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Sculpin
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 8:17 am 
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Many of the craggiest peaks in Washington state are clustered around the head of Lake Chelan, but there are very few high trails in there.  So despite decades of hiking in the Cascades, I have spent little time in the area.  I decided to check it out.

Getting a NOCA permit was agonizing.  How do you plan a meet-up for a hike when you may have to stand in line for three hours to get a permit?  But I eventually figured it out.  The first night, July 19, would be at Fireweed Camp on the PCT, with three nights at McAlester Lake to facilitate day hiking.  No suffering became a meme!

The first day was a 3.5 mile drop of 600' on the PCT to Fireweed Camp.  Very few bugs remain on the valley trails and the weather was cool and comfortable.  The PCT has sustained considerable damage where it crosses a huge avalanche swath.  The brush is thick and two streams have been captured by the trail, keeping your boots dry is a challenge.  One couple we talked to at Fireweed convinced themselves that they had lost the PCT and doubled back to the Stiletto Trail to get to Fireweed!

The next day we got a decent start in the cool morning air and the trail up McAlester is in beautiful shape.  The park ranger I talked to told us that there was no recent report on the crossing of East Fork McAlester (drains from Twisp Pass), but the bridge was broken and no crossing was possible in late June.  We got there to discover that the water was down to mid-calf and fordable, but the broken bridge made for an easier crossing.  Which was good because even at mid-calf, the ford would have been challenging on softballs, footballs, and the occasional basketball.


Beyond the crossing, we started hitting blowdown, perhaps a dozen or so, impassable to horses.


Before we knew it we arrived at McAlester Lake.  The old horse camp on the east side of the lake has been abandoned and all the camps are now at the west end.  McAlester Lake is more scenic than I expected, although I did not take any images.  After setting up camp, we day hiked up to the pass and took the spur trail towards Hidden Meadows.  Another dozen blowdowns were on the trail to the pass, and then another dozen or so on the spur.  The ones on the spur trail looked like they had been there for more than one season.  It was then that I realized that I was not really seeing any evidence of recent horse use in the form of road apples.
Does anyone take horses up the McAlester trail anymore?

Hidden Meadows is spectacular.  Unfortunately the wet meadow supported a healthy crowd of mosquitoes.  A meadow ramp leads from camp to the ridge top and some of the best views in the Cascades.

Asters Emerging 2
Asters Emerging 2

When we got back to camp, the mosquitoes had come out.  I would not call them truly bad, but they were a constant presence.

After a perfect night for sleeping, we day hiked to Dee Dee Lakes off the South Pass Trail.  All of our days began with our "commute" up to McAlester Pass.


At the pass, we met three hikers who had just come from Dee Dee Lakes.  They told us they would be camping at McAlester Lake that night.  Those were the only folks we saw all day.

  The one mile stretch of trail from McAlester Pass to South Pass is absolutely stunning, through avalanche meadows rioting with wildflowers.


As pointed out in another TR, the way trail to Dee Dee Lakes starts just behind the giant "Lake Chelan Recreation Area" sign at South Pass, on reader's left.   wink.gif  The very beginning has a couple small blowdowns, obscuring it a bit.  The trail does not go up, it immediately starts a contour towards the lake.  The way trail is in fine shape to beautiful Dee Dee Lakes.


We did not stay long because the bugs were intense at the lakes, far worse than on the trail.  After we enjoyed the lakes, we hiked back to South Pass and climbed the ridge to the west for more views.  I guess I stopped taking images in the hazy heat of the day.

That evening, as we were sitting in camp at McAlester Lake, we heard a voice yelling across the lake:  "WANT SOME FISH?"  It was one of the three guys we met that morning.  So my sister yelled "YES!"  After a few minutes, the guy shows up with a stringer of eight of the some of the finest cutts I have ever seen come out of a mountain lake.  They gave us half.  My sister Meli insisted on cleaning all the fish.


She just happened to have corn meal and olive oil, so we had a wonderful fish fry that evening.  Thanks guys!  They explained that last time they were in the area 20 years earlier, the fishing was excellent at Dee Dee and poor at McAlester.  This time it was the opposite.  YMMV.

The next day was expected to the be highlight, Rainbow Ridge.  Unfortunately, this day was also expected to be quite hot.  Once we commuted back to McAlester Pass, we took off straight up from the trail junction sign.


Intermittent boot path takes you up to a single cliff band, if you go climber's right you will pick up a more consistent boot path that takes you up to the top, easy.  Once on the top, it is meadow roaming to East Rainbow.  At this point it was already getting hot, with heat reflecting off the white granitic rocks.  We worked our way up, down, up, down, up, down, and finally reached the first tarn.


The next stretch was 600' steeply up, and we were knackered from the heat.  We bailed.

We hiked out the next day, following the trail on the east side of Bridge Creek that accesses the Stiletto Spur.  The creek crossings were not a problem anywhere.  Copper Creek was still flowing fairly high but there was a really fun log jam to cross just downstream.  I noticed that the Stiletto Spur trail junctions with the main trail in the only brushy spot on the route, and is difficult to see coming from the north because the sign is only visible from the south.  Someone put a tiny cairn in the trail, watch for that.

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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drm
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 2:53 pm 
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Spectacular area! And it's been on my short list. I have thought of doing a loop with Rainbow Lake. But I can get into the basecamp thing!

So it looks like there are three established camps in the immediate area: McAlester Lake, McAlester Pass, and Hidden Meadows. If there were no bugs, which would be the best? Sounds like Hidden Mdws was spectacular, but maybe the pass would make a better basecamp location.

Is Dee Dee Lake the one south of South Pass and just north of McAlester Mountain?
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cascadetraverser
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PostMon Jul 27, 2020 5:28 pm 
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That`s some great country; we took the family up there some years back and had a blast.  Didn`t make it to Dee Dee Lakes, they look amazing. Might have to go back..... Thanks for the TR!
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Sculpin
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PostTue Jul 28, 2020 7:03 am 
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drm wrote:
McAlester Lake, McAlester Pass, and Hidden Meadows. If there were no bugs, which would be the best?

Given that the day hikes are not that long, I think Hidden Meadows is most desirable.  But High Camp at McAlester Pass is also in meadows and very nice, although neither have panoramic views.

Not sure if the water will still be running during larch season at McAlester Pass, but the stream at Hidden Meadows looked plenty big.

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Between every two pines is a doorway to the new world. - John Muir
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raising3hikers
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PostTue Jul 28, 2020 7:34 pm 
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Thanks for the TR, I had told my son last week of this place. An area he can fish, and I can tag pks.
Nice pics!

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Eric Eames
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chrisinakmtns
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PostThu Jul 30, 2020 11:54 pm 
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Great trip report. I've been up there a couple of times. The Dee Dees are very nice, as is Rainbow Ridge. Definitely plan to return.
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Cool Trails
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PostThu Aug 06, 2020 8:36 am 
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Lovely alpine. I did that trip 8 years ago this week.
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