Railroad Grade is a hike that skirts the lateral moraine of the Easton glacier of Mount Baker. This was my first hike with the SnoKing Happy Hikers group; my friend Brenda introduced me to this fun group. The route starts with a walk in the woods and then a stream crossing on the trail to Park Butte. Luckily, the bridge was in place! After a few miles of walking, there’s an intersection; we turned upward on Railroad Grade. After about a mile of climbing, we took a side trail to the shaded High Camp area where I had nice lunch with Carol, Brenda and Ed. We saw lots of nature: marmots, butterflies and lots of intriguing plants.
After lunch and a siesta, Brenda and I continued up to the trail to the climbers camp at 5800 feet. We explored this alpine, rocky area. We scrambled up the rocks alongside the glacier; I eventually went up to about 6400 feet while Brenda decided to stay a bit lower. We saw lots of climbers, many of them practicing climbing skills on Easton glacier. After a few hours up high, we descended down to the high camp area for dinner. We then decided to walk out. We had a little navigation challenge after crossing the bridge but after a few minutes we spotted the trail into the woods and out to the car. This was a great first hike with the Happy Hikers, a group I hope to do many more hikes with.
The best challenges help one grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Alpine Lakes Grand Tour challenged me in all these dimensions. My friends Linda, Roger and I set out to do this tour from the Snow Lake trailhead near Snoqualmie Pass to the Snow Lake trailhead near Leavenworth. We estimated this as a 134 km (83 mile) hike, including about 31 km (19 miles) through the Enchantments region of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. The elevation gain was 7,897 meters (25,910 feet) and elevation loss was 7,555 meters (24,787 feet)
We started this trip at 8 AM on Thursday 2 August and finished at 1215 AM on 8 August; a total time of 136 hours and 15 minutes. We originally planned this as a 5 day trip, about half way through we needed to add an extra day.
Daily Itinerary and highlights
20.6 km (12.8 mi) Gain 1,053 m (3,455 ft) Loss 1,151 m (3,776 ft)
(Snow Lake, camp at Hardscrabble Creek)
20.1 km (12.5 mi) Gain 955 m (3,133 ft) Loss 1,092 m (3,583 ft)
(bushwhack to Dutch Miller Gap, Lake Ivanhoe, camp on PCT above Waptus Lake)
21.5 km (13.4 mi) Gain 898 m (2,946 ft) Loss 943 m (3,094 ft)
(Cathedral Pass, camp at Paddy Go Easy trailhead)
23.4 km (14.5 mi) Gain 1,335 m (4,380 ft) Loss 1,703 m (5,587 ft)
(Paddy Go Easy pass, Meadow creek trail, Jack Ridge, camp at Trout Lake)
18.1 km (11.2 mi) Gain 1,377 m (4,518 ft) Loss 1,019 m (3,343 ft)
(Windy Pass, camp mear Stuart Colchuck trailhead)
30.3 km (18.8 mi) Gain 2,279 m (7,477 ft) Loss 1,647 m (5,404 ft)
(Asgaard Pass, Enchantments upper basin)
134 km (83.3 mi) Gain 7,897 m (25,909 ft) Loss 7,555 m (24,787 ft)
Physically, this was a challenging backpacking trip. There were lots of up and down. (I’ll add a map and elevation profile once I process my GPS recordings.) The first two days, I was experiencing nausea and fatigue, these were side effects of receiving a shingles vaccination the day before we started the trio. Also, my backpacking style is old school with almost no ultralight equipment. I started out with a pack weight of 18 kg (39 pounds).
One big lesson learned is to convert myself to ultralight backpacking. Lucky for me Roger and Linda are experts that can help me.
Mentally, this trip let me explore the flora and fauna of the Cascade mountains. The more I observe, the more I want to know. This quote is often on my mind: “Each one of us adds a little to our understanding of Nature, and from all the facts assembled arises a certain grandeur.” – Aristotle as quoted by Bradford Washburn.
Emotionally, there were some ups and downs for me. The first couple of days I felt awful, seriously thought of turning around and walking back out. I think my ultrarunning experience gave me some added emotional resilience to keep going. Also, when we decided we needed another day on the trail, there were some challenges communication the delay to my wife. Eventually, I was pretty certain I got a text message out. Also, I asked a couple of folks driving away from trailheads along the way to call her, happy to say that both of them did this!
There were some real ups as well, such as looking back from slogging up Asgaard Pass and seeing beautiful Colchuck Lake or sauntering trough the wildflowers on the Meadow Creek trail. It made me appreciate my place in the Universe.