Category Archives: North Cascades
Yellow Aster Butte
My preparation for the 2021 Devils Dome Trek included a day hike up Yellow Aster Butte on 8/29/21 which provided good distance, elevation and beauty. I chose this hike because I never really got to experience the upper portion of the trail back in 2016 due to weather that was not cooperating.
My 2016 hike was later in Autumn and I had gotten a late start that day so I decided not to climb to the upper view with the weather uncertainty. Brook was with me in 2016 and the Autumn colors on that hike were indicative of the trail’s name.
I wanted to get the full Yellow Aster experience and I also needed the workout of 7+ miles and 2500′ vertical climb. A beautiful Day made for a great hike. It was a Sunday so I knew that I would be competing with other hikers for parking and trail space. Many hikers were coming down after spending the night. The trail starts out with many switchbacks giving you awesome views of Mt Baker.
You can count on water from a mini glacier just before the final steep climbs.
The final climb, which is not really up to the Butte but to the peak just to the southeast of it is steep so your heart will be pumping. However, the reward of the 360 degree views are totally worth it.
I was fortunate that the wind was not an issue which made for an enjoyable lunch break at the top. These are the times when you really appreciate access to the mountains here in the North Cascades, I was totally ready for the Devils Dome Trek. The hike back down was predictable with anticipatory thoughts of Beer and Pizza from the North Fork Brewery in Deming on the road back to Bellingham.
Devils Dome Loop – Clockwise
I love multi-day backpacking loop treks and the Devils Dome Loop in the North Cascades turned out to be a jewel. I was a bit surprised to come across it only finding a few trip reports. The distance and vertical are very similar to the Timberline Trail but the the effort was far greater.
Most people approach the loop counterclockwise since the initial 4000′ climb is more moderate thanks to switchbacks. But I opted for the Clockwise route to coordinate better with the North Cascades National Park permitting for the first night. My common backpacking partner, Bryce, was gonna be challenged with getting there at a reasonable time on September 1st so I opted for a campsite halfway along the East Bank Trail at Roland Creek. We did not hit the trail until 7pm so night hiking was required. One issue worth mentioning, especially when searching for your campsite in the dark, was that the campsite shows up on the typical topo maps as being south of the creek when in fact it is north of the creek. But it did turn out to be a good site for setting up in the dark.
We hiked about 6 mile to Devils Creek Landing on Ross Lake where we had lunch and a rest before the big climb. The climb to Devils Dome or at a minimum Bear Skull Cabin was going to be the make or break for my body which is why I had been putting in extra vertical training in recent weeks. Water is an issue and the most dependable source supposedly would be found at Bear Skull Cabin 4000′ up. We were told that there was a stream at about 3000′ so we only carried 2 quarts which was adequate for our perfect cool weather climb.
However, 4000′ mostly straight up does kick your butt. Bryce and I slogged along and finally reached the Cabin after a 6 hour climb. I believe I got all that I could from my body on this climb so my training turned out to be totally justified. Now I understood why this loop is not more heavily travelled. The climb from the other direction is probably easier due to water and switchbacks, but 4000′ is a tough climb especially for an old backpacker. We did have a nice campsite just off trail toward the cabin. The night was totally clear with magnificent stars that I was too tired to enjoy.
The next day required another 1000′ climb up to Devils Dome which lived up to the hype for a fabulous 360 view of the North Cascades looking into Canada. The day was clear with some cloud cover moving in later, temperature at about 60 and no wind. This was as good as it could get.
Up till now we were also sharing the trail with the Pacific Northwest Trail, PNT, but that would end as we approached Devils Pass. Supposedly there is water on this 6 mile stretch but I don’t remember seeing any.
We were carrying enough water to make it to Granite Creek, which turned out to be our choice for a campsite after about an eight mile day. The trail over to Granite Creek was one of the most pleasant and beautiful stretches of hiking that I have ever experienced.
However, more campsite information would have been helpful. On the north side there is a campsite about a quarter mile up a steep trail from the stream. We opted to go to the creek assuming there would be campsites. Well, we only found one campsite barely large enough for two tents which was just south of the creek as you enter the trees. This worked out fine since there were hardly any other backpackers on this loop. And we did keep commenting on this lack of traffic especially on the long Labor Day Weekend. I guess the high vertical entry price to this loop keeps the crowds away.
Leaving Granite Creek hits you with a couple of tough 700+ ft climbs, the second being switchbacks up a fairly steep scree field.
These climbs were tough with legs that were worn out from the previous climb but were encouraged by fantastic views of Crater and Jack Mountain over beautiful valleys. The last climb was a bit precarious as you had to climb up a scree field with a few long switchbacks but also with a few really steep slippery sections. I think that I would rather be climbing here rather then descending.
