North Cascades Photography – Hike to Stehekin

North Cascades Photography – Hike to Stehekin

Along Cascade River Road

The hike from the Skagit Valley up and over Cascade Pass and down along the river to the remote village of Stehekin, on the northern shore of Lake Chelan is a magnificent journey. Sort of like crossing the Misty Mountains to get to Rivendell, there is a lot to see!

It is a 23 mile (37 km) hike from the Cascade Pass parking lot to High Bridge, where shuttle service is available to Stehekin. The entire trip falls with in the North Cascades National Park. Depending upon your level of motivation the basic trip can be done in 2 or 3 days.

However I would recommend 3 or 4 days for the trip. There are several detours along the way that are really to incredible to miss.

The journey starts along the Cascade Loop Highway in Marblemount. The North Cascades National Park Wilderness Information Center is located there. To camp anywhere in the park you need a permit. Here is all you need to know to obtain one! I highly recommend the trail guide: “Hiking the North Cascades” by Erik Molvar (Falcon Press). There are accurate and detailed descriptions of the trails and you’ll find a lot of useful info.

Once that’s all done you’ll be heading up the Cascade River Road to its end, at the parking lot for Cascade Pass. The road gets a bit sketchy at the end, and you wont be able to stop gawking at the views!

The trip has one up section, and this is it: 3.7 miles of switch backs to Cascade Pass, an elevation gain of 1,700 feet. The views start near the top, there is one last switchback and then the trail turns east and approaches the pass.

The Pass is a great place for a break, and you’ll see a lot of people there. From this spot, its all down hill to Stehekin!

Dropping from Cascade Pass the trail navigates around the upper basin and soon passes the Pelton Basin campground. It’s not long before the switchbacks start. Whereas the trail up to the pass from the Skagit side is completely in forest, here the trail is exposed to the hot sun.

One nice surprise is the waterfall along Doubtful Creek as it bisects the trail on the east side of Cascade Pass, where there are small pools providing a much needed break and swim.

Many people who make the sojourn from Cascade Pass to Lake Chelan make a straight trip from the Cascade Pass parking area to Stehekin, with no side trips. But there is one of the most awesome valleys in all the North Cascades (Horseshoe Basin) that you should not pass up as you make your journey.

A short distance from Doubtful Creek is the trail to Horseshoe Basin. You can drop your big packs and day hike up to the Basin, or, if you scored a camp site at Basin Creek Camp, you can stay an extra day exploring Horseshoe Basin and the Black Warrior Mine.

The trail follows the stream up from the trail junction into Horseshoe Basin; 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.

Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

The Horseshoe Basin trail is less than 2 easy miles from the trail junction to the head of the valley and the Mine. 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 misled 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. One of these “rooms” served as a kitchen while the other was used for workbenches and tools. 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.

When you tire of the basin and continue on your way down the Stehekin Valley you’ll pass several camp sites: Cottonwood Camp was once the last stop on the bus route from Stehekin! Traveling is pretty easy, for the most part you are following along the road following the bus route to Stehekin. But the road has been washed away in several places, replaced by a foot trail.

At Park Creek is another camp and the trail (Park Creek Trail) heads up to Park Creek Pass and continues over and down to Colonial Creek camp, on Highway 20.

Bridge Creek is another large camp along your route and is where you meet the Pacific Crest Trail. From here its 5 miles to High Bridge. Many years ago the entire road washed away in a flood. So for the next 5 miles you’ll be hiking along the PCT!

IF you have the time and energy, plan another day here and make a day trip up the North Fork of Bridge Creek. Its too long to describe here and will be the subject of an entire post soon!

Walking 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. From High Bridge there is a regular bus that takes you the last 10 miles to Stehekin. Check the Park Service site for the bus schedule.

Your hike must include a visit to the Stehekin Pastry Company. Delicious, fresh treats, ice cream, espresso, friendly staff and a comfortable place to relax…

Everything about Stehekin is awesome. Its remoteness (you can only reach it by hiking, ferry boat or float plane), the people are cool, scads of awesome things to see and do…even the Post Office is a neat place to just visit!

