September 14-17, 2013

Rainbow Ridge Loop:  Rainbow Lake to McAlester Pass

Bowan Mountain (7895′)

——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–

Region: Northeastern Cascades

Starting & Ending Point: Stehekin Bakery (Stehekin River Road)

Way Points: Rainbow Bluff & Lower Rainbow Creek & Bench Creek & Rainbow Meadows & Rainbow Lake & Bowan Pass & Bowan Lake & Rainbow Ridge & Rainbow Tarns & Lake 6111 & Upper Rainbow Creek & Bench Creek & Lower Rainbow Creek & Rainbow Bridge Camp (hike & scramble)

Campsites: Rainbow Meadows Camp & Bowan Lake & Rainbow Bridge Camp

Summit: Bowan Mountain (climb via East Ridge)

Approximate Total Stats: 25 miles traveled; 9000 feet gained and lost.

——————– Full Trip Report ——————–

Last week, Eileen and I joined Kevin K and Maria on a trip up Lake Chelan with Kevin’s sister and brother-in-law, Kelli and Eric, who were visiting from Denver. Our trip involved a loop along Rainbow Ridge, with a combination of on-trail and off-trail travel. Naturally, the Stehekin Bakery served as our jump-off and jump-back point!

Day 1 – Stehekin Bakery to Rainbow Meadows:

Following a Saturday morning brunch at the bakery, we walked 1/2 mile up the Stehekin River Road to the Rainbow Loop Trailhead, then headed up the trail to Rainbow Creek. The weather forecast called for unseasonably high temps this day, and that was no joke; we toiled up the trail in temperatures nudging 90 degrees. Our two crossings of Rainbow Creek—first on a nifty little roll-away suspension bridge and later on a sturdy log—provided a much-needed respite from the heat. We oozed into camp at Rainbow Meadows just before nightfall (6.5 hours from TH).

Eileen on Rainbow Creek suspension bridge

Day 2 – Rainbow Meadows to Bowan Lake:

We continued hiking up through Rainbow Meadows to Rainbow Lake, which sits in a granite bowl rimmed with inviting slabs and scattered trees. The morning was cooler than yesterday, but I still couldn’t resist taking a dip in the lake.

Hiking through Rainbow Meadow
Rainbow Pass above Rainbow Lake

At a trail clearing closely south of Rainbow Lake, we headed directly uphill on heathery slopes. The hillslope was fairly steep and slightly cliffy but otherwise pretty easy. Soon, we were looking down at all three Rainbow Lakes and over at the marvelous massif of McGregor Mountain.

Rainbow Lake from Bowan Mountain ridge
McGregor Mountain from Bowan ridge

Upon reaching a 7300-foot saddle south of Bowan Mountain, we all dropped backpacks for a welcome break. Kevin and Eileen and I changed into summit packs and headed up the rocky ridge toward Bowan Mountain but quickly got stymied by a deep notch. Kevin wisely decided to rejoin the group back down at the saddle in order to get everyone headed down to Bowan Lake before dark. Meanwhile, Eileen and I traversed over to the mountain’s east ridge and teased out a Class 2-3 route up to the blocky little summit.

Bowan Mountain summit ridge

The summit register had been placed by Fay Pullen in Autumn 2011. She was quickly followed by Dave Creeden (solo) and Beth Blattenberger’s large party that same season. Nobody had signed in during 2012 or 2013.

Eileen on the summit of Bowan Mountian

The atmosphere was somewhat hazy, no doubt due to the recent forest fires, but we enjoyed nice views to the northeast and southeast. After a short stay, we retraced our up-route to the saddle, then descended to Bowan Lake (10.0 hours from Camp 1) in time to join the others for dinner.

Methow Mountains from Bowan Mountain

The entire day had been warm and pleasant, but conditions took a drastic change just as we were retiring for the night. The sky came alive with lightning and thunder, and our tents were buffeted by strong wind gusts. The electrical storm pounded us with rain and hail for two hours, while we scrambled to keep our tents anchored. Then, around midnight, it was all over as quickly as it had begun.

Day 3 – Bowan Lake to Rainbow Bridge Camp:

We awoke to a sensation that summer had turned into autumn overnight. Cool, damp air flowed over Rainbow Ridge, and rain fell intermittently.

Bowan Mountain and Bowan Lake from Rainbow Ridge

Our traverse route contoured eastward along the southern side of Rainbow Ridge. We wandered through heather meadows decorated with white boulders and green larches. This area would certainly be gorgeous in October, when the larches turn gold.

Hiking along Rainbow Ridge
Group on Rainbow Ridge

Farther along the ridge, we descended a steep bouldery draw to reach Lake 6111. A well-defined hiker’s path then led us out of the lake basin and down a grassy ramp to intersect the Rainbow Creek Trail closely below McAlester Pass.

Descending to Lake 6111

The trail down Rainbow Creek had been recently maintained, but it was now littered with blowdown trees as a result of the previous night’s windstorm. Nonetheless, we made good time heading down to Rainbow Bridge Camp. The highlight of our descent was, without question, the sudden view of Lake Chelan from a rocky bluff high above the camp. Swirling winds created a surrealistic image of giant brush strokes across the water surface.

Wind textured Lake Chelan from bluff

Day 4 – Rainbow Bridge Camp to Stehekin Bakery:

Our final day involved a 2-mile hike down to the Stehekin River Road and a 1/2-mile road march to the bakery for brunch. Being mid-September, there was a steady stream of Pacific Crest Trail hikers passing through Stehekin, nearing the end of their many-month journey from Mexico to Canada. It was entertaining to see them come into the bakery with gaunt bodies and hungry eyes: “I’ll take one of those, and one of those, and one of these, and one of those, and …..”


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