunch and watched as the cloud deck pulled up a little bit and afforded some views of the local granite peaks.
Andrea is in town this week and had never been to a desert before, so I figured that this was the time of year for that kind of adventure. We headed eastbound on I-90 through the Kittitas Valley, stopping in Ellensburg to avail ourselves of a wine tasting Groupon before continuing along to Vantage (a bit over 2 hours total).
Crossing the Cascade crest at Snoqualmie, one can sense a dramatic change in the landscape as the next two dozen miles roll by. Dense Douglas and silver fir forest transitions to drier, more open stands of Ponderosa pine. Passing through the city of Cle Elum, the forests turn to grassland and alfalfa fields. The contrasting ecological regions are a consequence of the Cascade rain shadow, where Pacific moisture rises on the west slopes and falls out as precipitation near the passes, drying out the air before it makes it to the other side. East of Ellensburg, the rain shadow effect is at its strongest, producing an arid shrub-steppe landscape straight out of a Western movie. It may not technically be a desert but it sure looks like one.
Our first stop was in the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park, where we enjoyed the polished petrified wood specimens at the interpretive center for a few minutes before heading out on the trail. The trail started north of the visitor center on Recreation Road, crossing mostly BLM land I think (trailhead description here). The terrain was open and afforded good views of the Columbia River and lots of wildflowers. We saw a few mountain bikers but nobody else.
Got a late start heading to Yodelin for some trees on this considerable avy day to find that the parking lot was completely full from Stevens overflow parking! Instead, we diverted to Blewett Pass which allowed for much more solitude, but we didn’t begin skinning until after noon so the tour was pretty limited. We made it as far as the NE/E flank of Diamond Head via some XC trails before meeting another pair of skiers on their way down from the DH/Windy Knob saddle area, reporting windscoured, rocky conditions. We called it a day and found some really nice pow in the low angle trees on the north facing rib off DH on the way back to the car. The glimpses of blue sky were a plus.
Long distance bites, but it means that every time I get to see Andrea it’s like a mini vacation. Fortunately, the timing of her September visit couldn’t have been better since it corresponded to the “turning” of the larches – Washington’s deciduous conifer – into their characteristic bright yellow in the autumn. But first, some photos from a quick day trip to Whidbey Island, including Ebey’s Landing and Fort Casey:
Right then, onto the beautiful scenery:
Ingalls Lake Larches
This hike starts from the trailhead at the end of the Teanaway Road, accessed through Cle Elum on the east slopes of the Cascades. This is one of my absolute favorite areas (see this trip in the early spring on skis), but I haven’t yet been up in the autumn to see the larches. The trail is pretty straightforward with some moderate elevation gain and there are plenty of trail guides out there, so I won’t go into much detail.
The trail ascends to Ingalls Pass by traversing along some steep hills but the trail has good tread (sketchy in snowy conditions sometimes though). There are good views of Esmeralda Peak from here but no larches yet.
Once we reached Ingalls Pass, the larches were ablaze on the other side of the ridge on the cooler, north facing slopes.
The grove of larches extends all the way to the slopes of the Ingalls Peaks. We ambled through this section taking lots of photos. They don’t really capture the “Dr. Seuss” effect of the oddly shaped trees in the grove.
As we neared Lake Ingalls, the weather started to move in a little bit and the light didn’t capture the color of the trees as well. They definitely contrast better against blue sky.
However, the low hanging clouds interacted with the terrain in interesting ways. I’m pretty happy with this next shot for some reason.
It started to drizzle on us at the lake. We ate our lunch, called it a day, and headed back for the car.
18.5 miles (from GPS – missed some switchbacks in the Hillmap route) 7000′ gain 7.5 hours car-to-car
French Cabin Mountain – North Peak, South Peak, West Peak (attempt) French Chin Hard Knox Thorp Mountain
After hanging up the skis for the foreseeable future and successful summits of Adams and Baker over the last few weeks, I was ready to return to my main activity: mountain running and peakbagging. The Salmon La Sac area has been on my shortlist for exploration for a long time. Nestled between Snoqualmie Pass and the Teanaway, I had only been through once on the way to an attempt on Mt. Daniel. After consulting Summitpost, I decided to piece together a big loop trying to tag as many summits as I could. As far as I can tell nobody has written a TR on this loop before – now I see why.
The route ascends the Domerie Divide trail (1308) from French Cabin Creek and FR 4308-115, going off trail to tag North Peak and South Peak of French Cabin Mountain before cutting west along the Silver Creek tie trail (1308.1), crossing the south ridge of West Peak and offering a summit of that peak as well. Then the trail drops steeply into Silver Creek basin where it connects with Kachess Ridge (1315) heading north across the pass into French Cabin Basin and offering summit attempts on French Chin and French Tongue. From there, the trail climbs steeply again to gain Kachess Ridge proper, offering easy access to Hard Knox (pt. 5841) and undulating for 3 miles or so until the spur trail to Thorp Mountain, before picking up the Thorp Lake trail (1316) for a gradual 4-5 mile descent back to the car (including a ~2 mile road run).
The devil is in the details. I parked my car, loaded with 3L water and survival essentials in a running pack, and promptly soaked both of my shoes in the river ford. Great start. From there, I ran/jogged the road 700′ vertical to the Domerie Divide “trailhead” which is easy to spot as it begins where the road is blocked with a mound of dirt – there’s also a sign tucked back in the trees. The heat was already getting to me not 20 minutes into the trip. This would be a recurring theme.
The ridge gaining elevation to French Cabin Mountain looked gentle enough on the topo, but it was too steep for me to run, so I got out my poles and speed hiked my way through, trying to keep my HR low considering how long a day I was expecting. After breaking out onto the upper ridge, good views of Cle Elum Lake and the boats below were afforded.
From there, the ridge undulates a few times before dropping below the north peak. I left the trail as soon as it was clear the ridge was diverging and navigated forested but open slopes up to the summit. There are little rock steps on the ridge proper but if you stay left (south) it goes at Class 1. Continue reading It’s a Hard Knox Life→