Forum Index > Trip Reports > N Fork Sauk, Red Pass, Glacier Peak Meadows 9/1 - 9/3
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Exmoor
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Posts: 71 | TRs | Pics
Location: Snohomish
Exmoor
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PostMon Sep 12, 2022 9:22 pm 
Iíve been too busy this summer to get up in the mountains at all, but a chance finally presented itself last week, so I took a quick trip up to area around the base of Glacier Peak. I arrived at the N. Fork Sauk trailhead just before 8pm Thursday night. Hiking at night is not generally my favorite, but the first 6 miles before you reach the former Mackinaw Shelter are just a flat-ish grind through old growth forest. Perhaps Iím a bit jaded by living in the PNW my whole life, but this scenery just does not feel very novel to me, so I was happy to just put my head down and try to push through this leg as fast as possible. One unexpected treat was several encounters with Western Toads hanging out right on the trail. Numerous bats also found their way into the beam of my headlamp. Once you pass the Mackinaw Shelter the trail gains almost 3,000ft in 3.5 miles as it heads up towards the PCT. I invested a good amount of money in lighter gear during the offseason and my fitness is the best it's ever been, both of which helped make this portion of the trail go a lot faster. I made a quick stop where Iíd heard an unidentifiable owl a couple of years ago. This time I was able to coax a Northern Saw-Whet owl into responding. Not the Boreal Owl Iíve always hoped to find in this area, but a nice nonetheless. A Barred Owl was also singing somewhere down the slope. I hit the PCT and turned north for Red Pass. Iíd passed a few water sources below the PCT and expected Iíd hit them again on the PCT, but this turned out to be incorrect and I was left with roughly a half liter of water until I made it to lower elevations. I later found that if Iíd turned south on the PCT I wouldíve hit a good water source within 50 yards of the junction, but it turned out to not be a huge problem. I cruised up to Red Pass (11mi total since leaving the car in roughly 4 hours) where I set up camp at the spot right at the pass. After a windy night I woke up the next morning to mostly clear skies. There was a bit of smoke haze, but most of it was to the west. After taking a few sunrise shots of Glacier Peak I dropped my backpack and made the 500ft climb to Portal Peak. I flushed a few Sooty Grouse from the peak. The peak register showed that someone had been there the day before and apparently found a Mountain Goat, but try as I might I couldnít find it anywhere in view. The Painted Traverse looked gorgeous in the morning sunlight and my desire to do it one of these years was only heightened.
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Red Pass View
Sooty Grouse
Sooty Grouse
Sooty Grouse
Sooty Grouse
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak View
Portal Peak Register
Portal Peak Register
I descended back to Red Pass, retrieved my bag, and continued north on the PCT for a bit before detouring towards the White Chuck Cinder Cone. Both the cinder cone and Portal had been on my to-do list for years, but Iíve always found myself either short of time, energy, or visibility when I was there. I grabbed water from the small lake below the cinder cone, dropped my bag again, and made another quick run up it.
White Chuck Cinder Cone and GP
White Chuck Cinder Cone and GP
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
From the White Chuck Cinder Cone
After a bit of wandering around the forest beautiful parkland that surrounds this portion of the PCT I headed east through Glacier Peak Meadows. Last year when I was in this area visibility was barely 100ft so I was thrilled to once again experience the amazing views it offers. Off to the northwest you could see smoke from decent sized fire (Huckleberry mountain, I believe) kicking up a lot of smoke. While making my way up the series of meadows a low flying helicopter with what appeared to be a stretcher passed over White mountain head northwest and then returned over from the same area a bit later. Unclear what they were doing as it didnít seem fire related and I didnít read of any rescues from the area.
Smoke from the Huckleberry Mountain Area
Smoke from the Huckleberry Mountain Area
Smoke from the Huckleberry Mountain Area
Smoke from the Huckleberry Mountain Area
Helicopter
Helicopter
Glacier Peak Uppper Meadow
Glacier Peak Uppper Meadow