Beside the Pastry Company there is a restaurant, a lodge, and a post office. Thru hikers on the PCT mail resupply items to them selves at Stehekin. Its the last stop on the route to Canada. Late in the summer you will often run into some of the PCT hikers as they finish the last few days of their 2,400 mile trek!

When you’re done restin’ and ready to go home you can either walk back the way you came, or catch the Lady of the Lake to Chelan!

Here are a few more images from the trail…

 

 

 

North Cascades Photography – Hike to Stehekin

North Cascades Photography – Hike to Stehekin

The hike from Skagit Valley, over Cascade Pass and down to the remote village of Stehekin on the shores of Lake Chelan is one of the classic hiking routes in Washington State. The trail follows an old Native American path used for millennia to cross the mountains.

Cascade Pass

Cascade Pass

It is a 23 mile (37 km) hike from the Cascade Pass parking lot to High Bridge, where shuttle service is available to Stehekin.

Cascade River Road

Cascade River Road

Driving up the North Cascades Highway, which is a part of the much longer Cascade Loop Scenic Highway,  to Marblemount and up along the Cascade River Road my heart always revs up with excitement. We made an early start and schlepped up the 40-something switchbacks to Cascade Pass.

The day promised to be a hot one and after a short rest we hoisted our packs and headed down, down, down…

I have hiked most of the trails in North Cascades National Park with the notable exception of the section we would cover today: From Cascades Pass east to Basin Creek (and Horseshoe Basin!)

Stehekin Valley Trail and Doubtful Creek, North Cascades National Park

Dropping from Cascade Pass the trail navigates around the upper basin and soon passes the Pelton Basin campground. It’s not long before the switchbacks start. Whereas the trail up to the pass from the Skagit side is completely in forest, here the trail is exposed to the hot sun. Hiking down here I am already dreading the trip back up!

One nice surprise was the waterfall along Doubtful Creek as it bisects the trail on the east side of Cascade Pass, where there are small pools providing a much needed break and swim.

Many people who make the sojourn from Cascade Pass to Lake Chelan make a straight trip from the parking area to Stehekin, with no side trips. But there are two of the most awesome valleys in all the North Cascades (Horseshoe Basin and the North Fork of Bridge Creek) that you should not pass up as you make your journey.

We made it to the trail junction with the spur to Horseshoe Basin, dropped our packs and headed up for a look-see. Having scoured many route guides about the North Cascades I had read about the amazing beauty of Horseshoe Basin, but honestly was not prepared for what we saw there…

Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

The trail follows the stream up from the trail junction into Horseshoe Basin; 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.

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.

Glory Mountain from Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

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.

The Horseshoe Basin trail is less than 2 easy miles from the trail junction to the head of the valley and the Mine.

The North Cascades are full of old mining claims; piles of colorful tailings and rusted remains of

Black Warrior Mine

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 misled 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. One of these “rooms” served as a kitchen while the other was used for workbenches and tools. 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.

Black Warrior Mine

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.

The falling sun chased us out of the valley, we camped at Basin Creek camp.

The next morning we started our pleasant hike along the trail to Cottonwood Camp and on towards our rendezvous with the shuttle bus at High Bridge.

Our timing was perfect; we made it to High Bridge (On the Stehekin River Road) and caught the North Cascades National Park shuttle down the valley.

Along the way our jam-packed tourist bus passed a huge 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 come soon enough!

stehekin pastry companyEvery hike to Stehekin must includes a visit to the Stehekin Pastry Company. Delicious, fresh treats, ice cream, espresso, friendly staff and a comfortable place to relax…we went here first and ate as many pastries as we could hold.

It was a hot day in Stehekin. So we took shelter at the local restaurant and then took the bus back up the valley to visit Rainbow Falls. The 300 foot cataract provided lots of cooling!

Everything about Stehekin is awesome. Its remoteness (you can only reach it by hiking, ferry boat or float plane), the people are cool, scads of awesome things to see and do…even the Post Office is a neat place to just visit!

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

Next we visited the old Stehekin School house and then the local organic farm. Now we needed to await the last shuttle bus back up the valley, and what better place to while away the time than at the Stehekin Pastry Company!

Lake Chelan

Lake Chelan

The last shuttle was full when we boarded and headed back towards High Bridge. But after the bus stop at Courtney Ranch we were the only ones left for the rest of the trip.

