Friday, July 27, 2012

Cascade Pass 07-14-2012

The Cascade Pass trail offers an unforgettable hike for visitors to the North Cascade National Park.

Although the trailhead is more than an hour from 'anywhere' it is unquestionably well worth the time to get there; provided that the weather is decent and the road isn't blocked by snow.

Offering easy access to alpine terrain and being a main access point for longer hikes/backpack trips to Sahale Arm and Stehekin (to name just a few), the parking lot is almost always full on weekends. Consider planning your itinerary to arrive by 9:00 a.m. during peak hiking season.

To reach the trailhead, follow Hwy 20 to Marblemount (about one hour from I-5) and then drive for about another hour along the Cascade River Road to the trail head at the end of the road. The Cascade River road is about 23 miles long and only the first 10 miles or so are paved. The gravel portions are generally in pretty good shape and passable by most cars.

Scenic vistas abound, even from the parking lot. To the northeast you can look up and see Cascade Pass. The 'bad news', if such a thing exists out here, is that the trail takes a much less direct route than what you see.

The trail starts out in the forest shade, steadily climbing a reasonable grade up the hillside. Savor the gradual incline, enjoy the smaller micro-views that the forest affords you. After all, how often do you find yourself in such an area with the opportunity to stop and smell the roses (or moss, or the corn lilies)?

The route is easy to follow but the route also has its fair share of rocks, roots, 'water features' and obstacles to keep you on your toes.

Stop at the 'open' switchback and peek over the nearby rocks to get a view of Soldier Boy Falls before you finish up the last of the switchbacks.

Depending on how early or late in the season you visit, expect to run into some snow.

During our hike on 7-14-2012, we started to encounter snow across the trail just a few minutes after the falls mentioned above.

The patches at that time were relatively short and it was pretty easy to see where the trail was supposed to go and it was possible to follow that route on top of the snow and emerge back onto real ground just 10, 20 or 30 yards away.

Keep in mind that snow crossings can be hazardous. It's easy to accidently slip and injure yourself. This is not the place you want to find yourself injured. Pack accordingly... wear shoes/boots with good traction, bring traction devices with you (such as yaktrax or microspikes), bring hiking pole(s) or an ice axe if you can.

Better safe than sorry.

Eventually, the switchbacks end and you find youself heading out into the open 'meadows'. Some grass, heather, flowers... but also lots of rocks, talus and boulders. Plus at least two more snow crossings with long runouts if you happen to slip and fail to self-arrest your slide.

We happened to encounter a deer at this point in the trail. It came walking right up to us on the trail as if it had already visited Cascade Pass today.

Once it was within arms reach, it decided to take a minor detour around us, then came back to see if we had any treats. We didn't and it continued to proceed toward the trail head and the group of hikers behind us.

Finally, we were almost to Cascade Pass. You can see the trail crossing one of the snow fields in the distance.

We were greeted at the Pass by a Ranger (who has the best job in the world IMO). We took a break on the granite blocks and enjoyed a casual lunch and many photo opps.

I call it "North Cascades Happy".

Since there was more snow than we had anticipated, we chose to make Cascade Pass our turn-around spot instead of continuing up to/toward Sahale Arm.

If you happen to have the time and energy, hiking the extra distance and elevation to Sahale Arm is highly recommended.

The route back to the trail head is the same as the ascent, but downhill.

We happened upon a Hoary Marmot who is pursuing a career in modeling.

We hadn't seen too many hikers on our way up, but it turns out that we were just ahead of the crowd. There were plenty of people on their way up as we descended the switchbacks. Everyone was smiling. :)

A HUGE Thank You to the France Family who braved the ever-changing weather forecast to participate in this unforgetable hike. It's always a pleasure to hike with you all!

For those of you that happened to have seen my recent posts related to my hike with Steve G. to Goat Lake (report here), you may have seen my first experiment with creating an abbreviated 'trail specific' hike overview / Trail Journal (link here).

Well, with all the fantastic images from this hike, plus the popularity of the destination, you probably won't be surprised to find out that I've created a similar composition for Cascade Pass.

Here is a Book Preview of all the pages (there are only 20 pages and at least 17 of them are AWESOME)! Check it out and let me know what you think. Seriously.

I know these are expensive (especially when you tack on shipping), but I'm hoping to come up with an alternative (cheaper) variation before the 2013 hiking season arrives. Any constructive advice would honestly be appreciated.

In the meantime, Happy Hiking!


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