Posted - 08/02/2002 : 4:10 PM
| Just wanted to pass on a semi-unpleasant suprise so others can be forwarned.
My wife and I recently attempted to hike the North Fork Sauk River Loop in Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington. We chose this hike based on the description and premier rating in the usually reliable "Don't Waste Your Time in the North Cascades" book which made this trail out to be reasonably strenuous but well maintained. Our intention was to take 4 days to hike the 29 mile loop, ascending 3000 feet to White Pass vie the North Fork Sauk River trail, then following the ridge south to Pilot Ridge, descend to the valley and exit. However, given the guide book was published in '95, some things on this trail have changed a little.
The trail remains well maintained for the first 6 miles or so from the trailhead to just beyone McKinaw shelter. This is a very pleasant hike through beautiful mature cedar groves along the rushing Sauk River. However, the trail is supposed to rapidly ascend to the ridge through a series of short switchbacks over the span of about 5 miles. This section of trail has been OBLITERATED by an avalanche schute approx. 150 yards or so wide that extends to the valley floor and partially up the opposing slope. Large trees, some more than 18" in diameter, completely obscure the trail in large, branchy clusters.
Initially, we had hoped to hit White Pass in 4 hours of reasonable paced hiking - instead, with the trail lost we attempted to bushwhack parallel to the schute to where we knew the trail would traverse the ridge. The result was 10.5 hours of steep brushy hiking from McKinaw shelter - a mere 5 miles!
While the view from the ridge and white pass are spectacular, we elected not to continue our ridge hike for many reasons - a hiker we had passed on the trail had attempted to find the ascent path to Pilot Ridge and was unsucessful, siting the trail was apparently not marked - there was still substantial snow remaining on the ridge, further obscuring the trail - and we were wary of any other unknown obstacles that would potentially make us miss our expected return date. So, back down we went, through the avalanche schute this time, for a 6.5 hour descent to Mackinaw shelter.
I still believe this hike may be worth doing later in the season, and provided you have allocated sufficient time to negotiate the challenging maze of fallen timber and shrub growth leading to the ridge. It is unlikely this trail will be cleared anytime soon as it appeared the schute was more than a year old and, given this is dedicated wilderness, trail maintenance crews cannot use chainsaws to clear the path - only bucksaws.
Does anyone have any recommendations for reasonably clear backpacking trips in the North Cascades where I won't need to pack a Husqvarna?