From the “bus stop” at High Bridge we hiked 5 easy miles to the trail junction at Bridge Creek and camped the night. From here you can make a side trip to one of the most remote valleys in the North Cascades National Park. The trail is called the North Fork Bridge Creek Trail and its remote because its a one-way affair, not a through-trail. The round trip from your camp at Bridge Creek along the Cascade River road to North Fork Meadows and the head of the valley is 16 miles, but the hiking is not strenuous. You head east on the Bridge Creek Trail (which is also the Pacific Crest Trail here) to the scenic North Fork Camp.

Goode Mountain, North Cascades National Park

Goode Mountain, North Cascades National Park

The trail climbs a few short switchbacks to a junction with the North Fork Trail, head left, north. SignThe trail passes Walker Camp and soon you’ll get a glimpse of the wonders of the valley. Continuing along the way you’ll pass Grizzly Creek Camp and have to ford the creek. As the trail meanders its way gently upward the trees thin and you’ll break out into a spectacular meadow with views of Goode Mountain (highest peak in the North Cascades National Park) and Mount Logan at the head of the valley. From here the hike is almost all out on the open, the North Fork Meadows is a wonderful green wonderland.

North Fork, Bridge Creek

Wildflowers bloom, bears forage and waterfalls stream down from the glaciers above. The path winds its way up, passing numerous waterfalls to its terminus at the base of a wonderful cataract. here you are surrounded on three sides by steep peaks, cloaked in glaciers with countless waterfalls.

Mount Logan and North Fork Bridge Creek Waterfall, North Cascades National Park

When you can finally pull yourself away, its time to head back down the trail to your camp at  Bridge Creek Camp. The next day we continue our hike back up towards Cascade Pass.

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.

The next day we again left before sunrise, hoping to beat the heat on our way up to Cascade Pass. We reached Basin Creek with its flown-in foot bridge and were greeted by a nice breeze and perfect skies.

 

North Cascades Backpacking and Photo Tours

If you would like to visit any of these places with a very small group and learn photography skills at the same time, here is your link!

Horseshoe 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, and then we headed back down to our packs and continued the slog to Cascade Pass and back to the parking area.

The change in flora as I trudged up the switch backs was enormous. The lower basin on the east side of Cascade Pass is filled with Cottonwood trees and Douglas Fir. A few miles above the trail traverses the mountain side and is bereft of any plants, just crushed rocks and boulders. Then the trail swings south and starts its zigzagging route upwards. Here the path is choked with slide alder.

As the trail approaches the upper basin just below Cascade Pass the temperature dropped considerably. From sunny to misty, the forest was now populated with tall sub-alpine fir and a carpet of evergreen needles covered the trail. It was like we had been transported into a new landscape.

We arrived at the top of Cascade Pass and stopped to re-energize before flying down the switchbacks to our car. Gazing east, down the valley which we had just climbed I marveled at the beauty of the mountains.

And I was already planning a return trip.

Any and all of these images are for sale as prints, canvas wraps and digital downloads! Here is the link to the Gallery.

Sahale Mountain from the Stehekin Valley Trail

 

North Cascades National Park

Mount Logan, North Cascades National Park

In the last entry we explored the Northern Unit of the North Cascades National Park.

The Southern Unit of the North Cascades National Park is much more accessible than its northern sister. Lake Chelan created a natural route deep into the eastern flank of the North Cascades, a relatively short trek over Cascade Pass crosses into the western zone. This route was used by Native Americans, the village of Stehekin at the north end of Lake Chelan translates to “the way through”.

Once Cascade Pass was considered a possible route for what is now the North Cascades Highway but thankfully now is only reached on foot via a 3.7mile hike.

This is probably the most popular hike in the summer, a day hike to Cascade Pass and maybe up and onto Sahale Arm.  Late July the wildflowers explode and it’s really a Sound of Music experience…

North Cascades National Park info on trails and permits.

Sahale Glacier Camp is my favorite camp site on Washington. I have stayed the night maybe 15 times.

