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Eric Gilbertson
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PostTue Nov 10, 2020 7:15 pm 
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Prophet Massif Circumnavigation by Packraft

Nov 7-8, 2020

51 miles (34 hiking, 17 packrafting)

I was looking to go packrafting before the weather got too cold, and was also interested in scouting out a winter approach to some peaks in the north cascades. Lots of searching around on Google Earth and Caltopo lead me to an interesting option for a packrafting loop. I could hike up from Ross Dam to do a big loop around the Mt Prophet massif to the outlet of the Little Beaver River, then paddle all the way back down Ross Lake to my starting point.

This trip was appealing for several reasons. It could really only be done with a packraft or some sort of boat that could be carried for the 34 hiking miles. I could camp on an island (Cat Island). I would likely have the whole lake to myself since the Ross Lake Resort had stopped operations in October and the only other boat access point was near the Canada border, which is still closed. And North Cascades overnight permits are now self-issue til May, so there would be no hassle camping where I wanted to.

Putting in on Cat Island with Jack Mountain in the background
Putting in on Cat Island with Jack Mountain in the background
The route
The route
Passing Luna camp a bit after sunrise
Passing Luna camp a bit after sunrise

Packrafts are generally designed for running rivers and are much slower than canoes or kayaks in lakes or oceans. If theres a strong headwind its pretty difficult to make any progress in a packraft, as Id discovered in 2013 packrafting across a short section of open ocean to access an island of Nunavut in Hudson Bay. I was monitoring the wind forecast pretty closely and luckily the forecast settled on a north wind basically all weekend. This would be perfect for a clockwise loop, since I could be paddling almost due south on Ross Lake, thus giving myself a tailwind the whole time. The loop actually made the most sense to do clockwise since that would allow me to put on a lot of hiking miles at night and do all the paddling during the daylight. With the favorable wind forecast and sunny skies predicted I was good to go on the trip.

It would be cold, though, and Id potentially have to hike through some snow at beaver pass. So I planned to hike in my hiking boots instead of trail runners and bring microspikes just in case. I really wanted to bring my dry suit for paddling on the cold and windy lake all day, but that suit is too heavy to make sense carrying for 34 miles on the hiking portion of the loop.

Snowline just above me
Snowline just above me
Looking down from near Beaver Pass
Looking down from near Beaver Pass
So much for sunny weather
So much for sunny weather

Friday night I filled out a permit at the Marblemount ranger station then slept for a few hours in the Ross Dam trailhead, the only car there, then I got up at 11:30pm and was moving around midnight. Before heading out I made sure to set two mouse traps in the car to catch the pesky trailhead mice that always seem to find a way into the forester.

I hiked a mile down to the dam, then hiked around the edge of the lake a few hours to the Big Beaver crossing. Id been here once before to climb Luna Peak car to car in late October 2018, and had also left the trailhead around midnight then. This time, though, the trail was much wetter than Id remembered. Long stretches of the trail up Big Beaver river were submerged in water and I was happy to be in hiking boots instead of trail runners. It must have rained and snowed a lot during the week.

Several times I was startled by loud splashes in the water, and I figured out it was beavers warning me to get away. I also startled a handful of deer trying to sleep in the trail, and they crashed through the woods hopping away. By sunrise I reached Luna camp and stopped for a food break. Snow line was perhaps a thousand feet above me but my elevation was snow free and hovering in the upper 20s F. I continued up the river, soon passing a cairn which I suspect is the route to Luna. I think Luna has gotten more popular since 2018, since there was no climbers trail then and it was instead miles of bushwhacking up Access Creek.

Hiking down from Beaver Pass
Hiking down from Beaver Pass
Lots of really big trees in the Little Beaver valley
Lots of really big trees in the Little Beaver valley
First view of Ross Lake, with Cat Island in the distance
First view of Ross Lake, with Cat Island in the distance

I eventually switchbacked up to Beaver Pass and took a break at a shelter as it started to snow. The forecast had been for sunny skies, but I guess forecasts are not very reliable in the North Cascades. I hoped at least the wind direction was accurate, or Id be in for a tough time paddling back out. I crossed the pass then descended down to the Little Beaver River. I really wanted to put my packraft in and paddle all the way down to Ross Lake. It sounded great in theory, but Id done my research and scouted the whole river by satellite images. It was big enough to paddle in a packraft, but there were way too many blowdowns and strainers across the river to make it worth it. I usually figure paddling a river like that I can move at approximately walking speed. But with portaging around blowdowns that speed could be cut in half or more. I really wanted to make it to Ross Lake before sunset so I could paddle across in the daylight, so couldnt afford to get slowed down.

So I continued hiking down the trail on the north side of Little Beaver. Id occasionally get glances of the river and it looked like a very fun paddle, but then inevitably Id see a bunch of trees across and realize Id made a good call.

