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Backpacker Magazine – August 1998

Washington's Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness

You'll find North Cascades beauty minus the rain in Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness.

by: Paul Cleveland

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There's a saying in these parts that the North Cascades-aptly referred to as America's Alps-are on the verge of discovery, just as soon as it stops raining. In the meantime, their relative anonymity is just fine with the water-logged backpackers who tramp the forests and alpine zones.

But why molder in the wet when a few extra miles of driving will plunk you on the region's dry eastern slopes, where the scenery is every bit as stellar and the skies sunny? The 21-mile Eagle Creek-Oval Lakes loop is a fine introduction to rain shadow hiking and has everything you could want in a Northwest hike, except a volcano. On a clear day, though, you may catch a glimpse of Mt. Baker's volcanic mass shimmering in the distance.

The Oval Lakes Trail takes off at a breathtaking clip up its namesake drainage, contours around 6,536-foot Duckbill Mountain, and meanders streamside through pine forests to a poorly marked trail junction. A right turn takes you to jade-colored West Oval Lake, which seems like a beautiful spot to camp. Several generations of hikers before you had the same idea, which is why Forest Service officials ask hikers to give West Oval a breather. Instead, they want you to hike another 11/2 miles and 1,000 vertical feet up and over to Middle Oval Lake, a none-too-shabby substitute.

Things get adventuresome on the second day as you make your way up Oval Pass. Once above treeline the trail becomes faint and can be buried under snow in late June. The harshness of the alpine environment is evident as you breach the pass and drop toward Tuckaway Lake. The descending route gives way to the heavily used Summit Trail (#1259), which rides the crest of Sawtooth Ridge for nearly 30 miles. Hang a right and in a couple of miles you'll come to a trail junction smack in the middle of a beautiful meadow complete with a gurgling mountain stream. This is the way to Eagle Pass and the trailhead at trip's end. If you're in no hurry to return home, consider spending an extra night by Silver Lake. Its beauty has been known to inspire lame Monday morning excuses to the boss. "Uh, sorry I'm late...car trouble."


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