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.