Sep 29 – Oct 2, 2016

Golden Larch Hiking & Climbing Trip:  Chiwaukum Mountains

Deadhorse—Grace Traverse:  Lake Ethel to Grace Lakes

McCue Peak (6935′)
Big McWaukum Peak (7423′)
Jason Point (7123′)
Deadhorse Peak (7534′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting Point: Lake Ethel Trailhead (Gill Creek Road)

Way Points: Gill Creek Ridge & Lake Ethel & Ethel-Eileen Saddle & High Meadows & Big McWaukum Peak summit & Larch Lake & Cup Lake & Deadhorse Pass & Deadhorse Basin & Grace Lakes & Wildhorse Creek Valley & White Pine Creek (hike & climb)

Ending Point: White Pine Trailhead (White Pine Road)

Campsites: High Meadows & Larch Lake & Grace Lakes

Summit: McCue Peak / Tamarack Point (hike via Northwest Slope)

Summit: Big McWaukum Peak (climb via East Ridge; descent via Southwest Ridge)

Summit: Jason Point / Point 7123 (climb via West Ridge)

Summit: Deadhorse Peak (climb via South Ridge)

Approximate Total Stats:  10,000 feet gained; 9600 feet lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For our annual Golden Larch Trip, Eileen and I returned to the Chiwaukum Mountains to do an abbreviated variation on our recent Labor Day Weekend trip.  We were joined by Doug, Todd, Kevin K, Kevin W, Kevin L, Lisa, Fay, Steve, and Deb for some or all four days.

Day 1 – Trailhead to High Meadows:

With eleven people and five cars in our group, we started the day by executing a complex car shuttle to leave four cars at the White Pine TH.  This resulted in a staggered start up the Lake Ethel Trail.  We eventually convened on a rock outcrop 6 miles up the trail.  From there, we went cross-country to the Ethel-Eileen saddle and then ascended to the High Meadows above the Scottish Lakes.  Camp 1 was established in a grassy basin below Mt. Baldy.  Fortunately, there is no shortage of room here.

Camp 1 At High Meadow

Day 2 – High Meadows to Larch Lake:

Morning sun turned the grasses and larches in our basin a fiery red color.

Morning Sun On Big McWaukum Peak
Morning Sun On McCue Peak

Before breaking camp, we made a quick jaunt up McCue Peak (Point 6935) for some views across the High Meadows…

Morning At High Meadow Camp 2

…and over to Big Chiwaukum Peak.  The sky was strikingly blue due to recent rains.

Chiwaukum Crest From McCue Peak

After returning to camp, we packed up and headed out to Big McWaukum Peak.

Heading Up Big McWaukum Peak

“Big Mac” offers remarkably good views for such an easy ascent.  Steve and Deb made this summit their turnaround point for the trip and headed back to the Lake Ethel TH.

Big McWaukum Peak Summit

We scoped out our route down to Larch Lake.  Rather than dropping directly into Ewing Basin, we made a high descending traverse.  Our group now had nine people, and we ended up with a similar number of variations on the descent route.

Larch Lake From Big McWaukum Peak

Our route passed by hundreds of schist boulders, some of which displayed amazing textures such as this.


By mid-afternoon, we all arrived at beautiful Larch Lake (4.2 hours + 1500 feet from High Meadows, including sidetrips).  K.Ko and Todd took advantage of the warm weather by plunging into the green water—although not for long.

Larch Lake

Larch Lake sits in a basin with numerous ponds, tarns, and creeks.  One could wander around here all day and keep finding scenic treasures such as this…

Larch Lake Tarn

…and this.  Many of the larch trees appeared to be at their peak of color, whereas others were either before or after their peak

Larch Lake Basin

Some of the schist outcrops had interesting shapes and details.  The outcrop below presents an ominous simian face.

Simian Face In Schist Outcrop

Having a couple hours of daylight before dinnertime, Eileen and Fay and I scrambled up Point 7123 east of Larch Lake.  The summit of this rocky point overlooks the three Jason Lakes, so we dubbed it “Jason Point.”

Eileen and Fay On Jason Point

Day 3 – Larch Lake to Grace Lakes:

High-level winds during the night signaled an incoming weather front.  We awoke to colder temps and partial cloud cover.  Our agenda called for breaking camp and heading up to Deadhorse Pass.  Along the way, we stopped at Cup Lake and admired the golden colors around Larch Lake.

Larch Lake From Cup Lake

From Cup Lake, there is a crude footpath leading up to Deadhorse Pass (1.7 hours + 1350 feet from Larch Lake).  Hikers crossing over this pass will find a large tube and sign-in booklet that was placed by the Scottish Lakes High Camp folks.  To my knowledge, this is the only “pass register” in the Cascades!

Ascending To Deadhorse Pass

Lisa and K.Lo were eager to get home, so they continued over the pass and down to the White Pine TH.  The remaining seven of us scrambled up Deadhorse Peak closely north of the pass.

Deadhorse Peak Summit Group

Deep-blue Larch Lake and its surrounding golden meadows were clearly visible from the summit.

Jason Point and Larch Lake From Deadhorse Peak

Once back at the pass, we descended westward into Deadhorse Basin.

Descending To Deadhorse Basin

We stopped for a break partway down and had some fun with a nearby schistose “hoodoo.”  This interesting feature could be called “Deadhorse Balanced Rock.”

Jim At Deadhorse Balanced Rock

In the lower basin, Eileen and Fay peeled off and headed down to the White Pine TH.  The remaining five of us turned southward and headed to Grace Lakes.  We contoured across open hillsides for a mile until encountering an old, partly overgrown sheepherder’s trail.  This trail led directly to the lake basin.

Traversing To Grace Lakes

We made camp in a bouldery lawn between the lakes (7.0 hours + 2550 feet from Larch Lake).  Although weather forecasts had predicted rain or snow today, and dark skies threatened us all afternoon, we never got more than a few light snow sprinkles.

Camp At Grace Lakes

Day 4 – Grace Lakes to Trailhead:

Following our coldest night of the trip, we awoke to a light frost on our tents and a layer of ice in our water bottles.  Morning sun dramatically highlighted the Bull’s Head and Bull’s Tooth across the valley.

Morning Sun On Bulls Tooth

To exit Grace Lakes, we hiked back northward on the sheepherder’s trail for a mile, then descended huckleberry slopes to intersect the White Pine Trail.  From there, 5 quick miles led to the TH (4.3 hours + 250 feet from camp) and completed a very fun Golden Larch Trip.


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