Cascade Pass, 08/23/09

After seeing friends’ photos from an overnight trip up Sahale Arm via Cascade Pass several years ago—even before we began hiking seriously—the trip has sat almost constantly atop our queue, waiting for the perfect window of time and weather to savor the experience.

This wouldn’t be that.

South and west from near Cascade Pass.

South and west from near Cascade Pass.

But it wasn’t half-bad, either.

After reading that the Cascade River Road would close September 1st and remain closed through much of October, I set aside the hope that this would be the year that we’d backpack up Sahale Arm and spend the night under starry skies and, instead, settled for a dayhike up to Cascade Pass, or perhaps a bit beyond.  If all I’d read was to be believed—i.e., that I’d run out of superlatives before reaching the pass—we’d be returning for that idealized evening on the Arm, anyway.

Knowing that the trail would be busy no matter what the time, and doing our best to get all of six hours of sleep after watching Inglourious Basterds the night before, we left West Seattle at 06:20.  After stopping in Marblemount in a thwarted attempt at a warm breakfast sandwich, we headed up the 23-mile Cascade River Road stuffing a quarter-pound of Costco muffin into each of our mouths.  Signs along the way warn that the road is primitive, but it’s actually an excellent road, with glimpses up and across the valley all along the way.  At 09:10, just less than three hours after leaving home, we pulled into a large, mostly-full parking lot.  I’d expected views at the parking lot, but I was impressed nevertheless by the dominating face of Johannesburg Mountain, even as seen through our cracked windshield.  Its upper reaches were shrouded in clouds.

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Views from the parking lot.

Views from the parking lot.

Once booted up, we left the trailhead (3600′) behind us and set ourselves a speedy pace, putting space between us and a party of ~ten that seemed like it was almost ready to hit the trail as well.  The trail ascends numerous—but gentle—switchbacks, and though we heard voices below us from time-to-time, we were treated to a surprising quietness as we climbed.  Our pace stayed quick, slowing only as we glanced over our shoulders down the Cascade River valley (which came into view about forty minutes into the hike) or across to Johannesburg again.

Around 10:30, the trail—no longer switchbacking, now traversing—crosses a large rockfield; pika sounds abound.  Cascade Pass is in sight.

Nicole nearing Cascade Pass.

Nicole nearing Cascade Pass.

As we rose to the pass, so too did the voices of those who had stopped at the pass: admirers of the Stehekin Valley and the peaks on either side, climbers off to Eldorado, et al., and those content to take a seat on rock benches and eat their early lunches.  We sat down briefly among the eight—nine—ten there and added our quiet voices to the chorus.  It was 10:55; it had taken us just over an hour-and-a-half to make it the ~3.7 miles and 1800′ of gain to the pass (5400′).

East over Cascade Pass.

East over Cascade Pass.

Though the views were nice when we reached the pass, in all honesty, the views toward the direction we’d come from (West) were better than those over the pass (East).  Since we’d made such good time, we set off again, toward Sahale Arm, intending to climb only as far as we felt like it, hoping to see Sahale Peak itself and Doubtful Lake below it.

The beginnings of Sahale Arm.

The beginnings of Sahale Arm.

Your friendly neighborhood marmot.

Your friendly neighborhood marmot.

The climb from Cascade Pass to Sahale Arm is by far steeper than the trail beforehand, but not overly difficult.  It is, however, quite rocky, and after ~thirty minutes and an encounter with a relaxed marmot, Nicole decided to turn around and wait for me at the pass.  Her ankle had been bothering her since the weekend before, when we’d backpacked up to and down from Gothic Basin.  Giving the ankle a rest was probably a good idea, as we have a lot of hiking to do in the next few weeks…

I continued up alone, reaching the ridge crest (6200′) and an intersection with a trail down to Doubtful Lake at 11:35.  Here, Sahale Peak and its Arm are visible, though the summit itself remained hidden in the clouds.  I continued several steps further.  Then the beautiful blue Doubtful Lake appeared below me.  I took pictures for a few minutes, turning often to look up the Arm, trying to see just where we’ll camp when we do do this as a backpack…

Sahale Peak in clouds.

Sahale Peak in clouds.

Doubtful Lake below Sahale Peak.

Doubtful Lake below Sahale Peak.

Stehekin, or, The Way Through.

Stehekin, or, The Way Through.

I met Nicole back at the pass at 12:10.  She’d been eating Combos, watching marmots, and layering up.  There was a cold wind at the pass.  I added a layer and we headed down at 12:20, stopping briefly to take someone’s photo, and again to take off a layer once out of the wind.

We coasted down the semi-busy trail, coming to a halt finally in the parking lot at 13:45 to use the restroom and take off our boots.  Shortly thereafter, we were off.  A fine day, aside from the parking lot known as southbound I-5.

Heading down from Cascade Pass.

Heading down from Cascade Pass.

Indeed, this is a wonderful hike with beauty straightaway.  I can see why it is one of the most popular trails in Washington, and I’m looking forward to spending the night up Sahale Arm, hopefully on a quiet, fall, non-weekend day.

Stats: ~9 miles round-trip from the trailhead (3600′) to Sahale Arm (6200′) and back—it’s ~7.2 round-trip to Cascade Pass.  There’s 1800′ of elevation gain en route to the pass, and another ~800′ up to my turnaround point, for a total gain/loss of 2600’—a few hundred feet less for Nicole.  It took us 1:35 to make the pass, it took me 1:10 to climb up the Arm and back, and it took us 1:25 to descend from Cascade Pass to the parking lot.  Hike time: 3:00 round-trip to the pass, 4:25 total.

As always, a few more photos at Flickr.

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3 Responses to Cascade Pass, 08/23/09

  1. What’s up cousins? I took a little break from studying to check out the website. This hike looks pretty awesome. I really like the Doubtful Lake picture. Can’t wait to see where else you all go this coming fall!

    Bobby

  2. bryan says:

    Just wanted to say…I heartily agree with your review. I went on this hike today, with the objective of doing it in one day. Well, I made it up a larger portion of the rocky scramble, hurt my quads, and had to turn around and limp back.

    It was probably the hardest 8 miles I’ve ever put in on a trail, and the walk back was…painful!

    Way to go making it to the top, though – your pics are GORGEOUS.

    Take care, -Bryan

  3. Pingback: The Year in Review, 2009 Edition « Don’t Look Down

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