The North Cascades National Park turns 50 this year! In October, 1968 the park was officially established. Lauren Danner has recently written a wonderful book “Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park” that chronicles the efforts of many to protect the North Cascades.

From Cascade Pass the trail continues east, dropping through Pelton Basin, and then down the Doubtful Creek drainage. The trail bisects the creek in a wonderful spot on the way down…

Before you reach Basin Creek there is a spur trail heading around the shoulder of Sahale Peak and up to Horseshoe Basin. This is NOT a trail to pass up. It’s a short way up into the basin, a wide semicircle of granite teeth sit in a bed of ice, glistening. Impossibly green swards of meadow slash below and bright blue gleams above… you get the idea.

The upper basin is the home of the Black Warrior Mine. A going concern as recently as the 1950’s, the opening to the mine is carved into the headwall of the valley, several rooms are accessible, littered with the detritus of past inhabitants. A road once led from the mine entrance to Cottonwood Camp, and Stehekin, but little by little nature has won back. As recently as 2003 there was a tour bus that ran a daily route from Stehekin to Cottonwood Camp, barely 11 miles from Cascade Pass!

The American Alps Legacy Project is a coalition working to protect more than 237,000 acres of pristine wild country, from Baker Lake to Washington Pass. Their proposal is to expand the North Cascades National Park. You can learn more here.

In the next post we’ll visit Stehekin, Park Creek Pass and the North Fork of Bridge Creek.

Fine Art and Canvas Prints of these and more images here.

Information about North Cascades Photo Tours here.  

Buckner Mountain from Park Creek Trail

 

These are just a few of the many spectacular hikes in the park. Your opportunities for adventure are endless.

I am planning trips to both Whatcom Pass and Park Creek Pass this summer, to celebrate the 50th Birthday of the Park.

Hope to see you out on the trail.

 

 

Hiking Trips for July and August

This is the tentative plan for backpacking trips in July and August. If you are interested in coming along for any, please let me know!

Amphitheater Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness

Amphitheater Mountain, Pasayten Wilderness

Cathedral Lake Trip – 6 days This trip is a 30 mile one way trip, to the eastern Pasayten Wilderness. The trailhead is at 6000+ feet, so its mostly a ridge hike, Lots of solitude and fantastic scenery. Here is a trip report from a July trip 5 years ago.  This trip is planned to start right around July 4th (maybe July 2 or 3, or maybe July 5th) and return July 8, 9 or 10. This is one of the coolest hikes in Washington! And although the mileage is somewhat long its not very difficult.

Amphitheater Mountain Cathedral Peak, Pasayten Wilderness 6em

Cathedral Peak, Pasayten Wilderness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy Pass – Park Creek Pass – Cascade Pass – 6 days I have had this trip on my radar for a while, the plan is to get dropped off at Easy Pass, hike through one of the more remote parts of North Cascades National Park ending at Cascade Pass, then hitch back to Sedro-Woolley.

Horseshoe basin

Horseshoe basin

I have hiked almost every part of this trip many times, except Fisher Basin. This trip would include a few days of off trail travel and camping. Horseshoe Basin and Park Creek Pass are unbelievable places to visit. Trip planned for July 26- July 31

 

 

 

 

Spider Meadows – Upper Lyman Lake – 4 days I did this trip last year, its awesome! My plan this year is to hike into Spider Meadows, hike up and through Spider Gap, spend a day in the Upper Lyman Basin and then hike back. Check out the story and pics. Trip planned for Aug. 2 to Aug. 5

Upper Lyman Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Upper Lyman Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Spider Meadows, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Spider Meadows, Glacier Peak Wilderness

If you have an interest in coming along on any of these trips, or have any questions, email me at: andyporterphotography@gmail.com

I have several extra backpacks, tents and all that stuff if anyone is lacking.

 

 

 

 

 

Black Warrior Mine, North Cascades National Park

There are many fantastic destinations in North Cascades National Park. Sahale Glacier Camp is truly unforgettable. The Copper Ridge and the Chiliwack River Loop combines fantastic ridge views with deep, dark forests. North Fork Bridge Creek affords endless views of soaring peaks, waterfalls and meadows.

It’s hard to have a favorite, but if you love jagged peaks, lush meadows and exploration, Horseshoe Basin and the Black Warrior Mine can’t be beat.