By 1pm I took a break at another shelter at Perry Creek, after navigating many flooded sections of trail. The forest around Perry Creek was full of enormous old growth cedar trees, similar to the forest along Big Beaver. These two valleys are among my favorite in Washington for finding huge old growth trees (the others are the north fork sauk and the hoh).

Hozomeen Mountain looming above
Hozomeen Mountain looming above
Putting in at the sheltered cove
Putting in at the sheltered cove
Starting the paddle
Starting the paddle

I hiked the remaining four miles out to Ross Lake, making it to the shore by 3pm. Sunset was at 4:30pm and I figured it would take me at least an hour to paddle to my camp, so I was cutting it kind of close to do the crossing in the daylight. I was happy to have started at midnight, and perhaps I should have started a little earlier.

I went down to the dock but the wind was a ferocious head wind with white caps crashing on the shore. That looked like a difficult place to put in. I was nervous since the wind there was coming from the south, but it turned out it was just spinning around a valley at the outlet of Little Beaver River. So I cut across a small peninsula to an eastward facing shore, and then was met with ferocious wind from the north. For my crossing I wanted to paddle southeast, then south to Cat Island, so at least I would never have a true headwind.

I hiked down to the south end of the small peninsula and finally found a semi-sheltered cove with no waves that I could safely put in. I quickly unpacked, stuffed my gear in the cargo zip, strapped my pack to the bow, and inflated the boat. By 3:30pm I pushed off. I was a bit nervous making the 1-mile open-water crossing in the waves and wind in an inflatable boat, though I did have an inflatable life jacket on in case I tipped. Ive never actually had an issue with leaks in the packraft going over rough rocks in rivers, so my fear was kind of unfounded going across open water.

Safely ashore on Cat Island
Safely ashore on Cat Island
Camp on Cat Island
Camp on Cat Island
A nice sheltered cove to put in the next morning
A nice sheltered cove to put in the next morning

It was pretty cold so I tried to paddle hard to stay warm. The waves were big enough they could possibly tip me if I werent paying attention, so I was constantly looking to my left as they hit so I could steady myself. Eventually I made it to the opposite shore and breathed a sigh of relief that I could paddle near the shore and with the wind for the next mile. I followed the shore southeast and reached the north end of Cat Island at 4:30pm, exactly at sunset. It was still windy so I quickly packed up the boat and gear and hustled up into the trees. I tagged the highpoint of the island then went to the interior where it was sheltered from the wind.

I quickly set up my new pyramid tent and threw in my bivy sack and sleeping bag inside. Id contemplated just bringing the bivy sack, but was happy to now have the extra shelter of the tent to shield me from the wind that was still cutting through the trees. (And, I figured it could still snow that night since it had snowed all morning during my hike, despite the sunny forecast). I cooked some ramen then soon went to bed.

The next morning at sunrise I hiked down to the southeast corner of the island and found another sheltered cove to put in. The skies were a bit more clear this morning and I had a great view of the Nohokomeen Glacier on Jack Mountain to the south. Back in June 2018 Id climbed the Nohokomeen headwall up Jack Mountain with Birkan and recalled looking down to Ross Lake on the descent.

Starting the paddle south of Cat Island
Starting the paddle south of Cat Island
Good views of Genesis Peak
Good views of Genesis Peak
Taking a break on Ten Mile Island to tag the highpoint
Taking a break on Ten Mile Island to tag the highpoint

I put all my layers on and soon put in. The paddling was easy with a gentle tail wind and I stayed close to the shore. Soon, though, I needed to round the ponderosa peninsula and was forced back to an unsheltered section of lake. The wind picked up and the waves became whitecaps. I had to be very alert to not tip. But it was fun getting to surf some of the waves when I paddled directly downwind. Soon I rounded the peninsula and was back in the shelter of the leeward side. I then paddled due south to Ten Mile Island and pulled over for a break.

Video paddling from Cat Island to Ten Mile Island

It was a quick bushwhack up to tag the highpoint of the island, then I got back in the boat and paddled around the sheltered east side. The sun was starting to poke out above the mountains then and I got great views of snow-capped peaks. Hozomeen Mountain looked impossibly steep to the north, while Genesis and Prophet looked a bit more mellow but still snowy to the west. I realized then that my trip made basically a big loop around the Mt Prophet Massif, so that seemed like a fitting name for the trip.

Brief glimpse of Luna Peak
Brief glimpse of Luna Peak
Good views of Jack Mtn
Good views of Jack Mtn
Taking out near Ross Dam
Taking out near Ross Dam

I hugged the east coast of the lake down around Rainbow Point, and got briefly stuck on a sandbar that was barely submerged. The lake level seemed like it was down about 10ft from the high water mark on the sides, and I believe the level gets lower and lower throughout the winter. I eventually scooted out and made it to Little Jerusalem Island for another break. I again quickly bushwhacked to the summit. The breaks were actually very cold. The wind seemed to pick up a bit higher off the water, and I would inevitably get wet transitioning to shore. My pack had ice forming from the spray, and it was indeed pretty cold. My best bet was to just keep moving.

