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:

WA – North Cascades, Blue Lake and Cutthroat Pass (Sept 2021)

Larch Madness! I’d caught the fever and couldn’t get enough as I continued my search for peak conditions.

My larch march began and ended at Ingalls Pass in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (blog link). In between I spent time along Highway 20 in the North Cascades, with two trips to Maple Pass (blog link) bookending trips to Blue Lake and on the PCT from Rainy Pass to Cutthroat Pass.

Blue Lake

I needed a recovery day so had planned this easier hike. As I was completing preparations for my hike, a large van arrived with a group of at least a dozen teenagers disembarking. Oh no, so much for my peaceful day. I was motivated to stay ahead of them. I decided to explore the junction leading to the Early Winter Spires. The sign at the trailhead indicated this was a climbers route but I figured there would be a reasonably graded hiking trail I could explore while gaining a little elevation. That was not be the case and instead I turned around when the trail became cairn route and rock scramble.

The kids were taking a break at the junction when I returned to the main trail and thus was once again motivated to reach Blue Lake before the masses. I learned later this group was part of a partnership between local schools and the Outward Bound program. I heard several hikers complaining about kids hiking instead of being in school. My thought was how wonderful to expose kids to something besides sports and activities more typically found in PE departments. They were well behaved, respectful and even separated later in the day for individual projects.

I had stopped at Washington Pass earlier in the morning and captured this photo of the other side of Liberty Bell Mountain.

The Tarn Loop Trail offers this view of possibly Cutthroat Peak and/or Whistler Mountain.

I wandered around the far side of the lake for lunch. The kids were gathered on a large rock near the trail junction. This lake offers very little privacy. I wanted to swim so bad. I waited and waited for them to leave but even when they separated for their projects there was just too much exposure. I always think of that saying, “what the eyes can’t unsee.” I wasn’t ready to strip to my underwear in front of these youngsters so instead I watched the fish and the larch reflections.

Rainy Pass to Cutthroat Pass on the PCT

I was reminded that the autumn season is short here in the far north and although it’s still September, days are short. At 9am the shadows were still more prevalent than the sun.

At 11am I was still climbing and in search of sun.

I finally found sun around 11:45am as I neared the pass.

When I reached the top I found distant snowy peaks.

Looking over the pass I was tempted to continue onward to Granite Pass, but since I was already pushing my limits at a 10+ mile day, I knew it was in my best interest to say no. Besides I have bad memories from my PCT attempt at that pass (WA – PCT Section L . . . as in Lame ) so it was definitely better to save it for another year.

In the photo above where the person and horses are standing is a junction. The PCT continues straight where the trail to the right drops to Cutthroat Lake as shown in below photo. You can access the lake from another trailhead off of Highway 20. Unlike the PCT, the Cutthroat Lake trail is bike friendly and I saw several on this day.

This is looking up at Cutthroat Peak. From the Pass you can see a trail used to climb the peak or ridge. If I hadn’t used up my miles, I might have explored the ridge.

This is a view of Cutthroat Peak from my hike to Blue Lake.

On this day I enjoyed the company of a 70+ year old group of guys. One of the guys, about to celebrate his 75th birthday, was in phenomenal condition. I aspire to being more like him now and into the future!

The larch might not have been at peak but I sure enjoyed all the reds.

As I neared the trailhead I ran into some facebook friends I hadn’t met in person. They were headed to Hart’s Pass on the PCT where they found peak larch colors.

PCT grade is perfect for my knee surgery rehab.

When I began this trip it was to escape wildfires and smoke. Back in early August Joan and I had hoped to land at Rainy Pass where she could complete her remaining PCT miles. But these two fires made that impossible and in fact as I drove Highway 20 in September, the Cedar Creek Fire was still smoldering. The Gaia maps now include several layers related to fires and air quality.

I also use the weather layers on Gaia for hike and travel planning. As we rolled from summer into fall, I found myself running from precipitation rather than smoke.

