Friday, September 28, 2012

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm


Last spring, at a fundraising auction, I had offered an overnight backpacking trip for one or two persons, all equipment and food supplied by myself and my wife.  The trip was won by a young couple, good friends of ours and we were finally able to do the trip a few weeks ago, their first experience with backpacking.  I took them to Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, in my opinion the most spectacular hike in the North Cascades.


We left early Friday morning, got our backcountry permits at the Mountain Center in Marblemount and headed out of Marblemount along the Cascade River Road about thirty miles to the parking area at the end of the road and the trailhead.  After getting our packs, hiking poles and camera equipment we were on the trail by 8:30 a.m., the day sunny but still cool, since autumn is well along in the mountains.


The first few miles of the trail are fairly steep and we did thirty-four switchbacks up the wooded east side of the pass, finally emerging from the trees near the top of the pass.  From there we could see the parking area far below us, the cars but little specks, since we had already climbed some 1700 feet from the trailhead.  It was there also that we began to see a few wildflowers, especially the Mountain Bog Gentian.

Slopes of Johannesburg Mountain

Slopes of Johannesburg Mountain

Hidden Lakes Peak and the Triad

Bog Gentian

Bog Gentian

Indian Thistle and Purple Monkey Flower

Partridgefoot

Western Bistort

This part of the trail to the top of the pass is three and half miles and not overly strenuous, with some excellent views through openings in the trees.  The sheer slopes on the other side of the pass with their hanging glaciers are Cascade Peak and Joahannesburg Mountain, with the Triad and Eldorado Peak behind and to the northwest.  The views back down the pass are especially spectacular and are part of what makes this hike one of the most popular in the North Cascades..

Cascade Peak

Eldorado

Hidden Lakes Peak and the Triad

Johannesburg Mountain

Johannesburg Mountain

Johannesburg Mountain

Eldorado

Almost at the top of the pass, with Magic Mountain visible through the saddle of the pass, we saw our first bears.  A large brown bear and a cub crossed the trail not fart ahead of us and ran up the slope to our right.  We thought they were grizzlies, but later, after talking to a ranger, concluded that they were brown black bears, though there are a few grizzlies in the area.  The ranger told us that black bears run away, as these did, but grizzles stand their ground.  Glad we didn't see any.

Mount Torment

Sahale Arm

Cascade Pass

At the top of the pass we rested briefly and had a snack and a good drink and then continued on down the other side of the pass for a half mile to our camp at Pelton Basin.  The trail here continues another thirty miles to Lake Chelan and the old town of Stehekin, reachable now only on foot, by boat or plane, a hike I would  very much like to do someday, when I have a week to spare.  Our camp was in a a clump of trees on the east side of the basin.

Pelton Basin and Pelton Peak

Sahale Arm

Pelton Basin

Pelton Basin and Pelton Peak

Pelton Peak

Camp at Pelton Basin
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After setting up camp, having lunch and exploring the area, we went down to the stream, the beginning of the Stehekin River, to get water and saw a lone black bear on the slope above and across from the camp.  He was there all day and again the next day feasting on the blueberries which were at their peak of ripeness.  He was not the only one who enjoyed them, though.  We, too, feasted on them at every opportunity.

Black Bear

Blueberries

Marmot

Black-tailed Deer
 

About 1:30 in the afternoon we headed back up the trail to the top of the pass, but then followed a very steep side trail that took us to the top of  Sahale Arm.  From there we hiked along the arm to the base of Sahale Peak with Doubtful Lake far below us.  I decided at that point that I had had enough, but the couple who were with me hiked on to one of the boulder fields higher up the peak, though not quite as far as the campground.

Cascade Pass from Sahale Arm Trail
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Sahale Arm Trail

Pelton Peak and Magic Mountain from Sahale Arm Trail

Sahale Arm
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Stehekin River Valley from Sahale Arm

Ridge West of Sahale Peak

Cascades from Sahale Arm

Eldorado from Sahale Arm

Sahale Peak

Sahale Peak

There is a small backpacking campground at 7700 feet at the base of Sahale Galcier, the highest maintained campground in the Cascades.  From Pelton Basin to the campground is only two and half miles, but there is an elevation gain of almost 3000 feet, quite a strenuous hike, though a very popular hike, especially at this time of the year.  We did not go quite that far, but enjoyed the remarkable views from the Arm, down to Doubtful Lake and across the Cascades.

Doubtful Lake

 Doubtful Lake

 Doubtful Lake

On the way down we saw four more black bears including one cub.  One of the bears was on the trail ahead of us for a ways and we had to be careful that we did not run into him around any blind corners.  We talked loudly, threw stones ahead of us and kept a wary eye on the surround brush.  In the end we arrived back at camp around 7:00 p.m. in time for a later supper and some treats that I had brought along.

Last Light on Sahale Arm

Sahale Arm Trail

Autumn Color

Usually we survive on freeze-dried food and granola, but I had brought some small plastic bottles of wine, some good chocolate and some crackers and cheese, and they were a wonderful treat after being on the trail all day.  We ate our meal down by the stream and then headed for bed.  We all slept well, but about 10:00 an animal came snuffling through the camp.  I do not know if it was a bear, but if so, it did not bother us, since all our gear and food was safely out of the way.

The next morning after breakfast, the other couple hiked on down the trail toward Stehekin for a while as I packed up camp.  Since they had something doing that evening we did not waste much time hiking out and were back at the car in a little over an hour and half.  I hope they enjoyed their first experience backpacking, and I am looking forward to the next trip, probably the last of the season, with son Edward.

Shehekin River


 Shehekin River

  Shehekin River

Cascade Pass from Pelton Basin

Pelton Basin near Camp

Ferns

Yawning Glacier

Hanging Glacier on Jahanesburg Mountain

Note: a few of these pictures are from a hike up Cacade Pass with my wife and son, Edward, several years ago.  At that time, too we camped in Pelton Basin and hiked up Sahale Arm.