Having been back from our trip to Iceland for two weeks I was itching to get out into the mountains to see the Larches that had started turning. I knew that my opportunities might be my last chance to overnight for the season so was keen to plan something for Saturday and Sunday. First plans included creating a trip with one of my Mountaineers friends to scramble Maude and Seven Fingered Jack. These peaks are in a high larch area so would be an ideal goal this time of the season. Unfortunately, this plan was canceled two days before with recent snowfall on the peaks making a scramble to the summit a bad idea in the freezing temperatures set for the weekend. Focused on my plan to go backpacking but having no one to go with I put a call out on a local women’s outdoor group on Facebook. Through this, I was able to link up with Anuja who invited me to come with her and her boyfriend, Pramod, for the weekend to the Washington Sawtooths.
elevation gain5,036 ft (Ascent) 1,232 ft (Descent)
drive time from Seattle
Warm clothes, it was chilly!
NW Forest Pass
We met in the Preston park and ride at 7 am Saturday and started the long drive out to the East side of the cascades. The drive was pretty scenic, over Blewitt Pass we saw larches turning by the side of the road and laughed at why we were driving so far to walk further to see these trees. We stopped for fuel, coffee, and the biggest cinnamon rolls you’ve ever seen in Pasteros about 30 mins from the trailhead.
We got the last car park in the Foggy Dew Creek trailhead and after the long drive, we were keen to get on to the trail. The foggy dew creek trail is open to horses, trail and mountain bikes making it feel like a bit of a highway. It gradually makes its way up 2500′ and 5 miles to the large junction with the trails to Foggy Dew Ridge, Cooney Lake and Merchants Basin trails. The only thing of note on this pretty boring trail is Foggy Dew Falls which is roughly halfway to the junction.
From the junction, it was another mile to Merchant’s basin where we saw our first larches and open meadows. We didn’t spend much time in the basin and chose to head straight up the trail to Sunrise Lake. Most of this trail from the basin was snow covered and filled with larches. The afternoon sun coming through the larches was so pretty and we made it to the lake with only one other group of backpackers there before us. The lake was partially frozen and the surrounding cliffs dusted in snow.
We left our big bags and decided to explore around the lake, chasing the warm sunny spots on the North side of the lake. We set up camp in our campsite among the larches. I studied a map of the area and noticed the Sunrise lake trail continued on over the pass, I decided to try and find this trail and get a view of the lake from the ridge above before dinner. I couldn’t find where the trail left the lake edge but I headed up from the outlet and figured I intersect with it. I did with no trouble and followed the rock cairns up the steep side of the basin. It took me maybe 15 minutes to reach the top and but that time I’d warm right up. The ridge was in the sun and I got a great view west of a see of peaks. The best view was down into the basin of the lake, I could see our campsite and watch the giant sheet of ice drift on the lake slightly. I spent time taking photos and enjoying the warm sunshine. Knowing that I still needed to make dinner back at camp I headed back down about an hour before Sunset.
Once the sunset it got pretty cold and after dinner and hanging our food we were off to bed. I ended up having to heat some water for my Nalgene to keep me warm in my sleeping bag. It was only about 9 pm when I fell asleep being pretty tired from the day’s activity. I didn’t sleep that well because of the cold temperatures but it was restful enough.
We set our alarms just before sunrise and I found it hard to get out of my warm sleeping bag. The goal this morning was to pack up and head back to Merchant basin, leave our packs there and do the short trip to Cooney Lake. Even though Cooney lake was only a 1.5 mile from Merchants Basin it required a 1000′ ascent and 600′ descent.
We made the ridge in pretty good time and as soon as I saw the view into the Cooney Lake basin I felt like the 1000′ climb was totally worth it. The lake was a little bigger than Sunrise but the surrounding basin was bigger and completely full of golden larches! It was a beautiful sight.
We made our way down to Cooney lake and took lots of photos among the larches and at the shore of the lake, there was a little snow on the way down that we had to be careful but it was nice to not have our heavy packs for it. The weather was starting to deteriorate at this point and we had a lot of hiking to go for the day so we headed back over the pass and into Merchants Basin.
The hike back to the car and the trailhead went without event, we didn’t stop too much, at the main junction then at Foggy Dew Falls. We were back to the car later than we hoped (around 3pm) with the long drive ahead of us.