May Creek Boat Camp, Ross Lake

I tried something new (to me). My plan was to rent a kayak and paddle in to Cougar Island with my tent and sleeping bag, but when I applied for my permit I learned I’d have to share the island with a couple who was already camping there. The ranger told me “the most popular site on Ross Lake is available. It has a waterfall, and room for one.” So I found myself at May Creek Boat Camp, and because it’s farther than I planned to go, I took the water taxi.

The boat dropped me off early Thursday morning, and we arranged for it to pick me up on Saturday. As the boat left, the feeling of being alone in an immense wilderness came over me, it was a joy.

Ross Lake is a 20 mile long finger lake surrounded by big mountains, greenish blue with silt from melted glaciers. At one end is the Ross Lake Resort; this is where you can rent kayaks and canoes, and catch the water taxi. The resort it a mile from the road, a short hike that goes steeply down hill.

A creek on the way to the Ross Lake Resort.

Hiking to the Ross Lake Resort

On the way down I ran into two Border Patrol agents, one of them with a machine gun draped over his chest. This, also, is something I’d never encountered before. They said they had been doing boat patrols, since Ross Lake extends into Canada, about 15 miles away.

At the resort, I loaded my backpack into a small boat, and we left for May Creek Camp.

The ride begins

Leaving Ross Lake Resort

In the background is the Ross Lake Dam and Colonial Peak behind it.

Around a corner on the lake, and civilization disappears.

Into the Wild

Dropped off.

Alone in camp for the next three days

First order of business: find this waterfall. Turns out it’s best viewed from a boat, it sits at the bottom of a ravine. The ground is steep and wet. I got a glimpse from above and some pictures that didn’t turn out well.

May Creek running into Ross Lake

May Creek outlet to Ross Lake

The bright, vibrant greenish blue color of the water is true to life, believe it or not. The water is startlingly clear, giving a view 20+ feet below of the submerged cliffs and tree trunks. In the bottom right corner is a hint of the waterfall that graced my camp.

The first night was clear and cold, with a full moon rising from the south east.

Watching the night sky from the edge of the lake

Stargazing in camp

The next day I hiked the East Bank Trail to Devil’s Creek and then a bit south of my camp on the way back. As the day wore on, clouds came in over the lake, growing darker. I gathered fuel for the fire that would keep me warm, mostly drift wood. Eventually the rain came and I took shelter in my camp. All night it stormed, but the sun was out the next day, mixing with the clouds, letting me dry my tent’s rain fly.

Clouds remaining after the storm

Volatile weather after the storm

Eventually the boat came to pick me up, right on schedule. We went back to the edge of the lake, and I hiked out to the trailhead where my car and a clean set of clothes were waiting for me.

Small creek on the Ross Lake Resort trail

A bridge over a small creek on the Ross Lake Resort Trail

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Cascade Pass to Stehekin

Stehekin, WA, is a wilderness-edge town in the North Cascades, on the shore of Lake Chelan. It’s notoriously difficult to get to: foot, boat, and plane are the only ways in and out. I chose to hike in for my first visit, along my favorite trail.

The ancient Cascade Pass trail offers a tour of all different types of scenery available in the Northwest mountains. It begins in a dense wet-side forest, which slowly opens to a meadow, then the trail crosses the Cascade Crest and the scenery changes abruptly. All of a sudden the peaks are more bare, the woods become more spacious and less dense, the meadows seem more full of life. The trail winds down talus slopes into a narrow river valley, coming into an open, airy, park-like forest, passing through burn scars, past rocky outcroppings, and eventually coming to a 50 mile finger lake. As the trail winds on, the Stehekin River grows from a small creek into a powerful and swift glacial river.

Cascade Pass

The Cascade River Valley

Looking west from below Cascade Pass.

Cascade Pass

Eldorado Peak

I spent my first night out in Pelton Basin, a small camp east of the pass. The camp – currently being upgraded to grizzly standards – sits in the end of a grove of trees that reach down into a wet meadow basin. For water, you hike out to the creek running down the center of the broad valley, and come to Pelton Creek, one of the sources of the Stehekin River. I stayed here a year ago and explored the meadow extensively, boulder hopping to keep my feet dry.

Pelton Creek

Cascades along Pelton Creek

The next morning I packed up and made a side trip to Horseshoe Basin before descending into the Stehekin River Valley. Horseshoe Basin is a gorgeous place, but not an easy one to photograph, and you should see it for yourself.

