PCT: Campo to Warner Springs


T- minus 1 night to PCT: Stayed at Jacumba Hot Springs. They had mineral water swimming pools outside, and a cool little hot spring grotto inside, with a restaurant and bar! If you can swing it, great way to get the trail started!

DAY 1: Hiked the 15.4mi to Hauser Creek, which was well inhabited by fellow campers by the time I showed up. Luckily I found a nice spot just up the way. A German fellow came in kinda late and he looked exhausted. He told me he’d started at 11 and took no breaks. He went down to the river, and when he came back said that he’d felt dizzy and lightheaded. Pound some water man! Instead he went straight to sleep without dinner.


DAY 2: Left camp at dawn to head up Morena Butte. Along the way ran into a few early birds going up the hill. Slowly we snowballed into a little group and headed into the Lake Morena grocery for breakfast. I drank 64oz of hot coffee and ate a brekkie burrito! I split off from the group and checked out the town a little. Passed a few folks along the way, but made it to Kitchen Creek sans company.

Which for me was perfect! Had my own little nude beach! Woot woot!

clik for day 2 pics

DAY 3: I’ll admit, I was VERY close to staying another day at Kitchen Creek, it was as close to paradise as I’ve seen in a long while…. but the trail bellows:“HIKE ME!” Conifer trees began appearing on the way up Mt. Laguna. Felt like it’d been awhile since I saw pine needles! The campground was enormous, and weekend warriors were posted up on every other campsite: Hey fellas, looks like the Coleman Convention is in town! I ran into a few familiar faces and started getting a mental grasp of the facilities at Mount Laguna. Ended up getting a few supplies at the store, and dinner at the restaurant.

clik for day 3 gallery

DAY 4: Left Laguna Mountain before the sun climbed over the horizon. I arrived at Pioneer Mail trailhead a few hours later. A few familiar kids were enjoying the shade of the trees. Hung out for a few hours shooting the shit and cooking lunch, departed a little before three as winds and clouds began pushing from the west. The hike to Sunrise Trailhead was windy, but no precipitation materialized. Some of the kids from Pioneer Mail were there contemplating a stay, but ultimately everyone bounced, ‘cept me and a pair camped behind the water tank.

click 4 day 4 gallery

DAY 5: I woke up a few times in the night to my tent getting shaken around by the wind. When I finally got out of the tent the world was completely grey, just a thick river of fog flowing across the ridge. As I was hiking out in the squall, I decided perhaps I’d hide out for awhile in the concrete vault toilet, cook breakfast and make my plan. Julian was only 14mi down the highway, so I figured instead of hiking out via the PCT, I’d try and thumb it to town. That’s when I heard a knock on the toilet next to me; it was the couple camped at the water tank. “Hiding it in the shithouse too, huh?” Before long more soaked, bedraggled hikers started showing up at the Sunrise vault toilet seeking shelter. I was able to get some cell reception, and booked a room near Julian, and booked one for a German guy hiding in my toilet because his English wasn’t so good. Another pair of dudes in the toilet booked at the same place. Must have been close to ten of us up there, when a pair of trail Angels showed up in a white VW van. They were headed to Julian, and could take four or five. The three guys hiding out in my toilet immediately got in the van, I was close behind. “We’re all booked at the Apple Tree!” I said over the commotion of the van. “No problem, we’ll get ya there, but let’s get some hot coffee and donuts first” responded Bob, the driver.Hot coffee and breakfast were just the thing! Afterwards, our trail angels Bob and Sherry, took the three dudes to the Appletree, while I decided to hang around town for awhile first, learning over breakfast that the Appletree was a few miles out in a smaller town called Wynola.

click for day 5 pics

DAY 6: So I ended up talking up the guys in the next room; Captain Ron and Jukebox. I’d seen them once before at the restaurant in Mount Laguna. After discussing the worsening weather, we decided to split a double for another night in town.We hitched back into town for supplies. I bought a sewing kit and repaired a pocket seam that was coming apart. Later we went to ‘Mom’s’ for the free pie they give to PCT hikers. It was delicious! The Cap’n and Jukebox hitched back to the motel while I stayed around a little longer, taking in Julian.That night me and Juke had a few beers at the wood fired pizza joint across from the motel talking about the long trail ahead.

