Frosty Mountain–Cool views and alpine larches, too!

Quick Facts:

Location: North Cascades, E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Land Agency: BC Parks

Roundtrip: 13.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 3820 feet

Contact: E.C. Manning Provincial Park

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash. Practice Leave No Trace principles.

Access: From Vancouver BC follow Trans-Canada Highway 1 east to Hope. Then continue east on BC 3 (Crowsnest Highway) for 37.5 miles and turn right on the Gibson Pass Road in Manning Park near the lodge. Continue for 1.8 miles and bear left driving another 0.5 mile to large parking area and trailhead.

Good to Know: wildflowers, alpine larches, alpine views, practice Leave No Trace Principles, Don’t be a surface pooper, Can the Tunes!

 

At 7900 feet, Frosty Mountain is the highest summit in the sprawling 206,756-acre Manning Park. One of the more challenging hikes in the park, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views across both British Columbia’s and Washington’s North Cascades. Plus, you’ll hike through one of Canada’s oldest forests—a stand of alpine larch (Larix liyallii) with trees close to 2,000 years old. From mid-September through mid-October these deciduous conifers’ soft needles turn a brilliant gold.

The hike to Frosty Mountain begins from the north end of the Lightning Lake Loop. From the large picnic and trailhead parking area, head off across a large lawn. Then walk across a large earthen dam where water north flows into Little Muddy Creek and then onward to the Simalkameen River.  The trail soon afterward comes to the Frosty Mountain Trail near a scree slope where pikas can sometimes be seen and almost always heard.

The well-trodden trail steadily ascends through a series of switchbacks traversing a mature forest of spruce and subalpine fir. Breaks in the forest canopy allow viewing down to Lightening and Flash lakes in the tight valley below. The climb can be relentless at times. At about 4.2 miles you’ll pass a backcountry campsite complete with a wooden shelter that you’ll no doubt share with rodents if you opt to stay in it. Cross Frosty Creek and continue climbing—the grade eventually easing up. Then enter Frosty’s famous alpine larch forest.

Growing in high elevations in the Northern Rockies of the US, as well as the Canadian Rockies, the alpine larch has a pretty restricted range in the Cascades. Frosty Mountain is its westernmost limit in British Columbia and pretty close to its northern limits as well in the Cascades. A hardy tree, the stand here like others in the Rockies contains trees nearly 2,000 years old. Come late September they turn the upper slopes of this mountain golden. Frosty’s rocky snowy summit provides a striking backdrop to the glowing larches. Respect this fragile environment by staying on the trail. And if you miss larch season, or are looking for a return trip to this locale, plan on a trip in early August when wildflowers paint the subalpine meadows in resplendent colors.

The trail continues higher leaving the forest for scree and barren rocky slopes. A few larch stragglers tenaciously cling to life in this harsh alpine environment. At 6.2 miles reach a junction (elev. 7575 feet) high on Frosty’s northern shoulder. Here a trail departs north for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and Windy Joe Trail. Strong hikers can make a long loop by returning on this very lightly traveled trail.

To reach Frosty’s summit, pass the sign warning to use caution and hike across the barren rocky ridge. This 0.4 mile stretch of trail should be avoided in bad weather and when snow covered. The going isn’t too bad at first—but it then makes one last steep climb reaching the 7,900-foot summit of Frosty’s East Peak. The West peak is actually higher by 49 feet, but it’s strictly a climb. Be content with this high point and its stunning 360 degree views.

Look east along the international border to towering Winthrop Mountain and peaks in the Cathedral Lakes region covering both Washington’s Pasayten Wilderness and BC’s Cathedral Lakes Provincial Parks. Look north to the high meadow country of Three Brothers Mountain—and beyond to broad forested ridges and summits. Look west to Skyline Divide, towering Silvertip Mountain and Mount Outram, and awe-inspiring Hozomeen Mountain which acted as a muse to beatnik poet Jack Kerouac when he was a fire keep in the North Cascades during the summer of 1956.

Then look south across an isolated little tarn to the serrated peaks of Washington’s North Cascades. Try to locate Jack and Crater Mountains directly south. Mount Baker should be easy enough to identify. When you’ve had enough of this view (which is probably not going to happen)— start the long hike back to the trailhead. A set of trekking poles will help ease the descent.

For other great larch hikes consult my best selling 100 Classic Hikes of Washington (Mountaineers Book).

For information on where to stay and on other things to do near White Pass, check out Northwest TripFinder

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