The trip Aficionados of the toothy Cascades like to brag that this is one of the steepest mountain ranges in the world, claiming it has more peaks that rise 3,000 vertical feet in the last mile to their summits than any other group on Earth. Tough to prove, but who cares? The vision it conjures is entirely accurate: an endless succession of pinnacles, cliffs, and knife-edge ridges that ratchet up the physical, technical, and navigational challenge. Put yourself in the heart of it all–amid frequently fierce weather–with our custom route.
Tech assist Virtual Earth by Microsoft (maps.live.com) offers free tools that you can use at home to plot passes, campsites, and tricky routefinding sections on 3D topography. On the trail, try Bushnell’s Onix400 GPS, which also loads real-time weather forecasts.
The route This 30-mile, four-day loop links little-known routes originally blazed by sheepherders in the early 20th century; the trails are variously decent, faint, and vanishing. You’ll trace the arc of the Entiat Mountains and Chiwawa Ridge, with views of serrated ridges, ice-crowned Glacier Peak, and summits begging to be scrambled. (An example of how technology makes a hike like this easier: Check the Google Earth view of 9,082-foot Mt. Maude, the route’s highest peak. By tilting and rotating the image, you’ll see the south ridge is a straightforward hike to a sweeping panorama. Get there via the pass to Ice Lakes, 10U 0663171E 5332680N.)
From the Phelps Creek trailhead, ascend Trail 1508 to Carne Mountain. At 6,400 feet on Carne’s east side (10U 0663945E 5328622N), head off-trail and north, following the west slope of the Entiats, then descend along Leroy Creek to Phelps Creek Trail. Follow it a quarter-mile north to 4,200 feet, then turn off-trail to the west, crossing Phelps Creek and ascending along an unnamed stream to Phelps Ridge. Walk north to 6,400 feet on the Chiwawa River Trail. Leave the trail, contouring west and south between 6,000 feet and 6,500 feet–you’ll find good campsites on rock outcrops and grassy benches. Cross a 7,200-foot pass (10U 0654029E 5334359N) on Fortress Mountain’s south ridge and descend to a decent, unmapped footpath in meadows at 6,050 feet. Follow it southeast, then north to Massie Lake, then descend Trail 1504 and Trail 1500 to Chiwawa River trailhead. It’s three miles from here to the Phelps Creek trailhead via dirt road.
The Way From US 2 at Coles Corner, between Leavenworth and Stevens Pass, turn north onto Lake Wenatchee Road 207. Cross the Wenatchee River bridge and continue straight onto Chiwawa River Loop Road 22. In 1.4 miles, turn left onto Chiwawa River Road 62 and continue 23 miles. The Chiwawa River trailhead is at road’s end; to reach the Phelps Creek trailhead, turn right onto the Phelps Creek Road 6211 (a half-mile before road’s end) and continue two miles to the parking area.
Guidebook Cascade Alpine Guide Vol. 2–Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass, by Fred Beckey ($35, The Mountaineers Books)
Map USGS quads: Trinity, Holden, Suiattle Pass, and Clark Mtn. ($6 each, usgs.gov)
Season Mid-July through September
Permit Backcountry permits are not required.
Contact Wenatchee River Ranger District, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, (509) 548-6977, fs.feo.us/r6/wenatchee