6/30 - 7/04/07
Suzanne wanted to get out of town. I had one day to
find a destination. She wanted good weather, minimal snow, and lots of
roaming. We went through a few options and settled on Horseshoe Basin
in the Pasayten Wilderness. Neither of us had been there before. It's
a long drive from Seattle. We met at around 7:00 am on Saturday and soon
were needed north. We chose to drive over via the North Cascades Highway.
It's a little slower but more scenic. It was my second time over the NCH
in a month and also second time ever. We knew that fire last fall burned
much of the approach trail but the basin itself seemed to have escaped
Our approach included a minor route finding error that took us into
Oroville via the backroad. Once back on track we reached Loomis and were
surprised to see that pavement continued into the high forest. There were
only a few short dirt sections of road all the way to the Iron Gate Road
junction. The signed turn is just beyond milepost 36. Guide books talk
about how bad the 6+ mile road to Iron Gate is. At least for now it is
not bad at all.
We arrived at the trailhead a little after 2:00 pm. About 7 hours
including our little wild goose chase. It was warm with some clouds. By
2:15 we were on the trail. The route to Sunny Pass is an old road. It
is wide and pretty smooth. The start is downhill in forest. In less than
a mile is an intersection. Left goes to Windy Peak on the Clutch Creek
Trail. Right is the Albert/Fourteen Mile Trail. All three routes can get
to Sunny Pass. The straight ahead trail is the shortest way.
The green forest soon gave way to the burn. Everything is black. The
charred remains of trees, stumps, and even much of the ground. It was interesting
to see patches of green grasses and low plants. Some life is coming back
already. The fire was just last fall. While the devastation is almost complete,
it also has a beauty all its own. The crossing of Clutch Creek was the
last abundant water supply until near Sunny Pass. The road climbs gently
with a few ups and downs. The trailhead is at about 6150' and Sunny Pass
is at 7250' leaving a net gain of about 1100'.
Plants included sage, paintbrush, lupine, shooting stars, bog orchid,
old man's whiskers, marsh marigolds, and more. It was not the peak of
the flowers but they were very good none the less. Nearing Sunny Pass
we went by one camping group. Upon reaching the pass after five miles of
hiking everything changed. The charred burn gave way to the rolling grassland
and peaks of Horseshoe Basin. What a difference! We could see Pick, Rock,
Armstrong, Arnold, and Horseshoe peaks ringing the basin. In the next few
days we would be on top of all of them.
From Sunny Pass the route begins a gently descending traverse to the
right. We contoured around Horseshoe Mountain. There were still lots of
small creeks crossing the trail. By mid summer they will all be dry. We
dropped about 200' in 1 1/8 mile to Horseshoe Pass. A sign points right
to Smith Lake. We continued ahead a very short distance to another sign for
Goodenough Peak. The trail now turns from north to northwest for about a
mile to Louden Lake. We crossed one larger creek draining the valley between
Armstrong and Arnold Peaks.
After seven miles of hiking we were ready to find a campsite near
7070' Louden Lake. One tent was visible above the southeast end of the
lake. Another tent was hidden on the slope of Armstrong across from the
lake. After scouting the southwest end of the lake we found one more group
of tents and a good available site. The tent went up and the food was hung.
We had dinner and walked around the lake area. It was soon time to turn
in. I usually sleep poorly the first night out but was so tired I was soon
out and slept until morning. Suzanne did likewise.
We had no preconceived plans so we made it up as we went along. After
breakfast we chose to climb right up from the campsite to the summit of
Rock Mountain. The hillside is steep but its mostly grassy with good footing.
There was still one snowbank and we passed it on the right. The top proved
to be a plateau with several bumps. This is a theme that repeated itself
on most of the summits we visited. We had our first long distance views
from the 7617' summit. That didn't take long. What to do now? Suzanne suggested
dropping down to the northwest and climbing the peak across from us.
We thought that peak was Haig but in fact it was Point 7784 some 81'
lower than Haig. The descent from Rock was easy enough though we did have
to avoid some muddy marshy spots. At the bottom was more marsh to get through.
We rose to intersect the Boundary Trail coming from Louden Lake. A little
more burn was passed and we rose to meadows on the hillside. The going
was easy to a ridge. Above was easy scrambling to the summit. The block
was too steep on three sides but provided access on the other side. Summit
number two was under our belts.
We dropped a little to the west on another summit plateau to a slightly
slower summit. We could see a lower ridge heading to the north and into
Canada with a point at the end. Suzanne was interested in taking a shot
at it. The east side of the ridge below us was impossibly steep. It was
not clear if the top was hikable or if we could drop down to the ridge at
all. It was soon clear that we could not get straight down to the ridge from
the west summit. We headed back east looking for a way down. Before we reached
the true summit I saw a gully that would take us down the southwest side
to leveler ground below.
We dropped down the gully and traversed downhill to the start of the
ridge. We rounded the corner now heading north on the ridge and it was
easy going. There were a few ups and downs as we headed along the ridge.
