Cascade Pass to Sahale Glacier Hike

The view from the parking lot of Mt Johannesburg (and its glacier) is already intense!
The view from the parking lot of Mt Johannesburg (and its glacier) is already intense!

Friday, August 29 2014

  I first found out about Cascade Pass on a list of the top hikes in Washington State from the Seattle Times website.  It’s tough to find a good list of top hikes that I agree with, but that one I definitely agree with so far!  Alpine meadows, gorgeous views during the entire hike, and a glacier – what’s not to like?  It’s also located in the North Cascades – a region I’ve never been to before because it’s 3 hours from Seattle.  It’s securely within day trip range but still an all-day commitment.  I decided that this will be the last hike I’m going to organize with the Foster MBA crew before school starts, and I was determined to make it an epic one.  Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse – the sign that summer is finally coming to an end.   

  My hiking partner for the day was a fellow full-time Foster MBA 2016 student and my climbing partner, Emily.  We drove up from Seattle around 6:30AM with the hopes that the weather would be better in the North Cascades.  We drove through the rain for about 3 hours until we got to our destination. The last 45 minutes or so was on a gravel road, kind of rough but not a problem for the Tacoma.  The website said that normal ground-clearance cars can make it up the road, and I don’t disagree – there are just two negative radius uphill turns that might give people some traction issues.  The road itself was picturesque; it wound through beautiful mossy woods and over several fierce creeks, past a couple of campgrounds.  The parking lot at the trailhead was misty, and clouds above were moving fast. The clouds broke through just enough to see an amazing view from the trailhead. Across the parking lot was the glory of Mt Johannesburg and its mighty glacier, which was still rumbling and cracking in the late summer — a not-so-subtle reminder of the power of nature.

  The first part of the hike up to Cascade Pass was just a moderate set of switchbacks.  The fog kept chasing us the whole way up until we left the forest and we got above the treeline, about an hour into the hike or 2.25 miles in. The last bit was over a field of scree and talus all the way to the pass. Foggy for the most part here, but occasionally the mist would part and you got a glimpse of the open air below you.  

Emily is super stoked about the foggy views!
Emily is super stoked about the foggy views!

  When we got to the pass, we met a father and his two sons with 70+ lb packs resting in the little stone circle that marked our lunch spot and first turnaround opportunity. They weren’t super stoked about the weather because they were planning on doing the 25 miles to Stehekin, a village that’s only accessible by plane, boat, or hike.  In fact, almost every single person on this trail was doing a multi-day backpacking trip.  I don’t know about you, but camping in the rain is where I draw the line unless I’m purposefully making it a sufferfest.  We broke for lunch here at about 11:30 and cracked open some beers before the wind and rain really picked up. We had to move up trail to avoid the weather, and just stood around on the trail trying to stay warm, clapping our hands and stamping our feet.  The area off of the trail is very fragile and delicate, so we just had to eat lunch out on the middle of the trail.

  Flickr and other sites showed a magnificent view of Cascade Pass in the sunlight, but all we could see was fog and clouds.  Luckily for us, the sun broke through the clouds just momentarily and we were able to see the magnificent view of cascade pass…for a moment .

The view from the Sahale-Cascade Pass junction.
The view from the Sahale-Cascade Pass junction.

  Totally worth the wait!  We got brave and decided to see how far we could go on the Sahale Arm towards the glacier. We held our beers as we hiked he steep incline up to the glacier, but the rain and fog got worse. The rocks started to get slippery and the dirt became soft and started to slide right under our feet. After about 20 minutes of this we decided to turn back and retreat.  

  We’re glad we turned back! The weather didn’t get much better and we lost all the views. This hike really made me appreciate the hot summer days we’ve been enjoying so far in Seattle. Despite the weather, this was an amazing hike and it gave me a reason to return, possibly as a multi-day trip.  Wasn’t too steep or difficult, but definitely not a nature walk either.  There is a campsite on the glacier that looked very promising, and should have some of the best views in Washington.  People also bring skis/snowboards to let gravity do some work on the Sahale Glacier, too.  Next time!

Cascade Pass guide, courtesy of Washington Trails Association

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