Carne High Route Loop
Last week I had a terrific larch backpacking trip
to Wing Lake
in the North Cascades. Could I have sunny weather two weeks in a row
this late in the year? Gary was free for this trip. We met Friday in Bothell
at 12:50 in the afternoon. We had no traffic problems and reached the Phelps
Creek Trailhead, up the Chiwawa River Road, at 3:20. By 3:50 we were on
the trail. It was cloudy most of the way over but we had some blue sky as
we started out. In just a few short minutes we reached the Carne Mountain
junction. Now I was on another trail new to me. Gary has been to Carne Basin
a number of times but it had been 18 years since he took the high route.
The trail is well graded. We started with 3 hours of daylight and 2600'
to gain. The trailhead is at 3500' and the basin is at 6100'. The way is
mostly in forest before finally breaking out into the open. We saw some
brightly colored mountain ash then saw the first golden larch higher above.
They were the first of about 10,000 larch we were to see. After 1 1/2 hours
of hiking we broke into Carne Basin. We could see one tent across the basin
and an open site near the creek at the start of the basin.
It only took us about 15 minutes to set up camp and hang our food. We
still had over an hour of sun left so we went for a walk. Many of the larch
trees were already in the shade. We crossed the basin and followed the
trail higher. We did get up to where we could photograph some sun drenched
larch trees. It was shorts and short sleeves on the hike up but it began
to cool very quickly. We took the Old Gib trail to the saddle and it was
blowing fairly hard. Too cold to stay long. Nice views out to Old Gib and
larch lined ridges in the distance.
We retreated back to camp for dinner just before dark. The weather report
was for a chance of rain or snow this evening, sunny weather on Saturday,
and overcast but dry for Sunday. Since it was October, we would be camping
two nights over 6000', and the forecast was a little uncertain, we took
Gary's Hilleberg Nallo 2. Solid four season protection and about the same
weight as two tarptents. It turned out to be a very good choice.
When the sun set it turned very cold very fast. Gary pumped water out
of my water bag at 7:30. Thirty minutes later I went to do the same. Nothing
came out. Both inlet and outlet hoses had frozen solid. I had to take off
the hoses and use body heat to melt the ice enough to blow it out. Hmm...
the forecast was for a low of about 32 degrees. We were below that at 8:00
pm. By 8:30 the tent had lots of white frost on it.
Just before 9:00 the darkness was pierced by a ball of light. There
was a full harvest moon rising above the ridge. It became so light we walked
across the basin meadow with no headlamps. It was very bright. We cast long
"moon shadows" across the meadow. When the cold became a bit much for us
it was time to turn in. It was so light in the tent I could read my LCD watch
without the backlight. Thankfully we were prepared for the cold. My 10 degree
bag kept me warm all night. In the morning, the water bottle I had in the
tent had no traces of ice. While it was likely down to at least 20 degrees
overnight it was not below 32 in the tent. The two of us in a small 2 man
tent with a fly to the ground really were much warmer than outside.
We were not anxious to brave the cold the next morning. At least we
were at the far west end of the basin and received the earliest sun. When
I did climb out I could see that the valley bottom had light before we
did. Thirty seconds without gloves had us on the way to frostbite so they
had to go on and off with each photo. The sky was solid blue as promised.
We had breakfast and headed off to photograph the larch.
Carne Basin is made up almost entirely of larch trees. For those few
weeks of the year when they are at their peak it is ablaze with color. Many
trees were at their peak and some were still a little green. Hardly any
had begun to lose their needles. It was about 8:30 before the sun reached
out tent. We spent a lot more time taking photos. By the time we had packed
up to leave it was nearly 11:30. Our original plan was to take the high route
to the saddle south of Mt. Maude, climb it, and drop down to Ice Lakes east
of the pass or to the basin to the west to camp.
Our late start made that plan more difficult but I would not have missed
spending time photographing larch to get in Maude. The mountain will always
be there but a day with peaking larch and blue sky in October is very rare.
We hiked up to the ridge top at slow speed as there was so much to see and
photograph along the way. At the saddle we dropped our packs and continued
up to the summit of 7085' Carne Mountain. The views were outstanding. Maude
was right there. Glacier Peak came partly into view. Clark, Buck, Berge,
Cleator, Flower Dome, Fortress, Chiwawa, and Red were lined up to the west.
There were a few clouds over there but sunny sky everywhere else.
Gary pointed out the route he had taken 18 years before. It is a little
higher than what is on his old USGS map but looked like a reasonable route
to me. On our way down from the summit we met a couple of backpackers heading
up. At the saddle we headed down into the valley of Rock Creek. This section
has lots of larch trees as well. We crossed over a pass at 6600' and dropped
into the valley of Box Creek. The route remained easy to follow. We descended
slowly reaching Box Creek.
We pumped water here. There are a couple large horse camps here. The
route disappeared in meadow across the creek. we followed near the left
side of the creek heading higher and the trail picked up once again. It
turned to the left and climbed out of the meadow. We soon left the trail
and climbed up to a higher larch filled meadow. We dropped down and climbed
again to a pass where a track was found. Here we were surprised to find three
hikers coming over in the other direction. Even more surprising was when
one called me by name. I met John some years ago. They were doing our route
in reverse, with a climb of Maude, in one day. That is a killer day hike.
They were in good spirits and had some info to share with us.
They continued on with about 3 hours of daylight left to cover quite
a bit of trail. We contoured high above a basin through open slopes and
stands of larch. It was very beautiful as was most all the route that day.
We climbed to one more pass over boulders then grass and scree. From there,
at 7400', we could see the basin below us and next to Leroy Basin. A sketchy
route crossed loose rock to the pass South of Maude and just 400' above Upper
Ice Lake. Now we had a decision to make. In the 2+ hours of daylight left
we could cross to the pass, climb Maude, and descend to Ice Lake or to the
west. Likely we could do it before dark. The basin to the west was filled
with larch trees. Which way to go?
As we pondered, the couple from Carne Mountain, who we had also seen
at Box Creek, now caught up with us. They chose to cross to the pass across
and below Maude. We chose to descend to the basin below us and west of the
pass. As loose as the traverse to the pass looked, dropping down was worse.
We made sure not to be above each other as many rocks came cascading down
as we descended. There was even some snow still surviving below the saddle.
Once down in the basin we needed to find water.
We passed half a dozen dry creek beds. One had some water but it was
frozen solid. We dropped lower than we had planned and finally found a good
creek bubbling up out of the ground. A short trail from the creek led to
a campsite. We planned to set up camp and use the remaining light to photograph
the numerous larch trees. If the weather was good in the morning we would
get up early and climb Maude.
We spent some time photographing. We were even able to come very near
a woodpecker low down in a tree. Unfortunately, low clouds to the west
reduced our sunlight well before the sun neared the horizon. Oh well...
The normal route up Maude was obvious right above us. We camped at 6800'
leaving about 2300' of gain to the summit plus about 100' of descent on
the other side of the pass. We went to bed hoping for one more day of clear
Sometime around 10:00 pm Gary suddenly noticed there was no moonlight
in the tent. Not a good omen. I woke up a number of times during the night.
On most of them I heard the sound of rain on the tent. It was much warmer
with the cloud cover but thoughts of Maude began to slip away. I awoke to
the sound of something sloughing off the tent. Rain doesn't slough
off. I poked my head out to see low clouds around us and white on the ground.
Not a lot of snow but more higher up. I had no desire to get up early to climb
up a steep dirt and rock slope with a thin coating of wet snow to get to
a frozen summit with no views. Maude could wait for another day.
The rain would stop for a few minutes then start up again. We only had
7 miles to get out so an early start was not a necessity. Gary was more
interested than me in getting going and he packed up first. The tent was
a little cramped so he went first. Once the sleeping pads were stowed we were
committed. The ground was too cold to stay in the tent. By some dumb luck,
the rain stopped as I was finishing packing. Even better, it was done for
the rest of the trip. Most of the snow was gone at our elevation as the warmer
morning rain had melted it.
We packed and had lunch for breakfast. I did not want to take the time
to cook while the rain was stopped. We had an easy short climb to the saddle
above Leroy Basin. The ground was frozen here and a little overnight snow
was still on the ground north of the pass. The descent is steep but easy
to follow. For a while that is. As we reached a rocky basin below the trail
suddenly disappeared entirely. From the saddle we saw the deep new gully
carved out a few years ago. We knew that had to be crossed and the best place
is where the trail crosses. Cross country did not seem to be a good way to
find that spot.
We headed farther down and did find a cairn then another. There were
signs of footprints but not even an indistinct path. Gary felt the route
likely contoured much higher on our right. We were about to climb back up
when Gary spotted a possible path. I headed over and it did begin to look
like a path. We chose to follow it farther down. It looked like a real trail
for a moment as it descended a gully to a meadow. There it completely disappeared.
We chose to traverse to our right and slightly higher. This brought
us to the new gully...very near cairns showing the crossing spot. We found
nothing like a bootpath nearby. The gully walls are very steep. The crossing
spot was an easy descent and climb out. Most anywhere else would be very
difficult. On the other side the bootpath quickly ended. We chose to climb
up the side of the gully looking for the old trail. We climbed about 250
vertical feet. I was ready to just head off cross country to Leroy Basin.
At that point Gary saw a cairn and we climbed up to the trail. It was much
farther up than I was expecting.
We finally had some confidence in the weather and stripped out of rain
gear. Now on real tread we had an easy hike over to the top of the basin.
We continued to hike through a forest of larch trees. Once in the basin
we looked up at Seven Fingered Jack. It was entirely in the clouds. There
was a tiny patch of blue heading that way so we waited until we had a look
at the summits shrouded in thin clouds. We found no tents in the basin. The
rest of the hike out was just a slog. Steep down to the Phelps Creek Trail
then very gentle back to the car. We did see three groups hiking in or sitting
by the trail.
This was a spectacular backpacking trip. A day and a half of peaking
larch and blue sky. A night of rain and snow. A night that was horribly
cold. A meadow walk by moonlight. A fun cross country leg. More color than
a decade of normal Octobers. Although the numbers show only 15 miles with
6000' gained this was much more difficult than a normal trail hike.
There was scree, boulders, narrow trail, and non existent trail. I have
been truly fortunate to have had two sunny backpacks with peaking larch
trees in one year.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
First View Out
Dull In The Shade
Cloudy To The West
Green & Gold
Basin From Ridge
Still Light In Basin
Red, Green, & Gold
Light At Camp
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2006