I knew I was pushing my luck finding peak autumn colors. But the hikes at Chinook Pass were on my POI list and since there was a nearby fire when I was in the area in early August, I took the detour on my southward journey.
When I got started in the morning I was feeling disappointed in myself. Why? Well first when I arrived at the trailhead the previous afternoon the light was optimal and I should have hiked the very popular Naches Peak Loop Trail but the hundreds of cars removed all motivation for that option. Second I missed a spectacular sunrise by arriving about 15 minutes late the next morning. Would it be a 3-strike trip? I certainly felt more optimistic when I turned around and found this view of Mount Rainier and Yakima Peak shortly after starting my hike.
I knew the only way I’d be able to enjoy this hike was to get an early morning start.
There was no doubt I was a couple weeks past peak colors and with the overcast skies I wasn’t going to get great reflections either. But look, no people! I had the pond to myself.
The northern section of the Naches Peak Loop Trail is shared with the PCT until it continues south dropping to Dewey Lake.
As I turned west, I found an obvious well used viewpoint and was happy to have the clouds part just enough for a little peek of these mountains.
As I stood there, I thought I saw more in the background. Is that snow? If so that must be Mount Rainer.
I watched the clouds drift in and out for a good 30 minutes, playing peek-a-boo with Mount Rainier.
Taking time to watch nature’s magic was exactly what I needed on this day.
As I continued the loop I was gifted this view of Naches Peak.
By the time I reached Tipsoo Lakes, the crowds were arriving and it started feeling like Disneyland.
I took a little break at my car before continuing my hike north on the PCT. My first stop was very popular Sheep Lake. I met a ton of people coming down from an overnight at the lake. Can you imagine sharing with 20-50 people? That’s what you get without permits and quotas and a lake 2 miles from a paved trailhead. My destination was Sourdough Gap at the top of the ridge.
This section of trail was much less busy.
Looking down at Sheep Lake as I climbed toward Sourdough Gap.
Sourdough Gap provided views of Three Way Peak. I thought I’d be able to see Mount Rainer as I’d gotten a glimpse as I climbed up to the pass.
The PCT continues north through Sourdough Gap, but after a short traverse it drops to the right below Three Peaks. The trail that stays high is Crystal Lakes Trail and the visible pass invited further exploration.
Success! That was the view I was hoping to find. Upper Crystal Lake is another popular overnight and day hike destination. It’s important to note these lakes are in the National Park. I don’t know permitting requirements but signs clearly indicated dogs prohibited. Sad to say I witnessed many who don’t believe rules apply to them.
Overall I’d call this day a win although I wouldn’t say it was in my top 10 and it’s unlikely I’d repeat except for hiking this full section of the PCT, which I’m still missing on my quest to complete Washington.
Do you know this tree? There were several along this section of the trail and they didn’t seem to belong but they sure were pretty.
I’m so pleased with my continued knee rehab progress.
ADVENTURE DATE(S): October 3-4, 2021
- USFS – PCT North from Chinook Pass
- NPS – Naches Peak Loop
- Mount Rainier National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map, 217)