Lake Valhalla– No slain souls here-just renewed ones

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A hiker enjoys pure Valhalla serenity.

Quick Facts:

 Location: Henry M Jackson Wilderness, Stevens Pass area

Land Agency: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Roundtrip: 12.0 miles

Elevation gain: 1,500 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Map: Alpine Lakes-Stevens Pass No. 176S

Contact: Wenatchee River Ranger District (Leavenworth): Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

Access: From Everett, head east on US 2 for 65 miles to Stevens Pass. Park on north side of highway (across from ski area) and locate the Pacific Crest Trailhead.

Notes: wilderness rules apply

Good to Know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly

 

In Norse Mythology, Valhalla was the heaven of the Vikings; a great hall in Asgard where slain warriors chosen by Odin himself ascended to. Lake

DSC01876Valhalla in the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness is a place where tired and weary souls can choose to ascend to. And upon arriving to the shores of this large backcountry lake, wayward pilgrims will quickly realize, it is indeed a heavenly place.

Depart on your voyage to Valhalla via Stevens Pass. By way of the Pacific Crest Trail, head north into the rolling and rugged Central Cascades. The way starts out easy enough by utilizing an old rail bed. The pass was long abandoned for rail travel. Consistently heavy snowfall and severe avalanches forced the railroad underground. In 1929, a 7.8 mile tunnel was completed through the Cascades below Stevens Pass. It was the longest railroad tunnel in the western hemisphere when it opened.

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Valhalla’s waters invite a swim.

Skirt slopes of avalanche-thinned forest and after about two miles enter dark groves of old-growth. Enter the Jackson Wilderness and continue through more stately stands of old-growth forest. Climb a little, pass through a series of soggy meadows, and then crest a small ridge. Now drop three hundred feet to twinkling Lake Valhalla set in a bowl beneath Lichtenberg Mountain.

The lake’s quiet shoreline makes for a fine place to lounge the day away. But, if you’re inclined to further explore the region, carry on past the lake and climb to a small saddle above it. Find a boot-beaten path that veers off left. Now, follow this trail through berry patches to the 5,747-foot summit of Mount McCausland. From this small peak an impressive view of the surrounding countryside can be had. Lake Valhalla sparkles below. A divine sight and site-indeed!

 For more detailed information and maps on this hike and others near Stevens Pass and beyond (125 hikes in all), pick up a copy of my Day Hiking Central Cascades guidebook (Mountaineers Books)!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

125 hikes from Everett to Wenatchee!

For great family-friendly ideas on where to stay and other places to play near Stevens Pass, consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Round Lake — Find solitude on Lost Creek Ridge

Round Lake is enticing to look at from Lost Creek Ridge

Round Lake is enticing to look at from Lost Creek Ridge

Quick Facts:

 Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Darrington

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 11.0 miles

Elevation gain: 4300 feet

Difficulty: difficult

Green Trails Map: Sloan Peak, WA-No. 111

Contact: Darrington Ranger District; Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest

Access: From Darrington follow the Mountain Loop Highway for 16 miles to a junction with Forest Road 49. Turn left following FR 49 for 3.0 miles to trailhead.

Notes: wilderness rules apply

Good to know: dog-friendly, solitude, Glacier Peak Wilderness

 

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Sloan Peak viewed from Lost Creek Ridge.

Aptly named Round Lake is tucked in a hidden basin high on Lost Creek Ridge. You’ll need to steeply climb Lost Ridge first—then steeply descend to the lake (and climb back out of the lake basin on the return).  This tough approach and challenging hike certainly does have one big advantage though (besides giving you a heck of a workout), it practically guarantees you’ll have little company at this delightful destination. And even if you decide not to go all the way to the lake, some awfully beautiful views can still be enjoyed along the way—especially of Sloan Peak, “the Matterhorn” of the Cascades.

The trail starts off easy enough however. Wander through lush cedar bottomlands for a half mile or so before beginning to climb. It’s now a steep grunt—arduously steep.Labor under a canopy of magnificent old-growth. While the shade helps keep you from overheating, there’s no water along the way—so pack plenty. After slogging up three demanding miles, reach 4,400-foot Bingley Gap, a small forested saddle on Lost Creek Ridge. Now head eastward along the ridge and climb some more! Forest cover however soon yields to high meadows. Begin collecting your scenic rewards for all of your hard work. Prominent pointy Sloan Peak steals the show. And as difficult as it may be to take your eyes off of this captivating landmark, hundreds of other summits are yelling out to be recognized; Stuart, Daniel, Del Campo, Morning Star, Sperry, and Vesper among them.

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Solitude at Round Lake.

After 1.5 miles of spectacular ridgeline hiking reach a junction. The main trail continues right for miles and miles of more high meadows. Take the trail left to a small gap (el. 5,600 ft) and a great view down to Round Lake sparkling below in an open basin. The lake looks like a trek to get to, and it is. If you’re spent, there’s no shame in not continuing. Just kick back and enjoy the view.

If however you’re enticed to soak your feet in that sparkling gem, proceed.  After dropping 550 feet into the basin arrive at the lake in .75 mile. Bugs can be a nuisance when the air is calm. But it’s nothing the resident frogs and swallows won’t eventually take care of.