only a couple day 6 pics

DAY 7: We were able to contact Bob, our trail angel from before and he agreed to give us a lift from the motel back to the vault toilet where he found us.Bob arrived in a white Tesla, and we loaded up are gear from the trunk to the frunk. I’d never been in a Tesla before, it had some real ‘get-up and go’. On the way Bob stopped at the Candied Apple Café in Julian for some coffee and pastries to get the day started right.With bellies full of coffee and donuts we got back on trail with about 18mi to Scissors Crossing. After ten hours of hot sun, blooming desert and military aircraft buzzing over head, the shade of the Scissors Underpass was a very welcome sight.Beneath the roadway, a collection of black plastic stock tubs contained gallons of Kirkland Signature water jugs. There were less than a dozen hikers camped out at the cache, mostly gathered around a the beer cooler, generously provided by trail angels, Snakefarm and Snow. They’d both hiked the trail before, and had plenty of stories to share. A handful of us stayed up into the night drinking Coors beneath the stars.

day 7 gallery

DAY 8: Leaving Scissors, we began to climb into the San Felipe mountains northwest toward Warner Springs, but it’d still be a night out until we got there.We’d heard that the best chance for water was the 3rd Gate Cache, a little over dozen miles ahead, after that: next stop Warner Springs!Thinking about a shower, hot coffee and laundry helped me push the way to the cache. The lovely views overlooking the San Felipe Valley didn’t hurt much either! There were a handful of people camped along the spur trail down to the cache, and a few more hanging out around the covered pallets of water jugs and empty jug cage that made up the cache. It was good to hang with the crowd the for a few, before lacing up the boots again to make use of the remaining daylight to get a few miles closer to Warner.

click for DAY 8 pics

DAY 9: That night we’d camped atop a large outcrop looking out on the hills, and were treated to a beautiful sunrise. About 8 miles away, at Barrel Spring, we ran into a trail angel party offering a delectable variety of goodies!Their son had completed the trail some years back, and they had much to tell us about his travels.Over a breakfast of cheetos, fruit, cinnamon rolls, boiled eggs and beer we all talked trail and reveled in the morning. On the way out we took a couple trail beers and set out for Eagle Rock, our last stop before Warner Springs. Along the way there was a drastic shift in the local ecosystem, from desert hills to the almost surreal grasslands outside of Warner Springs. The maroon tinged prairie seemed to flow like a river beneath the breeze. Jukebox was the first to sight Eagle Rock, but even with him describing it: “dude, I’m telling you the part on the left is a wing, that part in the middle is the beak…!

I just wasn’t seeing it. When we got close though, I’ll admit, it looked like an eagle. I took a surprise nap under the shade of the eagle’s great stone wing.

Just down the trail, as thru miles go, we arrived at Warner Springs. Across the highway, the Warner Springs Community Center was swarming with hikers. Inside a volunteer gave us a run down of the facility; bucket showers, bucket laundry and the camp store. “You can set up by the big tree out there, you’ll see the tents!” Just outside the camp area was the defacto smoker’s table, where a handful of familiar faces were knocking back some cold ones and talking shop…


A Little South of Bessemer Mountain

Not so much a mountain climb, rather a long, long mountain walk. Even moreso on snowshoes!


  • Approx 12mi RT, 4000′ gain
  • Snowshoes handy after 3500’ish
  • Trailhead is basically a gate with barely anywhere to park.
  • Beautiful views, few people!


There was only one vehicle parked at the trailhead when I arrived. Two sets of footprints headed up the gated road.

A little more than a mile out, the road hits the old CCC road. Here I followed the CCC road right for around a quarter mile. At that point I turned uphill, while the CCC road continues into the forest.

Not long after, a scale house for a small quarry appears on the right. The road makes four switchbacks after this bend before making a long line northeast.

Frozen puddles and sparse, crunchy snow progressively transformed into powder as the steps went by…

At about 3200′ I broke from the main road and followed the tracks up what is marked as a 4×4 road on the maps.

When I got up to 4000′ I broke off onto untrammled snow in the direction of a borrow pit approximately in between South Bessemer and pt. 4965. Had a bite to eat and considered heading towards pt. 4965, but the pre-stomped trail going up South Bessemer was a little more appealing.

Speaking of those tracks, I ran into their creators not long after my stop at the borrow pit. Met them at about 4300′, where the following transpired:

“You’ll see the tracks split up ahead; Go Left! We went right and ended up scrambling steep snow to the top. That’s when we noticed the easy way down. Go Left!”

Indeed, just a few hundred feet below the summit at another snow covered borrow pit, the traveler’s tracks split. I took their advice and went left.

Wind was blowing pretty good at the top, so I didn’t hang around too long, but spun around enough to take in the vast Middle Fork views.


Brrr! It was getting cold, but luckily it got a whole lot less windy coming down.

The snow covered trees and icy hills began to glow in golden light as the sun disappeared behind the cold haze of the horizon.

The light gave up the ghost with a few miles left to go. I draped my headlamp around my neck, but never turned it on.

