October 1-4, 2015

Golden Larch Hiking & Climbing Trip: Chiwaukum Mountains

Icicle Ridge Traverse: Chatter Creek to Leavenworth (or…From Larches to Lederhosen)

Grindstone Mountain (7533’)
Cape Horn (7316’)
Big Lou Mountain (7763’)
Icicle Peak (7029′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Central Cascades

Starting Point: Chatter Creek Trailhead (Upper Icicle Creek Road)

Way Points: Chatter Creek & Chatter Creek Pass & Edna Meadows & Index Creek & Painter Pass & Ida Pass & Lake Ida & Big Lou Mountain saddle & Upper Cabin Creek Basins & Lake Augusta & Cabin Creek Ridge & Cabin Creek Meadow & Icicle Peak summit & Power Creek Tarns  (hike & scramble)

Ending Point: Icicle Ridge Trailhead (Lower Icicle Creek Road)

Campsites: Edna Meadows & Lake Augusta & Power Creek Tarns

Summit: Grindstone Mountain  (climb via Northeast Ridge—North Slope)

Sidetrip: Lake Edna & Edna Pass  (hike)

Summit: Cape Horn  (climb via Northeast Ridge)

Summit: Big Lou Mountain  (climb via Southwest Slope—West Ridge)

Summit: Icicle Peak / Icicle Ridge Lookout  (hike via trail)

Approximate Total Stats:  35 miles traveled;  13,800 feet gained;  15,400 feet lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For this year’s annual Golden Larch Trip, I spent four glorious days backpacking through the Chiwaukum Mountains with Eileen, Lisa L, Kevin L (“K. Lo”), and Kevin W (“K. Dub”).  The larches were pretty close to their prime color, the weather was better than expected, and the trail conditions ran the gamut.  A scenic adventure was had by all.

Day 1 – Trailhead to Grindstone Mountain to Edna Meadows:

We dropped a car at the Icicle Ridge Trailhead in Leavenworth, then drove up to the Chatter Creek Trailhead and started our hike to Chatter Creek Pass.  It was sunny, warm, and calm—much like an early September day.  Along the way, we encountered one familiar person and one new acquaintance.  These would be the only other humans that we’d see for the next three days.  Despite being a scant few miles from the hundreds of recreationists crowding through Icicle Canyon every day, the Chiwaukum Mountains still have an isolated feeling.

After arriving at Chatter Creek Pass, we dropped packs and made a sidetrip up Grindstone Mountain.  One of the hikers had just returned from the summit and provided us with some useful route information.  Simply following your nose upward is also an effective strategy for this peak.

Cape Horn and Edna Meadows From Chatter Creek Pass

Grindstone Mountain features pleasant Class 2-3 scrambling on generally solid granite.  We reached the summit in late afternoon (1.3 hours from pass) and enjoyed a half hour of remarkably warm weather and good visibility.

Lisa, Eileen, Kevin L, and Kevin W On Grindstone Mountain Summit
Ladies Peak, Snowgrass Mountain, and Cape Horn From Grindstone Mountain

Once back at the pass, we carried our backpacks an easy mile down to Edna Meadows.  A small creek flows out of this meadow and provides welcome water for camping.

Camp 1 In Edna Meadows

Day 2 (AM) – Cape Horn Summit Climb:

We awoke to intermittent winds and incoming clouds.  The forecast called for moderate rain and wind by afternoon, so we made a morning sidetrip over to Lake Edna and up Cape Horn for more views.

Sidetrip To Lake Edna On Day 2
Big Jim Mountain, Big Lou Mountain, and Lake Edna From Cape Horn

Day 2 (PM) – Edna Meadows to Big Lou Mountain to Lake Augusta:

From near Edna Meadows, we turned onto the Icicle Ridge Trail and followed it down to Index Creek, then back up to Painter Pass (2.8 hours from Edna Meadows) on the ridge between Index and Painter Creeks.  Amber grasses nudge up against golden larches at this sublime and lonely pass.

Hiking Over Painter Pass

Our day’s destination was Lake Augusta, several miles to the east.  However, rather than continuing down the trail to Carter Lake and then hiking over Augusta Pass, we elected to take a cross-country trek over to Lake Ida and up to Big Lou Mountain.  This turned out to be a good choice, because we were treated to the most beautiful scenery of the trip.

Big Lou Mountain and Ida Saddle From Painter Pass
Looking Back At Snowgrass Mountain Over Painter Pass

A low saddle about 1 mile southeast of Painter Pass gave us easy access to Lake Ida.  It was a stunning sight to come over the ridge and see the sapphire blue water nestled in a shallow bowl of larches and grass.  If this had been a five-day trip, we surely would have made camp right then and there.

Lake Ida

From Lake Ida, a vast grassy slope leads gently upward to Big Lou Mountain.  I believe this to be the largest and finest example of an alpine tundra outside of the eastern Pasayten.

Traversing Alpine Tundra On Big Lou Mountain

As we approached the summit of Big Lou Mountain, a chilly gale kicked up, and we saw dark clouds spilling over Snowgrass Mountain to the west.  Most certainly, the forecasted storm was arriving.

Nearing Summit Of Big Lou Mountain

We stayed on the summit only long enough to sign the register, which dates back to 2002, and scope out our descent route to Lake Augusta.  We quickly dropped down the mountain’s northern slope, then crossed two meadowy basins to reach Lake Augusta in early evening (9.5 hours from Edna Meadows).  Fortunately, the impending storm never amounted to anything more than wind gusts and a few drops of rain.

Big Jim Mountain and Lake Augusta From Big Lou Mountain

Day 3 – Lake Augusta to Icicle Peak to Power Creek Tarns:

Following a cool night, we awoke to a skiff of graupel on the ground and blue patches overhead.  Our day involved an 1800-foot drop into Cabin Creek, immediately followed by a 2000-foot ascent of Icicle Ridge.  This topographical dipsy-doo was made more challenging by the fact that most of the trail has not been maintained in a decade or so and is difficult to track in many places.  The worst location is on the southern side of Cabin Creek, where the trail switchbacks up through a recent burn.  It took all of our eyeballs to spot cut logs and overgrown trail bed.  Afficionados of forgotten and abandoned trails would be delighted by this 7 miles of sketchiness.  Eventually, we gained the crest of Icicle Ridge and followed the meandering old trail to Icicle Peak, the home of Icicle Ridge Lookout.

Following Old Trail To Icicle Ridge Lookout

The lookout cabin is long gone, but the airy foundation boulders make this a special place nonetheless.  Visitors will revel in outstanding views across the Chiwaukum Mountains and over to the northern facade of the Stuart Range.

All Smiles At Icicle Ridge Lookout
Big Lou Mountain and Big Jim Mountain From Lookout

It was late afternoon when we began our 3-mile traverse from the lookout down to Power Creek Tarns.  The ridge crest was burned many years ago and now supports mostly low grasses and eerie silvered snags.  We camped on sandy terraces above one of the tarns (8.5 hours from Lake Augusta).  These tarns don’t offer much in the way of scenery, but they do provide the only reliable water source between Cabin Creek and Leavenworth.

Heading Down Icicle Ridge Late On Day 3

Day 4 – Power Creek Tarns to Trailhead:

The night had been crystal clear, and we found a thin layer of frost coating our camp in the morning.  Our last several hours of the trip was spent hiking down the nose of Icicle Ridge amid yellow and red foliage.  The dozens of day-hikers we encountered on the lower trail signaled the end of our marvelous journey from larch country to lederhosen country.

Fall Leaves On Lower Icicle Ridge Trail

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