This is the third post in my North Cascades series, featuring the second day's itinerary. Related posts linked below.
Day 2: Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Glacier 🏔️
The big hike day! We started this day as early as we could, but it still took us almost 10 am to start the hike. This is because the Cascade Pass trailhead is almost an hour's drive from the Newhalem campground. The route is fairly straightforward, but there are stretches where there isn't a paved road. It is very much doable for a normal car, but you should drive with caution. The exciting this is you can see snow and the last remnants of glaciers right from the trailhead itself, which came as a complete surprise to me. This makes the trailhead itself worth visiting, even if you have no plans to hike.
The hike starts with an immediate ascent via switchbacks on one side of a mountain, but the early part of the hike continues to have glimpses of snow and glacier remains which I'd never experienced in America before. After what seems like a very long time in the midst of a forest, and about 1500 ft of elevation gain, the switchbacks finish, and you start having a better view of the mountains whose foothills were visible from the trailhead. The views from this stretch of the hike are unlike anything I've ever seen, which kept me excited. My recommendation would be to take your time, and your pictures when you're on the way up – since you'll be way more exhausted when you're coming downhill, and the sun's angle make for prettier pictures during morning. 📷
Continuing along, in what is the most flat section of the hike (only 200 ft of elevation gain) – you're soon at Cascade Pass, where you can see the Cascade glacier. Enjoy the views, and eat some snacks. This is where we saw most families with kids end their hike. This in itself, with all the mountain and glacier views is a phenomenal hike, and not an easy one by any means with about 1700 ft of elevation gain!
Soon after, we trudged along and started another uphill ascent but this time we were over the tree line. So this uphill felt a little more harder with the overhead sun. This part of the hike is amidst small meadows, and we spotted a few marmots in this section. Not far away from here is the first view of the Doubtful Lake, and the hike for it, should you be interested. Our first glimpse of the lake was around 12.15 pm, and from this area, you start to see patches of snow lying around in the small meadows. It's also windy and cooler, now that you're higher up in the mountains. Around the same time is when you can also see the Sahale peak, but we didn't know it at the time 😂! After about 3000 ft of elevation gain, you reach what I'd call a 360-degree view.
This is where you can see the Stehekin route in one direction, and endless mountains and glaciers on top of these mountains in all other directions. The trail kind of peters off at this point, and you need to continue the last stretch on rocks. We took a break here for lunch, and then spotted a black bear coming over from one side of the mountain, passing the trail, and getting down from the other side. It was crazy because I'd never seen a black bear on a hiking trail before. 🐻
After lunch, we started the last stretch on the rocks to Sahale Arm Glacier Camp which took us about an hour, because it was around 1000 ft of elevation gain. We had to go slowly since it was all on rocky terrain. The view from the camp was epic, and I'd say, totally worth the effort if you're able to do it. The views are endless, infinite mountains, glaciers all around, and the glistening Doubtful Lake deep below. It is surreal that something like this exists, and that we can see it with our own eyes. It was 2.30 pm by the time we reached the top, and we spent some time on the glacier arm in the ice. It is possible to go up to Sahale peak, but you probably need to be a mountaineer or a pro-backpacker to be able to do it. We started our descent downward around 3 pm after noticing that some backpackers at the Glacier Camp were getting ready to set-up their camp.
Our descent downward was hard, especially because we didn't carry poles. We didn't make as many stops, or take as many pictures on our way down, but we did see a mountain goat at Cascade pass on the way back. So yay for wildlife viewing on the trail! 🐐 The hardest part of the descent was the last switchbacks in the forest, there are about 40 of them and they seem to be never-ending, especially at the fag end of the hike. We were low on water and energy by this point. We finally made it back to the trailhead at 6 pm.
Our total hiking distance was over 15 miles, with elevation gain close to 4000 ft. We were lucky, because clouds never obstructed our views the entire day. My recommendations for this hike:
- Practice long distance, high elevation hikes. You should be comfortable doing at least 2000 ft elevation gain hikes before attempting this.
- Carry hiking poles, they will make the hike easier on your knees.
- Carry ample food and water. It is possible to replenish your water at the glacial streams during the hike, but you must carry and use a water purifier for it.
- Start early and plan to be on the trailhead no later than 10 or 11 am.
- Avoid doing this hike on a cloudy day. Even if clouds are in the weather forecast in the latter part of the day, you have the risk of missing good views – so attempt this on a sunny, clear day.
Stats for Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm Trail
- Distance - officially this is 12 miles, but ours was closer to 15 miles
- Elevation Gain - 1700 ft (Cascade Pass), 3940 ft (Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm)
- Dogs are not allowed
- No fees to hike
Cascade Pass is the first hike where I hit almost 4000 ft in elevation gain, and I couldn't be more proud of myself for being able to do so. The views more than made up for it. What was the hike where you had to stretch your limits? Let me know!