Category Archives: Washington
I have been putting together an annual multi-day backpacking loop trek for my friends for the last 8 years. The goal was to find a 4 or 5 day trek of moderate difficulty based on a loop to simplify travel logistics. The first trek was through the Sisters Wilderness in 2011 and during each trek we would ask other backpackers what they thought was another great loop option. This advice truly led us to discover and confirm the finest multi-day backpacking loop treks in the Pacific Northwest. Since I have answered this question for other backpackers through the years I decided to create post to highlight these loop treks. The order presented is based on the order in which I discovered these treks. Please feel free to share your similar favorite loops.
There is a 50 mile loop that encircles the 3 Sister Peaks, however, I selected an approximate 35 mile route that starts from the Lava Lake Trailhead and cuts through between the Middle and South Sister peaks. This was my first multi-day trek for which I named the post “No Pain No Gain“, reflective of efforts and rewards of backpacking. The route adhered to the 4 to 5 day goal while adding the challenge of being up close to the Sisters. I would recommend the clockwise route with attention paid to water availability on the first day. Camp Lake through to the Chambers Lakes typically presents the challenge of climbing through snow but you need to experience the view from up there. You have to time this trek to allow for the snow crossing while also taking in a maximum floral display without too many bugs. The east section which is the PCT takes you through lush forests into lava fields. Passing through the restricted Obsidian area is not a problem, however, you want to time your climb over Opie Dilldock pass during the cool part of the day. The Mattieu Lakes near the start and finish offer good rest options. You could also consider doing this loop from the Pole Creek Trailhead.
The Eagle Cap Wilderness was enticing, however, piecing together a loop was not as obvious. I settled on using the Two Pan Trailhead to enter via the Minam Lake Trail and returning via the East Fork Lostine Trail while taking in all of the options provided by the Lakes Basin area. This loop requires crossing the 8548′ Carper pass to settle around Mirror or Moccasin Lakes. Here you have the option of expanding the loop up and over Glacier pass through Horseshoe Lake to Douglas Lake. Or you could just base from the basin area and do a few day hikes to fill your trek. Either way you must experience Glacier Lake. The lakes here are deep and can provide some good fishing. You come out completing the loop via the East Fork Lostine Trail with a shrinking awesome view of Eagle Cap.
Goat Rocks should end up on everyones list, however, with that popularity come the weekend crowds. The loop option is fairly defined with a starting point at the Berry Patch or Snowgrass Flats Trailheads. It could be treated as a 2 day loop, which is why you include spur hikes north & south on the PCT. Whether you go up Snowgrass or Goat Ridge Trails you will be doing the bulk of the climb and you typically will deal with the worst of the mosquitos and black flies. I like the Snowgrass Trail to the Bypass Trail over to the PCT. Once on the PCT portion of Goat Rocks you have access to Cispus Pass south or Old Snowy north which is worthy of a few nights. Then head over to the Lilly Basin Trail which takes you to the Goat Lake area. The lake is generally iced over, however, the campsite options around there provide an awesome view of the valley and Mt Adams. You may want to hike up to Hawkeye Point and you should be treated to herds of mountain goats above Goat Lake. Your hike out via the Goat Ridge Trail is essentially downhill.
The Glacier Peak Wilderness provides a classic 36 mile backpacking loop that takes you up a glacier to Spider Gap past the Lyman Lakes then over Cloudy and Suiattle Pass by Fortress Mountain and over to Buck Creek Pass and Liberty Cap. This trek is probably the most true loop and it may be the most challenging especially getting up to Spider Gap. You start at the Phelps Creek Trailhead and head up the Phelps Creek Trail as far as you can in preparation for the climb up the Spider Gap Glacier. Camping near the Lyman Lakes sets you up for the next climb to Cloudy Pass and then around to Suiattle Pass where you get your first glimpse of Glacier Peak. If time and energy allow you should consider including a visit to Image Lake along Miners Ridge. As you work your way around to Buck Creek Pass, Glacier Peak is positioned prominently to the west. Find a campsite with a view of Glacier and take a hike over to Liberty Cap. The final hike out is relatively easy from there.
