Glacier Peak Wilderness Part 2: Cloudy Pass to Ross Pass
Leaving Cloudy Pass in the morning of day 4 I could look forward to 6 miles of straightforward on trail travel. My mind and body definitely appreciated the break. I crossed the divide between Wenatchee and Mt Baker forests at Suiattle Pass, skipped along the PCT for a mile, then continued northbound along the west side of the divide using the Miner's Ridge trail. I was now the closest I had come to Glacier Peak, looming five miles distant across the Suiattle River. The slopes above Image Lake turned out to be the ideal break spots, with a stellar view and curious marmots.
Past Image Lake I picked up the Canyon Lake Trail, a trail in name only due to lack of maintenance and snow cover. It crosses a mini pass on Miner's Ridge and then contours under the imposing spine connecting Sitting Bull and Bannock Mountains, staying mostly subalpine but providing views all the way. The change in character from the south side of Miner's Ridge is distinct, the wilderness here feels more remote, the terrain is more challenging, yet the PCT sits just two miles to the east on the other side of the divide. Despite the closeness of a popular long trail a glance at the map shows the difficulty of crossing the divide here, and explains the isolation.
Which brings us to the obligatory warning: If you are not experienced in backcountry navigation, off trail travel, and familiar with self arrest on medium angle snow, do not attempt to replicate this part of the trip.
Here is what greeted me on the north side of Miner's Ridge:
With the line of travel being a long contour around the left side of the picture. It was blazing hot, bright and sunny, I was often up to my knees in snow, and almost always accosted by flying blood suckers. At lunch time I was observed intently by this little doe, who seemed to be having about as much fun with the bugs as I was. Comparing our methods of coping I decided I'd rather have a headnet than be able to scratch my ear with my leg, but it's obviously a matter of personal preference.
I continued to pick my way around the basin, reaching Sitting Bull:
The next mile of trying to follow where the trail might be was particularly brushy and a difficult climb, but was also accompanied by an increasing sense that a grand view was coming. I also had a route decision coming up, at this point I thought I might take a crack at the Bath Lakes High Route, which terminates at Canyon Lake, but before making this decision I had to actually get to Canyon Lake, so I picked up the pace a little, and finally broke into the clear.
I made the descent to Canyon Lake, and decided I didn't have the steam to take on the Bath Lakes route, loop back on the Suiattle River Trail, and get back to my car. I probably didn't quite have enough food for that undertaking either, so I decided I'd poke my nose around the beginning of the route and get a sense of it for another day before heading through Totem Pass and continuing north.
There were some use paths leading straight up the gut to Totem Pass, but the angle looked inadvisable covered in snow, so I crept around on a ledge on the left and worked my way back to the center, traction gear coming back into play with a few moments in the shade requiring some chopped steps, but the payoff is worth all the stomach butterflies.
The north side of Totem pass had a couple hundred feet of snow travel that had to be handled very carefully. In this look back at the pass helps to illustrate that an oopsie here has the potential to go a long ways down.
I continued on towards Ross Pass, contouring up to regain the divide. There are views here of the Sulphur Creek drainage leading down to the Suiattle River. The divide spreads out bit, creating some really nice camping possibilities with views of the complex of glaciers to the north. I hunkered down there to end a full day.