Duration: 4 hours 40 minutes (breaks not included)
Elevation gain: 1615 feet
References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Oregon Hikers
Between the Enchantments, a 30-mile adventure run, and the Elk-Kings trail races, our past few weekends have been filled with outdoor fun. Unfortunately, none of it has been dog friendly. In fact, the last adventure that Cassie was able to join us on was our attempt to backpack around the Three Sisters (which we ultimately weren’t able to complete). We were definitely overdue for a family hike, and with the weather being more cold and wet these days, we wanted to explore an area that would be accessible in (and maybe even benefit from) these conditions. Siouxon Creek fit the bill.
I had the opportunity to hike most of our route last Spring when I went with a few ladies from Cascadia Women’s Mountain Group. I remember it being lusciously green, cool and shaded, with stunning views of the crystal clear waters of Siouxon Creek for nearly the entire hike. In addition, it was very moderate in terms of elevation gain and tread conditions. (I actually hiked it the day before a half marathon, too!) Mack and I considered taking Cassie here for her first backpacking trip, but it never panned out. This past weekend seemed as good a time as any to explore it.
We arrived at the trailhead late in the morning around 10 am. I expected the parking area to be at least half full, but, to our surprise, there were only two other cars parked and the occupants were still gearing up for their own treks. The forecast for a rainy afternoon probably deterred people. More peace and quiet for us! We started out heading northeast on the trail, hiking downhill through a lush evergreen forest. We arrived at the West Creek footbridge. I noticed immediately that it’s been completely replaced since my hike last April! It used to be a single log bridge with railing on only one side. Now it’s a couple of feet wide, comprised of planks, and has railing on both sides. I have to say I liked the other one a bit more, but I imagine this new one is much safer. After crossing the bridge and hiking up a short ways, we got our first clear view of Siouxon Creek, as well as several campsites below the trail. The creek on the left juxtaposed beautifully with the forest on the right, as you’ll see in some upcoming photos.
Just under 1.5 miles in, we were rewarded with our first waterfall: Horseshoe Falls, a triple tiered beauty that tumbles down about 60 feet. We carefully made our way down a slippery side path to get a better view of the upper tier and the footbridge that crosses Horseshoe Creek just above the falls. After crossing the bridge and continuing on another half mile or so, we were rewarded yet again with another stunning waterfall: Siouxon Falls, a smaller waterfall (about 30 feet) accentuated by the emerald green pool it plunges into. There’s a bench right off the trail where you can sit as long as you’d like to fully absorb this mesmerizing scene.
We continued along at our leisurely pace, stopping often to take pictures (which Cassie tired of very quickly) or let Cassie drink from the numerous streams we crossed. Mack had an especially fun time snapping photos of colorful fungi on the more forested side of the trail. Aside from a few muddy spots and a section where a stream flows directly onto the trail, the surface was in good condition. Mack and I contemplated the idea of doing an adventure run up to Siouxon Peak the next time! The trail descends into a particularly lush section before reaching the junction with Wildcat Trail on the left (which requires a crossing of Siouxon Creek) and, shortly thereafter, the second junction with Horseshoe Ridge Trail (the first junction is less than a mile into the hike).
From the Horseshoe Ridge junction, the footbridge that crosses Siouxon to access Chinook Trail is only 0.75 miles away. However, just before the bridge, there is a very slick creek crossing, made more difficult (and slightly unnerving) by the smooth rock that the water rushes across and the fact that the creek drops below into the Siouxon. Trekking poles were definitely very helpful here. Cassie was very hesitant and reluctant to cross (causing me to slip and fall at one point), but we made it across safely. After crossing the footbridge we continued past some campsites to Chinook Falls, our final destination on the hike. Standing at the base meant getting showered with mist and getting colder and colder the longer we stood there. It was worth it though to see this majestic waterfall, robust from the recent rain storms, plummeting straight down into Chinook Creek.
Our initial plan was to cross Chinook Creek and follow a trail on the west bank that leads to the Wildcat Trail and, ultimately, up to Wildcat Falls. Since we started late and took our time, and since Cassie did not seem excited about more creek crossings, we turned around after Chinook Falls. We stopped for snacks at one of the campsites along Chinook Trail, rewarding Cassie with Babybel cheese wheels and Barbara’s cheese puffs. We returned the way we came. Cassie still had a little trouble making that tricky creek crossing after the footbridge (and my boots filled with water because of it), but the rest of the way was a breeze. Out-and-backs aren’t always my favorite types of hikes because the scenery doesn’t change, but this one was still just as enchanting on the return.
Pristine alpine lakes. Jagged granite peaks. Mountains as far as the eye can see. After drooling over photos of this stunning area last summer, I decided we needed to make it happen this year. Our original plan was to head out the first weekend in September (Labor Day weekend, so we could have a day to drive up, a day to do the hike, and a day to drive back). However, after our successful backpacking trip with Cassie in Goat Rocks, we opted to try the loop around the Three Sisters with her (since dogs are prohibited in the Enchantments). Unfortunately, that trip didn’t pan out completely, and, more than ever, I was determined to squeeze in an Enchantments trip before winter weather set in.
After flip-flopping several times in the days leading up to our chosen weekend (due to constant weather changes), we finally committed the night before and crossed our fingers that the “partly sunny” and “20 percent chance of snow” forecast held out through Sunday. We started our drive up to Leavenworth late in the afternoon (around 4 pm) on Saturday, arriving at the Snow Lakes Trailhead just before 10 pm. It was late and we didn’t feel like looking for a campsite along Icicle Creek Road in the dark, so we curled up with some blankets in the front seats of the car and dined on tortilla chips and salsa from a nearby gas station. My alarm woke us around 3 am. We planned to meet up with another group (some ladies from PNW Outdoor Women and their friends who also planned on thru-hiking the Enchantments) so we could shuttle to the Stuart Lake Trailhead. After finding our group in the parking lot, the six of us piled into one car and headed out to the trailhead. We started our hike in the dark around 5 am.
We moved quickly through the darkness and took our first long break at Colchuck Lake, a welcome and beautiful sight after a long drive (from Portland) and little sleep. Dragontail Peak and Aasgard Pass at the southern end of the lake were still shrouded in early morning clouds. After snacking, taking pictures, and adjusting our layers, we continued along Colchuck’s western edge, boulder hopping and scrambling on slick granite until we reached the base of Aasgard Pass, the gateway to the Core Enchantment Zone. At 2200 ft of gain in less than a mile, this would be the steepest (though not the most difficult) part of our trek.
It was a strenuous little climb, but the surrounding views provided a nice distraction whenever our legs needed a breather. The grandeur of Colchuck Lake below and Dragontail Peak above, as well as the numerous golden larches dotting the landscape, prompted a lot of ‘woah’s and ‘holy sh**’s. We hadn’t even reached the lakes basin and the area was already taking my breath away (mostly because of the natural beauty, but also because of the climb). We topped out in just under 90 minutes.
Entering the upper basin of the Enchantments was like entering another world; a barren and rocky, yet magical, landscape filled with numerous lakes and smaller bodies of water, surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Stuart Range. Aasgard, the dwelling place of the gods in Norse mythology, seemed like a fitting name for the gateway we’d climbed to get to it. Gazing out over this incredible alpine kingdom (fit for deities in my opinion), I was speechless. I couldn’t believe I was fortunate enough to be standing in one of the most stunning wilderness areas in the Pacific Northwest. We continued on the trail as it snaked its way through the various lakes. As per usual, I remained pretty far behind to snap photos every couple of minutes. It was difficult not to.
We took a lunch break at an overlook with views of Crystal Lake and McClellan Peak. The sun had come out by this point, illuminating the larches covering McClellan. The sky was perfectly reflected in the peaceful, sparkling waters of the lake below us. It was, without a doubt, one of the most scenic lunch spots I’ve ever experienced. I hardly touched my food I was so mesmerized.
Following lunch, we continued our descent into the center/halfway point of the Core Enchantments, which is punctuated by two of the largest lakes in the entire basin: Inspiration Lake and Perfection Lake, both aptly named. The landscape began to transition into more lush, vegetated terrain. We were finally making our way through those golden larches we’d been viewing from a distance earlier! As we continued past Inspiration Lake, the rocky stretches eventually gave way to an alpine meadow, which was now a full on autumn wonderland. All of it felt like something out of a fairytale. The view of Prusik Peak rising above to the north was one of my favorites of the entire trek. Rounding the shore of Sprite Lake, we also had a glorious view of Little Annapurna, standing majestic against the blue skies. Following Sprite, we forded a small creek and began the final descent into the Lower Basin.
The lower basin contains my favorite lake of the entire walk through the Core: Leprechaun Lake, which I initially perceived as two lakes because of a peninsula that cuts almost all the way through it. The views of McClellan Peak from either side of the peninsula are stunning, although the peak was more perfectly reflected in the water on the eastern side. I certainly could have stayed there for hours, but, unfortunately, the Core was coming to an end, and Snow Lakes Trailhead was still a ways away. Somewhere between Leprechaun Lake and Lake Viviane (the final lake we would pass) one of my trekking poles slipped on the granite we were walking on and I landed on an angular shaped rock directly on my tailbone. The initial pain was so searing that I thought I was going to throw up. I was so scared that I’d fractured it. (Sidenote: It’s thankfully not fractured, but, even two weeks later, it’s still very painful to sit) Everybody else was a little ways ahead of me and out of sight, so I sat where I was for a few moments until I could breathe easy again. I walked slowly and carefully to where the rest of the group was waiting. As we sat above Lake Viviane, we all looked ahead and just off to the side of the trail sat a mountain goat! Our very first mountain goat sighting of the day, which was actually kind of surprising considering how common they are in the Enchantments. Aside from my little tumble, seeing the goat as we exited the Core and began the descent to Snow Lakes definitely made for a wonderful ending to our hike through the lakes basin. Now came the hard part: the 10-mile journey back to the car.
Before we started the hike, Mack and I had it in our heads that we would run (or at least run/hike) the remaining 10 miles to avoid this section feeling like a long slog. Unfortunately, between my tailbone injury, Mack’s knee injury (which he got early on while we were scrambling around Colchuck to get to Aasgard), and the seemingly endless technical terrain that lay before us, that prospect was looking very dismal. In fact, I was in so much pain, I could barely keep up hiking (let alone running) with everyone else. Mack stayed nearby as I fell behind and eventually it was just us two hiking together. Our hike now was mostly through the forest, although the route did open up a number of times when we had to switchback down a steep slope. There were very few times where we got to hike on more “groomed” singletrack trails. They were definitely a blessing for my aching knees (and tailbone) when they did appear for a longer stretch. Occasionally, Mack would ask if I felt like jogging a little bit so we could move faster; it was already 2 pm (maybe after?) when we reached Snow Lakes and we still had several miles to go. We tried for a little while (and even caught up to two members of our group by doing so), but it was too painful for me to continue after 15 minutes or so, and the terrain wasn’t helping. We fell behind again and took it pretty slow from there on out.
About an hour from the trailhead (not that we knew we were an hour away at the time), we happened to turn a corner and, just a few feet away from us, were a mama goat and her baby grazing smack dab in the middle of the trail! This was our first close encounter with a wild animal. And we were terrified. Before doing this trip, I’d posted a question concerning behavior around goats on the PNW Outdoor Women’s Facebook page. One woman who has had a few encounters suggested throwing rocks near them (not at them of course) in order to scare them away. Seeing this mama goat with her baby, I wasn’t sure throwing rocks would help our situation. We tried hitting our trekking poles together and speaking to the goats to let them know of our presence. The mother made eye contact with us (which we made an effort to avoid) several times, but they just kept moving down the trail in the same direction we needed to go. At some point, the mother quickened her pace and started moving towards us. Mack and I fast hiked back uphill to an empty campsite we’d seen off the trail and attempted to stay out of sight. A few minutes later the goats turned the corner to continue uphill, but the mother stopped right in front of the campsite and started staring us down. We didn’t want to take the chance of provoking her by moving towards the trail, so we bushwhacked near the edge of a drop off in order to put an extra 5 feet between us and the goats. Her eyes followed us the entire way, but she didn’t move closer to us. Once we were back on the trail, we ran, looking back every so often to make sure they were no longer in sight. To our relief, Icicle Creek Road came into view from the trail a few minutes later. It still took an annoyingly long time to switchback all the way down to the parking lot (we finished around 5:30 pm), but at least the slog was over. We were smelly. We were aching all over. And we had a 5 hour drive ahead of us. None of that stopped us from feeling grateful.
The Enchantments hike is one of the most intense adventures we’ve ever accomplished, especially since we compressed it all into less than 36 hours (including 10+ hours of driving). It was a grueling challenge (particularly those final 10 miles), but when I think back on it, the astounding natural beauty, and the people (yay for new friends!) I got to experience it with, stand out the most. Maybe crazy weekend warrior adventures like this are in our future!
This summer has been a busy one for outdoor adventures. Back in June, we participated in a week-long mountaineering course, successfully summiting Mount Baker during that time. In July, we climbed Mount Hood and backpacked Goat Rocks Wilderness. And at the beginning of August, we backpacked Garibaldi Provincial Park. Time in between was generally spent planning for the next upcoming trip. After our time in British Columbia, we decided that maybe it would be best to take a break, especially since we have one last backpacking trip coming up Labor Day weekend. Then, as I began writing about our Garibaldi adventure, as well as looking back on all we’d already accomplished since the end of June, the idea of “taking a break” seemed ridiculous. If we have the opportunity to get outside, why not take it? So, just one week after returning from British Columbia, we decided to tackle our third Cascade volcano for the summer.
Day 1: Cold Springs Campground to Lunch Counter (3.7 miles; 3 hours 8 minutes, breaks not included)
We decided to do a two-day climb of the mountain by base camping at Lunch Counter. Although there are climbers that complete the entire route from Cold Springs Campground without overnighting somewhere on the mountain, I think many choose the former in order to acclimate before the summit push.
The South Climb Trail #183 starts out in a burn zone, so from the get-go we were exposed to the sun. It was a warm day with temps somewhere in the 80s and we were hiking up in our mountaineering boots. Not the most comfortable idea, but it seemed better than carrying the heavy boots on our backs. The trail becomes less obvious, less stable (i.e. lots of loose rock), and steeper after Morrison Creek. Since we’d started relatively early, there were only a couple of other people on this section. By the afternoon, traffic is heavier and there’s usually a line of people leading up to the ridgeline and the edge of the snowfield. I hiked up to Lunch Counter last summer in these exact conditions. It was not pleasant. Thankfully, we were able to avoid this. It made the going much faster and less miserable. The final leg on the snowfield leading to Lunch Counter was a welcome change after traversing over loose rock the last hour.
We reached Lunch Counter in the early afternoon. At this point, the majority of Friday-Saturday climbers were making their way back to the trailhead, so we had our pick of sites. In retrospect, we probably could’ve chosen a site closer to the south slope, but we were anxious to set up and get out of the sun for awhile, so we pitched our tent in the first decent spot we came across. While Mack rested in the tent, I walked around Lunch Counter and scoped out the route for the next morning. I reminisced about the short time I’d spent here last summer while dayhiking with a group of women. Climbing the Cascade volcanoes was still a distant dream then, and that realization made me appreciate even more the fact that we were getting ready to climb our fourth the next morning. It’s incredible the things that can change in a year.
We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, snacking, and melting bag after quart-size bag of snow since we couldn’t find a decent water source. We decided on a 3 am alpine start and turned-in early. Unfortunately, my afternoon snooze had left me well rested and I was no longer sleepy. I stuck my head out of the tent to enjoy the sunset and gaze out at the majestic silhouettes of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the distance. I thought back on sunsets on Mount Baker, as well as sunrises on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, all of them breathtaking. How fortunate I am to be making these kinds of memories.
Day 2: Lunch Counter to Mount Adams summit, then back (5 miles; 5 hours 57 minutes, breaks not included); Lunch Counter to Cold Springs Campground (3.7 miles; 3 hours 18 minutes, breaks not included)
We were ready to go just before 3 am, but when we unzipped our tent and scanned for signs of life, we didn’t spot a single headlamp. We opted for a few more minutes of shut-eye and ended up departing around 3:45 am instead. We made our way across the rocky plateau and donned our crampons once we reached the slope. The snow was firm and easy to walk on with the crampon spikes biting into it. The trek to Piker’s Peak from Lunch Counter gains a brutal 2000 ft (although I still prefer it to the dusty, rock ridden approach to Lunch Counter). We took it slowly, setting goals of 50 to 100 steps at a time. Every time I looked back and saw the tents dotting the plateau becoming tinier and tinier, I pushed a little bit harder, knowing that the false summit (and, therefore, the true summit) was close at hand. We reached Piker’s Peak just after 6 am. The sun had just risen and we could see the final boot path leading up to the summit. Although we hadn’t felt the forecasted 30 to 40 mph winds on the way up the slope, we definitely felt it at Piker’s Peak and took cover behind a rock wall in an attempt to stay warm while we ate a few snacks and hydrated. Neither of us could feel our fingers after a few minutes, so we packed up and hit the trail for the final stretch. Just 800 ft of gain to go!
The last portion was a cakewalk compared to the push to Piker’s Peak. One saddle, one ridgeline, one last snowfield, and you’re there! Less than an hour after reaching the false summit, we were standing on the true summit, looking out towards Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson. At 12, 276 ft, Mack and I were standing on the highest point either of us has ever reached by foot. The sun was shining, skies were blue, the wind was merely a breeze at this point, and there were only three other people on the summit. It was a peacefully exciting moment and the perfect end to our very first climbing season.
Mack and I have wanted to take an international trip together for some time now, and since getting into backpacking last year, my goal has been to combine the two. Some of the initial places I looked into were Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Fiordland in New Zealand, the Dolomites in Italy, and the Alps in Switzerland. Quite ambitious (at least logistically and financially) for a first international backpacking trip. I soon gave up on these ideas after realizing it would require too much of us (i.e. time and money) for the time being. Now, I’m not sure why or when, but I somehow ended up researching parks in Canada (probably after seeing some pictures in Backpacker Magazine or a similar online source). After looking into several different options (including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park), I settled on Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s conveniently located an hour and a half north of Vancouver, B.C. and would give Mack and me a chance to do some international travel without the stress of flying with all of our gear. Plus, the area is drop-dead gorgeous!
Our trip took us through two of the most stunning places in the entire park: Elfin Lakes and Garibaldi Lake. The latter we used as a base camp to explore other nearby areas, too. Alpine lakes and wildflower meadows, as well as breathtaking mountain scenery, encompassed each day on the trail. Although we ended up getting stuck in a string of less-than-ideal weather days, we were still able to experience so much of the incredible natural beauty that Garibaldi has to offer. We can’t wait to return to explore more of British Columbia and other parks in the Great White North.
Day 1: Diamond Head Trailhead to Elfin Lakes (11.1 km; 2 hours 27 minutes, breaks not included)
Giant, splotchy raindrops pounded the windshield as we drove the Sea to Sky Highway (BC-99) to the Diamond Head parking lot. They would cease, then start again, cease, than start again. The weather was not looking too optimistic and I anticipated a potentially wet, miserable hike up. Fortunately, the rain subsided altogether once we reached the trailhead, although the skies remained grey and overcast. We’d had time the day before and that morning to organize our gear at the hostel in Vancouver, so everything was ready to go once we parked the car. There was only one thing left to do: practice drawing the Counter Assault from the holster on my pack strap. For the first time ever, Mack and I were taking bear spray on a backpacking trip. Although we weren’t likely to see one, British Columbia is home to a high population of black bears. Better safe than sorry. After several repetitions, as well as readjustments to increase the speed of my draw, I re-secured the spray and we set off up the trail.
The first 5.1 km stretch was entirely uphill—mostly gradual, but steep in some sections—on a forest service road. Once we reached Red Heather Shelter, the remaining 6 km to Elfin Lakes was on soft surface trail (at least for the most part). We were high enough in elevation at this point that we were walking through alpine meadows instead of forest. We would’ve had incredible views of the surrounding mountains, too, if it hadn’t been for the cloudy weather. Ugh. Not a single ray of sunshine! At least it wasn’t raining. We saw a lot of people in the last 3 or so km on Paul Ridge, probably heading back after a weekend at the lakes. The descent into the Elfin Lakes basin, though not as breathtaking as I’d imagined since the clouds obscured the mountainous backdrop, was still quite a sight. In fact, the overcast weather lent a mystical quality to the lakes that I don’t think would’ve occurred had the skies been clear and sunny.
For being a backcountry site, it sure felt a lot like “glamping” (or at least our version of it). All tent sites are on raised, wooden platforms to protect the fragile meadow from too much impact. There is a pit toilet with rolls of toilet paper. There are outdoor picnic tables, a day/cooking shelter, and bear cache hangers for storing food at night. Wow! The bear canisters we brought were probably not necessary. We ultimately hoisted them up anyways (in trash bags) so we could also throw in other scented items that didn’t fit in the canister. The weather continued to become worse as the afternoon wore on. Eventually you couldn’t even see the lakes or the meadows. We were lucky we arrived early enough to get a glimpse. By evening it was pouring down rain. Thank goodness for that cooking shelter! We were able to take our time making dinner in a dry, comfortable environment rather than outside in the cold and wet—such “fond” memories of the Hoh River Trail. I hoped that the next day would bring better weather.
Day 2: Elfin Lakes to Diamond Head Trailhead (11.1 km; 2 hours 22 minutes, breaks not included); Rubble Creek Trailhead to Garibaldi Lake (8.7 km; 2 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)
When I awoke around 5 am and opened my tent door, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the skies had cleared up a little bit and the mountains were more visible than they had been the day before. We packed up quickly and left camp around 6 am. Our plan was to get to the Rubble Creek Trailhead by or before 10 am to ensure we’d be able to park in the lot (which, according to the BC parks website, usually fills by 8 am). On our way down, the sun shone through the clouds and the mountains that we’d missed the day before were actually peeking through. At least we didn’t miss out completely! We got back to the car just before 9 am and headed out to the next trailhead, less than an hour away.
Although very crowded, there were still a number of parking spots available when we arrived at Rubble Creek Trailhead. Maybe it only fills up crazy fast on weekends? We came on a Monday. We threw on our packs and joined the throngs of other hikers heading up. Now, I’m not sure if the elevation gain was really that strenuous (800 m in 8.7 km) or we were just really tired from already having hiked 11.1 km that morning, but the trek up to Garibaldi Lake was an ass-kicker, physically and mentally. Although the trail never got ridiculously steep, the seemingly endless switchbacks and consistent incline wore us down fast. After 6 km the trail finally leveled out in some sections and we were rewarded with views of Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake, openers to the main attraction. The final 2 km seemed to go on forever, but when the lake finally came into view, all that exhaustion seemed to melt away.
The clear, turquoise water had us mesmerized and we dropped our packs at nearby picnic tables to take in the glorious sight before us. After catching our breath and taking in the views, we explored the campground, which, at 50 tent sites compared to Elfin Lakes’ 14 sites, is pretty big. We arrived early enough that most of the sites were empty. We found one we liked, set up our tent, then headed over to the nearest day/cooking shelter—just like the ones at Elfin Lakes—to enjoy a late lunch. Mack rescued a little bird inside that was trying to break its way through the plexiglass windows. Poor thing!
There were several bear warnings posted, asking campers not to cook or eat at their campsite and to keep all food/trash/scented items in the shelters. I found out a little later that a young black bear had to be killed the day before we arrived because people were eating and cooking in their campsites; storing food in their tents; leaving trash everywhere and it wandered into them. Not to get off course from our time at Garibaldi, but I found this blog post (specifically about the bear that was killed) to hit home on the severity of our actions when it comes to bear safety: https://happiestoutdoors.ca/you-killed-a-bear/. It’s so important to remember that we are only visitors in these wild places.
Following our late lunch it started to rain, so we retreated to the tent for a few hours. When we emerged for dinner in the evening, the weather had improved, so we decided to go for a short jaunt along the lake after we ate. I’m so glad we did! Although it was still misting, the sky had cleared tremendously and we could finally take in the surroundings that had been obscured by clouds when we arrived earlier. We explored the Battleship Islands (lava outcrops which have been connected to the shore via man-made stone causeways) and enjoyed views of Mount Price and Clinker Peak, Sphinx Glacier, and Black Tusk. A perfect end to a hard day.
Day 3: Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk, then back (11 km round-trip; 3 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)
Our initial goal for the day was to hike to both Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge so we could get back to Vancouver in the early afternoon the next day. It was awfully cloudy when we started off at 8:30 am, so we decided to begin with Black Tusk—Panorama Ridge was the hike I was most looking forward to, so I wanted to give the weather a fighting chance. The initial switchbacks uphill through the forest changed quickly into the wildflowers of Black Tusk Meadows. We were the only ones on the trail and the morning mist blanketing the meadows made it an eerily peaceful hike. The trail took us over a few creeks (Parnasus and Mimulus Creeks respectively), a snowfield, and finally to the scorched black rocks comprising the steep slope leading up to Black Tusk. According to our map, the peak is a remnant of a large volcano that has mostly eroded away. The native people of the area knew it as nq’il’qtens ku skenknap or “seat of thunder,” the home of the mythological thunderbird. The clouds were heavy at the top, making it impossible to see how far we were supposed to ascend. The rock formation was nowhere in sight and all I kept thinking was, “Is this scree climb even worth it?” After 20 or so minutes, we concluded it wasn’t and headed back down. Sigh. Another viewpoint squandered by crappy weather. Panorama Ridge was definitely going to have to wait until the next day.
On our way down, the morning mist was dissipating and we had even more expansive views of the gorgeous meadows we’d passed through on the way up. We were even fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Garibaldi Lake down below before the clouds rolled back in a moment later. It was already close to noon, so we ran into many people heading up to either Black Tusk or Helm Lake. We met a father-daughter duo who informed us of black bear cubs in the area, with no sign of the mama bear. They looked a bit spooked when they told us. Needless to say, Mack and I made tons of noise and hiked with an extra pep in our step as we continued our descent. We figured we were safe when we ran into a couple of other groups. To be safe, we shared the info about the cubs with them before continuing on. Upon returning to the lake, we enjoyed a cooked lunch—nothing fancy, just ramen—and hot chocolate at the picnic tables.
The rest of the day was spent napping in the tent, journaling out by the lake [me], reading Terry Pratchett [Mack], and playing cards. At dinner, we ate down by the lake since the shelters were full. A couple of rangers passed by, rifles slung over their shoulders, and warned us about bears (emphasis on the plural) in the area. They requested that we come straight to them if we happened to see any. We didn’t end up seeing any (thankfully), but neither of us walked around the campground alone after that.
Day 4: Garibaldi Lake to Panorama Ridge, then back (14 km round-trip; 3 hours 46 minutes, breaks not included); Garibaldi Lake to Rubble Creek Trailhead (8.7 km; 2 hours, breaks not included)
The weather wasn’t looking too promising when we woke up on our last day. Although there was no chance of precipitation, the weather forecast, which Mack had checked the day before, read partly cloudy. At 6 am though, the entire sky above Garibaldi Lake was shrouded in clouds, engulfing the upper parts of the surrounding peaks as well (including Panorama Ridge at the north end of the lake). We figured it was still too early to base the day’s weather on the current conditions, so instead of heading out early like we had the day before, we waited. At 9:30 am, the clouds were clearing pretty well at the eastern and southern ends of the lake,—you could see blue sky, and the sun was shining through!—but conditions hadn’t improved at the northern end. My spirits were starting to sink, but at 10:15 am, we set off anyways.
I was frustrated with the weather, especially with it being our final day (and my birthday!), and hiked at a brisk pace to release some of that frustration. We followed the same route as Black Tusk until we reached the junction about 2.5 km in. Instead of taking the left towards Black Tusk, we continued straight, heading through more beautiful wildflower meadows, and passing Mimulus Lake, which was completely hidden by clouds. However, once we reached the junction with Helm Lake, the weather seemed to be taking a turn for the better. There were less clouds, more blue sky, and we could actually see the sun! It was all uphill from there (literally and figuratively).
As it continued up, the trail went from soft surface to talus and, at times, snow. Since the path is not so clearly defined up here, there are wooden posts at various intervals to keep you on track. These were especially helpful in the clouds. Eventually we were able to make out the ridge we were heading towards. We could still see bright blue sky whenever the clouds parted, so I kept my hopes up. The slope continued to get steeper as we made the final push to the primary viewpoint. There were several people already up there, waiting for the coveted view of Garibaldi Lake. We decided to continue along the ridge to the highest point instead.
Although the view to the south had not improved by the time we reached Panorama Peak, the view to the north, which encompasses Black Tusk, Black Tusk Lake, Helm Lake, other smaller lakes, and the vibrant green meadows contrasting with the higher elevation rock and snow, was spectacular. What a fantastic way to cap off one year and start the next one. We hung out on the peak for a good 20 minutes (maybe more) before deciding to head back over to the more popular viewpoint. On the way over, the clouds lifted ever so slightly that I was able to glimpse (and quickly snap a picture of) Garibaldi Lake just seconds before the clouds obscured it again.
When we reached the other viewpoint, we gauged from the people waiting there that Garibaldi had yet to make an appearance. Desperate for a view, I asked Mack if we could wait as well. The minutes passed, but nothing improved. There were a few moments where the clouds started to shift due to the wind, but it was never enough to fully uncover the lake. I did get some nice glimpses of Mount Garibaldi, the Table, and the Tantalus Range though! After 40 minutes or so, we called it quits and headed back down. I was happy that I got to see anything at all! The cloud situation only seemed to worsen as we descended. Our timing had been just right. It was 3:45 pm when we returned to camp. Knowing we had at least a 2-hour hike ahead of us, we quickly packed up and were back on the trail by 4:30 pm.
The descent back to the parking lot seemed to go by quickly. We were so excited to eat “real” food that we practically ran parts of the hike. The final kilometer was the only time I stopped to admire and take pictures of the beautiful effect the sunlight had shining through the trees. At the parking lot, we shed our packs, removed our boots, and aired our aching feet. We packed up the car, cleaned up a little with some bathing wipes, and headed out to Squamish for a well deserved meal. Down at lower elevation, the weather was a lot nicer and we got the most incredible views of the entire trip (at least of the mountains) while driving the Sea to Sky Highway. British Columbia, you did not disappoint.
Cassie, our spunky adventure pup, has been a member of our little family for over three months now. Since we adopted her, she’s been a frequent visitor of the great outdoors, joining us on numerous hikes and trail runs in Forest Park, Columbia River Gorge, around Mount Hood, and on the coast. She even carries her own gear! One of our big goals this summer was to take her on her first multi-day backcountry trip, so when I found out that Goat Rocks Wilderness—a trip we’d had planned since last Fall—is dog-friendly, we were beyond excited.
Although I’d originally planned a longer route with high mileage days (so we could explore more of the area), I made adjustments since it would be Cassie’s first trip. We were never more than six miles out from the trailhead the entire time, and our days never consisted of more than seven miles of hiking. It was a relaxing, easy-going weekend getaway. Cassie seemed to enjoy herself (at least there was no behavior on her part that suggested otherwise), and Mack and I got to experience the most beautiful wilderness we’ve seen since the Wallowas last summer.
Day 1: Snowgrass Trailhead to Cispus Basin (5.6 miles; 2 hours 42 minutes)
After 3.5 hours on the road (including a very bumpy hour on rough forest road), we arrived at our starting point. It was just after 11:00 am on a Thursday afternoon, so there weren’t too many cars yet. (Note: This trailhead, along with the alternative starting point, Berry Patch, gets INSANELY packed on weekends) We took our time getting last minute items packed, putting on boots, and outfitting Cassie with her Ruffwear Approach pack. I filled out our permit—these are free at the trailhead—and we hit the trail at 11:45 am.
It was already pretty hot when we started out. Fortunately, most of Snowgrass Trail winds through the forest, so we remained shaded from the sun for much of the hike. Water sources were plentiful on the way up and Cassie enjoyed drinking her fill at nearly every stream we crossed. She even plopped down in one of them to cool herself off! Despite the heat, the overall trek—even the uphill sections—was moderate. Our lighter-than-usual loads also helped with that. Rather than bringing our giant Osprey packs (both around 70 liters), we opted for our smaller Osprey climbing packs (each around 50 liters). It’s funny to compare this to our very first backpacking trip (which was also a 3-day/2-night situation). On that trip, we carried 30+ lbs each! On this trip, we managed to keep pack weight in the low 20s. Oh the wonders a little more experience does for you!
Our final stretch to Cispus Basin was on the PCT. The views finally opened up on this portion of the route. We could see far down into the valley below and look ahead to the South Cascades, including a clear shot of Mount Adams rising above everything else. We continued on for about a mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail, we suddenly found ourselves looking straight into the alpine paradise that is Cispus Basin. Sunlight bounced off the snowfield beneath the towering Goat Rocks massif, illuminating the Cispus River serpentining down into the green meadow below. We found several campsites situated right off of the trail with nearly unobstructed views of this incredible sight.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in camp: basking in the warmth of the sun (until the mosquitos started eating us alive), hiking a little further on the PCT to take in our surroundings a little more, snapping picture upon picture of said surroundings, getting in a light afternoon snooze before dinner, reading, and playing cards. It was perfect. And we were so happy to be sharing the experience with Cassie (who was really digging the natural water sources more than anything else).
The sun was still overhead when we decided to turn in for the night. Although it had been a relatively easy day for me and Mack, the long day of driving and hiking definitely left Cassie pretty exhausted. Rather than curling up on the camp bed I brought for her (Ruffwear Highlands bed with sleeping pad insert), she snuggled up between our sleeping bags and fell fast asleep. Day one was a success.
Day 2: Cispus Basin to PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction (2 miles; about 50 minutes); side-trip to Old Snowy (4.4 miles; somewhere between 2 hours 40 minutes and 3 hours 10 minutes—forgot to stop my watch when we returned to camp)
At some point in the night, Cassie had retired to the foot of our tent. She was finally lying comfortably on her dog bed when I woke up. After taking in that precious moment my focus shifted to the discomfort I was feeling up and down my legs. I knew full well what the culprit was, but I still didn’t expect to count 40+ mosquito bites when I rolled up my pants! Ugh. I will never be too lazy to get out bug spray again.
A quick map check informed us that we were in for an easy stroll to our next campsite, just a mere 2 miles away. We started off in the morning fog, but rays of sunlight were already bursting through just a few minutes into our hike, and the skies cleared up soon after that. As we neared the junction with Snowgrass, we entered a stunning wildflower meadow blanketing the slopes of the Goat Rocks, which were now visible, on our right. Old Snowy and Ives Peak came into view as we continued north and were on full display once we reached the junction. The Rascals’ It’s A Beautiful Morning might have started playing in my head…
We found a lovely campsite right off Snowgrass Trail, tucked away in a small grove of trees, with spectacular views of both Goat Rocks and Mount Adams (which appeared closer than it had the day before though we were moving further away from it). Our short trek had taken less than an hour, so we decided to relax for a little while before starting our side-trip to the summit of Old Snowy. Since there were no other dogs around (like there had been the day before at Cispus Basin), we let Cassie off her leash so she could move freely within our campsite. The last impression I want her to have of camping is being tethered to a tree the entire time. We kept her close, but she definitely enjoyed having the freedom to choose her own place to lie down.
After enjoying some camp time, we strapped on our packs again and returned to the PCT, which leads up to a climber’s trail for Old Snowy. The path led up through the meadow covered slopes I’d been admiring earlier and also onto a few snowfields. My guess is that Cassie had never experienced snow before this trip. She was (literally) prancing with excitement every time we had to traverse a snowfield! And she was mesmerized by little balls of snow rolling down the slopes. We continued onto a rocky ridgeline overlooking the surrounding glaciers on either side of the Goat Rocks.
The going got a little more tough after we turned onto the climber’s trail. Navigating a boulder field is never that fun, especially with a dog leashed to your waist. We lost the trail at one point but decided to continue heading up, which required lifting Cassie over rock after massive rock. I imagine she could’ve jumped over them with ease if she hadn’t been leashed to me, but the area was pretty exposed—drop-offs on either side—and I didn’t want to put her at risk. We almost turned around. Clouds were rolling in and the wind started to pick up. Eventually, though, we found the trail again—no more boulder hopping!—and continued up (We learned on the way back down that there was a small snowfield that we needed to cross in order to stay on the trail, but we had missed it because we were following what appeared to be a trail up through the boulders) Unfortunately, the last couple hundred feet up to the summit required more difficult scrambling (at least for someone leashed to their dog). At this point, the clouds had now completely obscured the top, making the last push even riskier. Although this last portion wouldn’t have presented much of a challenge for me and Mack, we decided to call it quits for Cassie’s sake. The constant rock hopping (in addition to being lifted and carried by me) really wore her out. She was already falling asleep when we stopped to discuss our options. Old Snowy would just have to wait until our next trip.
When we arrived back in camp, Cassie immediately laid down and fell asleep. We spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out, looking back on our trip so far, and making plans for “real” food upon our return to Portland. Something other than tortillas and peanut butter sounded great.
Day 3: PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction to Snowgrass Trailhead (5.1 miles; 1 hour 58 minutes)
The trek back out the next morning was more of a quick jaunt than a hike. The sun was still hiding behind the Goat Rocks when we packed up and left. It finally peeked out over the tops of the rocky summits as we made our way down into Snowgrass Flats; a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.
All in all, Cassie’s first backpacking adventure was wonderfully successful! In fact, I was so excited when we got home that I immediately started looking into an alternative trip for our September backpacking weekend. We had originally planned on thru-hiking the Enchantments (without Cassie, since dogs are prohibited) but decided it would be more fun to do one last trip with Cassie before the end of summer. So…Three Sisters here we come!