This is a great loop trail around Mt. Hood with views many other mountains. I have decided to do this loop every year because it is so perfect and it provides me with a gauge for my overall health. TT 2017 TT 2018 The TT is approximately 40 miles with a number of potentially challenging stream crossings. The elevation low point is near Ramona Falls at about 3300′ with a high point on the east side at 7350′. There are many choices for a starting point with the most common being at Timberline Lodge. Clockwise is the more common route from the lodge on the PCT which takes you by the Zig Zag Canyon where you should consider detouring up to Paradise Park for an evening. Crossing the Sandy river may be the most challenging before you take in Ramona Falls. The PCT offers you a couple of options, I like the one up toward Yocum Ridge over to Bald Mountain before you head up the Timberline Trail toward McNeil Point. On the north side you cross through some old burns but the beauty is everywhere. Once past the Cloud Cap TH you climb to above tree-line typically crossing many snow fields. Copper Spur is a side trip option and then you work your way down to Gnarl Ridge. All of this area is arid and treeless. Cross Newton creek, pass some waterfalls and head through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area. The final push is to cross the White River and then climb back up to Timberline Lodge. This final climb can be challenging due to the sandy trail and exposure.
I hope these backpacking loops help you find that perfect trek. I will also throw in another option which is partially a loop, The Wild Rouge Loop diverges from the primary Rouge River Trail up to Hanging Rock.
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.
I finally made it to Image Lake and boy was it worth it. On my Spider Gap Loop trip in 2015 we tried to get to Image Lake but had to turn back. After climbing the last 1400 ft from Miner’s Ridge on this trip I would say we made the right decision to backoff back in 2015. But I needed to get to Image Lake partly for fulfillment and partly to push the body into backpacking shape since this was my last weekend in the North Cascades before retirement the following friday. The trip is 32 miles with 4800 vertical with most of the vertical, 3300 ft, from the river trail. I planned on 3 days but I was not sure how it would play out.
The hike into the Canyon Creek campground was a possible first night destination, however, all campsites were taken thanks to a fairly large PCTA work crew. So I hit the PCT going North and saw that there would be a few campsites before the Image Lake Trail.
Shortly after Canyon Creek Brook and I were attacked by “Max” a combination Shepherd and Wolf. All I heard was “No Max” and around the bend comes Max in full charge. Brook got between my legs and held her ground but Max was only about attack. A serious fight broke out at my feet and I believe Brook realized she was not going to win. I heard a dog cry and then Brook took off running for her life with Max in pursuit. I think Brook chomped on some part of Max’s body which freed her for the get-away. Well Max’s owner chased after Max and I followed calling for Brook. Running with a full pack at my age is not what I should have been doing, but my dog was in trouble. After about a quarter mile Max was contained and I headed up the trail looking for Brook. I found her to be safe and injury free. Wow, I did not really say anything to Max’s owner because he knew how bad this was. He said that it was good that Max was tired. I was thinking it was good Brook is so fast. Overall, this was probably a good learning experience for Brook, to know that anything can happen and it is best to stay close to the Human you want to protect. Brook’s trail etiquette is almost perfect, but people don’t always understand how Aussies want to check them out.
Back to the trail with the temperatures rising to about 80 which was taking a toll on my body. I would have loved to have been able to climb to Image Lake for the overnight view, but I was beat. Luckily there was a sweet campsite just before the trail to Image Lake. I decided to camp there and go to Image Lake the next day with my new lightweight day pack that I just bought at REI. This was the first time in a while that I have camped in a forest setting with lodgepole type trees with not a lot of distracting sound such as you would get from a rushing stream. The evening turned out to be wonderful listening to the wildlife and watching Brook try to stalk all of the local chipmunks. The sun setting between the trees was a whole different kind of beautiful sunset. I even took a selfie.
But I was tired and thanks to splurging by bringing my Therm-a-rest air mattress, I slept like a log. I did not use my fly which did offer some star gazing. Brook started out in the tent but she knew she needed to be outside to properly protect us. I did not try to influence her otherwise even though it was pitch black out.
Sunday morning and it is time to climb to Image Lake.
I knocked off about 2000 ft to Miner’s Ridge as the temperature was again pushing 80.