 

For information on lodging and other attractions near Darrington, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more detailed information and maps on this hike and others along the Mountain Loop Highway and throughout the North Cascades, pick up a copy of my best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades guidebook (Mountaineers Books)!0486

Skyline Divide — A mile high carpet of wildflowers

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Mount Baker ever watching over you on the Skyline Divide.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mount Baker Highway, North Cascades

Land Agency: National Forest Service

Roundtrip: 9.0 miles

Elevation gain: 2500 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Green Trails Map: Mount Baker Wilderness 13S

Contact: Mount Baker Ranger District: Mount Baker -Snoqualmie National Forest

 

Access: From Bellingham follow SR 542 (Mount Baker Highway) east for 35 miles turning right onto FR 39 (Glacier Creek Road). Immediately turn left onto FR 37 reaching trailhead at 12.8 miles.

Notes: Northwest Forest Pass (or interagency pass) required; wilderness rules apply

Good to know: Kid-friendly, dog-friendly, exceptional wildflowers

 

Wander through miles of blossom-carpeted meadows along a rolling lofty ridge radiating from glacier-cloaked Mount Baker. Skyline Divide is one of Washington’s supreme wildflower hikes. And while your nose will be to the ground admiring asters, lupine, bistorts and valerian—the views from this 6,000-foot plus ridge are pretty spectacular too.

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Looking north over the divide to British Columbia peaks.

Immediately begin climbing, traversing beautiful stands of mature silver fir.  At 2.0 miles crest a 5,900-foot grassy knoll unfurling a majestic backdrop of Mount Baker. Look out to other impressive peaks too; Shuksan, Ruth, Table, Goat, Winchester, and BC’s cloud-probing Cheam Range and stark faced Mount McGuire

This is a good place to stop for a short hike—but it only gets better down the trail. So, carry on dropping a little into a small saddle before heading up to the next bump, a 6,215-foot knoll. With Baker now breathing upon you and striking a small resemblance to Rainier from this angle, come to an unmarked junction at 3.5 miles in a small saddle. The trail left continues for one mile dropping a couple hundred feet into a wild peaceful basin. The trail right continues on a rougher route along the divide climbing higher. Over ledge and through krumholtz and heather work your way up to yet another knoll, number six if you are keeping track. Call it quits at 4.5 miles upon this 6,563-foot gem. Beyond to Chowder Ridge is strictly for climbers and goats. Look at all those mountains!

For more detailed information and maps on this hike and others along the Mount Baker Highway, pick up a copy of my best-selling Day Hiking North Cascades guidebook (Mountaineers Books)!0486

 For great family-friendly ideas on where to stay and other places to play near Mount Baker, consult Northwest TripFinderNWTFmasthead_layers15

Big Four Ice Caves — Cool attraction is a hot destination

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An icy creek emerges from the ice caves.

Quick Facts:

Location: Mountain Loop Highway near Granite Falls

Land Agency: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Roundtrip: 2.2 miles

Elevation gain: 200 feet

Difficulty: easy

Green Trails Map: Silverton, WA-No. 110

Contact: Darrington Ranger District: Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest  or Verlot Public Service Center (summer weekends) (360) 691-7791

Notes: NW Forest Pass required; DO NOT ENTER SNOW CAVES. THEY ARE EXREMELY DANGEROUS. STAY BEHIND SIGNS AND VIEW FROM A SAFE DISTANCE.

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Big Four Mountain.

Access: From Granite Falls, follow the Mountain Loop Highway east for 26 miles to trailhead. Alternative approach from Big Four Picnic Area located .5 mile west of trailhead.

Good to Know: Kid-friendly, historic, dog-friendly (leashed)

Formed by cascading water and warm winds hollowing out heaps of avalanche-deposited snow, Big Four Mountain’s impressive ice caves have been attracting admirers for decades. And if you want to see them this year—you better act fast as they are melting fast. This past winter’s record low snowfall means that the snow caves will probably be gone by mid-summer.

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Approaching the ice caves.

From the trailhead a paved path heads right a quarter-mile on a former rail bed to the picnic grounds. It’s worth the diversion for the views and to learn more about the grand hotel that stood there from 1921 to 1949. Then follow another paved trail from the hotel site .25 mile across wetlands to a junction. The trail left returns to your vehicle. Continue straight to a bridge spanning the South Fork Stillaguamish River.  Soon afterwards come to another bridge, this one crossing Ice Creek.

Now on wide tread, the trail gently winds through open forest. After crossing Ice Creek a second time, reach the ice caves in a barren flat beneath the north face of Big Four Mountain. Cascades crash down sheer vertical walls helping to hollow out the caves. They usually appear by mid-summer, and fluctuate in size from year to year. This year of course they had formed by mid-spring. Enjoy from a safe distance staying well away from the caves and the steep cliff walls that periodically send rocks to the valley floor along with ice and snow.  Bring a zoom lens and enjoy these fascinating Mountain Loop attractions.

 

For information on lodging and other attractions near the Big Four Ice Caves, visit www.snohomish.orgSnohomish-NEW

For more information on this hike and many others along the Mountain Loop Highway, consult my best selling (now in its 4th printing) Day Hiking North Cascades (Mountaineers Books); which consists of 125 hikes in all!

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