Forum Index > Trip Reports > 6 Days in the Chelan-Sawtooth - Lake Chelan, Buttermilk Ridge,Star & Martin Peak Ridgeline-7.18-23
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Jeff Pod.
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Jeff Pod.
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 2:06 pm 
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We are currently based in Winthrop, WA and wanted to check out this small corner of the Cascades just south of us. We were pleasantly surprised by the Chelan - Sawtooth Wilderness area. It reminded us a little bit of the Sierraís in California with all of itís granite rock and talus walking that we ended up doing. This is a longer report - guess I was just enjoying writing - so here is an overview map - if you donít want to read it all:

Here is the link to a Cal Topo Map of our GPS Route.

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Day 1 - Over Horsehead Pass to Indianhead Basin
We left the Crater Creek TH around 10am - a later start than usual for us, but we werenít worried. Before we knew it we were up and over Horsehead Pass and dropping down towards Boiling Lake. The mosquitoes showed up and we knew the bugs would be around on this trip. We headed past Boiling Lake and hit the Summit Trail. Up and over a small pass, giving us great views of Star Peak, into a small valley and then up to Surprise Lake. We were starting to feel tired from the day and were hoping to stay up higher to possibly avoid some bugs. We decided not to drop to Surprise Lake, even though it was beautiful and headed up and over the next little pass, eventually dropping into Indianhead Basin (could probably use a name change). We were able to find a small flat spot deep in the forest below. Unfortunately, no escape from the bugs.

Beginning of the trail
Cool shelter we found
Beautiful flowers
A look down at Surprise Lake.
Dropping down into Indianhead Basin

Day 2 - Over Hortonís Butte to Lake Chelan Lakeshore Trail
The next morning we woke up and headed up and over Hortonís Butte. The trail was basically non-existent just before Hortonís Butte, so we just went straight up the hill. There were some markers, in the form of flags, most of the way - but they seemed to be making the act of going up a little bit harder. From Hortonís Butte down to Fish Creek we completely lost the trail and ended up bushwhacking for about 4-5 hours down to Round Lake (more like Round Swamp). Wow - that was hard. It was hot and there was no water at all. We definitely were dehydrated from that section. Eventually, we made it down to FIsh Creek where we layed in the river and drank water for about 45 minutes and laughed about what we just did. Then, we headed down the trail, hit the Lake Chelan Lakeshore Trail and walked to Flick Creek. We stayed at the established site there - totally stunning - and jumped in the lake a few more times. It felt like we could have jumped in the lake at 2 in the morning with how warm it was down low. We had an enjoyable night and were the only folks at the campsite.

Starting down the bushwhack descent

Made it to the lakeshore trail

Walking along the Lakeshore Trail

Jumping in Lake Chelan

Our campsite

Day 3 - Stehekin - Over Purple Pass to Deephole Spring
We woke up, packed up and walked towards Stehekin. We were curious to see what this place was like. I (Jeff) had only been there once and Carolyn had never been there. Stehekin was bustling (for the time of COVID) it seemed. There were groups of PCT hikers lounging and people getting on the ferry back across the lake. We bought a breakfast burrito at the restaurant and ate it. We are always proponents of little moments where we treat ourselves on backpacking trips. Then, we walked down the road and hit the Imus/Purple Pass Trail and started our long journey uphill. The Purple Pass trail is beautiful. There were so many flowers and we learned why they called it Purple Pass - because of all of the purple flowers along the trail and at the top. We headed over Purple Pass, down to Juanita Lake, where we jumped in, cooled off, and refilled our water and continued on. The trail from Purple Pass on is stunning with itís high position looking over towards the peaks west of Lake Chelan. That night we ended up camping on a ridgetop just above the Deephole Spring area. We had an amazing campspot, except the mosquitoes were probably the worst on the whole trip here, so we spent most of the evening hanging out in our shelter.

Looking down at Lake Chelan from the Purple Pass trail.

At Purple Pass

Lake Juanita

Can you see the mosquitoes?

