Thunder Creek, 05/23/09-05/25/09

This Memorial Day Weekend marked our one-year backpacking anniversary. Last year, we spent two nights on the Olympic coast. This year, while we were tempted to try something similar, a quick filter of our newly created and creatively named “Hikes We Want To Do” spreadsheet sent the Thunder Creek trail in North Cascades National Park to the top of our list. Early season accessibility and the meager elevation gain and distance conducive to a first-of-the-season backpack will tend to do that. I penciled it in my calendar several weeks ago, and there it stayed.

Tricouni Peak as viewed from Junction Camp.

Tricouni Peak as viewed from Junction Camp.

We left the house at 05:20, after oversleeping fifteen minutes and scrambling some eggs. Since we’d be spending the night–two, actually–within the National Park, we had to stop at the ranger station in Marblemount to pick up our permits. At 07:15 we pulled up to the ranger station and got in line behind the several parties that had arrived before us. (The ranger station opened at 07:00.) Their destinations were varied, but there was a common answer to one of the ranger’s questions: Subaru. The repetition became quite comical by the end of the line. We were the end of the line.

I’d read somewhere on NWHikers that Tricouni Camp was nice, and when the ranger said there were only two sites at that camp, I was sold. It also helped that the camp is ~7.7 miles in (according to Green Trails Map #48) and just before the most significant elevation gain of the entire trail. The ranger warned us of pesky deer, issued our permit, and we were back on the road.

At 08:10, we pulled into the trailhead at the south end of Colonial Creek Campground and hit the trail fifteen minutes later. Last year, we spent the night at the campground and went for an ill-fated day hike up to Fourth of July Pass. The first ~1.5 miles of that hike and this backpack are both along the Thunder Creek trail, so we had an idea what to expect, and I won’t elaborate on what I’ve basically written before.

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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.

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