We were again putting in about an 8 mile day planning to camp just before the final descent down to the Devils Park Trail which would take us back to our East Bank Trailhead parking lot.
We were again surprised that campsites were not more plentiful except for 2 to 3 miles up from the start of the descent. There was only one good campsite before the descent and it was fairly large but taken. Luckily the people there had scouted the area and found a hidden campsite a short distance behind theirs which turned out to be perfect for Bryce and I. The last day required us to descend down to Canyon Creek which was rather easy considering the number of switchbacks. This video captures my gratitude.
The long descent to the canyon floor.
At the crossing area over to the the Trailhead there is no longer a bridge, however, the stream ford is not to difficult. Plus there is a landslide just west of this crossing which forces you to ford the stream just to get around the landslide and back to the Devils Park Trail. Now you get to finish up the trek with a gentle 3+ mile hike along the stream.
Bryce and I agreed that the Devils Dome Loop is a special one, however, we would classify it as more technical or difficult. Our bodies were totally spent but it “Hurt So Good”. My advice, I originally planned to camp at Devils Creek on the 1st or second night to set up better for the long climb up to Devils Dome. One bummer for the trek was finding that thieves had stolen Bryce’s Catalytic Converter off his Toyota 4Runner.
Stevens Pass to Stehekin
I had completed my warm up treks and was ready for a new Adventure. I had not done Stevens Pass north on the PCT, but I had done Suiattle River access to Rainy Pass, so that first portion of the PCT Section K was at the top of my list. It is a long stretch of 107 miles and lots of vertical, oh well, no problem other then carrying enough food. I planned for 10ish days knowing that I don’t have an appetite on the trail which would allow me to stretch my provisions if needed. Weather was going to be excellent except that it was warmer than usual. My travel logistics were easy starting with spending a night in Chelan Lake State Park, leaving my car at Lady of the Lake long term parking, catching the free metro link bus to Wenatchee and then taking a Trailways bus to Stevens Pass. I was on the PCT going north by 3:00 pm on July 27th. However, this trek seemed more daunting then usual. I had not been solo for a number of treks and the distance was 30% longer then I had even taken on. My mind was telling me how nice it would be to be sitting on my deck drinking a beer and my legs were already telling me they were tired. This is always the challenge, to force yourself to just do it and after a few days you know it was the right call, because getting out there is what it is all about. Unfortunately key comfort factors were not in my favor. Temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees and the bugs must have just hatched. The positive was that water was not an issue and the wild flowers were good. So I was “On the Trail Again”.
My goal for the first night was Lake Valhalla which push me a bit. I chose a campsite in a meadow where I discovered just how aggressive the mosquitoes and flies were going to be. But I was generally so tired at my campsites that I was content with escaping the bugs and getting to sleep. My goal for the second day would be Grizzly Peak thinking that the bugs would be better up high. This was only about 9 miles and not that much vertical, but it was hot.
My campsite plans for Grizzly Pass were fine except that the bugs were worse up high, so I did not hang out side much to enjoy the view.
The third day took me past Pear Lake which appears to be very popular due to alternative trail access options. I decided not to climb to Lake Sally Ann and opted for a night at Pass Creek which turned out to be much better with respect to the bugs. The goal for the next day was Indian Pass.
I was told about a great campsite by taking a trail from the Indian Pass sign. Yep, it was primo complete with a toilet, campsites in a thicket of trees next to a large meadow. However, the bugs were the worst yet. That night was kinda weird because a herd of deer bedded down around my tent. The next day would be about Red Pass.
Campsite plans were to deal with the ford of White Chuck Creek and camp on the north side. This ford complete with a buckled bridge and getting your feet wet was rather refreshing with a nice campsite reward.
The next climb would be Fire Creek Pass but I was wearing down so I opted to camp somewhere around Fire Creek. This section was a low milage day for enjoyment, bugs were not bad and the views were awesome. My body was wearing down since I had burned all of my easy fat and I needed to start eating more.
Fire Creek Pass was another beautiful event with plenty of snow, probably the most difficult of the trek.
On the way down I got the word that Milk Creek was an overgrown mess and that I could get water on either side. So my plan was to cross Milk Creek get water and find a campsite somewhere up the other side. The problem though was that for a mile before Milk Creek the overgrowth was so bad it was essentially bushwacking and the same was true on the north side. It was getting late in the afternoon, it was hot and the bugs were horrible as I tried to fight my way up from Milk Creek.
I was really getting tired so I was beginning to consider camping on the trail if I had to. It did not look good for finding flat ground for a campsite, but then I see a sign that says “Toilet”. Thank you God, I really needed to stop, there was no toilet but there were a couple of campsites. Now I needed to recover for the climb over Grassy Point the next day.
