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Glacier Peak Wilderness – Washington Cascades

October 10th, 2007 · 2 Comments · cascades, washington

By Jim Arnett — August 25-27, 2007

After a marathon travel day from Boston to Seattle on Saturday, an early start on Sunday wasn’t in the making. My friend Ben and I left his house in Everett, WA around 7:30 am for the Phelps Creek trailhead, west of Lake Chelan and north of Lake Wenatchee. The weather in Everett was classic for western Washington though more like spring or autumn than summer: high 50’s and misty. Having lived in Seattle for several years, my eternal optimism surfaced and I was hopeful that better weather awaited us on the east side of the Cascade crest. As a little background information, the western Cascades are noticeably lusher, wetter, and greener than the east side where the landscape is more like the interior mountain ranges than the coastal ones.

Sure enough, within minutes of descending from Stevens Pass, we began to see blue holes in the sky and the rain dissipated. We arrived at the trailhead around 11 am and set out for Leroy Basin where we would camp for the next two nights and three days. Our plans for this first day were uncertain; at a minimum, we were going to ascend from the Phelps Creek valley (elevation 3500′) to the campsite (6000′), but there was also the possibility of continuing beyond camp to ascend Seven Fingered Jack, one of two 9000+’ summits we hoped to stand upon while we were out. As it turned out, the weather continued to be somewhat a factor as the summits above camp were obscured by cloud and therefore not very attractive for continuing the 3000′ above camp. Instead we decided to explore a ridge above camp where we were treated to a variety of wildflowers and whistling marmots announcing our arrival. Upon our return to camp, Ben cooked up some dinner of asian noodles, fresh peppers and other assorted goodies while we waited to hear from our friend Todd who was to join us at camp that evening. Finally, after dinner, the two-way radio crackled to life and Todd gave us an update on his location and we were able to relax in the knowledge that he would join us as planned. The evening grew cool quickly and before long we were ready to turn in for the night.

The next morning reflected the tone of the whole trip: flexible schedule. While we certainly had objectives as previously mentioned, we didn’t feel much need to maximize every hour of the day. Thus, we were up around 6:30 and excited to see clear skies as the sun lit up the surrounding peaks. We were quite surprised at how cold it was when we got up, and even more so as the temperature continued to drop over the next couple of hours. The thermometer on my watch had dropped to 27 F by the time we were ready to leave camp! Because of our location within the basin, the sun didn’t reach our camp till around 8:45. Our first objective of the day was Seven Fingered Jack. As the name implies, this peak consists of a long ragged ridge of pinnacles or “fingers.” Our route took us up the side of the basin through meadow slopes, patches of alpine fir, mountain hemlock, and white pine to a “bench” where we were treated to patches of heather and snow…and a resident of this amazing alpine world. A few hundred feet above us, we spied a mountain goat watching us from his rocky perch. As we continued, he lay down and seemed content to wait for our passage. From here we began our long traverse over the talus and scree below the pinnacles to the actual summit block. Helmets provided some sense of security as we walked along the endless broken rock that had fallen from the cliffs above. Aside from a bit of confusion over which pinnacle was the actual summit, the ascent was uneventful. We were blessed with beautiful views from the summit, with only a few clouds lingering around the base of Glacier Peak and out on the horizon. We had a fantastic view of the steep dramatic north face of our other objective for the trip – Mt Maude. After the requisite photo taking, eating and phone calls, we departed the summit uncertain of what exactly the rest of our day would hold. There was still talk of attempting Mt Maude that day, though we knew we were a little tight on time and therefore would have to find the high traverse route described in our guidebook. Alas, it was not to happen, so we settled for exploring the lower part of the Mt Maude route for the next day’s ascent. It was during this reconnaissance that we came across impressive evidence of an incredible flood event that had occurred in the not too distant past. Ridges of boulders were stacked along the edge of drainages as by a landscaper and most amazing was the “super trench” carved in the slope; at least 20 feet deep and 40-50 feet across – it looked as if a giant ice cream scoop had been taken to the talus slope. We imagined what it must have been like when that feature was formed…whoa. It was an interesting challenge to find a way down and back up the other side of this obstacle. On the way back to camp late that afternoon we were treated to another treat of fauna as we came within feet of a mule deer buck gingerly making his way through the uneven footing of the talus and forested terrain. We were happy to be back at camp that evening and enjoyed another good dinner prepared by Ben. After the day’s activities, sleep came easily!

As events had transpired, our final day of the trip was going to be a full one as we planned to summit Mt Maude, return to camp, pack up, and hike back to the cars. With that in mind, we were up a little earlier and moving with more intentionality. This morning was even better than the last: not as cold and not a cloud in sight! The ascent was a beautiful one, especially the last 1000′ of climbing up a broad, open ridge to the summit. It always amazes me what variety of wild flowers and insects are found in the alpine zone. The views from the summit were unbelievable in all directions and to our surprise, we were even able to see peaks in the Olympic Mountain range over 100 miles away! The descent back to camp was uneventful, and we packed up and headed down the trail. One more wildlife treat awaited us as we neared the trailhead and the end of our hike. As we were hiking along, someone pointed out something waddling down the middle of the trail 100 yards in front of us. I was able to jog and catch up to it without the spiny critter even noticing: a porcupine! I hadn’t seen one of those in the wild since a trip in Rocky Mountain National Park over 15 years ago. Just one more interesting part of an amazing trip.

I hope to add pictures before too long.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Long-Awaited Radnor Hike with Jim Arnett

    […] jaunt with dear old friend Jim Arnett (who is a part-time adventurer; be sure to read about his Washington Cascades adventures […]

  • Tokarev

    If you’re ever forunate to be in WA. again, check out the Grand Coulee region. I consider it to be the most senic part of the state. From Dry Falls (forget about Niagra Falls) to Steamboat Rock (puts the Space Needle to shame) it’s truely breath taking. I have a sister that lives there and after many years, stills refers to it as “magestic”. It’s possible to hike in the desert or within an hours drive, walk in the tree covered mountains.