Monument Creek Trail, Pasayten Wilderness

While I was waiting out storms to return to Maple Pass, I found this trail near Mazama and planned to hike to Eureka Creek from the trailhead.

The bridge across Eureka Creek is long gone, making for a treacherous crossing most of the year. As such signage at the trailhead indicated no trail maintenance beyond this creek for over 25 years. I saw a couple heading out with backpacks. I wondered if they found decent options. It’s hunting season so they may have had other plans.

Spokane Gulch Trail, Methow Valley Trails

I met up with this legendary trail angel and first woman to solo hike the PCT, Carolyn aka Ravensong (Link to article in The Trek).

This is looking down at the community of Mazama and shows just how close the Cedar Creek Fire came to wiping out the town.

Susie Stephens Trail, Methow Valley Trails

I spent time wandering trails in the communities of Winthrop and Twisp. On this day I was waiting out the storms AGAIN.

This storm dropped a little snow which added to my Larch Madness!

ADVENTURE DATE(S): September 23-28, 2021

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

WA – Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Ingalls Pass (Sept/Oct 2021)

The forecasters got this one wrong. I like to camp near trailheads so I can get an early morning start. Well on this day instead of hiking I read. Living in your car has some drawbacks and on long rainy days there aren’t a lot of options. Yes I could have been like those I saw hiking anyways, some carrying backpacks. That’s the difference between those from the Pacific Northwest and this sunny Californian. I also could have driven back to town but I don’t like wasting gas and since hanging out inside was something I avoided during COVID times, that wasn’t a great option either.

As I drove to the trailhead the next morning, I was mostly excited to see this view of I believe Fortune Peak, although a little concerned about snow since I didn’t have my microspikes or weatherproof shoes with me. Afterall I packed for this trip when it was over 100 degrees. I met a few of the backpackers coming down after a wet cold night. They were regretting not waiting a day for better weather and views.

It was a great hike to the pass. I had views of Mount Rainier and cloudy views of either Mount Adams or Mount Saint Helens. The Esmeralda Peaks are in the foreground.

Finding larch turning yellow at the pass and seeing Mount Stuart with it’s first dusting made Ingalls Pass a worthy hike.

This is looking down into Ingalls Creek drainage which I’d hiked from the other end a couple weeks previous, though not quite making it this far (blog link).

At the top I found a marmot enjoying the warm sun.

The colors remind me of California’s Klamath Mountains. Ingalls Pass is to the right in front of the colorful mountains which I believe includes Fortune Peak on the left.

In one of the rock fields, I took time to watch the pika scurry about. This one blended well with the rocks.

With the yellowing larch signaling a change in season I headed further north hoping to find them in peak color. I returned to Ingalls Pass a couple of weeks later to see how autumn was progressing. I’d say I found gold!

I was still full of energy and feeling strong when I arrived at the pass so decided to continue on toward Ingalls Lake. Headlight Basin is beautiful. You can see why it’s a popular backpacking and hiking destination. This is looking back up at Ingalls Pass.

This is the route to Ingalls Lake. There isn’t a trail; it’s more of a multiple-option cairn route, sort of what I call pick your poison. I started up two different routes and realized they were too risky for where I was in my knee rehab. If you zoom you can see people scrambling among the rocks. If I were to see this photo, I’d think it would be easy to stick to the boulders making it a somewhat easy climb but in reality there is lots of class 2 scrambling.

Instead I enjoyed lunch with views like these into the Ingalls Creek Drainage. As a bonus I had time to people watch. Some were suffering greatly carrying overnight packs, even though the lake is off limits for camping. I met a ranger on my way down who was on her way up to check permits and relocate those camped in closed areas.

I made the mistake of taking the alternate trail on my way down. The main trail is a much nicer grade and provides even better views. The shorter alternate trail drops down steeply and then regains some elevation to meet up with the main trail. In retrospect I wish I would have done an out and back on the main trail.