We came to a bare spot and a look west showed it was the border swath. No
trees at all on the border. We could see it going many miles to the west.
A look uphill to the ridge top showed something and we headed up to find
Monument 102. We took a few photos and continued north. The final scramble
was easy enough and we reached the summit.
The summit appeared to be small from a distance but in fact it was
large enough for us and about 90 of our friends. It was a great place to
relax and enjoy the view. That's exactly what we did. We had lunch and lazed
around for an hour or so. Heading back we chose to stay right on the ridge
top and it worked just fine. When we reached Monument 102 I noticed a big
bullet hole right through it. Who would go all the way out here to shoot
a monument? More importantly, we did not remember seeing it on the way
out. Uh oh... We were more than a little disturbed. I immediately thought
to check out our earlier photos. Indeed, they did show a bullet hole. We breathed
a sigh of relief and continued on.
Instead of going back to the summit we did a level traverse around
Point 7784 and dropped back down to the trail. In short order we were back
at camp. Since Point 7784 has no official name Suzanne and I dubbed
it Sadie's Summit. The northern point out the ridge is Sadie's Tail. The
bugs began to make their presence known but were not too bad. It was still
early so off we headed again. This time we hiked back to Horseshoe Pass
then took the trail towards Smith Lake. There were still a number of creeks
crossing this trail. Some snow still lingered on the north side of Horseshoe
Along the Smith Lake Trail we saw a number of larch trees. Over the
next few days we found a number of areas of larch concentrations. There
were also a number of flowers along the trail. We passed two hikers who
turned out to the folks we saw camping below Sunny Pass on day one. At Smith
Lake we found a group of three campers. The lake itself was larger than Louden
but not that impressive.
From there we headed back to camp. After dinner we debated doing one
more trip. Although tired we chose to head up Armstrong Mountain. We headed
straight up to the sough ridge from Louden Lake. It was moderately steep
grass and small rocks. Not difficult but tiring. Once on the ridge the
grade lessened and led up to the American summit at the east edge of the
peak. Again we found ourselves on a huge summit plateau. We found Monument
104 near the 8140' summit. The Canadian summit appeared to be a little higher
and we trudged towards it. It's at least a third of a mile across the plateau.
The sun was now low on the horizon as we found Monument 103, the third
one we saw this day. It was about 9:00 pm now. We headed down with a good
chance of reaching camp before dark. A little way down the slope I noticed
an interesting cloud to the south and mentioned it to Suzanne. She stopped
and looked around seeing a blazing red cloud to the west. Neither of us
had seen it. It was amazing. Suzanne took off to the west to see over the
ridge. I followed. We came to a point with a great view of the sunset.
This may have been the best sunset I have ever seen. Wow! It started
red and soon became much redder. There were just enough clouds to create
some amazing colors. Three dozen photos later the colors faded and the
sun set. We sped up and hurried down the slope and back to camp. Thus ended
a spectacular day of hiking.
Our third day began with another peak to bag. We headed back to the
south ridge of Armstrong at a lower angle. Crossing the ridge we dropped
into the valley between Armstrong and Arnold peaks. The low point between
the peaks is Soehumption Gap. We headed towards the gap but turned uphill
before reaching it. The middle of the valley was very marshy. We slogged
through a little mud before getting across. The slope looked very steep
but proved to be easy enough to hike up. I was tired from the first two
days and made slow steady progress.
As the grade lessened we found...another long flat summit plateau.
The actual 8090' summit was marked by a rock wall that was visible from
far away. From the top we could see wide rounded ridges going off to the
east and northeast. We dropped a few hundred feet down the northeast ridge.
One could just walk on and on and on... We on the other had had other places
to go. We headed back the way we came. This time we headed down near the
gap and then dropped down the valley, over the ridge of Armstrong, and back
It was now time to pack up and move camp. We planned to head back
to Sunny Pass for the last two nights. It was very warm this day. It is
only a few miles to the pass with a few hundred feet to gain. As we approached
Sunny Pass I saw a hiker and a dog above the trail. I recognized them as
Slugman and Daisy! I had met Slugman before but Suzanne only knew him from
nwhikers.net postings. We had a nice exchange and he suggested an area
to find good camps. We followed his advice and found a nice spot above the
We hoped a high camp would have wind as the bugs became much worse
each day. We set up camp, hung the food, and packed up for another day hike.
This time the destination was 7956' Horseshoe Mountain. The slope was easy
enough to ascend but we found ourselves meeting the Albert/Fourteen Mile
Trail and used it to climb on up. It is very easily graded with many switchbacks.
When it reached the south ridge of Horseshoe we turned towards the summit.
We found....yet another long gentle summit plateau. Clouds had been building
all day and now they were getting dark.
We were still in shorts and short sleeves though a cold wind was blowing.
We reached the summit and very soon were heading back down. We felt a few
raindrops. They were the only ones for the whole trip and lasted only a
minute or two. Our route down was more direct and soon we were back at camp.
