A Week in the Cascades
Western redcedar droops over us as we empty onto the broad valley floor and come to a campsite at northwest-bound Dutch Miller Gap Trail, but we don't find water until 0. 1 mile later, at the Waptus River. A girdered bridge gets us across this cold torrent, and we turn downstream alongside a roche moutonnie a "dome" of rock that stood fast even though it was overridden by the glaciers filled this valley. The PCT then winds northeast past a connection to the Dutch Miller Gap Trail and continues under Douglas-firs that rise above a carpet of ferns and vanilla leaf. As we start rising off the valley floor, we cross Spade Creek and meet Waptus River Trail 1310. This trail comes up from campsites 1/4 mile away at Waptus Lake, and ultimately from the Cle Elum River, about 12 miles away.
Our trail proceeds on a gently rising traverse above the valley, well shaded under spruce, fir, and cedar boughs, but we get occasional blue glints of large Waptus Lake below. On the way our path crosses a couple of fairly reliable streams. Between them Spade Lake Trail 1337 climbs north, and at the second one there is a campsite. Eventually our trail turns north into the Spinola Creek valley and meets Spinola Creek Trail 1310A, which climbs about one mile from the outlet of Waptus Lake. Through alternating patches of forest, meadow and talus, our trail steepens some and even switchbacks in several places as it works up this valley, keeping some distance above the creek. A second series of switchbacks gets us around a knob and onto a bench, from where Cathedral Rock marks our direction.
Now in a meadowy subalpine realm, we continue north, and not long after crossing a feeder creek meet Lake Vicente Trail 1365, which ascends west. We immediately turn through a small gap and then follow the bank of now-quiet Spinola Creek, soon crossing another tributary at a campsite. A bit farther north we approach Deep Lake's indigo surface, only to fork from the lake's campsite access trail and turn east to wade its ankle-deep outlet. Now we head for the east side of Deep Lake's basin, to the start of a 1200-foot climb to Cathedral Pass.
Well-graded switchbacks take us far above the lake to the scraggly outliers of the sub alpine fir forest, where we get a new perspective of the alpine bluffs of Mt. Daniel. From the last hairpin, Trail 1375 forks northwest to Peggys Pond. Under the towering and resistant andesite of Cathedral Rock, we top a crest at Cathedral Pass for a view across the upper Cle Elum River valley to the gray alpine uplands of Granite Mountain.
From the pass, the Rainier View spur trail heads south down the ridge, while we descend briefly east onto a parkland bench with a few campsites and a few small tarns. From here Cathedral Rock Trail 1345, the old PCT, drops south 2000 feet to the Cle Elum River. The Forest Service warns that the new PCT, in continuing north high above the Cle Elum, crosses a stream that can be treacherous at high water, and suggests taking the old route and climbing back up to rejoin the newer trail at Deception Pass. In the author's (Selters') opinion, however, for the average backpacker the stream crossing in question is rarely dangerous enough to warrant the lengthy 9-1/2 mile detour.
Wandering around hillocks as it continues north, our trail proceeds in the shadow of Cathedral Rock along the edge of the scenic bench. It then starts twisting down a ridgeline, steepening as it goes until it traverses into montane forest, where we find a couple of longer switchbacks. These end at a bench that has shady campsites at a junction of two streams. North from this bench the trail continues descending steadily across slopes forested in complex patches of mountain hemlock and subalpine fir, then redcedar, Douglas fir and alder. The route crosses one creek, and then comes to a second, which is the one the Forest Service warned of. This stream, which drains Mt. Daniel's northeast slopes, is swift and cold, and you'll want to wear shoes or boots to cross its stony bed. However, the current is not capable of carrying a person away. Before the sun gets high or on a cloudy day the ford won't be more than a shin-deep swash for a few short strides.
From this ford the trail ascends steadily across avalanche swaths and two or three more streams. The last, where the trail turns east at the head of the Cle Elum drainage, will likely require another, less vigorous footbath. The gradual climb turns north again in a forest of unusually large subalpine firs and tops out at Deception Pass. A number of trail options confront the hiker here: the old PCT (now Trail 1376) comes up from the Cle Elum River and Hyas Lake; Marmot Lake Trail 1066 branches west; and Trail 1059 forks north for Deception Creek, meeting Highway 2 six miles east of Skykomish. Beyond these junctions, the PCT heads north-northeast.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication