The state of Washington is abounding with grand mountain ranges but the grandest of them all might just be the North Cascades! Here you’ll find an endless collection of rugged mountains covered in over 300 glaciers. All that glacial ice melt cascades down each jagged peak creating hundreds of pure alpine lakes and the steepest mountains in the lower 48. Safe to say it’s a hiker’s paradise!
The long named North Cascades National Park Service Complex is one of a kind in that it unites three park units: North Cascades NP, Ross Lake NRA and Lake Chelan NRA. The North Cascades has a north and south unit separated by Ross Lake NRA and the North Cascades Scenic Hwy. The only way into the north unit is by foot. There you’ll find the Picket Range, a menacing sub range. The mountains have intimidating names like Mount Fury, Mount Terror, Phantom Peak, Ghost Peak, Mount Challenger and the most frightening Bacon Peak… Hope to venture up there soon but our first trip would be in the south unit. You can access the south unit by foot or the 23 mile Cascade River road. We’d take the full 23 mile gravel road to start our hike to Cascade Pass. With me was my girlfriend, cousin and two other friends who made for great company!
Our plan was to backpack to Pelton Basin and hike up to Sahale Glacier the following day. We got our permits from the Ranger Station in Marblemount before taking on the bumpy Cascade River road. When we pulled up to the trailhead it was as if we were transported to the European Alps! It was already stunning but a constant climb in elevation lead to even bigger views!
Along with the views were vibrant wildflowers.
After seeing a dear old friend, 3.7 miles and 1700ft of gain we arrived at Cascade Pass.
From the pass we made our way down into the Pelton Basin to set up camp.
This same path was used in ancient times by Native Americans to get to the village of Stehekin which translates to “the way through”.
We wished we were camping up at Sahale Glacier Camp but no way were we complaining about our current location!
We loved watching the hanging waterfalls course down the steep rock faces in thin ribbons. Once that view went dark we took to our tents and in the morning we made some new friends!
Thanks to the sun we were up nice an early to start our hike back to Cascade Pass.
It was a perfect day but most of the group had an obligation to get back to so just a buddy and I were left to push on.
East of the pass the Sahale Arm Trail veers steeply north towards Sahale Peak like a legit arm. Our goal was to make it to the toe of Sahale Glacier by climbing 2.2 miles through sub alpine meadows and over steep rock scree.
With 5,000ft drop offs on both sides of the arm the open views were incredible.
In what could be considered the armpit of Sahale Mountain was Doubtful Lake feed by countless waterfalls.
In every direction was a mind blowing scene with what I like to call toothy peaks!
The marmots were also impressed by the views.
As we gained altitude more and more peaks would appear.
The last stretch is a fun scramble before arriving at the Sahale Glacier Camp.
It has to be the best designated camp spot in the National Park system! Makes sense that it’s the toughest permit to acquire.
We were so grateful to witness the sea of razor sharp peaks draped with snow and ice.
Hundreds of peaks were in view but at the top was Bonanza Peak, the highest non volcanic mountain in Washington!
I really liked Agnes Mountain for unknown reasons.
If we had brought crampons and ice axes we’d go for the peak but for now it’s another reason to come back!
As we soaked in the unbelievable views we scarfed down some snacks until it was time to head down. It was hard not to trip with our eyes fixated on our beautiful surroundings and not the trail.
Our pace was definitely slowed to really take it all in.
It was sweet nectar for the soul!!
Once we made it back to Cascade Pass a few people were there to show us what we walked by without noticing. A few other hikers would take notice of the black bear but he caused them no harm as we waited for those folks to make it down.
From there we meandered our way down the numerous switchbacks already dreaming of a return to the Stehekin River Valley. The American Alps are a truly spectacular place!
At the time of writing this we made a few more trips up to the North Cascades but not yet back up to Sahale. Hopefully soon! Here’s a few shots from a trip up Black Peak!
Favorite park for sure!