The last 1300 ft nearly did me in, but I saved enough energy to properly explore not only Image Lake but the Miner’s Ridge Lookout Tower at 6210 ft. I was the only human up there and it was an amazingly beautiful day. This is why we backpack. The view of Glacier Peak is the highlight, the pan at the top gives you the full perspective.
There was only snow at the top and Brook was loving it. Here Brook wants to go after a marmot on the other side of the lake.
The rest of the photos will speak for themselves.
Descending back to my campsite nearly did me in, thank goodness it was downhill. But on this second night I was really beat, no appetite either, but a serious thirst that I needed to quench. I put the fly on earlier and decided to leave it which allowed me to just sleep on top of my bag all night. Brook woke me at 5:00 am and I felt good so we hit the trail by 6:30 am. The hike back was uneventful but I continued to realize that my body was benefitting from this extreme exercise. I am writing this post because I am too tired to do anything else. I am going to sleep good tonight. I think I am ready for retirement.
Lake Whatcom Park near Bellingham, WA, must be somewhat of a secret since I just discovered it after 11 months of seeking out every good dog friendly hiking trail in the Bellingham area. All good though, the park is primarily known for its really nice and easy Hertz Trail along the lake. What I needed and the basis for this trip report is the trail that leads to Mt Stewart essentially parallel to the Wickersham Truck Road that begins at the end of P2 parking area. The road would continue but it is gated and the trail leads off from the NW corner of the parking area. You can also just hike the road but that is in high demand by the mountain bikers.
The trail winds through various densities of forest occasionally crossing the road. At the first road crossing you need to follow the road up about 100 ft to an opening on the left where you will pick up the trail again. The second road crossing is more obvious that the trail continues on the other side. That is not the case for the second half of the trip.
After a couple of road crossings you hit an extended stretch of trail that takes you to a smaller road spur. This section of trail is really nice offering significant flower cover. Turn right for the scenic overlook and left to find the trail again after a few 100 feet.
The overlook is essentially at the end of the offshoot spur road. You have a excellent view of both ends of Lake Whatcom as well as Bellingham and the North Puget Sound. This site appears that it has been used for some overnights.
I was going to give up assuming that this was the end of the trail, however, I did find the next section that reconnected with the road. At that point you need to climb on the road up to the next turn where you can pick up the trail again.
This last section of trail offers occasional views of the lake but again you come out on the road. From here on I did not find any further trail options, the land contour did not lend itself to more trail connects, however the road was more like a trail. You then merge with the power lines which is a bit concerning because of the loud static crackling from the high voltage electricity transmission taking place. Oh well, I guess we got a charge out of it. Here you have a combination of some clear cut and major power line right of way up and over Mt Stewart.
The view is more impressive for distance, however, I rate the lower lake overlook as the prize view. The real value of this trail for me was the great exercise with approximately 2500 ft vertical. Also very little traffic on the trail since access to the lower lake trail is what dominates the available parking. This is exactly the training I need to prepare for my next career as a full time backpacker. Plus @AussieBrook loved it.
April 15-16, 2017, camped at Canyon Creek.
Finally a fairly nice weekend in 2017 for a backpacking trip with my Australian Shepard, Brook. She is about 17 months old with some backpacking experience, however, this would be her first with the responsibility to carry her own pack. All of this is in preparation for more extended trips as soon as I retire again at the end of June. I decided to take on the Suiattle River Trail because of the relatively low elevation which I assumed would bode well for snow level. Turns out there was no snow all the way to PCT mile mark 2540. The trail was actually fairy dry and the stream crossings were all easy.
The 23 mile drive in on FR 26 turned out to be uneventful as well. There are enough potholes on the second half gravel portion to force you to keep your speed down, but overall the road was in good shape. Only a couple of cars at the trailhead and I only saw 10 people all weekend. River trails tend to be fairly level with occasional views of the river but rarely any scenic vistas. That would hold true for this Trail, however, the lush green vegetation with many beautiful stream crossings offers its own unique charm.
