After a few weeks of long climbs through rough terrain Damien and I decided to use the long 4th of July weekend ti complete a backpack that as been on my list a very long time: The Icicle Divide. The route goes from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth mostly along the top of Icicle Ridge and covers 45 miles. With light packs and on a trail that my book reported is sometimes get lost for a few yards, but is easily picked up again, we thought this would be a great rest weekend option for us. Oh little did we know….

 

Day 1: Stevens Pass to 1 mile Short of Mary’s Pass, 15 miles

We started out fresh, clean and with no abrasions on the PCT heading south at Stevens Pass. The trail wanders up and down through the ski area for several miles. This was reminiscent of when we hiked the PCT from Stevens to Snoqualmie. It was even the same misty weather! The trail finally turns away from the Mill Valley skiing area, passing lake Susan Jane and cresting over a small rise and reaching the first trail junction at 4900ft.  Here we turned off the PCT and onto the Icicle Creek Trail. This tread passes Lake Josephine and continues to descend and follow the Icicle Creek until 3800ft. Of course after loosing elevation one must go back up. Here we took The Chain Lakes steeply up for 1000ft, before it mellowed out a bit for the rest of the climb to Chain Lakes at 5600ft.

These chains of aptly names lakes sit beneath the Bull’s Tooth Ridgeline and offer spectacular camping. Of course it was way to early for us to set up camp! We still had many miles to travel. So under now blue skies and admiring lofty mountains views surrounding us we pressed on. We climbed switchbacks before the Upper Chain Lake to reach a small Pass Overlook Upper Doelle Lake on the other side and some gorgeous mountain views. There was snow ont he descent to the lake and due to the steepness we opted to use ice axes… Damien glissaded in shorts. I plunge stepped. The trail follows around the left side of the lake, crosses the outlet and then follows the waterfall down to the lower lake. When the terrain evens out you need to cross back over the outlet. Of course when i did this I fell and my foot went into a huge deep in the stream what had been concealed by overhanging grasses. Quick first-aid patched up the gash on my knee. We continued on around the left side of the lower lake the trail vanished into the thick grasses on the hill overlooking the meadow we were supposed to descend into. After some searching we decided to just go down off trail. Besides, the mosquitoes were getting to bad for us to do too much looking for the actual trail.

Once in the meadow at 5600 ft we stayed left as my book described until we found the trail heading back into the forest. The trail climbs up Icicle Ridge gradually and reaches the high point of the ridge at 5800ft. Note that close to the top of the ridge there is an flattish area that appears to be a junction of some kind. Stay to the right here. It was evening now and we still have two passes to cross over. The trail along the ridge was thin, but we were able to follow it just fine for some time admiring the emerald green slopes that surrounded us. Then suddenly the trail stopped short on top of what seemed to be a small mudslide area. We could not locate the trail or think of any alternate but to drop down into the basin below and hopefully find the trail somewhere.

We dropped down to the shadowed green basin filled with zig zagging streams and buzzing mosquitoes. We played with the idea of setting up camp since it was already about 7pm, but opted against it as the insects seemed lick the deet right off us. Instead used the GPS to point ourselves in the direction of Frosty Pass and followed the course… a course through thick brush, tall grass, nearly vertical slopes and fallen timber. Oh, and we were still wearing shorts. However, we did stumble back onto the trail… feeling a bit more torn up than we had at the beginning of the day. We followed the trail to the forested Frosty Pass, staying the Icicle Ridge Trail at the junction. Now getting close to 9:00pm we were able to see Mary’s Pass still far in the distance… I think the one mile calculation from Frosty Pass was wrong in the guide. We decided that 15ish miles was good enough for the day and if we could find a place to camp by water before Upper Lake Florence, our original destination beyond Mary’s Pass, we would call it a day. As it turned out we did find a flat place near a creek 800ft below the pass. We quickly set up the camp…we were so tired and hastily trying to escape the mosquitoes that we could not find the cross bar for the tent when we dumped everything onto the ground, so we used our poles instead. Then we dove into the flyless tent and watched the buzzing mosquitoes swarm outside… they didn’t go away until almost 11pm. Thats when we finally went back out to filter water and have dinner.

 

Day 2: To Lake Augusta, 10 Miles

We rose to a windy, cold more that felt much more like fall then summer weather. Better than being hot though and no bugs! There was heavy misty swirling around us in the winds as were packed up and left camp to climb the final 800 ft to Mary’s Pass. We did come across some snow going up the pass and led us to taking out our axes again. But the switchbacks were easy to find between snow patches. On top of the Pass we did see much aside from the swirling light. We did get a glipse of Florence lake about 400 feet below before it too vanished in the mist. We continued to traverse along the ridge and soon found ourselves on Ladies Pass with a similar view. From here it was like we entered late autumn. Thick mist swirled around us as we traversed gullies, small basins, scree and jagged and rocky ridges. We crossed some snow, but did not take out of the axes. This continued until we finally dropped down into a deep snow filled and wind blasted basin. Here through waves of mist we could see still mostly frozen Lake Edna. There was single tent on the shore getting completely battered by the strong gusts.

