8.85 miles, 3333ft gain/3333ft loss, Fitbit steps: 30,505. Up by 6:30, we prepare our daypacks and head out on the High Pass Trail #676, the trailhead being only about 150 yards from camp. Nice!
The trail dodges in and out of the trees, and in places it’s open so you can see across the Winchester Creek drainage, a deep cut tree covered split in the rapidly rising spires to your east, that seem to be vying for more skyline with their neighbors. Within a mile, you’re already at the switchbacks that lead up to Low Pass and you have mostly unobstructed views of Mt. Larrabee, a red hued pyramid shaped hulk with an occasional white vein running up the side. At low pass, in just another half mile, you are now up on the ridge that leads to the base of Mt. Larrabee, and have great views here east and west. You’re able to once again see Mt. Baker over your shoulder, peeking around the Mt. Winchester shoulder on the west. This ridge lies on the southern tip of the mountain, and you cans see the entire length of ridge as it connects, ending in one last patch of green on a rounded knoll.
It’s now a nice walk through highland meadows for another half mile and you will reach the High Pass bench, and you will see a faint trail leading to the left that is supposed to go to the Gargett mine, but we don’t explore this, we’re bent on getting to the top of the ridge. A few more switch backs and we’re on top of the connecting ridge at 3 miles.
Wow, the views from up here are pretty spectacular, and as you crest the top of the ridge, you are looking straight at the black rock of the Pleiades, rocky and steep pinnacles that streak skyward, their color is in stark contrast to the ruddy red of Mt. Larrabee. To our left, a bright glint in the morning sun catches our eye where the ridge meets the shoulder of Larrabee, and Greg heads over to investigate. Dan and I peel off to the right, to follow the ridge up to its highpoint.
On top of this small prominence, you have a viewpoint to all the mountain tops, and waves of peaks spread out as far as you can see. To the south we can see a huge plume of smoke, probably from the fires down in Lake Chelan. Mt. Baker, Mt. Ruth, and other snow covered peaks rise above the rest, creating a spectacular panorama. You can also see Glacier Peak from here, to the SW.
Also, here on this rounded knob, we can see climbers gear stowed by some small gnarled trees, and we can see, looking back down the ridge, the owners of the gear making their way back.
“…and confirmed that all the reports we’ve read and heard are the same, that it is a rotten mountain…”
He tells us that he just climbed the mountain this morning, and confirmed that all the reports we’ve read and heard are the same, that it is a rotten mountain, with lots of loose rock just waiting to fall on your head. Still doable, just need to exercise caution.
From their bivy here last night, looking south to the fire, he said you could see the bright orange glow as the fire consumed more combustibles and acres.
Greg rejoins us here, and tells us the bright and shiny on the rock is a placard erected in honor of a climber that was killed on the mountain in 2010, due to falling rock.
After another long look around at the panorama of majestic peaks and pinnacles stretching as far as the eye can see, we begin our long knee burning hike back to the Winchester Mt. turnoff, which is close to the parking lot.
As we make our way up the Winchester Mt. Lookout trail, it’s here we encounter more people, most of them have already been to the lookout, and are now descending. The trails here are well maintained, with no blowdown, and a good solid tread path. The way is mostly tree covered, except for an open brush covered switch back near the beginning, that now in the afternoon sun, bakes the moisture out of the brush making this exposed part of the trail sweltering, the sun beating down from overhead, and you’re breathing in the escaped moisture of the brush, increasing the humidity here. It’s nice to be back in the shade of the trees, but that won’t last, as at ¾ of a mile up this trail, you continue to steadily climb along the southern edge of Mt. Winchester in the open, the last bit here crosses on open rock, and the trail is narrow enough that you will have to move over to allow those coming down from above to get by.
“…we’re again treated to the epic mountaintop spectacle of the North Cascades…”
Now at the top of Mt. Winchester at 1.5 miles from the trail junction, we’re again treated to the epic mountaintop spectacle of the North Cascades. Its easy to see why this part of the Cascades is called the American Alps, with so many glacier and snowfield draped peaks cutting jagged lines across the horizon.
We now have a different perspective on Mt. Larrabee, as well as Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. It’s also easy to understand why they put a look out on top of this mountain, as it easily surveys the surroundings in 360 degrees. If you’re the first ones here, and so inclined, you can spend the night here, which would be fascinating, I’m sure, on a clear and cloudless night. Although, you would be lugging water in from a distance, since there isn’t any water on mountaintops, and, you’ll become intimately familiar with the blue bag concept for disposing of waste, as their isn’t a toilet up there, either. They conveniently supply them there at the lookout, in a nice dispenser, like you would see in the shopping market isle for bagging your fresh tomatoes, although, here you’ll be baggin’ something else entirely…
After getting in our fill of mountain top panoramas, we say adios to the top of Winchester and head back down the trail to camp, and our rendezvous with the sandy beach we spied earlier at the smaller lake. We drop off our gear and head for the beach, lagging only slightly behind a family with one son. Thankfully, they stop just a little short of where we’d planned on a dip, and within minutes, Greg and I dive in, the cold water is only a bit jarring for a second or two. “come on in, Dan, it’s just right! Like bathwater!” “Oh, sure”, he replies, knowing full well we can’t tell the truth even if our lives depend on it. The small family also picked up this subtle sarcasm, as I noticed the grins spreading across their faces…
Eventually, Dan takes the plunge and admits that it is, indeed, refreshing. So nice to cool off, and get the sweat and dust off our bodies. Back on shore, we set around for a bit, letting the sun dry our wet shorts before heading back to camp.
Again, we dine on the finest of cuisine, burritos, and chips and salsa, washed down sparingly with some of Dan’s “sipping” tequila and beer.
With no campfire to set around and regale each other with fanciful stories and “what ifs?” we are content instead to kick back in our loungers and stare at the stars until it’s’ time to go to bed.