Road access to North Cascades National Park is extremely limited. The North Cascades Highway doesn’t actually travel through the park; rather it travels through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. The road south from Canada to Hozomeen also only enters Ross Lake National Recreation Area; besides it is currently closed. There is a road from Stehekin that extends a couple of miles into the park, but of course, Stehekin has no road access itself. That leaves the Cascade River Road, which ends at the Cascade Pass trailhead. In my opinion, the view from the end of the road is amazing; the view from Cascade Pass is better (in their description of the trail to Cascade Pass, the Washington Trails Association says “perhaps no other trail in the state delivers as much reward for the effort”). But if you want to go this season, you better hurry. The Park Service announced yesterday the road will close five miles from the trailhead starting tomorrow for a minimum of two weeks. Following that, there is no telling when it might close due to snow.
I had the opportunity to hike to Cascade Pass last week when in the area for work. My business done at noon, I drove up the Cascade River Road and into the park. The trail is 3.6 miles one way and climbs about 1,700 feet. It starts out of the parking lot with 31 switchbacks, climbing through forest with occasional “peek-a-boo” views of the surrounding mountains. But with less than a mile to go, past the last switchback, the trail levels out and comes out of the trees for impressive views of glaciers, fields, mountains, and valleys. Wildlife sightings are common – a fellow hiker reported a bear near the trailhead, though I did not see it.
For continued views, the trail extends from the pass up Sahale Arm. For the atheltic hiker, the trail east down out of the pass continues about 30 miles, all the way to the aforementioned town of Stehekin. And for the truly adventurous, the Ptarmigan Traverse (a high backcountry route) climbs over the mountains south of the pass (some of my photo buddies have done this route and brought back amazing pictures). For me, at least on this day, I chose to travel up the Sahale Arm trail mile or so before turning around to get back to the car before sunset.
The fall colors were amazing, even if slightly past their peak on my hike, as I think you can attest by the accompanying photos. The featured shot above is a 3-shot vertical panorama looking back at Cascade Pass from the Sahale Arm trail. Captions explain the other photos (below).
This is the post I was preparing when my friend Gary died. I had hoped to post this while it was still possible to hike to Ingalls Lake, but it is quite possible it is snowed-in for the season by now. I took the hike on October 10th, hoping to find good fall colors.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, to find good autumn colors in Washington State, you need to know where to look and have good timing. My goal for the hike to Ingalls Lake was to see some of those fall colors – specifically the subalpine larch trees. Larch trees are conifers, but unlike other conifers, they are not evergreens. The needles on larch trees turn a beautiful yellow then fall off in autumn. What makes them extra special is their setting. In Washington State, they are only found high in the mountains, which can create some incredible autumn scenery.
Even without the nearby larch trees, Ingalls Lake is spectacular. An alpine lake set in a rocky bowl at the base of Ingalls Peak with a view of the spectacular Mount Stuart that just won’t quit. The conditions were nearly perfect for my hike. It was partly sunny after a rainy weekend – at least it was rainy in the lowlands. At Ingalls Lake there was fresh snow, which just enhanced the scenery.
This nine-mile roundtrip hike immediately starts uphill from the parking lot as the trail switchbacks up to Ingalls Pass where it enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. The lower part of this portion of the trail is through forest, but the later part is not and has great views of the Esmeralda Peaks and Fortune Pass to the southwest. Once Ingalls Pass is reached, the view expands dramatically to include Ingalls Peaks and all the Stewart Range, anchored by Mount Stewart directly across the valley.
Ingalls Lake is not visible from the pass and is separated from it by the lovely Headlight Basin. The southern side of Headlight Basin has impressive groves of larch trees. The basin also includes many small streams, meadows, bare rock slopes, and boulder fields.
Just past the pass, the trail splits. The more direct route to the lake cuts downhill then uphill again through Headlight Basin. The main trail circles around the west side of the basin, not gaining or losing much elevation. The trails meet up again about 1/4 mile from the lake. From there, the trail scrambles uphill to the lake.
Since I was searching for fall colors, in particular the larch trees, the lake was a secondary objective. But what a secondary objective! I think you’ll agree from the images I’ve included here that the lake is spectacular. And neither was I disappointed by the larch trees.