Horseshoe Basin

The many waterfalls of Horseshoe Basin

After visiting the basin, I hiked on to Cottonwood Camp, a lovely and small corner of the wilderness, on the banks of the river, with a view of big peaks. This is where the forest begins to “close in” on the trail. In fact, this is where the Cascade Pass Trail ends, and is replaced by a century old wagon road, so overgrown in places that it’s invisible.

I carried an orange for two days, and ate it on the banks of the Stehekin River outside of camp. It may have been the sweetest thing I’ve ever had to eat.

My plan was to take five or six days to hike, but by this point my sleeping schedule had come pretty well in sync with the sun. The next morning I was on the trail by 8 am, and reached the next camp on my permit by 10 am. I wanted to continue hiking, although I might have built camp and explored the park-like surroundings. Instead, this became a 15 mile day, which is further than it sounds with a heavy pack that includes 10 pounds of camera gear.

For a long while, the hike becomes a river walk; the river isn’t always in sight, but it’s almost always within earshot.

Stehekin River

Glacier Flour in the Stehekin River

After the long third day, and after reaching Stehekin, my legs were a little stiff. I stayed in the Lodge at Stehekin that night, which let me soak them (my legs) in the cold lake water, and then in a hot bath. It also let me wash up, although the town has showers for campers and thru-hikers.

The view from the Hotel

The Lodge at Stehekin, Lake Chelan in the background

Stehekin has volatile weather, and clouds make for great sunsets, although they aren’t so good for stargazing. For a while, I thought the sky might be on fire. I fell into a peaceful sleep, hoping for a clear night before I had to leave. I didn’t have to wait long for it.

Sunset on the lake

Sunset over the ferry dock

The town is a small one, run by the national park service. There’s a hotel, a restaurant, and an NPS information center. All along the lake are small boat docks for people who want to avoid the Lady of the Lake, chairs and benches set up for the public, and open views of the water and the mountains beyond. The next night I wandered around these places, watching the night sky as the moon came up.

Ferry terminal

The Ferry Terminal

Moonlight on the mountains

Full moon over Stehekin

Can you spot the Big Dipper?

A bright day followed a cool night. While I was there I spent a day kayaking, another day on a bike exploring the old wagon roads, and managed to enjoy a cold swim.

It went swimmingly

A back float in Lake Chelan

Ultimately, I took the Lady of the Lake (ferry) to the city of Chelan, and met a friend who brought me back to the Cascade Pass trailhead, so that I could get home.

Sourdough Gap and Crystal Lake, Winter Trail

This follows on the heels of my last post; the Sourdough Gap trail is just as beautiful and looks more rugged during a winter storm.

Last year, my friend Mary wanted to go hiking, and had never been to Mount Rainier, so we chose the Sourdough Gap section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d done this earlier with mutual friends ours and been impressed, and we both knew the road to Chinook Pass would close any day, so we wanted to get while the getting was good.

Sheep Lake

Sheep Lake

There was no swimming to be had this day. But it was still early in the season (*) and there were inches of snow, not feet. More snow fell all around us as we hiked, landing silently in the water and melting as it joined Sheep Lake. Above is a photo of the outflow, where hikers and backpackers collect water to purify.

Sheep Lake, winter storm

Sheep Lake from Sourdough Gap

We headed upward, to the Sourdough Gap – a small notch in the ridge – and enjoyed the winter wonderland view as a cloud blew in and enveloped us. When we reached the pass we wanted photos, but decided not to linger after taking them. The wind was just too cold. But the view!

Beyond the pass the wind calmed down a bit, and we found ourselves in a wide glacier-carved valley. The storm hadn’t quite reached its northern side yet.

Looking north from Sourdough Gap

Panorama looking north from Sourdough Gap

Looking north from Sourdough Gap

The storm moving north

Winter is a black-and-white time in the PNW. Colorful things are hidden beneath the snow, and the cloud cover is so thick the meager daylight that makes it to the ground has no hue or direction. Our view from the pass was a slight exception, with a patch of blue struggling for a foothold in the sky. It didn’t last long.

The meadows on the other side were covered in snow, but it was shallow enough for some plants to press through. Trails stood out visibly from their surroundings. We followed the PCT down, into Mount Rainier National Park, to Crystal Lake. We noticed camps along its shores and wondered what they must be like in the summer.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake from above

Eventually we decided to turn back. Daylight is in short supply in the winter, and the road was precarious enough to begin with.

Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake

* NOTE: I usually think of seasons according to the weather, not the calendar. This hike was October 20th, 2012, Halloween was approaching, and by all rights it was autumn and not winter. Trudging through the snow and not lingering at the pass because of the bitterly cold wind made it winter in my book.

Sheep Lake, Sourdough Gap Trail, Mount Rainier

We’ve had a gorgeous early summer, not a cloud in the sky for a month and a half. But the weather has turned foul lately; massive gray clouds blew in before the Perseid meteor shower, and covered most of the state. I found a sunny island in the sky at Chinook Pass, to watch the show from.

Route 410 toward Yakima

The view (toward Yakima) from Chinook Pass

I hiked a short and easy two miles in to Sheep Lake and set up camp.

My Big Agnes tent at Sheep Lake

Camping at Sheep Lake

It’s a gorgeous hike in August. There are so many wild flowers the meadows turn blue from the lupines, and red from paintbrush. Stands of trees dot the meadows, and small Sheep Lake warms up enough to swim in.

Wading in the waters

Wading in the cool waters

Sitting in the meadow and taking in the view was pure contentment. The evening wore on as I explored, and, finally, darkness fell. A flaming boulder flew sideways across the sky. And then another. And another. I tried to photograph the show, but it was cold and the lake let off a fog that condensed on my lens. Nature intended for this to be a life show only, no recordings.

At one point I “swept” my camp area with a flashlight, and saw a pair of eyes reflecting in the dark. A second light showed a deer, who got scared and ran. But there was another pair of eyes. The animal these belonged to was not so skittish. As I shined both lights at it, the eyes got low to the ground, and it slinked away. A few minutes later, I saw the eyes again, peering out at me while their owner hid behind a tree. For an hour or more, this continued, the eyes showing up at a different point on the periphery of my camp. I’d yell, throw stones, point the light, etc, but the creature would not be deterred. Eventually it left and was not seen again. Since all I could see of it were the reflections of its eyes, it’s very hard to say what this was, but the cat like behavior, and the wildlife on Rainier make me think I was “stalked” by a mountain lion.

My wildlife encounter was a bit of a distraction from the meteor shower. It was still a great show.

The next morning, I packed up and hiked out, then did a little more hiking in the area before heading home.

Mount Rainier over Tipsoo Lake

Tipsoo Lake

Intro: Rock Climbing at Icicle Creek, Leavenworth

I’ve always loved mountains. Like John Muir, the mountains call me, and I must answer. I’ve dabbled in mountaineering as long as I’ve been able to, but shied away from climbing because I’m not a morning person and getting up at 3 am seems an insurmountable challenge. But I’ve learned there’s a lot more to climbing than clawing your way to the summit of Everest.

I spent the weekend climbing in Icicle Canyon, outside Leavenworth. I don’t normally bring a camera when I do this, because of the concentration required, and because this is how my last point-and-shoot died. Instead, I’m going to share some older climbing photos.

Last year I got into a free rock climbing lesson from American Alpine Institute; they were testing prospective guides for certification, and needed mock clients. The truth is I didn’t think I’d enjoy this at all, but saw it as an opportunity to practice my meager rope handling and learn more skills in that regard, which would help with my glacier travel adventures. But it turned out that I loved rock climbing, and had some natural talent. So I’ve been at it ever since.

Looking down from the top, Barney’s Rubble

They started us on some easy to moderate pitches, taught us to tie in and belay, and asked us what we wanted to do. So I told them about a recent trip into the North Cascades; I had stayed at Sahale Glacier Camp, found it easy enough to climb the glacier, and the summit tower looked like an easy scramble. But it looked like the down-climbing would be horrible, and people told me rappelling is the only real way to do it. I didn’t have the gear or the skills to do that, and kicked myself for not climbing a high, scenic alpine peak I thought I would have been able to. So AAI taught me to rappel, and gave me lots of practice. 🙂

Rock climbing is best with a beautiful back drop

Starting an easy friction climb with a top-rope belay

This was a good place to learn, partly because of the available routes, and partly because the scenery is so inspiring. It gets hot in the Icicle, and these days when I climb here, I bring a water purifier and cool off with a cold drink of river water, although that wasn’t on the menu for my introduction to climbing. But seeing a lovely river below, enjoying the scent of pines in the air, and seeing big, craggy mountains all around made for a fantastic day and a wonderful start.

