A couple days after getting home from finishing up Oregon, I packed the stuff up again, picked up a friend, and our wives dropped us off at Stevens Pass for a southbound journey to Snoqualmie Pass. We planned on taking 5 days for the 74 mile trip, a leisurely 15 miles per day average. The forecast ws for clear weather, with the possible exception of day 5, so we left most of the inclement weather gear in the car and hit the trail.
The first day was pretty much a roller coaster journey through some pretty country. The trail starts off with a 1000 rise to a ridge south of the pass, snaking its way under the ski lifts, and then back down under more lifts and a set of power lines, crossing a couple of roads along the way. Within about 5 miles all of that is left behind and the trail begins to wind its way past a number of beautiful lakes. We passed by Lake Susan Jane, Josephine Lake in a bowl just below us, Mig Lake, Hope Lake and Trap Lake, also in a bowl below. These lakes were all inviting and the first 4 had their share of folks either camped on the shore or visiting them.
The final climb of the day was into Trap Pass, up above the beautiful lake with the same name. From there the trail descended rapidly down to an intersection with the Surprise Lake trail, which continued to drop rapidly until it hit the lake. This was our destination for the night, and it was well named. We knew nothing about this lake other than its location on the map 13 miles from the trail head. What we were to discover was that the lake was accessible from another trail head only 4-5 miles from Highway 2, and that it was apparently a pretty popular lake. As we walked along the east side of the lake we found that it was crowded with people, including one party on the other side who had a big fire going, in spite of the no fires sign, that was spewing smoke over the south end of the lake. This group also started to party loudly at dusk; not very good neighbors for a lake full of campers. We were indeed surprised, but not in a good way.
We ended up hanging our hammocks in the trees a 100 yards up from the lake, over some fairly rough ground. But that is an advantage of having a hammock. Since I am not sleeping on the ground, I don’t really care all that much if it is level and cleared. I can swing over rocks, branches and uneven terrain just as easy as I can over a level tent site.
Apart from the disappointment over the crowd at Surprise Lake, the day had been pleasant, the mountain and lake views very nice and the flowers were bright and colorful.
At the Stevens Pass trail head, ready to head out.
View south from the first ridge.
One of many colorful meadows along the way.
The view south during the climb up to Trap Pass.
There was a lot of Paintbrush growing along the trail.
Don’t know what these ‘teeth’ are called, but the area is full of similar spires.
Looking down into Trap Lake
We decided on day 2 to head for Deep Lake, about 17 miles down the trail. We started with a 1400 foot climb over Pieper Pass, a 2000 foot drop down to near Hyas Lake, a 1800 foot climb to Cathedral Rock, and finally a 1200 foot drop down to the lake. Under many conditions this would have made for a grueling day, but the beauty of the country more than made up for it.
On the climb up to Pieper Pass we could see Glacier Lake, just a mile up from Surprise Lake, and likely a better spot to have stopped the first night. We also were able to view Glacier Peak for a while, rising up above the surrounding peaks. On the other side of the pass we found a rock slide with a view of points south and dropped the packs to snack and stare at the ridge, and more distant mountains, to the south of us. I don’t know all of the peaks we were looking at, but the view did include the glaciers on Mount Daniel. It was pretty impressive and made the climb worthwhile.
The trail dropped down past the Deception Lakes, rose slightly over Deception Pass and then down some more to the flat lands around Hyas Lake. Near the bottom we passed over what the maps and signs called a dangerous ford. I have no doubt that earlier in the season this ford would be very treacherous, on a mild late August day I barely got one foot wet making the crossing.
After the ford we made the long steady climb up to Cathedral Pass, passing underneath Cathedral Rock. I am sure that this massive ‘rock’ would have a commanding view of the surrounding area, and I have no doubt that there is some kind of way trail to the top, but we did not see it, nor feel any inclination to attempt to scramble to its top.
Shortly after making it through the pass we started to catch glimpses of Deep Lake far down below us. The trail quickly dropped down to the lake and we found a nice spot where two hammocks could hang. As an added bonus the spot had a large rock that extended out into the lake. This large flat rock become our home for the evening as we cleaned up, ate and sat admiring the views. Deep Lake was easily out best camp of the trip, spoiled only by a few pesky mosquitoes.
At the end of the day we both felt like this had been some of the prettiest country we had ever seen. There had been a lot of ups and downs, but it had truly been worth it. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.
Glacier Lake with Glacier Peak in the background.
A lovely patch of Lupine along the trail on the ascent to Pieper Pass.
A glacier on Mt. Hinman
There was still quite a bit of Columbine blooming in places.
This was the ‘dangerous ford’ near Hyas Lake. The barely submerged rocks provided a convenient way across.
Cathedral Rock from the pass below.
Looking down at Deep Lake. The camps are along the far side of the lake.
Hanging at Deep Lake
We had decided to push on to the Lemah Meadows area, about 22 miles away, on this third day, leaving us with a couple of relatively shorter days at the end. To get there we had to drop another 1400 feet to the Waptus River, climb about 2600 foot to the top of the Escondido Ridge and then drop back down about 2400 foot to Lemah Meadows.
The drop down to the Waptus River was a fairly pleasant walk, although a bit long. We stopped at the river crossing for a bite and then headed up to the ridge. This climb was long, and a bit warm in the mid morning. But the worst part of this stretch of trail was the brush. We had had some brushy trails earlier, but on this ascent there were places were the young trees growing out into the trail threatened to push us off the trail and down the hill. Pushing through the brush while trying to maintain balance and headway was not a lot of fun.
Eventually the trail hit the ridge top and followed it for about three miles. The views from atop the ridge were spectacular, especially the last mile before beginning the descent. We found a big rock to sit on for lunch and stared out at the mountains around us until we had to go on. And it was not long after that we rounded the final bend and found ourselves facing Chimney Rock and Summit Chief Mountain across the valley. While they may not be the biggest mountains in the area, they were pretty up close and personal and quite impressive.
There was only a single water source up on the ridge, a little creek flowing out of some small tarns and snow melt and then falling down to Escondido Lake. The stream braided across a flat spot and was filled with frogs, with mosquitoes swarming the area. We tanked up there, opting to filter out whatever the frogs had left behind, and headed on to a windier and dryer place for lunch.
The trail descended through alternately burned and forested areas, becoming steadily more covered the further down we went. This side of the ridge did not have nearly the issue with brush and was a pleasant walk. Our map showed two campgrounds on creeks about half a mile apart. The first spot looked good but did not have ready access to water so we went on to the second. Here the bridge across the creek was out, leaving either a ford or a log crossing to get to the other side. People passing through told us the the near side camp site was much better than on the other side so we opted not to cross until morning.
Unfortunately the camp site on our side only had a single tree, and it takes at least three to hang two hammocks. So I ended up following game trails in the area until I found a spot were we could hang for the night. We went back out to the creek side camp to eat, clean up and get water and then retreated back to the hammocks for the night.
Every day seems to just get better. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness we are traveling through is quite a wonderful place. The only fly in the ointment at this time was my lower back which had decided to start acting up. Carrying the pack was no issue. Bending over was.
A colorful meadow just below Deep Lake.
Looking north from the Escondido Ridge
The Escondido Lake
Looking south from the Escondido Ridge
A wildflower patch atop the ridge.
Yet another lovely trail side patch of flowers.
A panoramic view to the west from the south end of the Escondido Ridge.
We had planned on heading for Ridge Lake today, but a north bound hiker had told us last night that the lake was posted for no camping. So with that uncertainty hanging over us we again left early in order to have time for whatever might come.
The trail starts off pretty mellow, passing through a small recently partially burned area, probably from the fire 3 years ago. After a couple of miles the trail started up. And up and up. The trail quickly gained 2000 feet in a couple of miles, and 74 switchbacks (yes, I counted them). On the way up the trail crossed a bridge over the Delate Creek, just below a pretty waterfall, and gave a quick look at the eastern of the Spectacle Lakes.