I had hoped to stay in the basin until sunset, but as the afternoon wore on, more and more clouds were moving in and I thought the sunset might be a bust. So instead, I headed back downhill, stopping in the forested section of the trail to take more images of autumn color in the forest underbrush (the trees here are evergreens). As it turned out, the sun did break out again at sunset. Being back down low, I didn’t get much in the way of sunset shots, but I can’t complain, overall it was one of my best photo hikes in years. Perhaps, based on the images above and below, you will agree.
North Olympic Wilderness Coast – a Guide (Part 2)
In my last post, I started describing the hike along the North Olympic Wilderness Coast, covering from Shi Shi Beach to Sand Point. Today I finish, covering from Sand Point to Rialto Beach.
As I mentioned, the hiking near Sand Point is perhaps the easiest of the entire 32 miles. This is particularly true south of Sand Point, where the beach is broad and sandy. Though hiking in the dry sand can be tiring, it is possible to walk on wet sand at all but the highest tides (which in summer occur at night on this part of the coast).
South of Sand Point proper, the beach extends for about 2 miles. Then, after going around an easy headland (passable at 5-foot tide or lower – no overland trail), you come to another nice beach at Yellow Banks – so named for several cliffs made of yellow rock inland off the beach. The campsite at Yellow Banks is the furthest south campsite where reservations are required.
South of Yellow Banks is a long stretch of about 4.5 miles with only one headland (passable on a 6-foot tide – no overland trail), but also without a nice walking beach (at least at the tide level we saw it at; we hiked this section on a rising tide). Here the beach is mostly cobbly, instead of sandy. At high tide, the area could be difficult to hike due to the lack of beach (the tide appears to come quite close to the treeline) and due to downed trees that stick out into the water at high tide.
When hiking this stretch of the coast, we came upon a Boy Scout troop heading north. We stopped to talk a minute to get news of the headland we needed to round before coming to our next camp at the Norwegian Memorial. One of the men with the troop was carrying a rib bone from a whale, which, he said, he intended to carry the rest of their hike. (We wondered about the wisdom of that, first because it probably weighed 20 pounds, and second we doubted the park rangers would let him keep it.) They said bone was from a collection of whale bones in the next small cove. A short distance later, we found the bones, many of which someone had placed together on a large drift log.
We rounded a broad, rocky area north of the Norwegian Memorial close to high tide without too much difficulty and rambled out onto Kayostia Beach, a long sandy beach in front which is home to the Norwegian Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to the crew of the Norwegian vessel Prince Arthur, which struck a reef, broke apart, and partially sank just offshore on January 2, 1903. Only 2 of its 20 person crew survived. The memorial is reportedly on a bluff overlooking the northern end of Kayostia Beach, but wanting to get our camp set up, did not go look for it.
The backcounty campground at Kayostia Beach is about south of the memorial by about half a mile. There are many nice, large sites set just off the beach in the trees. At the southern end of the beach, there is a particularly attractive sea stack and some nice tidepools.
Around the small headland at the end of Kayostia Beach (passable at a 5.5-foot tide, but there is also an overland trail) is an even more beautiful beach. At the northern end of this beach is the Cedar Creek campsite (which we did not visit). The beach lasts for a mile, ending at headland that can be passed on a 4-foot tide (or by overland trail). Past this headland is another nice sandy beach just less than a mile long, which ends a small headland that can only be crossed by going over the top on a short trail (with ropes of course).
South of this headland, the beach becomes rocky again. About midway down this rocky beach, there is a small waterfall in cleft in the rock face a the top of the beach. We spent five hours waiting the the tide near this waterfall because at the south end of this rocky beach is a headland that is passable only at low tide (5.5 feet or lower). Further, a short mile south of the headland is Cape Johnson, which also must be traversed at low tide (4 feet or lower – neither have overland trails). We made the trip around these two headlands on an outgoing tide, with the water level just below the highest recommended levels. The traverse, particularly around Cape Johnson was not easy; but perhaps it is easier with a lower tide. We did see a large number of seals hauled out on the rocks just offshore from the cape.
South of Cape Johnson is a beautiful cove which is home to the Chilean Memorial – which is the resting place of the crew of Chilean ship, W.J. Pirrie. The W.J. Pirrie was torn apart just offshore here in November 1920, killing all but two of the crew of 20.
