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Sculpin
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PostSun Dec 08, 2019 10:01 am 
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This one has been marinating for a while...

Hit the Trail posted a TR on the high country north of Windy Pass when he got most of the way to Lake Cara.  I had been wanting to go up there for a long time, so I decided to do some solo exploration.  I was thinking of heading to Cara myself, and even PM'ed Downhill Bill about it, but that did not happen.  And although I got close enough to spit a watermelon seed there, I did not summit Cashmere.

A nice weather window came up mid-week, with Wednesday expected to hit 90F in Seattle.  Good conditions for a retiree!  I made it to the Eightmile trailhead at 8:30 am on Tuesday, to find the parking lot 3/4th full.  I was a bit surprised at that.  I happened to be loading up at the same time as a couple ladies in the car next to me.  They had ice axes and crampons, which made me wonder...Cashmere?  I wasn't expecting ice on that route.  Hmmm.  I could hear them talking, and one mentioned Aasgard Pass.  So I said hi, and after exchanging pleasantries, I asked where they were headed.  They told me they had a core Enchantments permit and were heading up via Colchuck.  Um, you realize this is not the trailhead for that, right?  They did not believe me.  I said that although this parking lot was big, the one at the end of the road was five times bigger.  They loaded up and drove off, still looking somewhat dubious.  Good luck, ladies!

Plenty of folks, including families, on the trail.  But none had backpacks.  Turned out that the big crowds were all headed to Eightmile Lake, which is very scenic now that the fire burned away the trees.  Once I got past Little Eightmile Lake and turned off, the solitude began.  It was already getting warm.  I had last ascended to Lake Caroline in late June, on a tip from HTT that the ridge melted out early, which worked great.  There were a couple spring fed rivulets about half way up on that hike, and I was hoping they were still there.  Sure enough, in the last week of August, they were flowing just like they had in June.  Splashing my face and wetting down my hat and shirt felt sublime!  This entire stretch is open after the fire.  Soon I got beyond the burned area and into subalpine trees.  I came to a giant fir with a broad skirt, it looked pitch black underneath.  The cool darkness beckoned. There were no bugs.  I walked in, pulled off my pack, lay down in the thick duff, and immediately fell asleep.

I awoke cool and refreshed.  Onward!  The trail reaches a saddle on the ridge just before Lake Caroline.  There is a small meadow, but no views from the trail.  However, if you locate a faint bootpath just south of the saddle, it takes you along the ridge to the east.  There are very nice views out there, and it does indeed make a great hike in late June as HTT attested.

A few switchbacks took me to Lake Caroline.  It is an entirely ordinary lake, deep enough but not particularly attractive, and no cliff views.  The campsites were all empty.  The outlet stream was dry.

I continued on to Little Caroline.  The trail passes a horse camp, which is away from the lake but has the best - still mediocre - views.  I had thought about camping farther up, but did not know if I would find water past the lake.  I opted for the camp near the lake (set back the requisite 100 feet).  It was really quite nice despite the lack of crags, in the evening it felt like a Maxfield Parrish painting.  The outlet stream was dry and there was no inlet stream, but the lake had good access to the shore.  As I stood on the shore, I saw the most beautiful trout swim up, in shades of bright gold and iridescent green.  I was transfixed, it looked just like the Golden Trout I had seen in Golden Trout Wilderness in the Sierra!  I later asked Brian Curtis about it, but he told me that Little Caroline is stocked with Westslope Cuttroat, not Goldens.  There is a lot of color variation in trout, and if anyone would know, it would be Brian (I worked with Brian's uncle Don, also an avid hiker and High Laker, for many years).  It looked to me like there would be good fishing in the deep water, which would require a pack raft.

For me, there are few feelings any better than waking up in good weather in the high country, looking forward to a day of ridge roaming.  After my traditional backcountry breakfast of fried eggs and precooked bacon, I was on my way.  The trail crosses a steep slope and enters the enormous meadow basin below the pass.  Just as you reach the edge of the basin, a faint bootpath descends to the bottom, where I could hear the main branch of the stream gurgling.  Across the meadow, I could just see the summit of Cashmere above the intervening ridge.

Beyond the Fields We Know
Beyond the Fields We Know

I later discovered that this bootpath is the most direct route to the summit of Cashmere.  I dropped down and filled my bottles.

I regained the trail and continued up, only to cross a healthy stream coming down from the upper basin.  The trail then makes one switchback and follows the stream to the final traverse to Windy Pass.

At this point, my plan was to follow the trail down and around, then back up towards Lake Cara.  But, oh, a faint bootpath continued up the ridge to the north.  It was so enticing.  Nope, stick to the plan.  I started down.  The trail immediately plunged into the forest and became steep with bad footing.  I made it a couple hundred yards and stopped to waffle.  That bootpath...I pulled out my map and considered my options.  Could I spend the entire day up there on maybe four miles of ridgeline?  I thought about some of the strongest hikers on NWHikers, Eric Gilbertson, R3H, Matt Lemke, Gimpilator.  They could do things I could never do.  But killing 8 hours on 4 miles of ridge, I owned this one!  I hiked back to the pass and continued up.

A cornucopia of geology stacked like the pages of a book
A cornucopia of geology stacked like the pages of a book

The ridgeline was absolutely sublime, very gently climbing as far as I could see.  This is when I noticed that it was becoming hazy, but only because of jet contrails.

