October 4-8, 2012

Golden Larch Hiking & Climbing Trip:  Chuchuwanteen Mountains

Chuchuwanteen Loop:  Monument 78 to Frosty Pass to Monument 83

Mt Winthrop (7850’)
North Winthrop Peak (7604’)
Blizzard Peak (7622’)
High Parks Peak (6632’)
Monument 83 Hill (6550‘)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Canadian Cascades & Northeastern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Monument 78/83 Trailhead (Highway 3)

Way Points: Similkameen River & Castle Creek & Monument 78 & Castle Pass & Frosty Pass & Upper Frosty Basin & Frosty Creek & The Parks & Frosty Creek & Chuchuwanteen Cabin Camp & Chuchuwanteen Creek & Holdover Ridge & Monument 83 Lookout & Monument Creek Bridge & Chuwanten Creek return via Similkameen River (hike & bushwhack)

Campsite: Castle Pass & Upper Frosty Basin & Chuchuwanteen Cabin Camp & Monument Creek Bridge

Summit: Mt. Winthrop (climb via South Ridge)

Summit: Blizzard Peak (climb via North Ridge)

Summit: High Parks Peak (hike via South Ridge)

Sidetrip: Chuchuwanteen Cabin (hike)

Summit: Monument 83 Hill (hike via trail)

Approximate Stats: 40 miles traveled; 13,000 feet gained & lost (including all summits & sidetrips).

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

Way up in the northwestern corner of the Pasayten Wilderness, there is an attractive subrange of moderately high peaks sandwiched between larger peaks of the Upper Skagit and High Pasayten areas.  This subrange lies within a rough triangle formed by the Similkameen River on the north, by Castle Creek and Canyon Creek on the west, and by the West Fork Pasayten River on the east.  “Chuchuwanteen Mountains” would be a distinctive and appropriate name for the subrange, given that Chuchuwanteen Creek serves as the primary drainage.  (Note: In Canada, the name get shortened to “Chuwanten Creek.”)

A dozen or so Chuchuwanteen summits rise over 7000 feet.  The highest summit is Three Fools Peak (7920’+), followed closely by Mt. Winthrop (7850’) and Shull Mountain (7830’).  The “Chuchu” peaks apparently aren’t quite high enough or accessible enough to garner much interest among climbers.  However, long-distance backpackers are very familiar with these peaks because the Pacific Crest Trail traverses the full north – south extent of the subrange from Highway 3 to Holman Pass.

This year’s annual Golden Larch Trip took nine of us (Steve, Deb, Kevin K, Maria, George, Karen, Fay, Eileen, and me) on a grand loop through the northern end of the Chuchus.  We followed a variety of trails—some well-travelled, some seldom travelled, some abandoned—and did a little off-trail bushwhacking to complete this “adventure backpacking” loop.  We also managed to tuck in a few nice summits along the way.  Over the entire five days, our weather was excellent:  warm and sunny during the day, cold and clear at night, little wind, good visibility, and nary a cloud to be seen.  The only thing we wished for more of was golden larches, which are not as prevalent here as in the eastern Pasayten.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Castle Pass:

We crossed the border at Sumas and drove east over Allison Pass on Highway 3.  Our jumpoff point was the Monument 78/83 Trailhead in Manning Provincial Park.  From there, we hiked southward about 8 miles to the international border at Monument 78, where we met several thru-hikers who had just covered 2600+ miles on the PCT.  It was hard to imagine what they were feeling on this, their penultimate day after 5 or 6 months in the backcountry!  We continued another 4 miles along the PCT to Castle Pass and set up camp.  The nearest water source was in Route Creek Basin, a mile down from the pass.

Day 2 – Castle Pass to Frosty Pass to Upper Frosty Basin:

We left the PCT at Castle Pass and followed the Boundary Trail up to Frosty Pass.  The grassy flats here make a nice staging area for climbs of Mt. Winthrop and Blizzard Peak.  Our summit-bound contingent first headed up Mt. Winthrop via the south ridge, which ranges from Class 1 to 3.  The tilted layers of interbedded volcanic rock and meta-sedimentary rock give this mountain an interesting appearance.

We spent a half hour on the summit, with great views of Jack Mountain, Castle Peak (nice!), and the Chilliwack Mountains.  Fay then continued northward to North Winthrop Peak while the rest of us returned to Frosty Pass and headed southward to Blizzard Peak (Class 1-2).  Views from this summit were similar, but Three Fools Peak was much closer and more striking.

Frosty Lake From Frosty Pass

Scrambling Up Mount Winthrop

On Summit Of Mount Winthrop

Castle Peak From Mount Winthrop

Hiking Up Blizzard Peak

Mount Winthrop From Blizzard Peak Shoulder

It was mid-afternoon when we descended, and just above Frosty Pass we met Fay heading up Blizzard Peak.  Clearly, she had a headlamp finish in her future.  We shouldered our backpacks and hiked a mile down to Upper Frosty Basin, where we found a roomy trailside campsite at 6100 feet with nearby water.  Fay showed up a couple hours later;  after a three-summit day, her face was outshining her headlamp!