The beach in the cove is mostly gravel and cobbles, with only a small stretch of sand. That sandy spot forms a small campground. When we arrived on an early Friday evening, the campground was crowded with four of five other groups. One moved over to allow us a spot to camp. Of all the campsite we visited on the trip, this was smallest and most crowded (a result, most likely, of being only 3.7 miles north of Rialto Beach).
South of Chilean Memorial to Hole in the Rock, the coast is formed by two more small coves and plenty of sea stacks offshore. Hole in the Rock is at the last headland before Rialto Beach. The “hole” is a small arch in the bottom of the headland, and at low tide you can walk through it. At high tide, you will need to take the short trail over the top. We took the low route, and the tide was just a little too high to make it without getting wet feet. There is a backcountry campground at Hole in the Rock, but we did not see it.
South of Hole in the Rock, it is an easy beach walk to the parking lot at Rialto Beach. The stretch of coast between the northern end of Rialto Beach and the Chilean Memorial was, in my opinion, some of the most scenic of the entire trip.
This hike is high on scenery, and it is very worthwhile to take your camera. I carried my Canon 6D, two lenses (a 28-300mm zoom and a 17-40mm zoom), a tripod, and several filters (a polarizer, a split neutral density filter, and a 10-stop neutral density filter), as well as extra batteries and other small accessories. I used most, if not all, the equipment I brought (partially because if I was carrying it, I thought I should use it). Of course, weight is a consideration as well!
For lens selection, you probably want everything in your bag. There are many sweeping scenic shots for wide-angle lenses. Short telephoto lenses are useful for isolating sea stacks off shore. And longer lenses are a must if you want good wildlife shots (we saw raccoons, deer, a coyote, dozens of bald eagles, great blue herons, seals, and a few sea otters).
A polarizing filter helps a lot with glare, wet surfaces, and minimizing the common sea mist. It is essential for minimizing reflections when shooting tidepools. I found having the 10-stop neutral density filter fun, being able to take long exposures to totally remove wave action. A split neutral density filter was handy at sunset. The tripod was definitely worth taking for those long exposures, sunset shots, and tidepool shots.
Being the west coast, sunsets were good photographic subjects. At most places, with short walks from the campsites, there were almost always sea stacks or islands that could be used in sunset compositions. I didn’t bother much with sunrise, which was typically blocked by the bluffs rising eastward off the beach.
The Scoop on Poop and other Paria Facts
Here are some more details about the Paria Canyon hike along with some more photos.
There are four trailheads: three starting trailheads (assuming hiking downstream), all in Utah: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and Whitehouse campground; and one ending trailhead, at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. My hiking buddies (Rob Tubbs, an friend from grad school; his wife, Deanna; and daughter, Abby; and my brother Rob) and I choose to start at the Whitehouse trailhead because there were better camping options on this route (there are no places to camp in Wire Pass and very few in Buckskin Gulch). The Whitehouse trailhead is on the Paria River, two miles south of the Paria Contact Station on US Highway 89, roughly mid-way between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT. The Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass trailheads are south of US 89 on House Rock Road. Roads to all the trailheads, at the time of this writing, were passable by passenger car.
Buckskin Gulch is a tributary to the Paria River, and hits the Paria 7 miles from the Whitehouse trailhead. Wire Pass is a tributary to Buckskin Gulch, and is relatively short. Hiking Wire Pass cuts off a portion of Buckskin Gulch.In addition to the hike to Lee’s Ferry, it is also a popular hike to start at Wire Pass or Buckskin, hike to the Paria, then upstream to the Whitehouse trailhead.
Permits: a permit is needed to hike from any of the trailheads, and there is a limit of 20 overnight permits per day. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of people on the 6 days we were in the canyon. Permits are also needed for day use, but there is no limit on the number of permits issues. Dogs are allowed, but also need a permit. Permit information can be obtained here.