A sliver of moon and the twinkle of stars glinted off the frozen road way; a ghostly, guiding iridescence in the indifferent cold of winter…

“Oh hey, headlights! Woot!”


  • Snowshoes were very handy, if not required.
  • A mountain bike could be used to reduce some of the walking time.
  • Many more miles of snowy road to explore, Pt.4965 appears to be a good snowshoe objective as well.


A Discover Pass is currently required to park at the sparse trailhead.


The Big Backyard Traverse

Over the mountain and through the woods!

Some time ago I took a trip across my local mountains I called the “HI-90“,  during which I hiked and scrambled my way from Mailbox Peak to Denny Creek. Give it a read if you’d like! 

I received a number of responses to the article (Thanks Readers!) one of which suggested that the Granite Lakes could be a starting point for a similar trip. (Thanks Paul!)

Well, with a three day weekend and a mini heat wave on the forecast, I thought I’d do just that… er, something like that. 

Thompson Lake

DAY ONE ( To Thompson Lake)

Due to construction at the Granite Creek Connector trailhead, I ended up taking the older Granite Creek Road trail.

The trail is on reclaimed logging road the whole way to upper Granite Lake and up to the ridge before the Thompson Lake Trail begins. 

From the ridge the trail descends steeply to Thompson Lake where one can find a campsite or two.

Mileage: 7.5mi Gain: 3493′

Looking back towards Putrid Pete

DAY TWO (To Melakwa Lake)

Leaving the lake, the trail climbs swiftly over the ridge separating Thompson Lake from the Spider Lake basin next door.

With the first good view across the Spider Lake Basin it was immediately apparent that the traverse to Mount Defiance would be on snow.

The terrain wasn’t drastically steep or treacherous, and before long I found myself climbing up to the familiar ridgeline… (Hi-90 Traverse)

On the sunny side of Mount Defiance the snow had melted away to reveal bare trail across to the SE Ridge, at which point I headed down the ridge to avoid snow covering portions of the trail.  

Mason Lake from Mount Defiance

There was still significant snow coverage up around Rainbow Lake until the trail begins to cross Pratt Mountain. 

At this point my legs were telling me to start looking for a place to spend the night. Not entirely surprising, both Pratt and Tuscohatchie Lakes were absolutely overflowing with humans, so I continued onward.

Plodding along up Hemlock Pass in the sweltering heat and with the vague notion that I’d find Melakwa Lake looking like a Walmart Black Friday sale was battering my resolve.

I could hear voices from the lake basin as I neared the lake’s outlet. A pair of hikers approached just as Melakwa Lake came into view. 

“Looks like you got the whole place to yourself…”

It felt like a Christmas miracle. 

I set up camp and wandered around in the wonderful solitude and scenery. That night the stars were out in full and a curiously warm wind blew down from the pass.

Mileage: 12mi Gain: 3190′

This is where that weird barber shop water comes from.


I woke up quick to a cacophonous rumble, checked the time and it was 0500. With the quick pull of the tent zipper I was outside watching a rock slide coming down from Chair Peak. 

I thought it was a pretty great alarm clock! 

After the usual packing ritual, I was off towards Melakwa Pass and brimming with the anxious electric joy of entering into unknown terrain. 

The climb up the pass was on decent snow and never extremely steep, views developed with the morning light as I made the ascent. 

At the top of the pass I got my first view down to Chair Peak Lake and the next bit of route. The grade heading down to the icy lake certainly seemed steeper, but gave me no troubles. 

I skirted the frozen east shore and scrambled up the high point on the lake’s north side. Here I was standing above and between Snow Lake and Chair Peak Lake. This is where it got a little steep. 

I finally broke out the ice axe for the next bit down Mt.Roosevelt, I’m glad I only ended up using it for traction… a few of those runouts looked painful.

Descending the lower snowfield was much less taxing, in fact I boot skied much of the way. 

Views were ok


Paralleling the snowy shore was an exercise in deciding when to go up, when to go down and evading the dangers of decaying snow. 

A couple of stream crossings and cliff bands posed challenges as I made my way toward the snow covered Gem Lake Trail. 

After making first contact with some freshly stomped bootprints, the hiking was gravy. It was mostly snow all the way up to the human covered ridge overlooking Snow Lake, but mostly snow free heading down to Alpental.

Snow Lake can be a bit dramatic at times


I hiked the road out of Alpental to the old pass road heading down to Denny Creek, stopping beneath the I90 span over the creek to soak my feet. 

Well refreshed, I plodded down the road to the upper Franklin Falls trailhead for a quick visit to the much talked about falls. 