Dr Seuss trees.

Very few trees were as mature as this one. I wonder if a fire wiped out old growth at some time in the fairly recent past.

I was still a tad early for peak color but it was still a WOW experience and not one I regretted.

ADVENTURE DATE(S): September 19-20 and October 1, 2021

RESOURCES:

LINKS:

OR – Blue Hole in the Eagle Cap Wilderness

Hells Canyon National Recreation Area dominates Oregon’s far northeastern corner.

While the mighty Snake River runs through Hells Canyon, the mighty Imnaha River runs through the Blue Hole.

The Imnaha River lives up to it’s federal designation as Wild and Scenic (well maybe more scenic than wild).

The Blue Hole wasn’t very blue on the day I visited. 

Oh overcast day . . . you make everything so dull . . . but look I found reflection. 

It’s a tight squeeze.

And then the river is released from the tiny canyon to flow free once again. 

The aspen trees were showing their colors on this autumn day. 

As were the larch trees.

Oh look, a distant peak. I have the hiker’s disease of needing to know what’s around the next corner, over the next hill, and in this case, a better view. Must keep going!

Although tempted to continue, my time had expired . . . more mountains, more views to be saved for another day. 

This bugger got inside my shirt and gave me quite a sting. 

Met this little guy on trail. 

Hike Details:

  • Date(s) Hiked: 10/08/16
  • Mileage: 8+ miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: approximately 1,300′
  • Trail Conditions:
    • Tree obstacles: only a couple of small ones
    • Overgrowth: minimal
    • Signage: ok
    • Terrain: well graded, easy terrain but dusty and trampled due to horse traffic
    • Other: views were marginal and hike starts through an old burn area
  • Water: Plentiful
  • Camping: Many awesome sites near water
  • Solitude: saw no one and no vehicles at trailhead
  • Bugs: Bees and snakes (well at least one of each)
  • Precip: dry, although it rained during previous night
  • Temp: typical fall temps
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 3 cherries (out of 5)

Tips:

  • Plentiful dispersed camping opportunities along FS Road 3960
  • Other nearby FS campgrounds

Links:

Resources:

OR – Hurricane Creek in the Eagle Cap Wilderness

There is nothing quite like photographic enticement as motivation to visit an area. My friend Mary lives near the Wallowa Mountains and frequently blogs about her adventures under The Mountains are Calling.One benefit of networking with fellow adventurers is sharing local knowledge. Mary knew I was still in recovery mode and needed a kind and gentle trail. Although not available to join me, she recommended Hurricane Creek Trail #1807.

Recent snow and fall colors had me giddy at first views. 

I was warned I’d be walking through a bit of old burn. This solo tree was lucky, but looks like a vulnerable lightning rod.

My happy spot. New mountains, new trail, perfect weather, autumn . . .

This fall has been about the larch trees. I’d never had the pleasure of watching them turn from green to golden yellow before shedding their needles. From the Northwest Conifer website:

Larches (Larix)
Unlike most conifers, larches are deciduous, dropping their needles in the fall. The needles grow in bundles like the pines, but they have many more needles per bundle, and each bundle grows on a distinctive little spur twig. Two species of larch grow in the Northwest:
Western Larch (Larix occidentalis) – Grows on the east side of the Cascades.
Alpine Larch (Larix Lyallii) – Grows high in the North Cascades of Washington.

Are you the eagle? 

There was plentiful water along the trail. 

And waterfalls! Love how this one went way back into this narrow canyon with tons of cascading waterfalls and deep blue pools.

This one is called Slick Rock Falls. 

The sound of this waterfall piqued my curiosity enough to warrant a little off-trail exploration. 

As if the trees didn’t keep me sufficiently happy, I found plenty of other colors and textures to keep my eyes busy.