Shuttle: Unless you want to backtrack back up the canyon, this is a one-way hike. There’s no quick way to drive from the starting trailhead to the end. Unfortunately, the quickest paved route is not currently an option because the highway between Page, AZ and Lee’s Ferry is out for the foreseeable future due to a landslide which took out a portion of the road on February 20th. Now the quickest route involves driving the length of the unpaved House Rock Road. In our case, I followed Rob Tubbs’ Ford F350 truck in my little Hyundai Elantra. Now, while I’m a proponent of the drive-fast-over-washboards-on-dirt-roads method, I’m a piker compared to Rob Tubbs, whom I swear is a teacher at the Drive-As-Fast-As-You-Can-on-Desert-Roads School. There was no way to keep up with him, but we did eventually make the drive. In total, the shuttle took 3.75 hours, with about half the mileage over dirt roads. (Google Maps suggests the round trip over the same roads should take approximately 5.5 hours). It is also possible to leave your cars at one end and hire a shuttle company to do the driving.
Best season: This is definitely not a place to go hiking when it’s raining. The flash flood danger is serious. Plus, as the Paria River drains a large area north of the hike, a thunderstorm miles away can cause a flood in the canyon. August is typically the rainest month of the year here, with May having the least rain; though floods have been recorded in every month of the year. The peak visitation is during April and May – but with the permit system, the canyon is never crowded.
Trail conditions: there is no official trail. Much of the trip is in water. On our hike, I estimate 20% of the trip was walking in the river – mostly in the narrows section. The water was typically ankle-deep, but occasionally knee-deep. Of course, water depths depend on the weather – flash floods occur every year and can be dangerous. It’s best to plan the hike during the dry season (spring). In the lower portion of the canyon, where the canyon opens up, there is an unmaintained overland trail (with many river crossings) which is much easier than walking along the river – which contains many large boulders in this portion of the canyon; these create deeper pools.
A large portion of the hike, when not actually in the water, is on muddy river bank. Quicksand is fairly common, both on the muddy riverbank and in the water itself. It’s not dangerous, but you can sink quickly up to your knees (this happened to me once), and it is difficult to get out of without help. You can avoid quicksand by testing suspect locations with a light foot before putting all your weight on it. Also, when crossing the river, favor rocky spots rather than slow water spots.
Buckskin Gulch is known for having large pools of standing water that sometimes must be waded or swum, as well as one point where boulders block the route. In previous years, these boulders present a problem where some climbing might be necessary. Currently, we found the boulder section, several miles upstream from the confluence with the Paria, was easily passable without scrambling. Report from other hikers who had done the complete length of Buckskin reported no large pools of water either. Of course, this could change with the next rainstorm.
Guidebook: there is a guidebook with maps of all three canyons (Paria, Buckskin, and Wire Pass) available at the Paria Contact Station for $9. This is well worth the money, particularly as it shows the locations of springs. My one complaint about the maps is that they lack north arrows, which can sometimes make it difficult to orient the maps properly (every map is oriented differently, with the river/canyon running lengthwise on the page).
Shoes and clothing: I wore hiking boots with gore tex socks over wool socks. Don’t bother with the gore tex socks – they just filled with water. Most people hike in sandals or tennis/running shoes. I chose hiking boots for the ankle support – but the boots never completely dried out the whole trip. Your feet will get cold. You might consider neoprene socks to help keep them warm.
Even in warm weather, it can be cool in the narrows section of the canyon where there is plenty of shade. This is even more true in Buckskin Gulch where it is rather dark. Take warmer clothes than you would think are necessary based on the weather.
Water: the river water is very silty and will quickly clog a water filter. Luckily there are a number of springs in the canyon where fresh water can be obtain. We drank from these springs without using filtration (do take some care how you fill your bottles if not using a filter). The springs are well marked on the guide maps, but still may be hard to find. We had a particularly hard time finding one called Shower Spring. The boy scout leader we met told us his scout group planned to camp there, yet when we arrived, we saw them hiking off down the canyon. But then, we couldn’t see the spring. We just about gave up looking for it, but as we were running low on water, I gave one last look. I crossed the river and found a hidden trail through tall, thick pampas-type grass, and behold, a big spring with lots of water! The last spring, aptly named Last Reliable Spring, was easier to find, but has a low flow rate so it took time to fill our bottles. The final 12 miles of the hike do not have any reliable water sources. If you plan well, you can minimize the water you have to carry by planning your daily mileage around the spring or by camping near by the springs. Do remember to carry enough water – you’ll need it, even in April or May.