It’s a nice enough place, and there were a lot of people out on the sunny shore enjoying the mist from the falls.

It’s a real circus though! 

Mileage: 11mi  Gain: 1656′

They come from miles for the healing waters!


  • 30mi, 3 days, 2 nights
  • Plenty of snow still in places
  • Camping space can be a problem during the weekends, plan accordingly. 
  • Mountaineering skills are absolutely required. 
  • During the Melakwa Pass to Snow Lake traverse I used an ice axe and hiking pole. Personal comfort levels vary. 


To tighten up this traverse, parking at Alpental would be a better option, I left my car at Denny Creek in case the Melakwa Pass traverse just wasn’t my thing and I had to turn back. 

Mileage could also be reduced when the Granite Creek Connector TH is opened to the public.

There are plenty of places to visit along the way if you have the time; summits, lakes, hidden mines, all kinds of adventure!

…just remember to bring a map of some kind. There’s a lot of mountain out there! 


Alpine Lakes High Route

Deep in the wilderness, beyond the maintained grades leading up the Necklace Valley and the High Lakes of the West fork Foss River, a prophecy tells of a fabled land…

“By grace of alpine sunshine and wrath of winter’s scorn, Beckey said, “There is a way, where the mighty Foss is born.””

OK, I just made that up, but let’s go with it. 

Azure and Angeline Lakes


  • Grade: No trail, YDS-3+
  • Distance: 30mi+ –
  • Total Gain: 12000’+
  • Season: Post melt >—> 1st snow
  • Maps: USGS 7.5 minute, Big Snow Mtn, Mt.Daniel, Skykomish

This is a wilderness route; essentially your own expedition. Like any expedition it may take multiple attempts to get it right. 

Treat your expedition with all of the seriousness that it deserves. Be prepared, take notes and give yourself time. 

I would suggest giving yourself a minimum of four full days of travel if you intend to commit to this route. 

You could travel the high route in either direction, but I prefer to walk out via Necklace.

The gentle grade is friendlier on these old, tired legs. So that’s the way I’m tellin’ ya! 

Middle Fork Snoqualmie and Tahoma from the ‘Cap


The seven mile trip up the West Fork Foss Lakes trail #1064 will give you a run for your money on your first day in, especially with a few days worth of gear strapped to your back. 

The amount of time you gave yourself for the trip will help determine where you’ll stay for the night. 

There are four beautiful lakes directly along the trail, and another a stones throw away. 

Personally, I’d love to stay a night at each lake along the loop, but I have to work for a living…boo! 

For an example, with 3-4 days:

Big Heart is a good first day objective, however that will usually put a party somewhere on Iron Cap Mountain by the end of day two.  

Chetwoot, or thereabouts, would be optimal. Especially if you only have three days. Then again, a hard burn one day can compromise travel the next…

Before undertaking a trip like this, you need backcountry time management skills. 

Take notes. Know your pace! 

Big Heart log jam


On the east side of Big Heart’s outlet stream, a network of boot paths begin the climb up the narrow ridge between Big Heart Lake and Angeline lake.

The correct path will take you up the ridge a ways before dropping relatively steeply over the east side. 

Things become more rugged here and scrambling may be necessary. 

If you’re on the right route you’ll eventually pass just beneath the 5359′ high point of the ridge. You might as well stop there, since you’re there anyway. 

Ever catch yourself taking the same picture every time you walk by? 

Descending the south end of the ridge will likely require a scramble or two but if it gets too ridiculous you’re going the wrong way. 

At about the lowest point on the ridge, before you start climbing up the 5482′ lump between you and Chetwoot Lake, a fisherman’s trail descends to Lake Angeline if you wanna visit. 

Otherwise, continue to climb, watching for cairns as you head up through heather and rock towards a small gap southward.

Here on a plateau there is a small, nameless body of water to refill your bottles, or you could be like:

 “Too little, too late…lake.”

Then slide on your shades like Joe Camel and continue south easterly toward Chetwoot Lake. Don’t look back!

Fill up your water at Chetwoot instead. That’ll show ol’ Lakey. 

Lookin’ back at the ‘Woot!


Chetwoot Lake is a good place to take a load off and plan your next move. You’ve got some rough gains ahead.

Iron Cap Mountain is the next objective. 

Leave Chetwoot Lake in a north easterly direction, perhaps you’ll even find semblances of a boot path. 

Azure Lake will come into view below you to the north, so too will an unusually flat topped section of ridge to the east, make your way to it. 

From this shelf, funnel into the narrow gap leading into the cirque holding Iron Cap Lake.