Hike Details:

  • Date Hiked: 10/06/16
  • Mileage: 12+ miles round trip (trail continues for many miles with lots of options)
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: approximately 2800′
  • Trail Conditions: Near excellent (gentle grade, no down trees or overgrowth, just a couple semi-technical creek crossings).
  • Solitude: Saw four early birds leaving as I was arriving, and one couple midway through the hike
  • Bugs: None
  • Precip: Intermittent
  • Temp: Chilly and damp
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4+ cherries (out of 5)

Links:

Resources:

 

OR – Strawberry Lake and Falls in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness

My friends in the John Day area raved about the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, so when my travels found me on Highway 26 in northeastern Oregon, I knew it was my opportunity to explore yet another area.

My friend enticed me to the area with the promise of larch trees. 

I’d seen them turn yellow earlier this season, but seeing their reflection in an alpine lake was also on my bucket list. I was hopeful, but with an intermittent weather day, I wasn’t overly optimistic. 

Oh Mother Nature, are you teasing me? 

No second chances on a day like this. YES, larch reflection on Strawberry Lake! 

Strawberry Falls were quite a surprise. I didn’t anticipate such great flow this late in the year. 

Waterfall plus larch is a WIN WIN! 

Little Strawberry Lake was very green. 

The surrounding mountains were quite colorful, but with all that scree, not very hiker friendly. 

When the sprinkles turned to something a bit more serious, that was my cue to turnaround. 

I’d seen these plants minus their leaves when I was further north, so was pleased to see these lining the trail. 

Strawberry Lake welcomed me back with this scene. Oh my! Perfect light, reflection and composition. 

Hike Details:

  • Date Hiked: 10/10/16
  • Mileage: 7+ miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: approximately 2000′
  • Trail Conditions: Near excellent (gentle grade, no down trees, but a lot of deadfall in the forest, heavy use by horses, nothing too technical)
  • Solitude: Saw one couple near the trailhead
  • Bugs: None
  • Precip: Intermittent
  • Temp: Chilly and damp
  • Jan’s Cherry Picker Delight Scale: 4 cherries (out of 5)

Links:

Resources:

Banff NP – Sunshine Meadows

A wise man recently said, turn those lemons into lemonade. That’s exactly what I’m doing as I recover from a bout of tendonitis. Not far from Banff is Sunshine Village, a popular winter playground. In the summer, it provides ground zero access to alpine wilderness with lakes, wildflowers, mountain passes and in the autumn, larch leaf peeping opportunities.

You can drive to Sunshine Village, but to get to the Sunshine Meadows Trail Centre requires either a ride on the shuttle bus ($30 Canadian in 2016) or a 3 mile (5km) walk up the dirt road.  It was well worth the cost in my opinion.

Experiencing larch season was on my fall bucket list. 

From Standish Viewpoint, I could see all three of the lakes in Sunshine Meadows. 

Rock Isle Lake

The trails are well groomed and signed. A free map is available at Sunshine Village and Sunshine Meadows.

If you have limited mobility or time, it’s worth the less than one mile walk to Rock Isle Lake.

Larix Lake is the only one of the three with trail access surrounding the perimeter. The loop from Rock Isle to Grizzly around Larix and back to Rock Isle is a little over 2 miles. 

Grizzly Lake 

Larix Lake 

Many of the larch trees appear to be similar in size, but a few stand tall and grand above the rest. 

The needles of the larch trees. 

Walking among the trees, you could see the variety of colors depending on where they were in the process of losing their needles. 

From Standish viewpoint, you can continue the few minutes to a ski lift mountain viewpoint. 

Near the chairlift is WiFi!

Bonus: You’ll be standing on the Continental Divide 

BEWARE: This sign was positioned about 1/4 mile from the end of the trail . . . but I’m calling it false advertising as the only food being served was a very limited selection in a refrigerator case, such as sandwiches, although the bar was open so you could grab a beer and sit in the sun on the deck. Oh well . . .

Date Hiked: 09/26/16

Miles Hiked: 10

Resources:

Links: