Fourth of July Pass, 07/13/08-07/14/08

Emboldened by the Explorer’s surprising 20mpg Seattle-to-Aix-and-back performance, and having thoroughly enjoyed WA-410–a road we’d not driven on before–we decided to find a hike in North Cascades National Park for the weekend. This would alleviate the dual shames of having never taken WA-20 (aka North Cascades Highway) past Baker Lake and–the greater sin–having never even entered North Cascades National Park. Hey, we’ve been close…and we’re, you know…and it’s… Gas be damned! We were off early Sunday morning (07:00) after letting our friends’ dogs outside.

Our plan was to pull into the Colonial Creek Campground on Diablo Lake on Sunday morning and set up camp, then head up to Fourth of July Pass and back. We’re currently of the mind that if we’re gonna drive over three hours one-way to hike, we’re gonna turn it into at least a car-camp/day-hike combo, if not a backpack. We even thought–before our first hike, of course–that we might squeeze in two hikes: one Sunday, and one Monday. That didn’t happen.

The drive from Seattle to North Cascades National Park (hereafter, NOCA) via WA-530 (through Darrington) and WA-20 took less than three hours. WA-530 is another road we’ve somehow managed to avoid. Anyone who knows Washington State hiking and is reading this is probably wondering where we have been. Answer: I don’t know, and that’s something we’re working on rectifying. (To further display my ignorance, I’ll say here that I assumed that WA-530 was also the Mountain Loop highway. I started to suspect differently when I saw a sign in Darrington that seemed to contradict me. More on this later.) So: after stopping off for firewood, a corkscrew, two breakfast sandwiches, and an underwhelming stop at the Gorge Lake viewpoint, we were registered at Colonial Creek Campground and setting up our tent at 10:18. Definitely drivable in under three hours; I drive slowly.

Colonial Creek Campground sits right on Diablo Lake, which is a beautiful aquamarine color, on account of its glacial waters. Privacy in the campground ain’t the best–at least if you want to be on the water–but you get flush toilets, fire pits w/ grates, and easy access to the trailhead we planned on using. Definitely a good place for families, and since it was a Sunday, many people were headed out while we were headed in.

We left most of our gear behind, or in the truck, but I insisted on carrying a pack that still had some weight to it–much of it water, we left with 5 liters–ostensibly for training purposes. Nicole had the camera bag and her trekking poles. A few minutes after leaving our campsite, we arrived at the Thunder Creek trailhead at 11:19. We’d be taking the Thunder Creek trail for 2.1 miles, and then turning off and picking up the Fourth of July Pass trail, which would take us up another 2.5 miles to Fourth of July Camp, and perhaps further.

For the first ~1.5 miles, the trail takes you south, along the Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake until it shrinks down to the still formidable Thunder Creek. This portion of the trail is in beautiful condition: wide, level, earthen. You’ll walk among very large trees, the largest of which I’ll hypothesize are cedars. Tree identification: yet another area for improvement. A very pleasurable walk.

Trees along Thunder Creek.

At 12:00 we crossed over the creek and stopped to take a few pictures. Here we saw two other hikers on their way out; we were surprised at the level of solitude on a Sunday in a National Park on a trail so accessible. We’d see more, of course.

Thunder Creek from the bridge.

Thunder Creek and the view north from the bridge.

Minutes after crossing the bridge, you reach the well-signed intersection of Thunder Creek Trail and Fourth of July Pass Trail. It’s here that the trail starts to gain elevation via a series of moderately steep switchbacks. Views are few at this point, but some do open up within ~30 minutes. We stopped at a spot with good views across to Snowfield Peak at around 12:30 to eat our lunch and apply some sunscreen.

Just a few minutes uphill from there, views open to the north up Thunder Creek and across a just-visible Diablo Lake to a couple snowy peaks that I’m not sure I can identify. We stopped again so I could take a few pictures–time, once again, is not a prioirity–and behind me I hear Nicole say, somewhat surprised, “My nose is bleeding.” I forget what to do and tell her to pinch and put her head back, but then we both agree that one should not put their head back. I’ve got the camera around my neck and the backpack on and Nicole’s fingers are covered in blood, so it takes me a moment to get her some Kleenex. Her nose stops bleeding, but she spits up a little blood every so often as we wonder as to its cause. Dryness? (I should say, once we crossed the creek and began going uphill, the trail became significantly drier.) Altitude? (Less than 2000’ at this point, with maybe 500’ gain.) At 13:10 she gives the go-ahead. We’re off.

view north across Thunder Creek and Diablo Lake.

Nosebleed point: view north across Thunder Creek and Diablo Lake.

Shortly, the switchbacks cease and instead of working your way away from the creek you run parallel to it, gaining elevation gradually from 2000’ to 2500’ before a second set of switchbacks begin. In between, glimpses of Snowfield Peak’s namesake feature and Colonial Peak to your right. There’s also ~3 streams that cross the trail in this section should you need water. We still had a fair amount, though we were going through it pretty quickly. Earlier, we saw a couple coming down through the switchbacks; the man was carrying one Nalgene bottle, the woman was carrying her purse. What!? Anyway, we didn’t filter water, but the third stream had some lovely little waterfalls, so I took out the camera and set up the tripod. We spent perhaps 20 minutes there, and somehow I only ended up with like four pictures. Strange. We were hiking again at 14:00.

Portion of a small waterfall along the trail.

Portion of a small waterfall along the trail.

Just after the above waterfall, the trail starts heading up through switchbacks again, and they don’t let up until you gain ~900’ of elevation (to 3400’) and arrive at Fourth of July Camp. It took us about an hour; we were pretty hot and going through the water we had with no reservations, but we’d arrived to very nice views across to Snowfield Peak’s Neve Glacier (and the waterfalls tumbling from it) and to the south we could now see Tricouni and Primus Peaks, which had been partially obscured by the trees while we made our way up the trail. As hot as it was, it would’ve been a hotter hike if it weren’t for the trees–though they do get in the way of the views. Up top we met a group of hikers and I shared my map with them to help them identify the peaks. Essentials can be fun, people!

Tricouni and Primus Peaks, as viewed from Fourth of July Camp.

Tricouni and Primus Peaks, as viewed from Fourth of July Camp.

And then: catastrophe. The picture above is not notable so much for its quality or artistic merit (though it does give ya’ll an idea of what the payoff for this hike is–a payoff most of the other hikers seemed disappointed with) as it is for its status as one of the last photos taken with my Nikon 55-200mm VR Zoom lens. It hurts me to talk about it, but for the sake of completeness and accuracy, I must. I was setting up the camera and tripod to take some shots across the way, and I apparently didn’t have it properly stabilized, because as I turned to take my notebook back from Nicole, I heard her gasp and the camera crash to the dirt and rock downhill.

When I turned around I could see the lens bouncing down a dozen feet or more away from the camera, which was still attached to the tripod. I stood in a mixture of disbelief and complete masochistic acceptance for a moment before I walked down to retrieve the pieces. I was certain all was lost. Earlier this year I dropped my iPhone weeks after buying it; now, it seemed, the camera was destroyed. As tight as money is, I still seem to find some [credit] to spend on expensive toys. And God punishes me by allowing me to break nothing except from the most expensive of them. The glass on the lens was still intact, but it wouldn’t zoom and it wouldn’t attach to the camera body anymore. I pulled out the kit lens to test the camera. The lens attached, the camera powered on, and I snapped a few pictures. It seemed to be working. So I put it away.

Sadness and the remains of the 55-200mm VR.

Sadness and the remains of the 55-200mm VR.

The group of hikers that were exploring Fourth of July Pass around us, and others as well, had agreed earlier that continuing on wasn’t exciting. And we both very, very depressed about the camera incident, so we headed downhill with heavy hearts and a pint of water between us. The time was 15:45.