Twas in the darkest depths of…


Entering the cirque has a distinct wizardly feel, the walls loom and lurk, studying you as you pass. 

Soon strange, green water will come into view. 

“This must be the cup of the gods… The prophecy spoke of immortality to those that dare drink…”

Well maybe not immortality, but hell, couldn’t hurt… right? 

After you’ve nicked a drink from the gods, you’ll probably wanna get moving before they get back. 

Now you’ve got a choice to make; some attempt the rocky gully heading steeply to a gap just below Iron Cap Summit. The other way is up the mountain’s north ridge. 

Both ways are fraught with their own difficulties, and in either case you’re going to have to scramble. 

On the way, why not cement your blasphemy by hiking to the top of 6347′ summit to shake your fist defiantly at the heavens?  

If you are running out of daylight, the north east side of Iron Cap provides terraces of heather and perhaps some snowmelt for high country cookin’. 

Probably don’t wanna piss off the wind gods too much if you plan to camp on the ridge. 

Then again, sometimes a little hubris pays off!


This is regarded as the most difficult part of the journey…

Iron Cap’s east face is a jumble of impossible cliffs and disappointment. 

The first time around the loop I ran into a handful of defeated parties heading back from Iron Cap… 

“The ridge is impassable!”—–“We didn’t have enough light!”—–“The Balrog ate Steve!”

I’m not going to ruin it for you, but I will give you a few hints:

  • You need a map. (I shouldn’t have to tell you that)
  • Give yourself plenty of time!
  • If you are anywhere near the summit, you’re up too high. 
  • Bring jerky to distract the Balrog.
  • The correct way is narrow, but not “5 inch wide cliff band, OMFG we’re all going to die” narrow.

I hope that helped. 

PROTIP: The Iron Cap Balrog is immune to fire based damage and dark magic but is weak to jerky. 


You’ll drop through some tight, gnarled conifers before breaking out to the comparable ease of talus and then to a large outcrop from which to survey your coming route. 

From here it’s up to you to find your way over to the low ridge connecting Iron Cap and the westerly terraces of the Necklace High Grounds. 

Traverse across talus and slab, into troughs and up small cliffs. This is prime high country, bursting with world class views, and it’s all yours! 

An experienced backcountry wanderer should have little trouble stumbling upon a subtle yet established boot path along the low connecting ridge. 

If not, just aim yourself towards the Tank Lakes and avoid unnecessary climbing and you oughta do alright. 

Basically you gotta get across this thing


With any luck you’ll find the boot path and it’ll help weave you between this last stretch of obstacles. If not, staying south will be easier topography. 

Once on top you are free to wander the beautiful desolation that is the Necklace Valley High Grounds.

There is a lot of roaming to be done around here and it’s not a bad place to spend one last night before jumping back on more traveled trail. 

Reasonably decent scenery


When your wanderlust has been satiated or civilization starts calling… bleh, work.

Head towards Foehn Lake, cairns occasionally mark the beaten path. The exit plan however is to make your way to the colossal jumble of stones to the east. 

This is the moraine of a glacial spectre, the profound relief speaks heavily to listeners about the enigma of geologic time. 

…and maybe to some of us about our own wonderful insignificance in the grand scheme. (In a good way!)

A boot path leads down this ancient deposit, gradually becoming the Necklace Valley Trail #1062.

Follow it out; after what you’ve been through maintained trail needs no description! (Link coming soon for description)

From the Necklace Valley trailhead, grab the Forest Service road west towards the Foss Lakes trailhead. (or wherever you parked your car)

You ever wonder if it ain’t all just a dream?


There is a lot of beautiful country to explore along the loop, easily years and years worth of summer weekends. 

Often it takes a number of attempts to complete this journey, and requires a true mountaineer’s level of commitment, knowledge and skill. 

Not solely in the sense of completing the loop, but leaving the loop as you found it, respecting the fine balance of a “wilderness route” in these times of growing visitor pressure and Internet exposure.

If you love it, leave it just the way you found it… er, maybe minus a few fish! Mmmm!

On my last go round there was garbage at a few sites and even a smoldering campfire deep the wilderness.

Don’t be a dick. Steve was a dick and the Balrog ate him. Jus sayin’

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness requires a self issued backcountry pemit for travel and is subject to a number of rules and regulations.  

Campfires are prohibited at Trout Lake and any point above 4000′ described on this trip. This includes all lakes. 

Learn more at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/mbs/

    Beyond the Mailbox: “The HI-90”

    The air at 5200′

    Ever been to the top of Mailbox Peak?

    Maybe, maybe not. But if you hike near Seattle I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Probably even on your list.

