We tried to do this itinerary last year, but in the sweltering heat that was last summer I got severe heat exhaustion about 100ft above Blue Lake and we had to go back camp at the lake. This year we were determined to complete the trek. The Pilot Ridge/ White Pass Loop is 30 miles and suggested as a 3-4 day trip. We did it in two days and, since that was apparently too easy, we added summit of Kodak Peak and white Mountain to the mix. Oh… and it was all in inclement weather complete with whiteout mist and rain. This was our rest weekend.

We began on the North Fork Trail taking a right turn at the first junction after 2 miles to Pilot Ridge. There is a large log here to cross the river. From here at 2400ft the trail heads up to the top of Pilot Ridge in what seems to be endless switchbacks until reaching the first high point knob at 5200ft. Following the ridge there are ups and downs, some rather significant. I know the views here are spectacular from our journey last year, but that day the mountains were mostly concealed under thick cloud cover as sprinkles dampened our jackets. We did get to enjoy lunch grasses and wildflowers though. Plus the feel of the day made everything extra alpiney which we love!

The route follows the ridge for 8 or so miles until it passes under Johnston Mountain . Here at the top of the ridge one can see Lower Blue Lake in the basin below and the switchbacks down begin. Long , sweeping switchbacks that seem to take forever! Do not follow take the turn onto the PCT once reaxhing the basin floor. Turn left and head up to Upper Blue Lake. It was much to chilly out to swim this visit. Instead we ate near the outlet steam and enjoyed views of the trout chasing each other in the perfectly clear blue water. We didn’t linger to long as we were only halfway done with the day and since it was much cooler than last time we had no trouble climbing above the lake. There are switchbacks, sometimes under snow but easy to regain that lead up from the lake and to the top of the next ridge. The final 100ft was fully snowed in and steep so we used Ice axes. We could have probably stayed on the side of the snow in the heather, but since we had the axes we just kick stepped up. The sun came out full blast for about 3 minutes warming things up significantly… and then it was cloudy again. So no heat exhaustion this time!

From the top of the ridge we actually got some beautiful views of the surrounding mountain and a look back at our route across Pilot Ridge. We could also see far off White Pass in the distance along with all the other passes we had to cross to reach it. White Pass was where we hoped to came with an Alternate being Reflection Lake which was 2 miles closer. We dropped down switchbacks and traversed to the 4 way junction at Dishpan Gap. Here we turned onto the PCT North… well we followed the PCT South for about five minutes by accident. The trail wanders long the meadow topped ridge through Sauk Pass and then the the base of Kodak Peak.

At the base of the small, grassy peak we stepped off the trail and traveled cross country straight up the mountain. It was much steeper than we imagined it to or maybe it just felt that way after we had walked for about 15 miles or something like that. Nevertheless we made it to the summit and were greeted by wondrous views of white mist! It did eventually part through revealing glimpses of the surrounded wilderness.

Getting onto late evening now we dropped down the other side of Kodak Peak (6121ft ) via the narrow footpath and regained the PCT on top of Wenatchee Ridge. From here we descended into the snow Meander Meadows which required a bit of route finding in some wide paths of snow, but nothing significantly difficult. It was disheartening, but the trail kept on descending until to reached a low point of 5000ft at tree filled Indian Pass. It actually felt more like a basin than a pass. After all that descending it was of course time to go back up.

The way is very gradual and the trail ascended steadily toward White Pass. Damien feet hurt and my calves felt like jello by the time we rounded the corner on the ridge at 9:00pm and stood on the shoreline of small Reflection Pond. Our gate wasn’t as swift anymore and darkness was settling. With only 2 miles left to White Pass we decided that we had nothing to gain by pressing on when we could get more sleep and do the whole thing faster in the morning. In the settling darkness we set up camp beneath the trees in the low hanging mist. I cannot express how happy we were to wiggle out of our boot and put on our crocs! We had done 19 miles and 6000ft of gain.

The next day we thought with was raining due to the pitter patter on the tent, but the mist was so heavy and low it was condensing on the tree branches and then dripping heavily on our tent! We packed up and began moving at the good clip across the ridge toward White Pass. There were quit a few of snow fields to cross on the way to the pass and we were really glad we had stopped at the pond. Crossing was easy in the morning, but last night our fatigue would have made things slow and tedious.

White Pass was clod, damp, windy and nearly in a white out when we arrived. Our White Mountain beta instructed us to take the Foam Creek Trail from the pass a few yards in to the bare patch on the lower south slope of White Mountain. After 100′ the bare spot should turn unto a narrow boot trail. We did as the instructions said. The bare patch of mud and loose rock was not all the pleasant to ascend. It did end at about 100′ and we located a boot track on the left. we also noted that the tracked started much lower than the “bare spot”. Now following an obvious, narrow trail in the grass we were straight up along the spine of the ridge. The going very very, very steep. It was not technically though. We crossed one easy rock band what was still class 1. We traversed around the larger rock band to the left leaving the ridge, but then the track high-tailed it right back up to the spine passing a pretty large marmot colony. The grade eased ever so slightly until it reached a flat area at about 7020 ft. In the whiteout haze we could see the finally few yards of narrow ridge that led to the true summit. We left out poles and walked across to the summit pass the geo survey marker. No views. We were surrounded by mist with almost no visibility. And it was awesome! Views are not mandatory to make the alpine experience incredible. The summit is 7045 ft.

We descended the trail and stayed on it without entering the bare spot all the way back to the PCT. We then continued on our journey down traversing the lower slopes of the Color Mountain Group. We stayed left on the N Fork Trail at the junction and eventually began the long and endless switchbacks all the way down to the valley floor. as a climber you always wish you could just skip the switchbacks and go straight down.

At the valley floor in the forest we passed the Mackinaw Shelter and continued on the forest trail for what seemed like an endless 5 miles to the trail head. And, as luck would have it, as soon as we got into the car it began pouring rain outside! We had gone 12.5 miles and gained about 2000ft that day. This the trip qualified as a rest weekend for us!

 

 

 

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