The going was slow but steady through the switchbacks, on account of the descent being hard on Nicole’s knees, but by 18:30 we were back at camp with our boots off and hot dogs on the brain. The total distance, according to the Green Trails Map #48, was 9.2 miles round-trip, with 2200’ of elevation gain (and corresponding loss). The trip took us ~7 hours, including lunch, a nosebleed, photography, and mourning. It was more exhausting physically and emotionally than we’d planned on, so as the S’mores put us to sleep early, it was probably already decided that a second-day day-hike was probably not going to happen.

Early to bed, late to rise. Somehow we slept past 07:00. I got up and took some more pictures with my remaining lens. I’m still planning on taking the camera in for a check-up tomorrow, but it seemed to take fine photographs for the remainder of the trip, as you’ll see below. There’s a family of geese that have become a little too accustomed to handouts, from shore, and we saw a Stellar’s Jay investigating our neighbors’ campsite, but wildlife sightings on the entire trip consisted mostly of Douglas Squirrels. After fending off the geese and spitting our toothpaste into sinks, we packed up the Explorer and pulled out of the Colonial Creek Campground at 08:55.

Reflections in Diablo Lake from Colonial Creek Campground.

Reflections in Diablo Lake from Colonial Creek Campground.

Since we weren’t going on another hike, and we’d only driven a small portion of WA-20 into NOCA, we headed east and checked out a few viewpoints (with views better than the hike we’d been on!), Ross Lake, Diablo Dam, and the NOCA Environmental Learning Center. More pictures, and we were back on the road.

Nicole at North Cascades Highway viewpoint, with Colonial Peak.

Nicole at North Cascades Highway viewpoint, and Colonial Peak.

Us at the viewpoint.

Us at the viewpoint, with Pyramid Peak and Paul Bunyan's Stump.

Nicole says I look like Ray Charles in this picture.  Really?

Nicole says I look like Ray Charles in this picture. Really?

As we approached Darrington, I remembered the sign that marked the Mountain Loop Highway, and, after pulling off to verify the information, we continued our quest to drive down the unseen roadways of Washington State. Out of Darrington, the highway shrank to a one-lane gravel road that followed the beautiful Sauk River, which has a plethora of great campsites alongside it. We also got to see many trailheads that I’ve read about–most are damaged, and most are access points to the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. We’ll be going back to this area many times in the future, I hope. Eventually you end up back on blacktop, but there’s still tons of National Forest campsites, great views, and good trails.

We pulled into West Seattle sometime around 15:00 and sank into showers and pizza. We’ve got to stop eating pizza every time we come back–we can’t afford it!

It was a long day-and-a-half, but we got a lot of exercise and saw a lot of new territory. We probably won’t return to Fourth of July Pass, but we probably will return to the Thunder Creek Trail, and we’ll definitely explore NOCA and the Mountain Loop Highway in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Only a few more pictures at Flickr.


8 Responses to Fourth of July Pass, 07/13/08-07/14/08

  1. Melissa says:

    Wow! Gorgeous pictures, as always.

    Sorry to hear about your camera. I hope it’s not too expensive to fix. Maybe if it’s not salvageable, you can get a used lens for cheaper? Good luck!

  2. I mourn your photographic equipment with you, but it looks like other parts of your trip were great fun!

    David Jenrette

  3. jeremy says:

    @ Melissa: Thanks! The water up there–not to mention the mountains–is beautiful. So glad that I didn’t destroy everything. I took the lens in for an estimate today; here’s hoping it’s not too expensive.

    @David: Definitely a fun trip; hoping to go on another this weekend that’ll result in no mourning whatsoever.

  4. Liz Wimmer says:

    You do look like Ray Charles in that shot! Thanks for the info on that area.

  5. jeremy says:

    Thanks, Liz–and you’re welcome! Hope you got some use out of it all!

  6. xomebody says:

    If you look like Ray Charles Nicole looks like Ma Kettle. Seems to me thet were from around Seattle; and Pa was kinda skinny; like the Ray Charles resembler

  7. jeremy says:

    You know I had to go to Wikipedia to find out who Ma and Pa Kettle were. How old are you?!

  8. Pingback: The Year in Review « Don’t Look Down

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