The real goal for this trip was to test Brook’s interest and ability to be my backpacking buddy. I put a full 32 oz Nalgene in each side of her Ruffwear Palisades Pack. She was not thrilled by this requirement to carry her own pack, but she was committed to pleasing me. She figured out what her cadence would be and soon she was in total work mode never straying more than a few feet from my heels. Actually, I am very proud of how she handled this. You don’t train an Aussie as much as you provide opportunities for them to learn. She totally understands the purpose of the backpack now and I believe is honored to have the responsibility.
The hike into Canyon Creek was relatively easy, which I am extremely grateful for considering I am still just a (old) weekend warrior right now. Considering 7 miles in and then an extra 3 miles up the PCT and 7 miles out on Sunday, my slightly sore muscles are not bad at all. The stream crossings we both beautiful and relatively easy.
The campsite was primo with an excellent fire pit, unfortunately, I did not plan for a fire and failed in trying to start one with only a bit of toilet paper and a few matches. Brook managed the campsite with great dedication and thankfully did not find anything with sweet dog aroma to roll in. Temps got down to about 35 but Brook did not get cold and I love my new REI Magma 10 sleeping bag. Brook did enjoy snuggling next to me but was very well behaved inside the tent. It was a great weekend trip on a very beautiful wilderness trail. I am all the more motivated for retirement now.
The first nice weekend day we have had in awhile here in Bellingham motivated Brook and I to find a low elevation hike since we have a significant amount of snow above about 2500 ft. So look for river trails, right. Well I found a great blog, Must Hike Must Eat, that provides an excellent regional organization of trail reports.
This allowed me to find some low elevation hikes near enough off of the Mountain Loop Highway and I chose the Boulder River Trail. In researching this trail a bit I did not find a lot of trip reports, so overall my expectations were not real high, but I did like that I was going to get in at least 8 miles and a bit of elevation gain for a good workout. What I discovered was a fairly impressive trail especially for this time of year.
From I-5 take Hwy 530 (exit 208). Exit right toward Arlington. Stay on 530 through Arlington and in 23.6 miles, turn right onto French Creek Rd, just after MP 41. The 4 mile road to the trailhead did have some serious potholes. Parking at the trailhead, end of road, was limited to maybe 15 cars.
The trail is in excellent condition and appears to be heavily used for about the first mile taking you to the first major waterfall. Water was flowing at full volume due to the recent storms. At about this point snow packed trail conditions existed wherever there was an opening in the forest canopy. The trail is a bit technical in that you are navigating numerous streams both across the trail and on the trail. Plus you are getting some vertical change to exercise those winter legs. Brook loved it all as you can see in her trail video.
You have a few opportunities to get to the river bank but mostly you are high above the river on the east side. No real visa views but the trail is beautiful especially during this February hike. The moss covered trees, steep dropoffs and plethora of streams makes for an excellent hike.
I used this hike to get some much needed exercise and by the end I think both Brook and I were feeling it. All in all the Boulder River Trail is a great hike especially during those short cold days of winter.
I had planned to backpack Ptarmigan Ridge about a month ago but my dog, Brook, chewed off my waist strap on my backpack the day before so we day hiked Chain Lakes and then Table Mtn.
Well last weekend we did Ptarmigan Ridge and I am glad we waited. The weather was acceptable but not perfect which helps you appreciate it all the more. Plus the crowds were not out in force, maybe 4 other campsites in the Camp Kiser area.
The hike itself is pretty well documented, seems like every mile is a milestone where one can justify turning around, but I think going all the way to the Portals makes it truly the Ptarmigan Ridge hike. This hike is about being exposed and above the tree line, especially in the Camp Kiser area. Mt. Baker loves to hide behind the clouds but will show his face occasionally. I was surprised to see single mountain goats in two places and of course a large herd in the valley below.
I camped on the NW side of Camp Kiser by an outcropping overlooking the valley, (48.81546, -121.76105).
The view of Mt Baker to the South and the Bar Stream Valley below with Skyline Divide on the other side was awesome.
Video of Brook and I taking in the View
Brook and I had a perfect evening taking in the view complete with a unique sunset. However, the night brought higher winds and colder temperatures which I think Brook began to question as to why were we there.
The morning was cold but clear with a short glimpse of Mt. Baker. The hike back to Artist Point parking lot was just beautiful.
Overall an extremely enjoyable trip with no bugs, good trail but winter’s chill did say hello by morning light.