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August 15, 1996
Six classic hikes in Western Washington


1. Enchantment Lakes. A stunning basin at the 7,000-foot level of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness outside Leavenworth, the Enchantments represent perhaps the most renowned hiking region in the Cascade Mountains. Sparkling lakes connected by streams and waterfalls are rimmed by the jagged edge of the Stuart Range in a magical land of water, glacier-polished rock and ice, studded with larch trees that turn golden in fall. The basin is reached via long approaches through lovely forest -- 10 miles to the lower basin via the traditional Snow Lake route, which gains a daunting 5,400 feet of elevation. Access is restricted via a permit system; 75 percent of the permits are issued via reservation, and most days this year are booked through September. Call Reservations Northwest, (800) 452-5687. Twenty-five percent of the permits are issued daily, by drawing if necessary, at the Leavenworth Ranger Station, (509) 548-6977, beginning at 7:45 a.m. Plan for a backup hike in case you don't get a permit, or put this on the list for next year. The trailhead is about five miles down Icicle Road southwest of Leavenworth. [Back to map]

2. Pacific Crest Trail, from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. This 67-mile trek easily meets the classic hike criteria: Superb views from the crest of the Cascades, dozens of high lakes, streams and waterfalls, deep and dark old-growth forests, expan-sive wildflower meadows. And although the Pacific Crest Trail is well-known and well-trod, plenty of side trails offer solitude. This link of the national scenic trail, which stretches from Mexico to Canada, is perhaps the most beautiful segment in Washington. "I would recommend you go from north to south, just because you get to look at the snowy north faces of the peaks," says guidebook author Ira Spring. You must fill out a permit at the trailhead, and next year the southern stretch may be part of a limited-entry permit program designed to minimize damage. It's a haul -- the five dozen-plus miles include a total elevation gain of 10,600 feet. Trailheads are at Stevens Pass ski area on Highway 2 and Snoqualmie Pass off Exit 52 (left at the stop sign, then the first right). [Back to map]

3. Whatcom Pass -- This wild, 38-mile east-west traverse of North Cascades National Park, between Hannegan Pass campground and Ross Lake, provides a feast of what makes the park so special. Rugged and remote, this area is believed to be habitat for grizzly bears and is home to black bears aplenty. It passes the north side of the almost-impenetrable Picket Range, and on the east end is enveloped by one of the most superior forests of old-growth Douglas fir and western red cedar left on the planet. Want solitude? You've got it. Trail crews have been clearing the brushy route this month, so it should be in good shape. Plan on an elevation gain of 5,400 feet and at least three days walking. From the campground, the route climbs to Hannegan Pass, descends to the Chilliwack River and then climbs Brush Creek to Whatcom Pass. From there, it follows Big Beaver Creek through the ancient forest to Ross Lake, where a water taxi from Ross Lake Resort, (206) 386-4437, can pick you up. A permit is required, and available at ranger stations at Sedro Woolley on the west and Marblemount on the east. The Hannegan Pass trailhead is reached by driving east on Highway 542, on the north side of Mount Baker, 13 miles past the Glacier ranger station and going left on Nooksack River Road 32. Shortly, take the Ruth Creek Road 32 and continue 5.4 miles to the campground. [Back to map]

4. High Divide/Glacier Meadows -- Perhaps the finest trail hike into the high country on the west side of Olympic National Park, this variation begins in forest along the Sol Duc River, climbs to the flowery meadows of High Divide on the edge of the Bailey Range, descends steeply to the Hoh River trail and then climbs up into the icy face of Mount Olympus at Glacier Meadows. Wildlife -- elk, deer, bears -- is abundant. It is 24.7 miles one way and a gain of 6,600 feet. Starting at the end of the Sol Duc Hot Springs Road (off Highway 101 just west of Lake Crescent), the trail reaches a junction shortly. Take the left fork, continuing up the river all the way to High Divide, and then west along the divide to the Hoh Lake trail. Follow the Hoh Lake trail down to the main Hoh trail, and from there travel up Olympus to Glacier Meadows. It is best to arrange for a pickup and return via the main Hoh trail. Sunsets and sunrises from high camps and the alpenglow of Olympus' glaciers are sublime. You'll need a permit, available at either the park's wilderness office in Port Angeles (360 452-4501, Ext. 384) or the Sol Duc ranger station en route to the trailhead. [Back to map]

5. Wonderland Trail -- Heavily regulated by the Park Service, which designates your campsites and thus itinerary, this famous circumnavigation of Mount Rainier, the Northwest's signature mountain, is nevertheless a true wonder. It is 93 miles long with a total elevation gain of a frightening 20,000 feet, and passes through all of the park's ecosystems, from valley bottom forests to high meadows, rock and snow. Critters are abundant, views of the peak are incredible, and with the permit system in place, you'll find solitude. There are 40 designated camping areas and the trail can be accessed from several points, including Longmire, Paradise or Sunrise -- wilder-ness offices at each are where you can get permits. Permits are free and available no more than a day in advance, and for no more than 14 days. You must be flexible with your plans, since some campsites might be full and you might have to start at various points. Two points of note: a large mudflow caused by snowmelt covered part of the trail one week ago, at the crossing of the White River's West Fork on the mountain's north side. It's passable, but miserably muddy and wet. Also, significant snow still covers the trail between Panhandle Gap and Indian Bar, on the east side, and route-finding can be difficult in fog. Pack a good topographic map, compass and the knowledge to use them. For details, call the wilderness office at Longmire (360) 569-2211, Ext. 3317. [Back to map]

6. Mount Adams Highline Trail. Walk almost 25 miles along the timberline of Washington's second highest mountain, the 12,276-foot sleeping volcano Mount Adams. A five-mile gap that includes glacial-flow rivers and the Yakama Indian Nation virtually prohibits a complete circuit of the mountain, so most do the stretch between Cold Springs campground to the reservation boundary at Devil's Garden. But that stretch offers supreme Cascade highland walking, complete with creeks and waterfalls, mega-meadows, timbered slopes, lava beds, close-up views of glaciers and panoramas of other volcanoes. The gain is 4,000 feet and the trail tops out at 7,760. Drive to the Columbia River Gorge and head north on Road 141 just before White Salmon. Follow that to Trout Lake, and then head north on Forest Road 80. After about five miles, go right on FR 8040 to Morrison Creek Horse Camp, then follow 8040 to the right, to the road end at Cold Springs campground. [Back to map]

(For reports on current conditions and other trail information call the Outdoor Information Center in Seattle, 206-220-7450.)

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