Trip #102, Feb 13, 2010
Solo for the day, decided to avoid the high-risk avalanche forecast and instead visit a couple of tame trails that have been calling my name for a while: the Happy Panther Trail and the Thunder Knob trail.
To find The Happy Panther Trail, park at the Ross Dam parking lot alongside Hwy 20. This is also where Hwy 20 is closed on the west side of the North Cascades for the winter. At this time of year there are very few people in the area. Today there were only two other cars in the parking lot.
Follow the trail from the parking lot down toward Ross Dam. This trail crosses Happy Creek (thus the 'happy' in 'Happy Panther'). Once you reach the dam road, turn right and head toward the lake. Turning left would take you to the dam (or beyond to Green Point and Big Beaver campgrounds). A short distance later you'll find the sign for the Happy Panther trail.
Per the sign, it is about 5.25 miles from this point to the East Bank Trail and Hwy 20.
Ross Lake was as smooth as glass. It was incredible. Unbelievable.
Excluding the descent from the parking lot, the Happy Panther trail doesn't do a lot of elevation changes. Instead, it keeps to a relatively flat slope (at least for the first couple of miles that I did).
This first part of the trail was really neat. The trail starts out on a bed of moss growing on some kind of rock before proceeding through a mossy corridor of trees. There is a steep drop off (100 to 300 feet) down to the lake on one side and 100-300 feet of rock cliffs immediately above you on the opposite side of the trail. Watch your step. Bad footing could give you a real scare.
A short distance later you cross a mossy talus slope and then re-enter the forest.
It's quiet. It's very nice.
The drama of the steep drop offs and rock cliffs subside after a while, leaving you to contour with the land in and out of drainages.
After hiking a couple miles out the trail I turned around and visited Ross Lake for a few pictures of blue skies and surrounding peaks before returning to the car.
Somewhere I read that this trail was one of the original routes used by early miners to travel this area. This trail is 'one of the newest and also oldest routes' in the park.
On a related note, there is a book called "The North Cascadians" by JoAnn Roe which I've been reading and it has a lot of neat information and stories about the Ross and Diablo areas. A great read. Check it out.
Total elevation gained: 1,225 feet during 6.5 miles of travel. This is from the parking lot down to the lake, out Happy Panther trail for a ways, back down to Ross dam and then a return to the parking lot.
Only encountered one other person the entire time. This person was heading out for an overnight at Big BeaverCampground on the west side of Ross Lake. Hopefully he had rain gear since, despite the blue sky, it began raining two hours later.
Off to check out Thunder Knob...