Excelsior Pass – High Divide

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Again, considering Boomer, we looked for easy backpacking trips that either he could walk, or we could carry him to enjoy. The trail to Excelsior Pass is pretty short and less than 2,000ft gain to great views of the north side of Baker. Friday night we drove the long and shockingly paved road up the Cascade Creek valley, stumbling upon a huge open area along Cascade Creek that was ideal to claim for the night.

With another fairly early start, we had some skepticism about scoring a decent campsite on the trail up near the pass, so we thought there might be some spots along Damfino Lakes, just a short mile or so from the trailhead. However, there weren’t any that seemed eco-viable, so we took our chances and continued to the pass, which was only another mile or two above us. The last bit was steep (as it usually is), and we checked out a campsite off to the side before the pass, but it was occupied, so we continued up to the pass, hopeful.

Up to the pass, where views of Baker were stunning, we were shocked to find the primo campsite was open; the site is in a private but large copse of trees; plenty of room for a few tents and hammocks. It was early in the hunting season, so every fourth hiker seemed to carry a bow, rifle, or shotgun. We talked to several of the hunters and few saw any bears, and even if then, they were on a too-distant ridge and were gone by the time they got there.

It was prime berry season and Becka was focused on her harvest, so she spent hours foraging from a great patch adjacent to camp. The camp is at the intersection of Excelsior Pass on the High Divide trail, which heads seven or so miles to the east towards Yellow Aster Butte (YAB), one of the most popular areas for hikers and backpackers. That day, though, there was a bike event on State Route 20 over 3,000ft below us which limited access to YAB, so many folks that were headed there diverted to Excelsior Pass via the same route we took. This meant there was a constant stream of visitors coming through. Baker eventually realized that all the folks coming through were fine and not invading our campsite. Boomer was content snoozing or wandering around, though we had to keep an eye on him because a few times he wandered out of sight, and we had to track him down.

Mt. Baker glowed in the clear sunset and we settled in our wind-protected camp spot. Next morning, Becka took (dog) Baker east to traverse the High Divide trail before sunrise, heading up Excelsior Peak before meandering up and down 5 miles or so each way to Welcome Pass and back. Meanwhile, Boomer and I managed to get up and down Excelsior Peak, snapping sunrise pics and then started to pack camp while we relaxed and waited for Becka’s return.

We headed down with Becka carrying Boomer and me carrying an equitable portion of her payload to offset Boomer’s 25lbs, passing many dayhikers along the way.

Labor Day 2022 – Chewuch River and Goat Peak Lookout

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For the longer weekends, we try to head further to discover and enjoy areas new to us. We had plans to backpack up the Chewuch River in October, so we decided to do some exploring of this less-used and comparatively remote area well north of Winthrop, Washington.

Our plans were to relax as much as possible. Before the trip, I studied the forest roads and satellite images above the Chewuch area and identified a few candidate spots to scout out and claim for the long weekend. We were heading out on Friday afternoon, so with limited daylight, it was helpful to have a good idea of some spots to make a beeline to and not spend too long wandering around.

We were surprised there were so few people once we got about 10 miles north of Winthrop. We passed several areas already teeming with campers and families. Fortunately, they thinned out dramatically as we headed further north. Within a decade-old burn area, we spied an abandoned forest road that meandered through the open undergrowth and ended in a perfect spot just above the river. We set up our big tent, tables, hammocks, and were elated that we scored such an excellent spot with sandy beachfront access to the winding Chewuch.

2022 was drier-than-normal for most of Washington, and all campfires had been banned since early in the summer and the ban justifiably had not been rescinded by Labor Day. No matter, it was quite warm even in the shade by the river, so we were content not to have one.

Not much else to say other than we had a perfect time, alternating between time spent in the creek and in our hammocks above the river. We had many spells throwing the disc on the river for Baker, who tirelessly chased it down as it floated away, though one time it did get away from him and we all frantically tried to navigate the slippery river stones to get to it. Becka made the best effort toward it, but only until we were able to get Baker into position to see it were we able to save it from being lost. I know, super stressful time, eh?

Once familiar with the social trails around camp, Boomer was able to navigate between the hammocks, camp, and the river.

We took some time to explore the area the other spots I researched, because they were further north and closer to the trailhead for our trip in October. We also ran into town to refresh the ice and grab some ice cream.

On our way out of the area, we headed up the long, long forest road to tag Goat Peak Lookout. It’s a short but steep, rugged, trail, and difficult for Boomer to navigate, but he was able to do most of it on his own, though Becka carried him on the way down as it’s far more dangerous for him heading down with his lack of decent eyesight. The lookout is usually manned, private, and inaccessible, though we didn’t see anyone up there.

Goat Peak Lookout