This was a tough day, the body was dead but I think the gorgeous scenery carried me over Grassy Point knowing that it was then down to the Suiattle River with one more huge climb to go. It was around this part of the trek where I decided that I needed to finally put in a Hot Tub at our house. Thoughts of how I would install this tub provided a needed distraction for many days. I opted to camp next to Vista Creek and take on the Suiattle River crossing and climb the next day. Turned out to be a great campsite where I had my first fire.
At the major bridge over the Suiattle River I took a long break to recharge my body and iPhone. I had about a 3500′ climb ahead of me so I just wanted to knock off as many miles as I could before camping.
I ended up at the Skyline camping area where there was a large Forest Service work crew just setting up.
Now the climb up and at least a little over Suiattle Pass. I was dragging but I made it to a nice campsite just over the pass complete with the most bugs of the trip.
It was Thursday August 6th and I had about 18 miles to go but it was mostly all downhill. I wanted to get close enough to High Bridge that I could catch the shuttle at noon on Friday. The hike down did have some more small climbs and the weather was changing to a light rain, plus I was running into more overgrown trail so I felt that camping at Swamp Creek 8 miles out from High Bridge would be fine. Plus I was soaked from the waist down due to the moisture off the overgrowth.
It was a nice last night on the trail even though it did rain off and on all night. But it was dry when I packed up for my final 8 “easy” miles to go. Not so easy as in some more up and downs with plenty of overgrown trail. The sight of High Bridge was so welcomed.
The normal Stehekin shuttle is not running this year, however, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is providing the service which gives you a hour layover at lunchtime to at the Ranch, just right for fueling up on a burger. I then stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company where I had the best piece of Cherry Pie I think I have ever had.
I then set up camp in the National Park Lakeview Campground and proceeded to down a few brews from the store before it closed at 4:00 pm. The next morning I went back to the Bakery for breakfast and had a nice 2 mile walk back to get ready for my ferry ride back to Chelan.
Overall a great trip, but it was also the most difficult trek I have ever completed and now 4 days later I am just starting to feel recovered.
Suiattle River TH to Rainy Pass
Another one of those trips that I was denied in the past due to unforeseen events, in this case the Blakenship fire in 2015 that closed the PCT.
So I return to take it on starting at the Suiattle River Trailhead with Rainy Pass as the destination about 58 miles with a stop in Stehekin where a couple of buddies will join me. This trip was made possible thanks to a good friend who gave me a ride from Rainy Pass where I left my car to the Suiattle River TH. I had been on the Suiattle River Trail a couple of times with a great trip to Image Lake, so the first part of this trip was all prep for the climb over Suiattle Pass and on to Rainy Pass.
@AussieBrook and I got to the trailhead late Saturday June 30th but was still able to make it to Canyon Creek for the first night. It rained most of the day, but I was sparred from the rain for most of the hike.
I was impressed with the work done to allow passage through a recent tree slide that blocked the trail. Overall the Suiattle River Trail is one of the finest in Washington.
The goal for Sunday was to get close to Suiattle Pass to prepare for the crossing the following day.
I ended up camping at Miners Creek PCT mile 2549. It was a damp day but again I was sparred from getting wet. Once I got on the PCT I started to encounter the first of the SOBO hikers. At my eventual campsite I met a young man who had been a HS Math Teacher but was now going to hike to Mexico. Unfortunately he had just come off a tough night where he had to make camp on a tuft of snow on Suiattle Pass due to a headache and darkness. I will give that young man a 50% chance of completing the PCT. From these hikers I did learn that there was a lot of snow on Suiattle Pass but at least I should be able to follow their footsteps. I was thinking a mile of so of snow. It was a bummer to wakeup to rain knowing that I would be hiking through snow. After I began my decent north from the pass into the Agnes River drainage I met other hikers who alerted me to the additional 4 miles of snow ahead.
Overall it was about 5 miles of snow with occasional trail breaks. The snow was soft and footing was treacherous, I went down many times. But what a joyous day of rain, wind and snow. And to finish off the day I got to ford a cold stream. I ended up camping at a great established campsite at PCT mile 2557. Checkout this video of Brook scratching her butt. We were fairly soaked but the skies did clear and we woke to relatively dry sunny conditions.
I was so glad that I had started a day early then I originally planned since now I had the option to go to Stehekin on the 4th in preparation to meet my buddies on the 5th.
Plus this stretch along the South Fork of the Agnes was all down hill so we had an easy day except for a treacherous ford at PCT mile 2559. Normally I might put on my crocs for a river ford but this river was roaring and my boots were already wet so I just sloughed my way through. Unfortunately, this river was flowing a bit too strong for my 35 lb dog, Brook. She got fairly nervous as I crossed first to leave my pack in order to come back to lead her. Nope, the current was too strong so I ended up carrying her across. From here on the sun was shining and we started to dry out. Ended up at a nice campsite PCT mile 2564.