The first time I visited the Basin was in August of 2012. We hiked over Cascade Pass on a hot day and took the spur trail up the valley towards the basin and the mine.

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.

Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

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.

Horseshoe Basin Wildflowers on the trail

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.Mine from inside 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. Sign at Mine Entrance

There is a sign at the entrance giving a brief history of the mine, the names of the prospectors and misled 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. Em in the Black Warrior Mine Black Warrior Mine: Kitchen

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, inside Black Warrior Mine Remains

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.Horseshoe basin down the valley View from Mine Entrance, looking down the valley

The next few days found us in Stehekin eating fresh pastry…

2 days and lots of espresso/tasty treats later we headed 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.
Basin Creek 2 Basin Creek

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!

Bear at Horseshoe Basin Bear at Horseshoe Basin

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 wanted to pass up the spur, trail to the basin, right past us!
Bear at Horseshoe Basin 1

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.
AndyPorter_HorseshoeBasin_Landscape

Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

Horseshoe Basin is one of those magical places that once you visit you will never, ever forget. Nestled on the east side of Cascade Pass it is less visited than Sahale Arm but certainly no less beautiful.

Last summer I visited the basin twice, first while headed east to Stehekin, to get some pastry, and again on the way back…

Approaching from the east one crosses Basin Creek on a small wooden bridge that is probably flown in when the snow melts…a cairn marks the crossing.
Cairn at Basin Creek Crossing

Looking up the valley one gets a hint of whats to come.
The too-numerous-to-count waterfalls stream down from the glaciers, glistening in the sun. The bowl of the basin forms a 180 degree mouth punctuated with sharp granite teeth. Blue, green, red and white, the colors are astounding.
Horseshoe Basin, North Cascades National Park

The western turn of the bowl is punctuated by Sahale Mountain and Boston Peak, standing guard.
Horseshoe Basin, Close up of Boston Peak and Sahale Mountain

These images are from August, probably the best month to go. You can find all you need to make a visit here, at the North Cascades National Park page

Happy Trails!

Horseshoe Basin, Pasayten Wilderness

Horseshoe Basin, in the Pasayten Wilderness is one of the few places in the lower 48 states where you can find wide expanses of tundra. In July when the snow has just melted the basin is alive with myriad wildflowers sprouting out of the grass as far as you can see.
This first image is from the trail junction where the trail from Iron Gate meets the Boundary Trail (also known as the Pacific Northwest Trail).
horseshoe basin trail junction em
As you progress westward on the PNT through the glory of Horseshoe Basin you will soon encounter Louden Lake. If you visit here in the fall the lake is little more than a small mud pond, but in early summer the wide flat lake provides ideal reflective qualities! And hordes of mosquitoes!
Louden Lake em

Crossing the North Cascades


The hike from Skagit Valley, over Cascade Pass and down to the remote village of Stehekin on the shores of Lake Chelan is one of the classic hiking routes in Washington State.

Driving up the North Cascades Highway to Marblemount and up along the Cascade River my heart always revs up with excitement. We made an early start and made it up the 40-something switchbacks to Cascade Pass.

The day promised to be a hot one and after a short rest we hoisted our packs and headed down, down, down…

I have hiked most of the trails in North Cascades National Park with the notable exception of the section we would cover today: From Cascades Pass east to Cotton wood Camp (and Horseshoe Basin!)

Dropping from Cascade Pass the trail navigates around the upper basin and soon passes the Pelton Basin campground. It’s not long before the switchbacks start. Whereas the trail up to the pass from the Skagit side is completely in forest, here the trail is exposed to the hot sun. Hiking down here I am already dreading the trip back up!

One nice surprise was the waterfall along Doubtful Creek as it bisects the trail on the east side of Cascade Pass, where there are small pools providing a much needed break and swim.


Waterfall on the Trail!

We made it to the trail junction with the spur to Horseshoe Basin, dropped our packs and headed up for a look-see. Having scoured many route guides about the North Cascades I had read about the amazing beauty of Horseshoe basin, but honestly was not prepared for what we saw there…

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.


Horseshoe Basin

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.


Trail with Wildflowers

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.