I climbed up to the basin below GP, eventually found a suitable camp and dropped most of my gear so I could explore the basin. Wildlife wise, the Glacier Peak basin can often surprise you. Last year, for instance, I encountered dozens of Bairdís Sandpipers in the mud around one of the tarns. This year there was at least one large flock of Horned Larks, a species Iíve encountered here before but only in small numbers. I also finally solved a mystery. When walking around the basin there are tracks from some sort of hoofed animal almost anywhere with soft ground. Iíd assumed these were Mountain Goat tracks, but Iíd only ever encountered a single goat anywhere near here and it was on much steeper terrain near the PCT. I finally happened to spot a pair of deer hanging out on the steep slopes around the basin, so Iíll assume that the tracks belong to them. After covering nearly the whole basin I finally encountered one of my main targets for the trip, White-Tailed Ptarmigan. I enjoyed watching two adults and at least four young birds who were apparently taking their evening baths before heading back to my tent for the night. As I was eating dinner smoke started moving in, apparently from fires to the east. At one point there was actually a pillar of smoke headed straight across GP.
Deer
Deer
Horned Larks
Horned Larks
White-Tailed Ptarmigan
White-Tailed Ptarmigan
White-Tailed Ptarmigan Fledglings
White-Tailed Ptarmigan Fledglings
White-Tailed Ptarmigan
White-Tailed Ptarmigan
Smoke Pillar Friday Night
Smoke Pillar Friday Night
The next morning I woke up early, packed up and headed out. The smoke had really come in overnight and reduced visibility significantly. Originally my plan had been to possibly return to White Pass via the Foam Creek trail and run down the PCT to around Indian Pass. Iíd hiked down there last year, but the weather on that trip left me wanting better views. Alas, today was not going to be much better so I decided to drop down through Glacier Peak Meadows the way Iíd come.
Glacier Peak Basin
Glacier Peak Basin
Glacier Peak Basin
Glacier Peak Basin
The basin north of Red Pass had always intrigued me, so I decided to follow it rather than jumping back on the PCT. Visibility was not great higher up, but it appeared to now be clouds rather than smoke and I could see where I was headed just fine. To my surprise I encountered a couple of women who were running a similar route in the opposite direction in order to avoid the large amount of traffic on the PCT and enjoyed a nice conversation with them. I moved up the basin and was happy to encounter another family of Ptarmigan along the way. Eventually my GPS told me I was just below Red Pass, although it was invivisible to me in the fog, but I pushed on and found the trail hiding only a few yards uphill from me.
Morning Ptarmigan
Morning Ptarmigan
Red Pass Basin
Red Pass Basin
Marmot Jaw
Marmot Jaw
I headed down to White Pass and found the weather conditions to be only slightly better there. I had to be at the airport early the next morning, so I decided to head back to my car and actually get home at a reasonable hour. The trip back down the N Fork Sauk was incredibly busy on this Saturday afternoon. I wouldnít be shocked if I passed 100 people between the PCT and the Mackinaw Shelter. Oddly, I didnít pass anyone between the shelter and the trailhead. =

hot.choss, Nancyann, Bramble_Scramble, Prosit, awilsondc, RichP, reststep, zimmertr, Chief Joseph  GaliWalker, Lindsay, KascadeFlat
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Chief Joseph
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Chief Joseph
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PostMon Sep 12, 2022 9:54 pm 
Nice, love that you are so into the wildlife. I need to get out that way someday. I like everything about your report except for the part about the 100 people..

Go placidly amid the noise and waste, and remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof.
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Jordan
y



Joined: 22 Feb 2008
Posts: 476 | TRs | Pics
Location: shoreline
Jordan
y
PostTue Sep 13, 2022 1:39 am 
That is a great area. I was up there to glacier gap three years in a row to attempt GP. Of the three times camped at glacier gap i was only ever alone there for two hours, and it was always on a week day. That place stays busy.

none
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



Joined: 10 Dec 2007
Posts: 4667 | TRs | Pics
Location: Pittsburgh
GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostTue Sep 13, 2022 8:37 am 
Great report! I love that 2nd-last ptarmigan photo ("White-Tailed Ptarmigan"). up.gif

'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!" Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani
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