Brook was in heaven chasing the many squirrels up trees that were far enough apart to prevent their easy escape.
She tormented the squirrels all waking hours that evening and the following morning.
July 4th we hiked to High Bridge enjoying huckleberries and then catching a ride with a park worker and hit the Stehekin Bakery for lunch. The weather was superb so we thoroughly enjoyed our 24 hrs of rest. I wanted to go to the Ranch for dinner, however, they couldn’t really accommodate Brook. We ended up camping in the Lakeview campground with a Mountain House meal of Beef Stew before hanging out on the deck drinking beer with the many SOBO backpackers.
Also a big thank you to the store manager who was extremely accommodating for all and sold bottle of beer for $2.50.
July 5th my friends; Bob and Pete, arrived on the Lady Express boat at 11:00 am and I made them deal with the National Park campsite permitting for our remaining nights on the PCT portion of the trail inside the NP boundary up to Rainy Pass. We hit the trail in the heat of the afternoon which turned out to be the hottest day of the trip.
We only went about 5 miles to Bridge Creek Camp but with it being uphill it was a good workout.
The following day was again a climb but a beautiful lunch stop at the confluence of Bridge and Maple Creek offered a trip highlight.
We camped that night at Six Mile PCT mile 2583. We had some short rain periods to deal with along with more hungry mosquitoes but we woke up ready to finish the trip on Saturday 7th.
The final stretch offered many scenic views along with a number of interesting stream crossings. Since I had to take my buddies to their car in Chelan, I took the opportunity to stop at the Washington Pass Overlook to take in the American Alps.
Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop
I am sorry for being a bit late on posting about our Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop trip, Aug 1-6. As expected this 36 mile loop with 8000′ vertical was amazing and lived up to our high expectations.
Every year I do a loop like this with friends and when we have asked other backpackers what they believe to be the best loop, Spider Gap Buck Creek tends to be the winner. And it is truly an awesome loop complete with incredible vistas, challenging climbs and unique topography.
We decided to take the counterclockwise route beginning with the Spider Meadow Phelps Creek trail. The meadow was beautiful but it was obvious that we had missed the high flower point by a few weeks.
Taking it easy the first day we planned for the Spider Gap climb which is broken into an initial 1000 ft climb on a fairly rugged rock trail and then another 1000 ft climb on up the snow field. The reward at the top was worth the climb.
The view into the Lyman Lakes Valley and Glacier was highlighted by rugged terrain which turned out to offer up a bit of a scare to us. We made the mistake of assuming the trail to the east would eventually wind down to the valley. Wrong, so I advised that we backtrack and go down the snow field. Unfortunately, Bob, who hates to backtrack decided to take the short cut down the mountain slope. This was not communicated well and we ended up getting separated from Bob.
The outcome of this turned into a nervous search for Bob who did eventually turn up to relieve our fears after he had a bit of a hair raising descent down the side of the mountain ending up further down the valley. Our concern stemmed from the dangerous loose rock navigation that could easily result in a slide or a fall. But all was well and we settled in between the Lyman Lakes.
The following day took us over Cloudy Pass which lived up to its name. This is also about the time we began enjoying an over abundance of blueberries and huckleberries. We had a fun log stream crossing below Lyman Lakes. Again we kept losing Bob because he couldn’t resist stopping and eating the berries.
This is when we first saw the fires which have wreaked havoc with the PCT Trail closure. At this time the big fires over at Lake Chelan had not blown up yet. As we climbed over the pass we got to speak with many of the local Whistle Pig population.
This was also when we discovered that the detour to Stehekin was no longer an option for the PCT’ers. We went about half way to Image Lake and turned around figuring that the weather was not going to present us with enough reward. After talking to others who went over I think it was the right decision.
We had hoped to hike over to Image Lake which is a 2.4 miles. We went about a mile and decided we didn’t really need to go all the way. The views of Glacier Peak were excellent from where we were. (I did finally get to Image Lake and yes it is awesome) We camped across from Fortress Mountain. This was the Suiattle Pass Junction area where the PCT closure was spelled out.
We continued on with our loop up to Buck Creek Pass knowing that we would have time for a side hike. We setup camp at the top of the pass while the weather still looked good and we decided to do the Liberty Cap trail.
I highly recommend this route which offers fabulous views of Glacier Peak.
Well the weather started to change once we got up on Liberty Cap which caused us some concern but also offered beauty in the cloud formations.
We got back to camp just in time to avoid the rain.
The next morning it was still miserable on the pass but we could see that there was sun in the valley on our route back to the Trinity Trailhead. The annual backpacking loop trip with friends was again a great success, however, this year I was set to continue on for a few more weeks.
My original plan was to get my resupply and go from Stevens Pass to Canada, however, the fires forced a change to that strategy. So I decided to go from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass for my next segment.