CAS­CA­DIAN KING­DOM

NORTH CAS­CADES NA­TIONAL PARK, WASH­ING­TON

Backpacker - - Play List - Pikas are the roost­ers of the alpine zone. By Dan Bur­well

I say this aloud, to no one, at day­break as I un­peel my sleep­ing bag in the hazy laven­der light to a cho­rus of squeaks. I roll my tent door back, re­veal­ing a pic­ture that the na­tional park brochures would be lucky to have: a crown of chalky spires that give way to a sea of green no­ble firs and gold larches. When the sun de­liv­ers on the pikas’ pro­nounce­ment, there’s noth­ing you can do ex­cept stop, stare, and lis­ten.

TURN-BY-TURN FROM THE BRIDGE CREEK TRAIL­HEAD (IN WE­NATCHEE NA­TIONAL FOR­EST)

1) Head 1.8 miles south on the Pa­cific Crest Trail to the na­tional park bound­ary.

2) Con­tinue 1.5 miles to a Y-junc­tion at Fire­weed Camp.

3) Split east onto the McAlester Lake Trail and climb to 6,000foot McAlester Pass at mile 8.5.

4) Fol­low the Rain­bow Creek Trail off the pass around 6,905-foot East Peak to a so­cial trail on hiker’s right (near mile 8.7).

5) Take the so­cial path 1.1 miles west to a larch-framed, un­named lake be­neath Rain­bow Ridge.

6) Re­trace your steps.

CAMP­SITE 1 FIRE­WEED CAMP (MILE 3.3)

This clear­ing sits at the hike’s low point near 3,600 feet—roughly 2,400 feet be­neath the pass. Recharge be­fore a tough climb at one of the two sites (reser­va­tion rec­om­mended). Get wa­ter at nearby McAlester Creek.

CAMP­SITE 2 UN­NAMED LAKE (MILE 9.8)

This camp­site might ruin all oth­ers for you: Squeeze your tent be­tween the 2-acre teardrop and Rain­bow Ridge, fac­ing the door south to­ward a 2,000-foot cliff that falls away to the Ste­hekin River Val­ley. Glacier-man­tled McAlester Moun­tain and Cres­cent Peak dom­i­nate the hori­zon, while gran­ite-and-ice pin­na­cles outrun the sky­line.

ADD TWO SUM­MITS

With some class 3 scram­bling, bag Rain­bow Ridge’s twin peaks: Con­tinue west past the lake on a clearly de­fined ramp to 7,237-foot West Peak, about a mile away. From there, trace the ridge 2 miles back east to tag 6,905-foot East Peak be­fore pick­ing a path down the talus back to camp.

SEA­SON

Hik­ing sea­son in North Cas­cades is no­to­ri­ously nar­row. This year’s warm spring means the snow­pack should melt out by Au­gust, but check with the Mar­ble­mount Wilder­ness In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter be­fore head­ing out; you may need an axe and cram­pons near McAlester Pass. The larches turn in mid- to late Septem­ber, and the snow typ­i­cally re­turns in Oc­to­ber.

DO IT

TRAIL­HEAD 48.5045, -120.7181; 53 miles east of Mar­ble­mount on WA 20 SEA­SON Au­gust to Oc­to­ber PER­MITS Re­quired (free); ob­tain na­tional park per­mit from the Mar­ble­mount Wilder­ness In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter and self­is­sue a wilder­ness per­mit at the trail­head. CUS­TOM MAP bit.do/BPmapRain­bowRidge ($15) CON­TACTS www.fs.usda .gov/okawen; nps.gov/noca

Dis­tance 19.6 miles (out and back) Time 3 days

Dif­fi­culty

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