Campsites: there are campsites marked on the map, but many other campsites are available – just be sure to camp high enough above the river in case the water comes up overnight. Within the narrows section of the canyon, campsites are much harder to find. And in the full 18 miles of Buckskin Gulch, there are only a couple, including the one we stayed at our second night, shortly up canyon from Buckskin’s confluence with the Paria.
The Scoop on Poop: When you check in at the Paria Contact Station, you will be given human-waste disposal bags. These consist of one or two silver bags with some dry chemicals in them. These bags open up to rear-end size. And a yellow mesh bag to carry the used silver bags. The ranger writes your permit number on the silver bags, so if perchance you leave one in the canyon, they will make you come and get it (okay, they’d probably give you a fine; she said they started putting numbers on the bags after some hikers started leaving the used bags in the canyon thinking the rangers came through and picked them up). Luckily, you are only required to use these bags within the narrows section of the canyon. Elsewhere, you can dig “cat holes” away from the river and campsites. In our case, we were only in the narrows for about a day and a half. It’s amazing how your body can react when forced with the possibility of using one of these bags. Four of the five of us were able to “hold it” and carried out empty bags. Concerning toilet paper, that comes out with you, even if using cat holes.
Historical sites: portions of the canyon were historically used by Ancient Pueblo people (Anasizi). There are no ruins, at least that we saw, but there are several petroglyph sites (only one of which is marked on the guide map). If you go, the best petroglyph site we saw is between mile 24 and 25. There are several more recent sites as well. These include the remains of an irrigation pump from an ill-fated attempt to pump water out of the canyon in the 1949 at mile 17.5 and a historical ranch property right at the end of the trail in Lee’s Ferry.
Critters: We saw few animals on our hike other than birds, bats, lizards and mice (luckily only at our final campsite), but I did find a scorpion behind my backpack the night we camped in Buckskin Gulch. You should also be aware that rattlesnakes are occasionally seen. Reportedly there are also beavers (we did see some logs they had worked on), coyotes, jack rabbits, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels, deer and bighorn sheep.
Overall, this is one hike I can highly recommend. The scenery is outstanding. The country is remote, but easily accessible. I waited about 30 years to take this hike – in hind sight, I should have gone a long time ago. It’s one fantastic hike.
I’ve been back several days now from my backpacking trip down the Paria River canyon (Paria is pronounced like Maria). We hiked out of the canyon on Thursday. I had hoped to post about the trip earlier, but after driving 900 miles on Friday, going to by sister’s surprise 50th birthday party on Saturday, Easter on Sunday, and with Monday being opening day for the Seattle Mariners (I’m a baseball nut and went to watch the game at Safeco Field on the big screen even though the game was in Oakland), I haven’t had a chance until now.
When people ask about where I went, I say the Paria River – which usually brings a confused look as they have never heard of it. They ask where it is, and I say mostly in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument – which continues the confused look because they have never heard of it. So then I say, the 38-mile hike ends at where rafting trips through the Grand Canyon start (at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona) and most people then have a general idea.
The Paria River hike is one of the classic hikes in the American Southwest, and I have wanted to do it for over 30 years. Let me tell you, the hike did not disappoint. Much of the hike is through narrows, where the canyon walls are only 5 to 30 meters wide. The hike is considered as a rival to the much more famous Virgin River Narrows hike in Zion National Park.
The first day we got a late start (after having to drive the shuttle, placing a car at Lee’s Ferry to drive back at the end of the hike) only hiked about 3.5 miles, camping before the narrows begins. The narrows begin at about mile 4 and were spectacular. At mile 7, still in the narrows, we turned and went up Buckskin Gulch (a tributary to the Paria). We dropped our packs at one of the only campsites in Buckskin, about 1/4 mile from the confluence with the Paria, and day hiked several miles up Buckskin. That night, we camped where we had left the packs. The following day, we hiked 10 miles down the Paria, leaving the narrows. Though not in the narrows, this section of the canyon was still not wide and still very beautiful. Much of the hiking these three days was in the river itself. The following three days, more and more of the hiking was out of the river, as the canyon widened up. Besides the day hike up Buckskin, we also made the day hike to Wrather Arch – reportedly the largest natural arch in the world outside the state of Utah.
Here’s a few images from the trip. I’ll try to do a more complete blog post on the hike, with more photos, as time allows.