Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Start at the beginning of Cascade River Road, which starts at the town of Marblemount, and drive 23 miles to the end of the road and parking lot. As it enters the National Park, the road begins to narrow, and you see signs that indicate you are now travelling on a primitive road, one that narrows to one lane the closer you get to the end. Don’t let this deter you—your eyes are in for a treat at the end. As you reach the parking lot, and leave the car, you will have to crane your neck to look up at in-your-face views of Cascade Peak, the Triplets, and Johannesburg Mountain, hulking masses of granite that block out the sky here, complete with hanging waterfalls that look like thin ribbons coursing down the steep faces and helping create the Cascade River below you. Tracing the mountain tops east, you will see the gap that is Cascade Pass, a mere 3.35 miles from the parking lot.
The trailhead begins on the side opposite the bathrooms, and begins switchbacking up through the trees, helping to take some of the steepness out of the trail. It does this, with constant glimpses through the trees of the peaks you’d first seen from the parking lot. The trail is well maintained here, and you will see many families on the trail during summer weekends; according to the park rangers, this is the most heavily visited trail in the NCNP. The switchbacks continue for 2.6 miles, and then the trail follows the contour line steadily upward, with wide open views at the 2.75 mile mark. It goes on like this through this open hillside until you reach Cascade Pass in 3.3 miles. From the vantage point at the pass, you can look southeast down the Stehekin River Valley, and up to more majestic peaks, like Magic Mountain and distant Glory Mountain.
Many people stop here, to sit and have lunch and marvel at the views, but you will now turn left, and head up to the Sahale Arm, a rounded ridge that leads upward to the base of the Sahale Glacier. At about 4.15 miles, you are now on top of the Arm, and the trail winds up and through small alpine meadows that in the right season, are filled with blooms. Gradually, as you continue to gain elevation, the way becomes rockier, and the views become bigger. All along now, on either side of the arm, you can look east and west down opposing valleys, and the mountains that surround them.
For the last 300 yards, or so, the trail peters out, becoming a scramble across jumbled granite with cairns as your guide. It’s not exactly difficult, and your objective for the day is ahead of you, visible at the top of the granite heap. Finally, at 7,600ft elevation, in 5.47 miles, you’ve reached the base camp for climbers, here at the base of Sahale Glacier. There are a couple round knobs here, with rock walls built up around them at the top to ward off the wind that blows, reminding one of castle towers. The views here are spectacular: From this vantage point, you should be able to spot Trapper Mt, Magic Mt, Mt Formidable, and distant Agnes Mt, and Gunsight Peak, for starters. Below you is Doubtful Lake, and the Stehekin River valley. To reach a place in so short a time, and see the rugged and seemingly endless mountain ranges is a spectacle unmatched here in the North Cascades.