    Around here it has achieved something of a mythical status, whether that is deserved or not is up to you, but hell, there is a freakin’ MAILBOX on top!

    Funny how location can make something as ubiquitous as a mailbox suddenly so alluring.

    There’s even a warning label!

    MAILBOX PEAK 4841′

    Ye Olde Route

    There really isn’t much to say about Mailbox that hasn’t been said before.

    The olde route is reasonably steep and muddy, but it’s fierce reputation might have a LOT more to do with its proximity to the ever burgeoning population of Seattlopolis than it does about the mountain itself.

    That being said… If one could see the invisible mounds of discarded hubris laying all over this hill!

    The first 2/3 or so of this hike is through forest, but you’ll break out and find yourself in talus and heather.

    There isn’t any serious scrambling to speak of rather; mud, rocks, roots and occasional dog poop bags.

    The reward for your hard work is a photo op with the box and about 100 of your closest friends (on any sunny weekend)

    Admittedly I have not yet tried the new trail, but from what I understand it trades steepness for distance.

    Pick yer poison!

    “Birthplace of Kevin Costner’s ‘The Postman'”


    Elevation Gain: (with Mailbox) 7,000’+-?

    Mileage: (with Mailbox) 15mi+

    Challenges: No trail, YDS 3+ scramble, mountaineering skills req’d

    Standing at the box, a bootpath tempts some of us further along the ridge…

    Right off the bat there is some scrambling, which probably tempers a lot of people’s desire to go further.

    Much of the journey is the same; faint path, no path, rock scramble.

    So just where in the hell does this “path” go…?

    You have to fight a boss enemy before you can get to the forest stage

    DIRTY BOX PEAK 4926′

    Dirty Box summit is an unremarkable high point along the way to an open perch looking towards Dirty Harry’s Peak.

    This little perch is where I imagine most people do their summit lounging.

    Perhaps you can contemplate what it means to sit atop a suggestive portmanteau.

    Continuing down the ridge, signs of the “path” can be difficult to trace.

    At some point it will become apparent that you’ll have to drop a ways down the south side of the ridge to avoid impassable sections.

    Regain the ridge when you can, at its end you’ll encounter a class 3 down climb.

    There was one move that I didn’t want to do with my pack on, so I lowered it down with a rope.

    Without the pack the scramble wasn’t a problem.

    The afterglow of that small victory was short lived, however…

    From here doesn’t look so bad


    When I got to Dirty Harry I thought I was screwed.

    It’s pretty much a cliff. It’s a face. It’s DIRTY HARRY’S FACE.

    I shimmied up the first good looking crack but further up looked beyond my risk level, especially with a bag.

    I saw a precarious but promising hope; Another crack in the cliff with some evenly spaced trees growing out of it.

    Without the trees I would not have attempted this, and without the trees I think this is beyond the definition of ‘scramble’.

    (A much safer alternative might be to start from…)

    Where’s Waldo?


    I followed the Dirty Harry trail down from the summit, watching for a good place to continue along the ridge.

    Stay high and head east.

    The ridge gives some revealing views down to the I-90 before dropping you near Dirty Harry’s Bathtub.

    There is often water available in this little basin and the tranquility here makes for a good rest.

    Looking back at Webb


    This is an exercise in talus, at least up it’s western bowl.

    One way or another you’ll be dealing with a lot of it. This can be mitigated by traveling the forested patches on the southern side.

    The ascent isn’t technical. Just aim toward the ridge, then stay below the chaparral up top, looking for a way in.

    A path through the brush leads to the top.

    Puny mortals and their cars


    Looking east from Webb the next highest point is Putrid Pete’s Peak (P3) named for legendary climber Pete Schoening.

    There are no obstacles besides the steep heather, slabby rock and wide open views.

    A short scramble puts you on top of P3 to make your mark in the summit register.

    Beyond Pete is more wide open ridge walking.

    Toward the eastern end as the trees start to cover the bare ridge, there are decent bivy sites but no real water.

    “Far have I traveled”

    MT. DEFIANCE 5580′

    Continue along the ridge working your way up and through the trees. A number of “paths” lurk around.

    You’re looking for the Thompson Lake trail. It’ll look like a freeway compared to what you’ve been on. Head east.

    This trail intersects with a spur up to Mt. Defiance if you feel the need to go up there for some reason.

    After all that nonsense though I’m looking for a place to rest my weary legs…

    …and I’ve been up there already anyway.

    Rainbow Lake


    Now you’ve got tons of choices: Mason Lake, Island Lake, Lake Kulla Kulla, Blazer Lake, Bandera Mountain (If you just haven’t got enough uphill!)

    These are reasonably trafficked lakes though, at least the ones on the main trail. Think early Friday.