It was time for dinner. After that the bugs drove us indoors. My Nallo 3
is plenty big for two.
Although we were both tired 7620' Pick Peak is only 450' above our
campsite. At around 8:00 pm we headed up for another sunset view. We reached
the peak quickly. The mosquitoes were bugging us so we headed down the west
ridge of Pick. It was yet another broad grassy gently sloping ridge. We
dropped a few hundred feet then headed back uphill. On the summit we had
a good though not great sunset. The hike down to camp was fast and we headed
Day four took us west and out of Horseshoe Basin. Windy Peak is the
highest point in the area nearby. At 8334' it is only 1130' above Sunny
Pass. To get there you have to drop 650' though. The trail left right from
Sunny Pass and began to descend. Before long we left green forest and entered
a very severe burn from last fall. Charred remains of trees are all around.
It was already warm at 9:00 am and getting warmer. Going downhill was easy
but tired legs were not very happy with the uphill. We could see a pass
to the north of Windy and expected the trail to go there.
The trail contoured above the bottom of the valley and climbed in
charred trees. It went to the south of the pass. Green forest began again
and now it was largely larch trees. We came to an intersection. Left went
to Windy Peak and right to Chewack River. We went left and continued climbing.
The route went to the east of a large bump on the ridge. It then went behind
another bump on the west and regained the ridge top. From there is climbed
bard slopes to traverse around the west side of Windy Peak.
We hiked up this trail and on the west side of the summit we found
three packs along the trail. The map shows a way trail to the summit but
we saw no trail here. I suggested just heading up the slope. We did so
and traversed a little south as we climbed up. A few minutes later I saw
a women hiking down. In fact she was on the summit trail. It was the group
we saw at Smith Lake. They were hiking out via the Clutch Creek Trail.
Now on trail we had no problems reaching the old lookout site on the
summit. The view from on top was outstanding. We could see Glacier Peak
and the top of Mt. Baker far to the west. It was such a nice summit that
we chose to have an extended stay. We could see that Topaz Mountain was just
off the Chewack River Trail and not far from the intersection. It was not
possible to see if the ridge could be scrambled but we considered giving
it a try.
On the way down we followed the summit trail to a well signed intersection.
We then followed our way back to the Chewack intersection. I was tired
but Topaz was close by so off we went. The route dropped down to the obvious
saddle then climbed up the ridge of Topaz. We left the trail and followed
the broad grassy ridge. It did not take long to get to the summit block.
The right side looked to have loose dirt and very steep rock. The ridge itself
was too steep. The left side looked better though it burned all the way
to the summit.
Off to the left we went. It wa mostly dirt down low and rock above.
I headed up first. Half way up I spotted a possible route to our left.
Climbing up I found that there was a wide ramp with rock on either side.
This passage switched back and another ramp led to the top. It was a very
unlikely near walk up. Suzanne followed and we were on top in no time.
There are actually four summits. The second was higher than the first.
The map shows this one to be the highest. I found a buck knife near the
top. We had a short stay on top and headed down.
The three others we saw on Windy mentioned they camped at Windy Lake.
We chose to try finding it ourselves on the way down. It's obvious enough
from the map where to leave the trail. In fact we found a boot path to
the lake. The burn reached the lake and it is well charred on several sides.
There are a few camp spots but others are now very ashy. Back on trail
we dropped down through the burn.
It was getting very warm and the burn seemed like something out of
Dante's Inferno. Suzanne called it "Hell Canyon". It was very appropriate.
The last 500' of gain seemed to take forever. Finally back at camp the mosquitoes
were now getting down right voracious. We headed indoors again for a nap.
After dinner we headed back up Pick Peak for our third straight mountain
top sunset. Better than number two but nowhere near as good as the first
one. Bugs were really bad on the summit of Pick at 9:00 pm. Thus ended another
day in Horseshoe Basin.
The final day began with breakfast and then we packed up to leave.
With much food weight gone our packs were much lighter. The trip down went
very fast. We were on the trail at 7:40 and reached the car at 9:10. That
just left a six hour drive home via Highways 97 and 90. It may not be shorter
than Highway 20 but it is faster. By the time we reached Loomis it was
in the 70s. By the time we reached Cle Elum it was 97 degrees. I was happy
to be leaving as the temperatures began to soar.
This was a trip I had planned for many years. It came about unexpectedly
but was every bit as good as I could have hoped for. The fire did scar
the area around the basin but the basin itself was untouched. We camped
each night above 7000' and summited seven named peaks and two unnamed ones.
Three peaks were over 8000' and the others were over 7600'. We saw a lot
of the area but now I am even more intrigued with the things we did not see.
Cathedral Pass, Haig Mountain, Teapot Dome, and Amphitheater Mountain. Perhaps
a fall trip to see the larch. I will be back.
Suzanne's trip report and photos are here:
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Black & Orange
Old Man's Whiskers
Near Sunny Pass
Suzanne At Sunny
Ascending Rock Mt
Rock False Summit
Point 7784 Burn
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2007