Backpacking North Cascades National Park – Basin Creek
After waking up to a perfect inversion, we ate some breakfast, packed our bags, and made a pit stop at the toilet (which had the best view I’ve ever seen while using the facilities)! We knew today would be all “down” day and it started out with going straight down the boulder field we had climbed up the day before. Sahale Arm was still covered in clouds and the temperature was still cold enough for us to need our rain pants and down jackets on the descent down. We all wondered what the rest of the day would hold weatherwise, since it looked like it was misty and cloudy where we were heading.
After a little snack break before the clouds, we entered the inversion. The clouds were swirling thickly around us but at least we had a trail to follow. It was a little trickier in the snowy sections because we had to trust that the footprints in the snow were going the right way – luckily for us we only overshot the trail by a couple feet if the footprints were wrong. As we started back down towards Cascade Pass we made our way below the clouds and could finally see the ground below us. Unfortunately it also meant we could see what we would crash into if we slipped on the snow traverses. The only really tricky one was the rotten snow bridge over a little waterfall. Jason and I both made it successfully across but as Kate was nearing the end the snow under her foot gave out and she slid into a snow hole. Luckily we were able to pull her out with a little bit of ingenuity, but we were more cautious on the remaining snow crossings.
Like the day before we took a little break at Cascade Pass before heading down towards Basin Creek. The trail on the upper part of the Cascade Pass was still covered in snow and when it trended steeply downward (without too many obstacles) we decided to have some fun and slide down in the snow. The day had warmed up significantly as we dropped in elevation so the snow slide was the perfect combination of fun and function! We assumed the rest of the day would be an easy hike down to our campsite. Boy were we wrong!
After a couple more snowy traverses, one in particular that was through a heavily forested area where it was perfectly possible that we could lose the trail, I looked at my Suunto Ambit and realized that we were off trail. Wade had downloaded the GPX route on his phone and confirmed what my watch was telling us. Based on the GPS we needed to head uphill to regain the trail. Since both GPSs were telling us the same thing we took what looked like the most direct route back to the trail, which meant scrambling and bushwacking up a steep, slippery, and occasionally snowy mountainside. At one point we were literally holding on to tiny pieces of grass to keep ourselves upright and moving upwards. When we got to the point where the GPS said the trail should be there was only the faint remnants of an old trail that disappeared over a cliff. That didn’t seem right!
After quite a bit of searching and exploring trying to find where the heck the trail was, we finally decided to head back down to where we had left the trail to see if we could pick it back up. On the way down we found a perfect secluded camp site, complete with a platform for a tent, a bear box, and a pit toilet! The views weren’t great but it was all alone! We later found it out that it was the backcountry ranger campsite. We headed back downhill and decided to follow the original trail we had taken. It was the correct decision and we were soon assured that we were going the correct way when the trees opened up and we could see the trail we needed below us. The detour added about 2 miles, over an hour, and countless frustrations to our “easy downhill day”.
After following the barely there trail we came to the creek crossing. We had heard reports from the rangers that the water was knee deep on a man – which means at least mid thigh for short people like me. Luckily the reports were wrong and the water was only knee deep on me. It was frigid though, but it felt good after our little foray off trail and we took a much needed break of the far side of the crossing. After the creek, it was only 2 more miles downhill to our campsite. Those 2 miles were still an adventure thanks to the fact that we were one of the first groups to go through there so it was completely overgrown. Unlike Colorado, where it takes forever to cover “social trails”, the actual trail was quickly being swallowed by the forest. North Cascades National Park continued to surprise me with the quality of their backcountry campsites. Basin creek only had three established campsites, a kitchen with a bear box and a “table and chairs” made out of felled trees, easy access to water, and a pit toilet. We might have been staying at the Ritz Carlton with accommodations like those!
We were all pooped after our longer-than-anticipated day and made quick work of setting up camp and making dinner. We even fell asleep before the sun set (which is normal for me but apparently not the rest of the group)! We still had to hike out the next day – since we had already decided that we were not going to continue on to Trappers Lake – and we wanted to regain some strength for the 2500 ft of uphill we were facing first thing in the morning!
You can find the Strava details here. And for a last little treat – the video of sliding down the snow!