    Take a load off, you’ve earned it!

    Pratt Mountain


    Continuing east on the trail there is a point where you’ll cross a boulder field which is sometimes marked with a cairn.

    This is the route up Pratt Mountain if you just have to bag it!

    The trail winds down the steep forested slopes above Talapus Lake and again the I90 can be briefly seen.

    Sooner than later you’ll come to a crossroads; one leads down to Olallie and Talapus Lakes (and back to civilization if you have to bail!)

    The other leads down into the Pratt Lake basin. My car is parked at Denny Creek so I’ve only got one choice.

    It’s a pleasant hike down to Pratt Lake, the trail comes in above the lake and passes by a day use site with shore access.

    The next landmark is Lower Lake Tuscohatchie, a beautiful waterfall roars from across the lake.

    Both can be reasonably popular lakes so if you’re going to stay don’t wait too long to find a space.

    Lower Lake Tuscohatchie


    Leaving the sights and sounds of Tuscohatchie behind, plod along towards Melakwa Lake at the top of Hemlock Pass.

    Above are the rough visages of some dramatic mountains; Kaleetan Peak, Chair Peak, Bryant Peak, “The Tooth”.

    Some of these can be scrambled despite their fierce appearance.

    Compared to some of the other gains you’ve made on this journey, Hemlock Pass is a cakewalk, IMHO.

    I wasn’t trying to be creepy, you two were just really cute sitting there


    At the top of Hemlock Pass are the Melakwa Lakes and really the last good place to camp along the “HI-90” route.

    These are well loved lakes and for good reason; the scenery is world class.

    Stop for a minute, cast a line or spend the night. Whatever you decide to do, it’s all down hill from here!

    Hopefully the windows didn’t get broken out of my car!

    Oh boy, civilization…


    This was a great tour all around!

    My only real suggestion is to avoid the Mailbox Peak to Dirty Harry section because of the dangerous climb out of the gap.

    …but for some of us that’s the appeal!

    I did this trip in two days and a night basically, and after subjecting myself to that I would suggest taking 2-3 nights minimum.

    Not only to save your legs but also to maybe squeeze in a side scramble or an off trail lake.



    Mailbox Peak falls under the jurisdiction of the state DNR and as such there are prohibitions on certain activities such as camping.

    A Discovery Pass is required for parking, but I’m not sure about their rules regarding overnight parking.

    This could complicate using two vehicles… (I got dropped off at Mailbox after leaving my car at Denny Creek)


    Denny Creek is in the National Forest and requires a NW Forest Pass for parking.

    Traveling within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness requires a self issued backcountry permit.

    Just dropped in to say hello


    USGS Bandera, Mt.Si, Snoqualmie Pass


    West Fork Foss Lakes Trail #1064

    Sunrise at Copper Lake
    Sunrise at Copper Lake

    The West Fork Foss Lakes trail has long been one of my favorites.

    I remember coming to Trout Lake with my “Uncle Bones” when I was just a kid, and then as now, the trail still wows me with every step.


    Trout Lake
    Trout Lake

    Elevation gain: 3300’±

    Mileage: 14.6mi RT±

    Difficulty: YDS 2 , be in reasonable shape

    Free loading birds in your backpack the minute you turn around: n=n1 x n2/m2 x f(t²)


    Your journey starts out easily enough, gradually gaining elevation along the Foss River and it’s mostly dry flood channels.

    Keep an eye out to your right for Shoestring Falls, descending into the Foss on it’s west bank.

    The West Fork Foss River
    The West Fork Foss River

    About a mile in you’ll come to a very well built bridge which, if it’s secretly anthropomorphic, is likely counting the days until the next major flooding event, the likes of which destroyed it’s predecessor.

    Counting the days...
    Counting the days…

    Standing on the bridge, you are a little less than a mile down trail from Trout Lake.

    Along the remainder of the way there are a couple of points of interest;

    One is an absolutely monstrous tree (can’t miss it). If you hike this trail with friends I can guarantee we’ll have one thing in common; a picture of someone standing in front of this tree.

    Standard tree photo
    Standard tree photo

    The other is marked by a rusted 2-½in pipe crossing the trail. Without going into too much detail; above this pipe, blasted into the flanks of Malachite Peak is the 772′ long Imperial #2 tunnel, and the 112′ Vine Maple Prospect.

    Below the pipe, along the banks of the Foss River, is the site of the old Imperial Power Plant. Not much remains, but the occasional rusted metal relic can sometimes be found.

    Leavin' the lake
    Leavin’ the lake

    At Trout Lake take a breather, cast a line or stay the night at one of it’s campsites.

