WA – North Cascades, Maple Pass Trail (Sept 2021)

I’d always wanted to see the tapestry of autumn colors found in the Northern Cascades.

I was a little early for the larch show but the overcast skies made the other colors pop. That’s Lake Ann hiding below the still green larch trees. “Larch is any of the coniferous trees belonging to the genus Larix categorized under the family Pinaceae. Although these are classified as conifers, larches turn yellow and lose their needles in the autumn or fall just like deciduous trees. These are medium-sized trees with the typical pyramidal canopy of conifers. They are found in places with cold climates and plenty of moisture.” Source: Coniferous Forest

As I gained elevation I found a few larch showing off their golden hue.

I hiked the trail counterclockwise, stopping at Lake Ann first, then taking a break at Heather Pass before climbing up to the first Maple Pass then traversing the ridge to reach the second Maple Pass. This little tarn and snowfield were visible when I began my descent. Rainy Lake is further down the drainage.

THIS is the tapestry I came to see.

I shared the trail with a grouse family.

I loved this hike so much I couldn’t resist returning a week later. As much as I hoped for brilliant blue skies showcasing the golden larch, Mother Nature had other plans. It was a damp brisk 33F when I started my hike around 8am. There was fresh snow on the nearby peaks.

As I gained elevation I found snow level. The tapestry of color was dulled by a thin veil of white.

I believe this is Wing Lake (or Lewis Lake) which I’d planned to visit after reaching my highpoint turnaround. On this date I didn’t plan to hike the loop, instead just going to Maple Pass before returning to Heather Pass where could spend a few hours exploring this side trail and these lakes.

Another bucket list item was seeing larch IN the snow, maybe not while it was snowing.

The cloud ceiling dropped and not long after I reached the first Maple Pass, I found myself in a whiteout.

To say I was giddy is an understatement. So much WOW in that little storm. It completely changed the landscape providing lots of photographic opportunities, although I was wishing for my winter gloves.

I was still a bit early for peak larch season but I was beyond thrilled with this experience. I’m guessing once the slope above Lake Ann is covered in yellow larch, the reds and oranges of the other foliage will be gone thus making my timing spot on.

I think this pika was smiling at me.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to nature’s quilt.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): September 22 and 29, 2021

TIPS:

  • This can be a super busy trail. There is room for about 50 cars in the main parking area and signs indicating overflow parking on the highway. When I arrived in the late afternoon the day before my first hike there were at least 100 cars on the highway. It was on a heavy overcast day. I started early and only saw about a dozen people. There wasn’t anyone in overflow when I finished my hike. On my return trip, it was damp, cold and mostly overcast again. It was a much busier day even though both trips were on Wednesdays under cloudy skies and had early starts. When I finished on that second day, there was a mile or two of cars parked along the highway.
  • This hike is outside North Cascades National Park, but just on the boundary.
  • The Heather Pass/Maple Pass trail is a loop and can be hiked in either direction. After reading reviews I decided on counter clockwise. The benefit is a more gradual climb and more controlled descent. If you go clockwise, you’ll face a steeper ascent and a less controlled descent on the sections between the first and second Maple Passes. If you don’t want to deal with the steep sections, I highly recommend going counterclockwise to the first Maple Pass and then turning around. You can see the differences on this profile pictured below.

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

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