Flyways
Flyways

As the day wore on, a thin, high cloud layer formed entirely from the contrails.  There were still a few flowers.  I was thrilled to see the same upper alpine association I had seen above Mammoth in the Sierra, Round-leaved Buckwheat and Alpine Sorrel.  I guess I did not document the sorrel, but here are some shots of the buckwheat:

Eriogonum
Eriogonum
Buckwheat museum
Buckwheat museum
Prime real estate for a plant
Prime real estate for a plant

This image shows the sorrel from a Sierra hike:

Stunning Oxyria digyna, I'd love to have this wild sorrel in my rock garden!
Stunning Oxyria digyna, I'd love to have this wild sorrel in my rock garden!

I also began to notice all the geology.  This area has micro-terrains, outcrops of granitics, basalts, sediments and metamorphics, all jumbled together.  It was really interesting even though I could not identify much.  There are similar micro-terrains in the middle Entiat, eons of history all jumbled together.  I found this and brought it home:


The ridge heads north, then east towards Cashmere.  After the turn, the ridgeline takes you to a spot above Windy Pass Tarn.  Here a mellow slope, Class 2, allows easy descent to the tarn.

High country
High country

However, this is a due north face at 7400 feet; if there is still snow, equipment would be necessary for a safe descent.

Needless to say, there is a panoramic view of the Enchantments.

Caroline and Colchuck
Caroline and Colchuck
Windy Pass vista
Windy Pass vista

An outcrop on the ridge, just at the narrowest point, requires one airy step.  Then the path takes you up above 8000' and comes close to the climber trail ascending from the meadows below.  I topped out at around 8100', very close to the summit of Cashmere.


Beyond where I stopped, the route goes across giant boulders to a saddle, then up steep dirt where the climbing begins.  I never liked big boulders, but now after two knee surgeries, I really don't like them.

I took the hike back really sloooooowly.  I dropped to the tarn and had a snack, then climbed back up and moseyed back to camp.  As I was rummaging through my pack, I snagged a hangnail.  I said "ow!" and startled myself.  Who said that?  It was then that it dawned on me, I had not seen a single person all day.

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Even my best friends, they don't know, that my job is turning lead into gold. When you hear that engine drone, I'm on the road again, and I'm searching for the philosopher's stone - Van Morrison
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Sculpin
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PostSun Dec 08, 2019 10:47 am 
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I somehow posted this when it was only half done, but I was able to use the edit function to complete it.  Sorry to the 19 folks who got the half-baked version!   rolleyes.gif

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Even my best friends, they don't know, that my job is turning lead into gold. When you hear that engine drone, I'm on the road again, and I'm searching for the philosopher's stone - Van Morrison
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zephyr
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Joined: 21 Jun 2009
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PostSun Dec 08, 2019 11:16 am 
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Sculpin wrote:
Prime real estate for a plant
Prime real estate for a plant

Great report.  Love this photo and the plant.  Stunning.  ~z
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HitTheTrail
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PostSun Dec 08, 2019 2:40 pm 
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Nice TR on an area that I happen to like. The reasons: stunning views once you get above Upper Lake Caroline, and usually few if any other hikers up there. Just the odd peakbagger heading to Mt. Cashmere to knock off a T100, (and a lot of them cut across the basin on the way down and sometimes on the way up).

Also, once you drop off that ridge you are out of the Enchantment permit area so you can camp anywhere around the Mt. Cashmere tarn without screwing around getting a permit first. But I think my next trip up there will be via Downhill's route from the Trout Lake trail and bushwhacking up the Mt. Cashmere tarn basin.  The lower end of that basin looks interesting to me.
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Sculpin
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PostMon Dec 09, 2019 2:50 pm 
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HitTheTrail wrote:
I think my next trip up there will be via Downhill's route from the Trout Lake trail and bushwhacking up the Mt. Cashmere tarn basin

Me too.  The route is kind of tweener though.  It doesn't take a full day's time or effort to reach Trout Lake for the night, but it is something like 4800' up to the tarn.  And not much in between.

A one-way trip would have a reasonable car shuttle, so that is another option for Lake Cara.  But that does not resolve the tweener issue.

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Even my best friends, they don't know, that my job is turning lead into gold. When you hear that engine drone, I'm on the road again, and I'm searching for the philosopher's stone - Van Morrison
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HitTheTrail
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PostMon Dec 09, 2019 4:10 pm 
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Sculpin wrote:
........so that is another option for Lake Cara. 

Another way it to go in is via Ruth lake up the old logging road from the north. I have been to Ruth Lake twice that way in the past 10 years and did a day hike recon most of the way in last year just to get out of the house for the day.

That road is no longer drivable but the Mt. bike folks are keeping it open for bikes and it is in pretty good shape. My route below shows just going up the ridge after the second switchback but you could stay on the road for one more switchback if you want. The route I have below is less than 6 miles and around 4500' vert.

The route I took on my recon last summer is even more direct via the old original Ruth Lake trail from the Icicle but I cannot recommend that route unless you love brush bashing slide alder and thick brush stream crossings. But I have that track if you are interested,

Ruth lake route
Ruth lake route
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JVesquire
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PostMon Dec 09, 2019 10:21 pm 
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That's the hike that got me interested in backpacking many years ago. Thanks for sharing.
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Downhill
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PostFri Dec 13, 2019 11:54 pm 
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Super fun read - great story and pics, thanks Sculpin!!  I'm glad you made it up there this season.  If you want to drop over to the other side and don't want to go solo, hit me up, I'm planning to go back in 2020.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Windy Pass and Beyond, August 27-29
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