Portal Peak, Red Pass, White Pass via N Fork Sauk Jul 10-12
I had the day off so you get good photos and an essay trip report!
Well we were supposed to do a loop backpack from Sloan Creek CG up the North Fork Sauk to the PCT, along to Kodak Peak, then back along Pilot Ridge, however my buddy Mr A felt too weak as we ascended towards White Pass, so we re-planned things on the fly...
We left Seattle around 3pm on Friday after a mishap involving a GPS & a car roof... Got to the TH around 6pm & started up the trail. We checked the crossing over the N Fork Sauk to the Johnson Ridge trail: I say there's no problem at all--plenty of big easy logs to cross, Mr A's not quite so sure of my judgment, but agrees he may be able to make it across, somehow. Sorry, no picture taken.
We continue up the trail which is nice up & down through old growth till roughly Red Creek. There the old growth seems to disappear & the forest becomes creepy dark, thick second growth. The big news is that there is an awesome trail crew camped out at Red Creek for the next week who are brushing out the trail, and constructing a new portion that must be almost a ½ mile long around a washed out area between Red Creek & the Mackinaw Shelter. The Red Creek crossing isn't bad for me (some nice logs just upstream of the trail), Mr A isn't so sure but makes it across...eventually =)
We arrived at Mackinaw around 9pm and decided enough was enough for the night, so we camped in the creepy dark trees. There aren't a whole load of good flat spots around there, but the open air toilet is a nice perk.
Up the next morning, and again our judgment of trail conditions differed. It just shows how weak Mr A was as we're usually pretty level in ability. Anyway, I think the trail from Mackinaw to the PCT is fairly easy & a well graded trail; it sure doesn't seem like it gains 3000' in under 3 miles--with all the switchbacks I bet its more like 4. Other than the one big avalanche field which you can avoid by heading straight up to the next switchback, the trail's in fairly good shape. Not too much water until you hit the PCT though, dog owners beware.
At about 5200' you break out of the trees for good (before that it's alternating between forest & avalanche runout) and head through meadows full of wildflowers that are spectacular right now. The final ½ mile before the PCT, and the PCT itself are especially awesome, especially on a day as crystal clear as it was for us on Saturday.
We made it to White Pass where there was one lonely tent--probably a party climbing Glacier?--and stopped for lunch, water, and to regroup. The flies were being bothersome but not much else, and after studying the map Mr A decided our plan to get to Kodak Peak that afternoon wasn't going to happen. Mainly because of the long hike out over Pilot Ridge the next day.
We decided to backtrack along the ridge & camp at Red Pass. The PCT was floriferous and beautiful and we soon arrived at Red Pass. Because of the snow, there was nowhere to camp except at the pass itself, and there was a cryptic sign lying on the ground at the best campsite that said "Please Camp Elsewhere". Okay, we didn't take the best site but still plonked our tents down at the pass and got ready to feast on the awesome view that evening.
Plenty of water to the south & north of the pass, so after filtering enough water for the rest of the day, Mr A decided to take it easy and held on to Lucy, who really wanted to go with me, while I scrambled up Portal Peak.
It was an easy scramble up steep heather slopes to a small cornice of snow at the top. According to the summit register I was the first ascendant of 2009. The views are awesome! Especially on such a clear day. The Stuart range was visible in the SE, and Baker to the NW, and all the closer peaks too--with Glacier right across the valley. I didn't want to leave, but Mr A & Lucy were waiting down below, so after 45 minutes I went back down for a little single malt before dinner.
After dinner we enjoyed an incredible sunset & a lightning show over Sloan & Monte Cristo, and finally turned in. A nice breeze kept the bugs away all evening, but it turned into a raging gale that night. A few showers (maybe hail?) too, but everything was dry in the morning as we packed up and got ready to go. Then Mr A's sleeping bag decided to roll off into the abyss. He went down & looked for it, but it's now in retirement somewhere west of Red Pass. At least the pack was lighter coming home!
Drizzle started so we hoofed it & made it back to Mackinaw in 90 minutes, after seeing a couple doing the "old" PCT from Stevens Pass to the N Cascades--the first humans we had seen since the work party! I hope they were able to cross the White Chuck & the Suiattle. A quick lunch by the N Fork Sauk where it has washed out the trail, and then we headed back to the car. Slow going at the end, but Mr A made it and will be right as rain for our next adventure.
Trails mud & snow free
Some bugs but not annoying
I was planning on going to that area at the very beginning of September. I'm also surprised by how little snow is up there already. Do you think there will still be water at the White Pass campsites by then? I know it's hard to tell these things...
I’ve been there in mid-September before, and found water tumbling across the PCT right before White Pass (if you’re coming from N Fk Sauk). Load up before descending to the campsites. (I've never been able to find the water source down there - I've heard about it, but have always had the place to myself with no one to show me)
It's the only campground that's completely void of rocks. Think about that when you're there. There aren't any rocks laying around. It's wierd. So if you need rocks, get those from the PCT, too.
Thanks for the compliments. It's almost hard to not take good pictures with the awesome weather that we had, but it was also nice to be able to sit & chill for hours (and snap photos) rather than putting the miles on. If only I had 5 day weekends!
@Foist: There was a lot less snow than I thought there would be--I should have left my ice axe at home... But then if you think about it all the slopes we were on were south facing so it makes sense. There's still a lot of snow in the White Chuck & White River valleys so I think you'll find some water at White Pass, even if you have to descend into the valley a little bit to get it. I was mainly worried about snow on the high route to Blue Lake, and around Dishpan Gap--I don't know if I've ever seen Dishpan Gap without snow, but I guess I'm usually in that area fairly early in the season.
@Balding: You should be able to do that over Labor Day weekend no problem if you do what we did & get as far as Mackinaw on Friday evening. That'll let you set up camp at White Pass on Saturday (or just hide your packs somewhere at the PCT Junction) and get out to Cinder Cone as a day trip, and then still give you Sunday & Monday to get to Blue Lake & Pilot Ridge. The PCT is so easy to hike on--even though that portion that hasn't been maintained to PCT standards in a few years. If you go to Cinder Cone I'd recommend trying to go back cross country via Portal; the views are outstanding.
I think with the hot weather we're having, our hike this weekend is going to be to Red Creek. Sounds like a nice stretch of trail to spend a hot day on. Is the road the road is repaired all the way to the trailhead? FS website says so, but you know how that goes....
Thanks for a great TR! I can't wait to hit this one.
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