As the trail came out on top, the views of the Spectacle Lakes with, I believe, Chimney Rock in the background were stunning. I followed one way trail a bit to a bluff overlooking the lakes and decided that was a place I wanted to return to and spend some time.
The trail dropped into the vicinity of Parks Lakes and then rose up and over the Chikamin Ridge and into the Gold Creek drainage. On the way up to the ridge was a sign warning pack trains that there were no pull outs for the next 4 miles, making me wonder how you go about backing up a pack train if two of them were to meet. It was also hard to imagine a 4 mile stretch of trail without any wide spots, although the reason for the warning soon became clear.
The hike around the Gold Creek drainage is about 6-7 mile long and sticks fairly high to the ridge top, moving up and down to avoid shear bluffs. Much of the trail is on talus, or scree, which makes for slow walking. But it is truly an amazing walk. You can see the trail clinging to the hill sides as much as three miles away, on the far side of the bowl. And it is clear that this is not a place where two pack trains would want to meet, or even two horses. In places it would not be fun to even meet another hiker. But it was truly magical. Seems like all the way around I would walk a few steps and then look up and gawk a bit as the view would change. The views of Joe Lake across the bowl were pretty appealing as well.
The trail hits a couple of passes along the northern edge of the traverse but the clouds that had started coming in obscured the views to the north and west. As the trail moves west it skirts high above Joe Lake and Alaska Lake, although there was no obvious sign of a trail down to them. Both lakes looked like gems set into their deep bowls, and I was thankful for a digital camera so I didn’t have to worry about how many pictures I was taking.
Near the end of the traverse around the larger Gold Creek valley the trail passed between Gravel and Ridge Lakes. Contrary to what we had been told there appeared to be no restrictions on camping here. But because of the changing weather and my increasingly sore back we decided to go on past the lakes and out to Snoqualmie Pass that afternoon.
So on we went, past the Catwalk, a trail blasted out of the cliff side and ridge top, and finally passed to the outside of the valley. From here the trail continued to traverse the outside wall of the drainage before starting to drop down to Snoqualmie Pass and the long trip home.
This was very much a magical trip that just seemed to get better each day. While this trail is easily doable in 4 days by a strong hiker, there are so many viewpoints to sit and gawk at and lakes to visit that it could also take a week or longer. I have previously traveled the PCT through all of Oregon and from Rainy Pass north, and nothing I had seen earlier comes close to the awesomeness of this stretch, although the area around Harts Pass comes close.
A waterfall along on the Delate Creek during the ascent to the Chickamin Ridge.
The ruggedness of these mountains never ceased to amaze me.
Looking back at Spectacle Lakes
The Four Brothers
Looking across the Gold Creek drainage toward Joe Lake.
The view to the north through a pass in the Chikamin Ridge. The clouds were coming.
Looking back east along the Chickamin Ridge. The trail comes in over the low pass to the right and then traverses left across the upper face of the ridge.
The Kendall Katwalk, a trail blasted out of the shear cliff and ridge top.
A panoramic view east from just south of Joe Lake.
Since I had traveled southbound through much of Oregon earlier in the month I was expecting to encounter a few of the same hikers again, and was not disappointed. Along the way I again met Scott, Stride, Iron, Hawkeye, Clay, Birdie, Calf and Moonshine. I also encountered the 7 year old Barracuda and his mother Sparrow. Barracuda is attempting to become the youngest PCT thru hiker and appears to be well on his way to accomplishing that feat.
Overall we encountered close to 100 people on the trail or in camp. And, apart from a few day hikers near the trail ends and around Surprise Lake, they were all friendly and a pleasure to talk with along the way. This appears to be a popular trail and is not one to take if you are looking for solitude. But if you don’t mind a few others sharing your joy at discovering this magical place, then by all means take the 4 days, up to however much food you can carry, and go explore.