North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

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adamschneider
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North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by adamschneider » August 21st, 2014, 11:52 pm

I visited the North Cascades earlier this week. There are a zillion trails I'd love to explore in that area, but I only had a couple of days, so I did some homework and planned two hikes: one on Mt. Baker, and one along the edge of North Cascades National Park. Then on Sunday evening, I headed north, couch-surfed near Marysville for the night, and got up bright and early Monday and headed even further northeast.


At Mt. Baker on Monday, I hiked to Park Butte via the relatively un-famous Scott Paul Trail, which I highly recommend if you're headed up to the Park Butte Lookout. On the Scott Paul Trail, you get more varied scenery and more views of Baker (and a brief view of Mt. Shuksan), but most importantly you get to do a loop. :) PortlandHikers' "justpeachy" posted a photo-filled trip report from her recent trip to Park Butte (et al.), and her pictures have fewer clouds than mine, so I'll just toss in one from the eastern part of the Scott Paul Trail:

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...and one from my unplanned but worthwhile ramble up the lower part of the "Railroad Grade" moraine, which features up-close views of Easton Glacier:

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I'm glad I got to visit Baker, but honestly — with the exception of all the amazing alpine views off in the distance — it wasn't too terribly different than hiking on Mt. Hood or Mt. Adams! And that's why most of this trip report is going to be about my Tuesday hike in the North Cascades, which was NOTHING like Hood or Adams.


After coming down from Baker, I checked the weather forecast in Concrete, WA — the last available cell phone service — and it said there was a chance of evening showers but just "mostly cloudy" after midnight. (Sounds fine, right?) I drove east into North Cascades National Park and checked out the tiny (6 sites) Gorge Lake Campground, which has no services but is free, and there were about 800 people there; okay, maybe not 800, but it certainly didn't look peaceful. Then I scoped out the enormous (142 sites) Colonial Creek Campground; there were some sites available, but it felt like Disneyland.

So I retreated back to the first campground I'd looked at: Goodell Creek, just west of the weird little company town of Newhalem and amazingly at only about 500' above sea level despite being in the middle of the mountains. It has 21 campsites (at $10/night), and I was able to get a nice one close to the Skagit River. It was god-awful humid while I was setting up my tent, so I didn't put up the rain fly. But I woke up at 4:00am to the sound of raindrops, so I put up the fly... and then it rained for 4 hours. :( I don't especially like sleeping in tents anyway (which is why I do so many looooong day trips), but the rain put me in a really grumpy mood to start the day. Fortunately, when I finally woke up, there were signs of sunlight. It was still horribly humid, of course, but the mist made the Skagit River look nice from the gravelly riverbank at the campground:

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The hike I had planned for the day was only 7 or 8 miles, so I wasn't in a hurry, and I stopped at all the overlooks along the North Casades Highway (SR-20) on my way east. Gorge Creek Overlook = meh. Ross Lake Overlooks = OK. But the Diablo Lake Overlook is WELL worth stopping for. There are imposing-looking mountains in every direction, and the water is a bright blue-green. I'm not normally excited about man-made bodies of water, but damming the river to create Diablo Lake CREATED scenery instead of ruining it! This photo is looking across Thunder Arm to Colonial Peak & Pyramid Peak:

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I got to the Rainy Pass trailhead just before about 11:00, and the parking lot was more than half full; remember, this was a Tuesday! :shock: The Maple Pass-Heather Pass loop starts at about 4800', just east of the National Park. It seems like most guidebooks tell people to do the loop counter-clockwise, but I chose to go the other way, starting out southward toward Rainy Lake and then heading west up the ridge that separates Lake Ann from Rainy Lake before descending through Maple Pass and Heather Pass and then coming back around the north side of the lake.

The first part of the ridge was unremarkable Pacific Northwest forest, but after about half an hour on the trail, I started getting some views. This is looking southeast toward Washington Pass, Stiletto Peak, and Copper Creek:

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Climbing a little more, Rainy Lake came into view:

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The lake is at 4790', and the highest point visible on the ridge behind it (on the right) is at 7768' and about 1 mile back horizontally from the water. There's a huge waterfall that doesn't look like much in this photo... but trust me, it was impressive, and you could hear it clearly all the way across the valley.

Eventually the trees were left behind, and the alpine views became non-stop in pretty much every direction. This is looking east again, with Whistler Mountain on the left:

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Above timberline, there were quite a few wildflowers — here's some lupine and valerian showing off — but they weren't quite 'Sound of Music' caliber:

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The trail crested the north side of the ridge and I finally got a peek into the bowl that contains Lake Ann (check out the patch of hot pink fireweed on the right):

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Going a little further up, Lake Ann came into full view; the brown mountains in the distance on the right are Mt. Hardy and Golden Horn. In the lower right, above the lake, you can see the trail I'd be descending later:

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The highest point of the hike (about 6900') is a saddle with a big sign that says "North Cascades National Park Boundary: No Hunting"; this is the first point on the hike where I had views to the west. This photo is looking southwest down the valley of Maple Creek toward some seriously bad-ass glaciated mountains (Dome Peak, Sinister Peak, Sentinel Peak, etc.):

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Turning to the northwest, Corteo Peak and Black Peak dominate the view, along with countless other peaks along the east side of the National Park. The trail continues along the ridge/saddle in the center of the photo:

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A better view toward Mt. Hardy and Golden Horn to the north:

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Some nice wildflowers along the ridge south of Maple Pass:

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After reaching Maple Pass — which is just a low spot in the ridge separating Lake Ann from Maple Creek — the trail switchbacked down eastward into Lake Ann's relatively small valley. Sunlight and clouds were coming and going:

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After traversing below Peak 6870, the trail headed steeply down toward Heather Pass. At the corner of one of the switchbacks, I wandered north a bit and found a view of Lewis Lake below Black Peak:

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Heather Pass is a rare flat spot:

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(The darker green patches are pink mountain heather, the whitish green patches are pussytoes, and the yellow flowers are some kind of arnica.)

After Heather Pass, the trail descended slowly along the north side of Lake Ann, and as the elevation dropped, the views were mostly just of the lake:

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From a rocky pika-filled bowl less than a mile from the trailhead, I got one last mountain view, with the sky finally showing some sizable patches of blue:

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I got back to my car at about 4:00pm. Total distance on the trail: about 7.5 miles including wanderings, with just over 2000' of elevation gain. (I didn't visit Lake Ann; if I had, it would have added about 2 miles and only minimal elevation.) Leaving the trailhead, I drove west on Highway 20 and got an unavoidable view of Crater Mountain from the road:

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But in hindsight, I should have gone east first (just 5 miles!) to see the view from Washington Pass. Oops. Oh well, next time.


Anyway, the moral of this story is: GO THERE. Maple Pass is probably the easiest route to the high-ish country, and it's one of the only loops, but you'll see amazing scenery from just about any trail in the North Cascades, as long as you get up above the treeline. But pay attention to the weather forecast, and hope they get it right next time...
Last edited by adamschneider on August 22nd, 2014, 1:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

hiker4fun
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by hiker4fun » August 22nd, 2014, 6:59 am

Vow. Beautiful sceneries and wonderful pictures. The steepness of the way towards the lake is huge. So, did you go up on Mt.Baker too?

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adamschneider
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by adamschneider » August 22nd, 2014, 7:20 am

hiker4fun wrote:So, did you go up on Mt.Baker too?
Depends on how you define "on." The photo I posted from Railroad Grade is as high up as I went on the mountain. The trail on that moraine goes all the way to the glacier though, and it's one of the climbing routes to the summit.

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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by justpeachy » August 22nd, 2014, 7:28 am

OH WOW. What spectacular scenery! When we were planning our trip we had considered doing this hike while we were up there, but decided to save it for a separate "east side" trip in the future. It sounded awesome and now I see that it will definitely be at the top of our list when we're in that area again.

olderthanIusedtobe
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by olderthanIusedtobe » August 22nd, 2014, 9:57 am

Yeah, the view of Liberty Bell, North and South Early Winter Spire etc. from Washington Pass is quite unique.

I would say going up on the Railroad Grade definitely counts as being "on" Mt. Baker. As noted there are nice views of the Easton Glacier on the right as you ascend. Near the upper end of the climbers camps if you go less than a mile x-country to the left (west--just take path of least resistance towards the Black Buttes) you come to the edge of a chasm and a phenomenal view of the icefall of the Deming Glacier.

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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by justpeachy » August 22nd, 2014, 10:03 am

I don't especially like sleeping in tents
I forgot to comment on this earlier. I have talked to other people who feel this way, and I find it really interesting because I sleep GREAT in tents. A day of hiking followed by sleeping in the fresh air just does the trick for me. And since campgrounds or backcountry sites tend to be near streams, there is a pleasant soundtrack to help me fall asleep.

At home I don't have AC and my apartment is VERY hot and stuffy in summer. The soundtrack to my nights is the sound of one of my three cats yowling outside the bedroom door because she wants in. I do not sleep well there!

hiker4fun
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by hiker4fun » August 22nd, 2014, 10:18 am

adamschneider wrote:
hiker4fun wrote:So, did you go up on Mt.Baker too?
Depends on how you define "on." The photo I posted from Railroad Grade is as high up as I went on the mountain. The trail on that moraine goes all the way to the glacier though, and it's one of the climbing routes to the summit.
I was trying to gauge on how much one could hike up Mt.Baker without any climbing. I am like a tourist, getting impressed with all these pictures, but wonder if I can do any such hikes. :D

olderthanIusedtobe
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by olderthanIusedtobe » August 22nd, 2014, 10:44 am

hiker4fun wrote:
adamschneider wrote:
hiker4fun wrote:So, did you go up on Mt.Baker too?
Depends on how you define "on." The photo I posted from Railroad Grade is as high up as I went on the mountain. The trail on that moraine goes all the way to the glacier though, and it's one of the climbing routes to the summit.
I was trying to gauge on how much one could hike up Mt.Baker without any climbing. I am like a tourist, getting impressed with all these pictures, but wonder if I can do any such hikes. :D
The Railroad Grade is a great trail for getting you well up on to the shoulder of Baker without "climbing." The trail parallels the Easton Glacier, you get good views of it as you go up. It does drop off sharply to the right and the trail isn't real wide but the left side is gentle meadow country and it's not really what I think of as a nerve racking knife edge traverse.

Steve20050
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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by Steve20050 » August 22nd, 2014, 11:04 am

Thanks for the report. I have not been on the south side of Rainy Pass, so this was great to see. I have been north from the pass up thru Cutthroat Pass to near the Golden Horn as well as day hikes out of Hart's Pass. The area does have a unique color for the Cascades from the feldspar. Pretty soon the larch in the area will turn and if your timing is right it really has spectacular colors. I have been wondering about digging out some older stuff to post as our field guide doesn't cover the N. Cascades and people here are realizing the drive is worth the effort as the scenery is fantastic.

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Re: North Cascades: Maple Pass loop hike (8/19/14)

Post by adamschneider » August 22nd, 2014, 1:55 pm

Here's a map of my route on the south side of Mt. Baker (click for interactive Googly version):

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Darker colors are official trails, lighter colors are off-trail travel. Usually when off-trail I was following established boot paths, although the ill-advised descent of the cliff in the light green section was unestablished and un-sane. :roll:

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