Topping out

I’m about to reach the top


In the interest of full disclosure: I shot the first photo in this post, but the guides shot the other two, which I’m in. Ok, technically that’s my foot in the first picture, too.

Spider Meadow

This weekend I found myself in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, chasing the best of the summer weather. While Seattle had foggy mornings and afternoon burn off, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky east of the Cascade Crest.

Spider Meadow is a glorious flower garden, a lush opening in the forest (Wenatchee NF) surrounded by big, craggy peaks and huge waterfalls. Naturally, it’s a popular spot. The meadow itself is nothing but Indian paintbrush, lupine, western anemone (which make gorgeous seed pods), mountain daisy, and many other wildflowers whose names I don’t know. My nearest camp neighbors were marmots. I had no idea they could whistle so loudly! They sounded like the battle cry of a flock of 8-foot birds of prey coming to scoop me up in the night.

The hike in is long, but gentle; it gains 1,700 feet of elevation, but very slowly, over the course of 6.5 miles. (I should point out that Ira Spring and Harvey Manning lied to me, if you read 100 Hikes please be aware the distance is longer than they suggest.) There’s so much water I didn’t need to bring my own, I’d cross a creek every 20 minutes or so. Many of the crossings were trivial, but several required choosing a good route and hoping carefully across slippery rocks.

There are many camps on this hike, several in the forest, and plenty of sites scattered across the meadows. Because this is national forest land, you can technically sleep anywhere you like. But flat spots with nearby water were at a premium, and the ones in the meadow enjoyed superb views. There were fire pits made of rocks, but wood was scarce.

Phelps Creek in Spider Meadow

Phelps Creek flowing through Lower Spider Meadow

The basin is stunning. A classic, U-shaped glacier carved valley with a few boulders, bits of talus, and a creek flowing down the center, taking a meandering path.

The trail continues on to Upper Spider Meadow, and then climbs steeply to a small gap on the ridge, facing into Cascade Crest peaks. There’s a permanent snowfield, slowly turning into a glacier but not one yet, and for this reason most hikers brought ice axes. I was among them, but after staying up very late into the night and stargazing, I didn’t make it that far in my explorations before hiking out.

A marmot, king of all he surveys

A marmot

A cute but very loud marmot, a family with children lives in the lower meadow. I had only a 24 mm lens with me, so no close ups.

It got chilly when night fell, but not cold.

Starry Night

Moonlight illuminating the meadow and peaks

The Milky Way came out above the trees behind my camp. Satellites raced across the sky, while the stars moved at a slower pace. The moon came up to the northeast, just the right place to light up the basin and the snow fields in the mountains while I sat stargazing.

I wonder who signed me in?

Trail register

At the trailhead is a register, you’re supposed to “sign in” with your destination and some other info. This in theory helps rescuers find you if the need should come up, but its main purpose is helping the forest service with their land management needs and planning. I went to put myself in the book, but to my great surprise I found I was already there. Whoever signed me in misspelled my last name, but got everything else right.

Colchuck Lake

This is an older trip report, since I only have a few photos from last weekend. A month and a half ago, I camped at Colchuck Lake, in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and, tantalizingly, on the edge of the Enchantment Lakes.

I went in on June 1st, to beat the permit season. Starting June 15 and ending October 15, you need a hard-to-get permit from USFS to camp here. Of the people I know who’ve stayed overnight either here, at Snow Lakes, or in the Enchantment Basins, the average wait has been three years. Since I’m not a very patient person, I decided to brave the cold rather than take my chances with the lottery.

The trail is very pretty; I did it for the first time last spring, and was surprised at how lush and green it was. Nearby Leavenworth feels like a desert, and many Icicle trails are semi-arid (bring lots of water), but Colchuck has dense forests and a lot of undergrowth, plus the occasional off-trail waterfall. Of course, this isn’t why people do the hike. Most people go on to the Upper Enchantment Lakes Basin, over Aasgard Pass, shown to the left on the photo below. I’ll post a trip report from the ‘Chants another day.

June 1 was a miserably cold night at Colchuck Lake. I enjoyed sunshine for most of the hike in and all evening, as I sat by the shore admiring the view. (The camps aren’t terribly obvious, they’re individual and small flat spots in the woods.) Clouds came in at some point after midnight, like a blanket in the sky, and things warmed up considerably. The trade-off was that I woke up to a rainy tent.

To make a long story short, this is a hike that should be on your to-do list, if you haven’t been here already.