Day 3 – Upper Frosty Basin to The Parks to Chuchuwanteen Cabin Camp:

We left Upper Frosty Basin and hiked down toward Frosty Lake in search of a spur trail heading up to The Parks.  After some initial confusion, we found it at an unmarked junction in a small clearing just before crossing Frosty Creek.  There are numerous logs across the first mile of the spur trail, indicating that it hasn’t been maintained in many years, but we had little trouble following the tread uphill as it ascends a wooded ridge crest to Point 6613.  This point anchors the southern end of The Parks, an exquisite mile-long alpine meadow hemmed by scattered groves of evergreen trees.

There are larger alpine meadows in the eastern Pasayten Wilderness and in Mt. Rainier National Park, but this one is unusually large and flat by North Cascades standards.  Surely, anyone visiting The Parks will be overcome by an urge to wander aimlessly across the inviting tundra.  Several of us wandered all the way to “High Parks Peak” (6632’), which anchors the northern end of the meadow.

Hiking Thru The Chuchuwanteen Parks

After exploring The Parks, we headed eastward along a perpendicular ridge to Point 6525 and then descended steep forest for 2000 feet to Frosty Creek.  Most of the forest offered easy cross-country travel, but the lower slopes were thick with brush and blowdown trees.  We crossed the creek, picked up the Frosty Creek Trail on the far bank, and walked a short distance to a woodsy campsite near the junction of the Frosty and Chuchuwanteen Creek Trails.

The 7.5-minute topo map shows a “Chuchuwanteen Cabin” near our junction campsite, and we subsequently found this cabin in a small clearing 100 yards away.  Interestingly, only the upper half of the log cabin remains;  the lower half appears to have been carefully removed (perhaps for safety).  There are many cut logs scattered around the area, as well as some other ruins, possibly indicating that other cabins might have existed here.

Chuchuwanteen Cabin

Day 4 – Chuchuwanteen Cabin Camp to Monument 83 to Monument Creek Bridge:

Following a cold night in the valley bottom, we began the eastern leg of our loop.  The trail took us back across Frosty Creek and then northward alongside Chuchuwanteen Creek.  It soon became painfully obvious that this trail has not been maintained in many years and might even be officially abandoned.  For the next several hours, we clambered over, under, and around hundreds of fallen logs.  There was rarely more than 25 yard of open trail between log jams, and our progress was frustratingly slow.  Fortunately, everybody seemed to understand that this is what “adventure backpacking” is all about, and conditions did improve steadily as we gained elevation on Holdover Ridge.

Upon reaching the ridge crest, we passed through a small burn zone associated with an enormous wildfire that previously wiped out much of the northwestern Pasayten forests.  Scorched silver-gray hillsides and ridges, which were saddening but strangely beautiful at the same time, extended eastward for many miles.

High Pasayten Peaks Above Burned Forest

Beyond the burn zone, we made a stop at Monument Springs to refill water bottles, but the metallic-tasting water was unappealing.  We continued northward until reaching Monument 83 atop a grassy hill.  This historical location hosts two fire-lookout cabins that straddle the international border:  on the Canadian side is a 100-year-old log cabin with a cupola;  on the American side is a relatively new cabin sitting on a wooden tower.  According to various sources, the older structure was mistakenly built north of the border (presumably before the survey crew came through), and the newer structure was built after the mistake was discovered.  We spent over an hour exploring the cabins and the surrounding gravesites.

Old and New Lookouts At Monument 83

The Chuchuwanteen Gang At Monument 83

Our destination for this day was a campsite somewhere along Monument Creek in Manning Park.  We headed north on the Monument 83 Trail, which is actually a former jeep road that now gets maintained as a double-wide hiker/horse trail.  We quickly pounded out 3 miles down to the Monument Creek Bridge and set up our tents directly on the roadway.  Although our campsite was not very inspiring, the numerous quips and jokes about “white-trash camping” helped to lighten our mood.

Day 5 – Monument Creek Bridge to Trailhead:

Our last day consisted of an easy 6 miles down Monument and Chuchuwanteen Creeks to the trailhead at Highway 3.  We passed four other hikers along the way—the first people we’d seen since arriving at Castle Pass on Day 1.

Post Script:  This is a scenic and satisfying loop trip that apparently used to get more traffic.  It’s worth noting that the 100 Hikes book describes the entire route but gives it an unimaginative and ambiguous name: “The Cascade Loop.”  That could refer to pretty much anything!  Anyway, until the Monument 78 and Chuchuwanteen Creek Trails are reopened, this will remain an “adventure backpacking” trek.

————————- Route Map / Sketch ———————-


——————– Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ——————–