October 2-5, 2014

Golden Larch Trip:  Chelan-Sawtooth Mountains

North Sawtooth Traverse: Prince Creek to Purple Creek

Baldy Mountain (7810′)
Star Peak (8690’)
Courtney Peak (8392’)
Gray Peak (8082’)
Boulder Butte (7350’)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northeastern Cascades

Starting Point: Prince Creek Landing

Way Points: Prince Creek & North Fork Prince Creek Shelter & Star Pass & Star Lake & East Fork Fish Creek & West Fork Fish Creek & Deephole Springs & Splawn Pass & Juanita Lake & Purple Pass & Purple Creek (hike)

Ending Point: Stehekin Landing

Campsites: North Fork Prince Creek Shelter & Star Lake & Juanita Lake

Summit: Baldy Mountain (climb via Northeast Ridge)

Summit: Star Peak (climb via West Ridge)

Sidetrip: Fish Creek Pass (hike)

Summit: Courtney Peak (climb via Southeast Ridge)

Sidetrip: Tuckaway Lake & Horseshoe Basin & Oval Pass (hike)

Summit: Gray Peak (hike via Northwest Ridge)

Sidetrip:  Boulder Butte Lookout (hike)

Approximate Total Stats:  35 miles traveled, 14,700 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

For this year’s Golden Larch Trip, I headed into the Chelan Sawtooths with Fay, Doug H, Steve, Deb, and Eileen. The larch trees rolled out their best autumn regalia for us, and the weather was a bit unsettled but generally mild.

Day 1 – Prince Creek Landing to North Fork Prince Creek Shelter:

We rode the Lady of the Lake to Prince Creek Landing, then hiked up the Prince Creek Trail. This is a wonderful old trail that mostly stays high above the creek, traversing steep slopes and rocky outcrops on natural or cut ledges. Despite not getting much traffic, it remains in very good condition. We encountered a few downed logs across the trail, and there are no bridges at the two crossings of Prince Creek, but these issues were no problem. Camp 1 was made next to an old wooden shelter near the head of the North Fork (6.8 hours from TH).

On the Prince Creek Trail

Day 2 – North Fork Prince Creek Shelter to Star Lake:

We all continued northward along the Sawtooth crest trail until reaching the Star-Baldy saddle. Doug made an early push onward to Oval Peak, whereas the rest of us hiked and scrambled up nearby Baldy Mountain. This is a modest summit, but it delivers excellent views in all directions. I particularly admired the Chelan, Entiat, and Stehekin Mountains laid out end to end to end, in one continuous chain of high peaks.

Heading Up Baldy Mountain On Day 2
Fay, Eileen, Deb, and Steve On Baldy Mountain
Star Peak From Baldy Mountain

After returning to the saddle, Fay headed off to a northerly solo camp, which would put her in good position to climb Twin Peaks the next day. Steve, Deb, Eileen, and I scrambled up Star Peak—the crown jewel of the Sawtooths, in my way of thinking.

Star Lake Below Fish Creek Pass
Eileen Nearing Star Peak Summit
View From Star Peak

In late afternoon, we marched into Star Lake basin (7.5 hours from Camp 1) below the huge cirque of Star Peak. There are unlimited camping options in the vast meadows here.

Approaching Star Lake Below Star Peak

With a couple hours until dinnertime, we took a sidetrip up to Fish Creek Pass and on to the summit of Courtney Peak. Oval Lakes and Star Peak are quite striking from here.

Oval Lakes From Courtney Peak
Star Peak and Fish Creek Pass From Courtney Peak

Back at camp, we hooked up with Doug, who had just returned from a successful jaunt out to Oval Peak. It was a warm evening, and the setting sun turned the Star Lake basin ablaze with larch color.

Courtney Peak From Star Lake Meadow

Day 3 – Star Lake to Juanita Lake:

We proceeded northward along the crest trail for a few miles until reaching a side trail that took us up to Horseshoe Basin, Tuckaway Lake, and Oval Pass. A well-trodden path led up to the summit of Gray Peak. This excellent viewpoint probably offers more reward for your effort than any other vantage point in the Sawtooths.

Heading Up Gray Peak

Our afternoon was spent hiking through beautiful grassy meadows and larch basins enroute to Juanita Lake. Dark clouds moved overhead, threatening serious rain, but they never produced anything more than heavy sprinkles. We arrived at the lake basin around 6pm, finding that Fay had our camp waiting (9.4 hours from Camp 2).

Crossing Grassland On Day 3

Day 4 – Juanita Lake to Stehekin Landing:

The morning was clear and mild, prompting all of us to hike up Boulder Butte for one last rooftop view. From this former lookout site, a line of 8000-foot peaks rises straight up from the western shore of 1100-foot Lake Chelan. Morning sun brought out exquisite textures and colors in the hillsides. The only downer was knowing that we needed to plunge over 6000 feet in order to catch our boat back home.

Morning Trail To Boulder Butte
Flora Mountain and Castle Rock From Boulder Butte
Fay, Doug, and Eileen On Boulder Butte

If there is a way to drop 6000 feet with minimal pain, I suppose the Purple Pass Trail might be it. This well-maintained trail gets the job done with great efficiency…and continually great views down to Lake Chelan. We strolled into Stehekin minutes before noon to end a splendid Golden Larch Trip.


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