Day 4 - Star Lake and the Buttermilk Ridge Traverse (Courtney Peak to Oval Peak)
We packed up quickly, as to not get completely wrecked from the mosquitoes, in the morning and headed towards Star Lake. We made it Star Lake around 12:30, jumped in, chilled for a bit, and then started up towards Courtney Peak to do the Buttermilk Ridge.The bugs were not as bad as we thought they would be at Star Lake. It is an easy climb up to Courtney and then an awesome scramble/walk along the Buttermilk Ridge to Oval Peak. Just one little tricky section where you drop down and around the main ridge line right before you start the final ridge to the top of Oval. The views were stunning in the afternoon/evening. We ended up at the summit of Oval Peak at around 7pm and made the long walk back to Star Lake on an unmaintained trail. This was one of our longest days and we were tired after this one. We went to bed at around 10:30 - 11pm that night.

Headed towards Star Lake

Pass above Star Lake. Heading towards Courtney Peak

Buttermilk Ridge

Ridgeline to Oval Peak - final push

On top of Oval Peak

Day 5 - Climbed Star Peak & Hike to Boiling Lake
We slept in and left camp later in the morning with sore bodies. We got back on the trail from Star Lake and headed over the small little pass along the ridgeline of Star Peak. We decided to drop our packs and climb Star Peak along the way. Really glad we did that - the views were amazing from up there and it was really cool to see the whole Buttermilk Ridge that we did the day before. We went back down to our packs and walked on trail all the way to Boiling Lake where we stayed for the night. Great day - but sore bodies again by the end.

Day 6 - Traverse from Martin Peak to Switchback Mountain & Hike Out
We woke up earlier on our last morning and planned to climb Martinís Peak, traverse to Switchback mountain and then hike out to the Crater Creek TH. We climbed to the small little pass south of Boiling Lake and traversed over to the saddle between Cheops and Martin Peak. Looking back we probably should have dropped off the pass and walked through the valley and then headed straight up the pass - instead of contouring and traversing along the hillside - oh well. We made it to the top of Martinís Peak where we ran into two other folks. We chatted with them for a a bit and then made the mellow traverse and climb to switchback mountain. This whole ridgeline is really awesome! We dropped down to the traill and then headed towards the trailhead. In our haste to continue the downhill trend to the trailhead we took a wrong turnÖ...we walked about 3 miles in the wrong direction, turned around, walked back, and then eventually made it back to Crater Creek TH on a good trail!

Headed towards Martin Peak along the ridgeline.

Looking back at Martin Peak from Switchback Mountain

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Phew! We were tired from this trip. Not sure it was really worth dropping all the way to Lake Chelan - but it was beautiful and we are glad we did it. We are also glad we did two ridge traverses and climbed 5 peaks along the way. The Chelan- Sawtooth Wilderness is awesome! We are definitely going to head back out there again sometime.

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cascadetraverser
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 5:54 pm 
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Nice trip.  You covered some ground!  I am going to head there with my family in a few weeks.  We are likely going to hike from Lake Juanita to Stehekin on the last day but I can hear the groans coming with that 5000K + descent.  Do you recall seeing any decent camping areas along that portion of the trail?  we would need to fit 3 tents....Thanks and appreciate the TR.
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Nancyann
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Location: Sultan Basin
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 9:22 pm 
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Thanks for the detailed trip report, nice area to visit, especially after bug season dies down. I could relate to the misery as we just returned from a five day trip from the Chiwawa area to Upper Larch Lake and the bugs got progressively worse each day to the point where they seemed to completely ignore any and all repellent we used. bug.gif
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FiresideChats
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Location: San Juan Islands
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 10:30 pm 
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Great stuff. Haven't made it that way yet, but it's nice to see there are still gen-u-ine trees still in that area after all those blazes in recent years. Inspiring pics!
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Brushbuffalo
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Location: there earlier, here now, somewhere later... Bellingham in between
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PostTue Jul 28, 2020 1:52 pm 
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Jeff Pod. wrote:
the Chelan - Sawtooth Wilderness area. It reminded us a little bit of the Sierraís in California with all of itís granite rock and talus walking

Like the High Sierra but with plenty of O2.

So you two didn't have to swim a fast, cold creek to escape this time!

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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triad
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PostTue Jul 28, 2020 8:43 pm 
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Wow that's quite the route you linked together! I love the Chelan Sawtooths. Crazy how many of those drainages up from Lake Chelan are burned up
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