Entrance to 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 misled 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. One of these “rooms” served as a kitchen while the other was used for workbenches and tools. 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.

Sign at Black Warrior Mine

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.


Em in the Black Warrior Mine

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) the next morning at 9am and caught the North Cascades National Park shuttle down the valley.
North Cascades Bus

Along the way our jam-packed tourist bus passed a huge 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 come soon enough!
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

It was a hot day in Stehekin. So we took shelter at the local restaurant and then took the bus back up the valley to visit Rainbow Falls. The 300 foot cataract provided lots of cooling!

Rainbow Falls

Next we visited the old Stehekin School house and then the local organic farm. Now we needed to await the last shuttle bus back up the valley, and what better place to while away the time than at the Stehekin Pastry Company!

The last shuttle was full when we boarded and headed back towards High Bridge. But after the bus stop at Courtney Ranch we were the only ones left for the rest of the trip.

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.

The last few miles we flew up the trail and made it back to camp in the complete dark.

The next day we again left before sunrise, hoping to beat the heat on our way up to the pass. We reached Basin Creek with its flown-in foot bridge and were greeted by a nice breeze and perfect skies.

Bridge over Basin Creek

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!


Black Bear at Horseshoe Basin

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 and then headed further down the main trail, cutting across the hillside just below our spot traversing below us for about 50 feet, then popped 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.


Horseshoe 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, and then we headed back down to our packs and continued the slog to Cascade Pass and Sahale Glacier Camp.

The change in flora as I trudged up the switch backs was enormous. The lower basin on the east side of Cascade Pass is filled with cotton wood trees and Douglas-fir. A few miles above the trail traverses the mountain side and is bereft of any plants, just crushed rocks and boulders. Then the trail swings south and starts its zigzagging route upwards. Here the trail is choked with slide alder.

As the trail approaches the upper basin just below cascade pass the temperature dropped considerably. From sunny to misty, the forest was now populated with tall sub-alpine fir, a carpet of evergreen needles covered the trail. It was like we had been transported into a new landscape.

Camping at Pelton Basin was a cold, damp affair. We broke camp on a gray, cold morning and quickly arrived at Cascade Pass and headed up towards Doubtful Lake and Sahale Arm. The fog filled the pass, now below us. Myriad wildflowers were everywhere. It was so early there was no one else on the trail, only several deer.


Deer at Cascade Pass

There is no way to describe the hike along the Arm. The trail is up, almost every step. There are no switch backs, just steep and steeper. Lush greener-than green meadows sprinkled with colorful flowers abound.

Paintbrush

Views of the surrounding peaks are astounding.

Wildflowers on Sahale Arm

Sahale Glacier Camp is located on three mounds of rock and scree at the base of Sahale Glacier. As you hike up the Arm it seems at times that the mounds are not getting closer but seem inaccessible, like a mirage, they seem to float above.

The last pitch of the hike is the steepest; the trail climbs straight up the mountainside. Finally reaching the lip of the central mound there is a wooden sign post directing you to the compost toilet which sits on the ridge to the west of camp. Without a doubt the best view I have ever had from a toilet!

View from Sahale Toilet

The campsites themselves sit either atop the mounds of rubble or on the slopes behind. Someone has painstakingly built turret-like windbreaks around each tent pad.

The camp provides a birds-eye view of Mix-up Peak, The Triplets and Magic Mountain as well as a whole host of too-numerous-to-count peaks, filling up the horizon. On a clear day Mount Rainier is clearly visible. It’s common to see goats there near the camp, looking for anything salty.


Mountain Goat at Sahale Camp

We arrived and set camp early in the afternoon then sat watching the battle between sun and clouds. To the east the sky was mostly clear while to the west the valley was filled in with white. When the sun was out it created a roasting heat and as soon as the clouds obscured its rays the temperature dropped by 20 degrees.

I kept on hoping that the sun would win, I had brought my tripod just so I could capture some images of the Milky Way over the Cascades. About an hour before sunset it became clear that cloudy was going to win and we almost packed up and left, but opted for staying the night. The white out was complete; we could only see 2 or 3 meters. The wind howled and the tent flapped all night…we arose before sunrise and made it back to the car by 9:30.