July 18, 2010

Gold Run Pass

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 9:05 pm

As I mentioned in my posting about Heliotrope Ridge, I was shut out from my plan to explore Skyline Divide for snow conditions by the closure of Dead Horse Creek Road for maintenance. I considered just packing up and going home but the tent was already set up at Douglas Fir Campground, it was nearing 8PM and I didn’t much feel like a 40 mile drive. As I puttered around that evening, I considered Excelsior Pass and Hannegan Pass, but in the end decided to try the Yellow Aster Butte trail, which we were scheduled to do last week. It is a moderate trail that is prettier than the others, and I decided to just do the first part of the trail: the old Tomyhoi Lake trail passes the turnoff to Yellow Aster Butte and climbs to a gorgeous overlook at Gold Run Pass and then down to Tomyhoi Lake. From that trail junction one can see across the valley to the next mile or so of the YAB trail and from the pass see out to Low Pass and the Border Peaks, so there was a lot of potential information to be gotten from 2 mile hike.

After a leisurely breakfast at the campsite, I hit the trail before 8:00AM, giving a big head start compared to our group hikes. We meet in Bellingham at 8:00, but after we repack our cars, stop for a bathroom break at the Glacier ranger station and drive 50 miles, it is close to 10:00 before we start hiking. I planned to go Gold Run Pass and get back by noon, in time to drive back to Glacier and pack up my camp before the 1:00PM checkout time.

Baker from Swamp Creek Valley

Baker from Swamp Creek Valley

The trail is in great condition, with some new(?) steps to help you up the steep slope at the trailhead and other evidence of trail reconstruction further on. The views of Mount Baker from the clearcut near the trailhead, were even better than usual, since the sun was lower. There was no sign of snow for about a mile and a quarter (4700′ elevation) and then just occasional patches. As the trail levels out and enters the meadows, the snow becomes solid, and the trail disappears for awhile. There was a fairly clear boot track, but I didn’t trust it, and I hadn’t put an old track into my GPS, since I hadn’t planned to do this hike. I’d been up there in the winter several years ago and it is tempting to drift to the left out into the center of the valley, where you can see the pass up ahead. But if you do that you will end up at the base of a slope that, while not exactly a cliff, is almost impossibly steep despite its benign appearance from a distance. This valley was probably a cirque for a small valley glacier in colder times, and they typically have rounded bottoms but nearly vertical sides.

So I forced myself to stay to the right, where I knew that the trail enters the woods and travels up along the valley wall. I came to a clear spot in the snow that sort of looked like it could be part of the trail (which takes a number of twists and turns in this muddy meadow) but there was a small tree down and a big mud hole. I went around those and kept over to my right and kept looking for the spot where the trail enters the woods, but eventually gave up looking and assumed that I’d missed the trail. I came across a small creek that seemed to be coming from a good direction and followed it as it quickly dried up; the creek bed was pointing straight up the slope toward the trail, and was full of big rocks that made a good flight of stairs, and shortly reached the trail again.

Yellow Aster trail

Yellow Aster trail

At this point I was only about 100 yards from the Yellow Aster junction and could see across the valley to where the trail was crossing some fairly large snow patches. About a mile away there was a lot of solid snow in and beyond that little rift valley that always holds the snow into the fall, and I could see a track in the snow leading up out of the valley. The sign-in sheet back at the trailhead indicated that some people had been making it all the way to the Butte, which I could easily believe. After another week or two of melting it will be ready for us.

Larrabee and the Border Peaks

Larrabee and the Border Peaks

Baker from Gold Run

Baker from Gold Run

There was no more snow on the trail up to the pass, and the view of Mount Larrabee and the Border Peaks was as stunning as ever. This is one of the few places around here where there is a clear view of Mount Baker, but just about everyone sits with their backs turned to it.

Looking toward Low Pass

Looking toward Low Pass

There was a good view of the Low Pass area Рit looks like there is a lot of snow over there. So the trip to High Pass scheduled for this Thursday is a bad idea.

There was no problem following the trail on the way back. And that spot with the fallen tree was indeed right on the trail. If I’d turned even harder to the right at that point I would have stayed on the trail the whole way. So the route-finding would not be a problem if I were to go again, and another week’s melting should move this hike into prime time.

Can’t resist putting in one more picture of one of my favorite places on earth – the Border Peaks.

The Border Peaks

Canadian and American Border Peaks


1 Comment »

  1. Well, you know I have to leave a comment, because I always do! I love the pictures, Al, and of course, you can put as many pictures of our beautiful mountains in here as you want, I will enjoy them along with those who look and don’t comment. Great shots, as usual.

    Comment by DJan — July 25, 2010 @ 6:37 am

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