I got back in the boat, rounded Roland Point, then crossed over to the west side of the lake. I made one final stop at Cougar Island to tag the highpoint, and I think that means I tagged all the island highpoints of Ross Lake.  The wind died down after Cougar Island and I paddled easily southwest around Green Point. I snuck through the gap in the logs around the Ross Lake Resort, and saw a few workers there presumably readying the area for winter. I passed a dock with a bunch of canoes tied up, but hadnt seen a single other person on the water all day.

Timelapse video of packing up

By 1:30pm I made it to the takeout point on the south end of the lake. I still had three hours of daylight, but was happy to have given myself that extra buffer. The wind had been predicted to shift to a southerly wind that night, and I was concerned it might shift earlier and slow me down considerably. So it was nice to have the extra buffer hours. I quickly packed up, then hiked a mile back up to my car by 2:30pm.

Interestingly, I noticed Id caught two mice in my traps in the car over the weekend. Its unclear if they had been living in the car or were just trailhead mice, but they wont be bothering me any more. I was wet and cold but had luckily stashed a dry set of clothes in the car, which I changed into before driving home.

Link to more pictures
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OutOfOffice
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PostTue Nov 10, 2020 7:29 pm 
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You're stealing my ideas man and I don't even know you!  biggrin.gif  I just did a trip up to big beaver with my raft a couple weeks back and paddled the ruby arm. Have plans to do this loop that you just did and another one up to Desolation on the east bank and paddle back.

Glad to see someone else with an Alpacka out there.
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Cyclopath
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PostTue Nov 10, 2020 8:51 pm 
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You're a brave man rafting so far on Ross Lake, especially in the white caps!   eek.gif
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MangyMarmot
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PostTue Nov 10, 2020 9:43 pm 
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That's a really cool trip. Way to go Eric!
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Gimpilator
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PostWed Nov 11, 2020 5:43 am 
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In the modern day, real adventure is still possible.  Great story.

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Keep climbing mountains and don't slip!
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GaliWalker
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PostWed Nov 11, 2020 3:46 pm 
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Gimpilator wrote:
In the modern day, real adventure is still possible.

Exactly what I was thinking as I read through. agree.gif

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Stefan
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PostThu Nov 12, 2020 9:37 am 
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This does not make sense to me.  You slept.  In a sleeping bag?  You mean, you took time to sleep?

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Art is an adventure.
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timberghost
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PostThu Nov 12, 2020 12:57 pm 
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Did you catch any fish
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Slim
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PostThu Nov 12, 2020 3:49 pm 
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Very nice trip. 

You said that Little Beaver was probably not navigable by packraft due to blowdowns and sweepers.  Any opinion on if you could take an Alpacka down Big Beaver ? 

~Slim

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Fletcher
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PostThu Nov 12, 2020 4:04 pm 
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That is a hell of a route to the summit of Cat Island!
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostThu Nov 12, 2020 8:50 pm 
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Quote:
You mean, you took time to sleep?

Yeah, I guess one of my goals on this trip was to camp out on an island, which was fun. Though I could see this being fun as one big push also, if it was timed so all the paddling was in the daylight.

Quote:
Did you catch any fish?

I definitely considered bringing my telescoping rod! I'll have to do that next time.

Quote:
Any opinion on if you could take an Alpacka down Big Beaver ?

I didn't get a good view of current conditions on Big Beaver since that part was all at night, but from what I've seen in 2018 it looked like a fun paddle on the lower section at least with many fewer blowdowns. I saw OutofOffice mentioned paddling Big Beaver a few weeks ago, and I've seen an older nwhikers post from 2015 that mentioned paddling Big Beaver from 39-mile camp down (I think from Ski?). I'd like to hear about it if you paddle it!

Quote:
That is a hell of a route to the summit of Cat Island!

Thanks! A green dot is a green dot, so at least my peakbagger account is still active.
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Brushbuffalo
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PostSat Nov 14, 2020 9:34 am 
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Eric Gilbertson wrote:
older nwhikers post from 2015 that mentioned paddling Big Beaver from 39-mile camp down

I recall reading a TR about a couple of guys who did an adventurous overnight  winter trip on Ross Lake on standup paddleboards. They ventured up Big Beaver Creek a short distance with boards.
I couldn't identify the trip on NWHikers. Anyone remember?

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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timberghost
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PostTue Nov 17, 2020 6:55 am 
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Looks like a great trip
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