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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Gothic Basin, 08/15/09-08/16/09

For various reasons, we hadn’t backpacked in—I just checked—two months!  A fine amount of dayhiking, sure, but what with our upcoming trip to the Canadian Rockies, I felt we needed a bit more conditioning.  And I thought maybe, just maybe, we’d get some clear skies.  After shortening our list earlier in the week to three possible destinations, we decided we’d spend Saturday night in Gothic Basin.

Gothic Basin worked its way onto my must-do list way back when.  As sometimes happens when time passes, details regarding degree of difficulty slipped away from me, replaced only by snapshot statistics: 2600′ elevation gain, ~10 miles round-trip.  No problem.

We were up early enough Saturday morning, and on the road at 05:05.  I felt an early start was important, since we needed to find a campsite.  At 06:55, we pulled onto the side of the road at Barlow Pass, and were walking down the gated road to Monte Cristo ten minutes later.  Low clouds and fog made visibility poor.

Holding...

Holding...

Fifteen minutes after squeezing through the posts on either side of the Monte Cristo gate the road is really closed, and a trail is routed above the washed out road along the South Fork Sauk River.  I’d read that it wasn’t necessary to take the re-route, so we continued along the remains of the road, which wasn’t difficult, but does require that you watch where you step.  We’d be watching each step closely later on, too.

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West Fork Foss River Lakes, 08/23/08-08/24/08

So far this summer Nicole and I have gone on six hikes together; the first three were all either one- or two-night backpacks; hikes four, five, and six were all day hikes.  So as the weekend approached and trip-planning began, like, for real, we knew we wanted to spend a night [tossing and turning within our sleeping bags].  Backpacking it would be, but since we only had Saturday night available, and I had to work Saturday morning, it couldn’t be a long drive or that long of a hike.  We also had to keep in mind that we’d probably be pitching our tent somewhere early Saturday evening, crux of the weekend populous.   I had my hands wrapped around a pair of Green Trails Maps (#175 & #176) and prior reports and pictures in my head.  Elimination claimed trails we hypothesized as too long, too difficult, too buggy, and too busy; those trips requiring off-trail travel were sadly stricken from the slate.

In the end, we decided to try our luck up the West Fork of the Foss River, along Trail #1064.  With four lakes sitting around the 4000’ mark, and all seemingly within reach from the 1600’ trailhead–the farthest being ~6.8 miles in–we were confident we’d find a place so settle down before the sun set.  This trail sits entirely within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and is easily reached off of US-2 via the Foss River Road (Road 68/6835).  Don’t ask me how–actually, I think it’s because I already had map in hand and read a recent report and therefore felt like I knew what to expect–but I neglected to check the USFS site until just now.  It calls the trail “severely flood damaged,” characterizes the difficulty as “Easiest/Most Difficult,” and states that visitor use is “Extra Heavy.”  I’ll try to elaborate on all that throughout the rest of this trip report, but let me preemptively say it isn’t quite so bad as that.

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