    The trail begins to climb significantly after passing the west shore of the lake, almost 2000′ in less than two miles!

    Silver Eagle Peak dominates the eastern horizon as you switchback up through mixed forest and shrub. At one point you’ll pass a corner with easy access to a slabby watercourse, great for dipping your head into and refilling empty water bottles.

    Get used to seeing this guy
    Get used to seeing this guy

    Malachite Falls becomes visible as you gain elevation, it’ll be filling your ears with it’s 618′ of waterfally-ness before you can see it.

    You’ll continue to gain elevation, eventually surpassing the waterfall and coming to an intersection with the Lake Malachite trail.

    NOTE: You may also notice a sign near here that says “Campfires prohibited beyond this point” This means ALL points along this trail beyond this sign (Specifically any point above 4000′)

    You can't "unsee" it
    You can’t “unsee” it

    Lake Malachite is only a short, sorta steep hike from here, offering great views, a few campsites, and fishing.

    Lake Malachite

    Less than half a mile from the intersection you’ll cross a fairytale-esque bridge of perfectly placed boulders before setting eyes upon beautiful Copper Lake.

    The popular campsites fill up quick, but the lake is spacious enough to allow some breathing room if that’s what you are looking for.

    Like Alice and the beanstalk or somethin'
    Straight outta Alice and the Beanstalk

    If Copper Lake isn’t your thing, the trail continues along it’s eastern shore towards Little Heart Lake.


    Not a whole lot jumps out at you on this section of trail, but you will pass over the tailings pile of a mining prospect at the south end of the lake, and there are a couple of established campsites along the way.

    Little Heart Lake seems a little less hospitable by comparison, it’s smaller, and seems crammed into the surrounding rock. Upon first glance, shoreline access also seems extremely limited.

    Exploring around however reveals some established campsites, and ample talus shoreline if you are a little more adventurous.


    Leaving Little Heart Lake, the trail again begins to climb, gaining a little under 1000ft in a mile, then losing a few hundred feet on the way to Big Heart Lake.

    Little Heart Lake
    Little Heart Lake

    The views through here become more dramatic.

    Looking back you’ll see Trout Lake (perhaps bringing back memories of when your legs were not on fire) Delta Lake is down below, Otter Lake peeks at you from across the valley, and then finally Big Heart Lake, shimmering at you through the trees.


    The first time you approach Big Heart Lake is likely to stick with you for the rest of your life…

    You walk in on top of a little ridge that parallels a small arm of the lake. The water is deep, and bluer than anything you’ve yet seen, not unlike that mysterious fluid barber’s put their combs in.

    Morning mist on Big Heart
    Morning mist on Big Heart

    Here the official trail ends, there are a few campsites available in the immediate area, and a couple more hidden about.


    For the ambitious hiker, this may only be the base camp, for there are numerous boot paths leading to many destinations: Angeline and Azurite Lakes, Camp Robber Peak, Chetwoot Lake, you could even make it a loop back down the Necklace Valley.

    Beyond the official trail...
    Beyond the official trail…

    The West Fork Foss river trail is your oyster.

    Bearing that in mind, leave your oyster better than you found it; pack it in, pack it out, leave no trace, take only pictures, leave only footprints, I’m sure you know them all.

    Basically; Don’t be “that guy”.

    Happy trails!


    Firstly, I’d suggest driving to Skykomish to procure a pre-hike sandwich, or some campin’ booze at the ever friendly and delicious Sky Deli.

    After filling up at Skykomish, head east on the “2” and you’ll pass the Skykomish Ranger Station, keep your eyes peeled for the Foss River Road branching south (right) from the highway. Take it.

    Might be wantin' one of these...
    Might be wantin’ one of these…

    A little over a mile in you’ll pass beneath a gargantuan railroad trestle, and then hit a fork. Stay right.

    You’ll pass the Necklace Valley trailhead on your left in another half mile, and a half mile past that is your left turn for the West Fork Foss River Trail#1064. The turn is signed, but can be missed.


    Two miles from the intersection and you’ll be there.

    The trailhead has ample parking and a pit toilet, but on summer weekends, try and come early because this is a popular trail, and is steadily gaining in popularity with every new Ballard condo.


    Currently a NW trailpass or other qualifying document (America the beautiful interagency pass) is required at the trailhead.

    Big Heart Lake
    Big Heart Lake


    In addition to provided links,

    Woodhouse, Phil; Jacobson, Daryl; Petersen, Bill; Cady,Greg; Pisoni, Victor, Discovering Washington’s Historic Mines Vol.1: The West Central Cascade Mountains. Oso Publishing Company, 1997