We followed the trail away from the lake. The ski began to clear up a bit and the winds died enough for us to stop for a small break, but they never truly settled down. The trail drops about 2000 feet all the way down into the forest to Index Creek at 4800 feet. And then, you guessed it, we had to go all the way back up again. We climbed about 1000ft through the forest until things began to open up near a cascading creek. We lost the trail and picked our way up the steep and, in places, snowy slope, until we found ourselves back on the trail. We climbed to about 6600feet to a wide flat area and followed carins to our left to the saddle overlook the next valley at Big Jim Mountain at 6700 ft. Of course we once again went down into the valley and followed a small stream on think tread before crossing it after .25 miles. The crossing is barely visible. We could only found it because it was on the gps tracker. The next landmark is Carter Lake. The trail goes around it to the right and then to a junction. Following the Icile Ridge trail we now followed more eastern WA landscape up steep switchbacks across grass and ponderosa pine to the high point of the backpack at 7200 ft atop of the saddle of Big Jim Mountain. Here is was extremely windy, but the views were spectacular. On one side to the west we could see the distance passes we can crossed to get there. It was stormy looking. To the east it was sunny and we could see Lake Augusta below and distant Cabin Creek Valley and the section of Icicle Ridge we would walk along the next day. We knew already it would be a long day, but for now were were almost to camp!

We descended about 400 feet to lake August and made a nice camp in the trees on the far shore near the outlet steam. We had to be careful not to loose anything in the strong wind, but we were mostly protected by the trees and shrubs around us. At night we could see the town lights of Leavenworth, Cashmere and beyond. It was beautiful and I was glad we were in the alpine and not in the town. I rather watch from a far distance in the solitude of the mountains.

 

Day 3: to Leavenworth… a relentless 18 miles

Even though we had turned in hours before dark the night before it still seemed like the alarm rang all too soon at 3:20am. We antisipated a long day though. My book indicated the the section through Cabin Creek presented the thinnest trail. Furthermore, two hikers we’d run into coming from the opposite direction as us the day before mentioned that the resent burn and overtaking forest had made that section of the trek horrendous. We wanted to start moving quick and we shouldered out packs a little before 4:30am.

It was still windy and mist hung over the mountains. The rising sun reflected off the fog turning it shades of pink and orange. We descended at first following the outlet stream before we began to switchback up the ridge to our left to the Junction of the Hatchery Trail. Here a sign marked that the Icicle Ridge Trail was not maintained. We would come to believe that the last time the trail was maintained was when it was built.

At first it wasn’t so bad. We followed along a dry ridge top that looked a bit moon-like. Sometimes we lost the trail, but with a bit of searching we always regained it easily. It was when the trail turned off the ridge to descend into the creek that we ran into trouble. The trail vanished. Did not exist. Our GPS told us more than once we were standing right on it as we plunged straight down through the grasses it and it was not there. after passing the grassed we found our way through think pine forest riddled with fallen logs and then when that was over we thrashed our water through barely penetrable side alter. I swear these type of plant gets angry at you for stepping on it. The branches grab were ankles and hit you in the face on purpose! Then it was through another layer of pine and another layer of alder… and we were only the valley floor. We crossed soggy marshes and walked through some less dense forest until finally reaching Cabin Creek. Panting we crossed the log jam and rested here until the mosquitoes got to be too much. Then we walked to the edge of the marsh and followed in left until an organge ribbon marked the trail going into the forest. A TRAIL!!!!!!

We followed this trail marked by ribbon for about ten minutes until it entered a burn left over from the Cabin Creek Fire. If i recall this area burned last year and because the soil was now so fertile it was overgrown by fireweed, shrubs, grasses and alder. No trail at all. We continued to fight upward through the thicket that was at times insanely steep. We tired to go to the left to where the trail was supposed to be at one point, but fighting the alder proved to be just too much. We decided to go higher to where the alder was thinner before traversing. It was painstakingly slow, painful and frustrating work. We battled the grasses, alder and then the thick and steep pine forest ascending to 5800ft and then back down  in search of the trail and by some brilliant stroke of luck we found it at 5500ft. Words cannot come close to describing how elated we were!

Finally back on overgrown, but defined trail we traversed to a low saddle and then switchback up the the ridge-top at 6700ft (carins helped at times). It was once again extremely windy and with hoods up and traversed the top toward the distance black rock outcrop marking the high point off the ridge. There were a few ups and downs on the way and sometimes we lost as much as 500ft. Luckily the heavy misty was swirling enough to sometimes provide views of The Enchantments (Colhuck, Argonaut, Drangontail) and Stuart Range (Sherpa and Stuart). Plus of pain of the morning was beginning to wear off. The ridge was just like The Sound of Music and we loved it!

We finally crested the high Point near the junction of the 4th of July Creek trail. Ten miles to go! We continued a long the ups and downs the the ridges admiring the Enchantments and eventually getting views the desert-like eastern slopes. The trail lost elevation extremely slowly. In fact were were sure it would never descend all the way down. But abruptly the slow traverse a long the ridge-top turned into short and steep switchbacks down toward the canyon bottom. The short and steep switchbacks lasted above 1000ft until reverting to longer switchbacks but it all went faster than expected. Our feet hurt, but we seemed the fly down the ridge and we arrived back at the car at the Icicle Ridge Th at 8:30. Two hours before our expected ETA.

 

So not a rest weekend, but still pretty  awesome!

 

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