Backpack - Cathedral Lakes


Backpack - Cathedral Lakes

Experience the Boundary Trail (a section of the Pacific Northwest Trail) from Iron Gate TH to Upper Cathedral Lake. This 6 day/5 night trip starts high at 6100 ft and gently climbs and descends over 5 passes to arrive at iconic Upper Cathedral Lake. Trail passes passes by wildflower filled meadows, expansive views, stark alpine terrain and stunning granite rock formations and culminates at my personal favorite place in all of Washington State (Upper Cathedral Lake). This trip is for experienced backpackers and is challenging due to duration of the trip but overall average daily elevation and mileage is relatively moderate and may appeal to a broad range of backpackers. Older youth with a parent or parent equivalent are welcome.

  • Moderate
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 51.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 7,400 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 7,575 ft
  • Pace: 2 mph

Iron Gate Trailhead near Tonasket, Washington on Wed, July 3 at 1:30 pm (anticipate a short trailhead briefing and aim to be hiking by 2 pm).

  • Note this is a long drive (approximately 6 hrs from Seattle). The final 6 miles is rough (some years rougher than others) and a higher clearance vehicle such as a typical Subaru or SUV is strongly recommended.
  • Carpooling is encouraged
  • NW Forest Pass required

I have been to Upper Cathedral Lake (via various routes) five times previously with family and friends including my son at 11 years old and father at 80 years. This is a special place for me and I hope you will join me for my sixth trip to experience the remoteness and incredible beauty of the Pasayten Wilderness.

  • Please see these WTA trail descriptions for Horseshoe Basin and Boundary Trail.
  • Trip participants should be comfortable with multi day backpacking trips, maintain physical fitness to hike on six successive days with total mileage of 51 miles/7400 ft ascent and descent, ability to pack for a range of higher elevation conditions while managing pack weight to allow for an approximate 2 mph pace (although daily mileage goals should also allow time for breaks to enjoy our awe inspiring surroundings).  This is a group trip and I expect participants to stay together on the trail, actively engage with each other and support each other on the trail.  I will aim to lead in a collaborative style keeping both group and individual physical and emotional safety in mind, but I will also be prepared to make a final decision should issues arise.
  • Route on CalTopo  (51 miles RT, 7400ft/7400ft )
Day 1 (Wed. 7/3) Iron Gate TH - Horseshoe Basin camp Gaia  6 miles/1340↑/460
Day 2 (Thu. 7/4) Horseshoe Basin - camp before Teapot Dome Gaia  7.1 miles/880↑/990
Optional off trail afternoon hike up to Teapot Dome summit
Day 3 (Fri. 7/5) Teapot Dome - Apex Pass camp Gaia  8.5 miles/1430↑/1030
Explore historic Tungsten Mine camp along the way
Day 4 (Sat, 7/6)  Apex Pass - Upper Cathedral Lake and return via Apex to camp near Scheelite Pass Gaia   12.1 miles/1530↑/2115↓ 
Day hike with slack packs from Apex Pass to Upper Cathedral Lake, after relaxed time at the Lake, return to Apex, pack up camp and hike several miles to camp near Scheelite Pass
Day 5 (Sun, 7/7)  Scheelite Pass - Horseshoe Basin camp Gaia  10.5 miles/1720↑/1340↓ 
Day 6 (Mon, 7/8) Horseshoe Basin - Iron Gate TH Gaia  7 miles/500↑/1470↓ 
Anticipate an early start to arrive at Iron Gate with time to drive back to Seattle area 
  • NOAA Weather at Horseshoe Basin and Upper Cathedral Lake
  • Packing notes.  No reliable bear hangs at all camps, bear canister or Ursack + Opsak/similar odor proof bag will be required. Snow should be mostly melted out and wildflowers in full bloom, bugs may also be out in places (be prepared). Water available every few miles, water purification required   *See packing list in Required Equipment
  • Pre-trip Zoom meeting. Will ask that all participants gather at a pre-trip Zoom meeting in early-June (Doodle poll to find an agreeable time for all to be sent out after successful registration in early April.)
  • Leader permission is required as well as this completed pre-trip questionnaire.  My goal is to create a safe and successful trip with compatible group members. I will use information in the pre-trip questionnaire to assess relevant backpacking experience and goals.  May request leader permission and complete the questionnaire at any time but I will not notify successful applicants until several days in advance of registration opening.  

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.


Cathedral Lakes

Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

Please individualize to fit your own style and predicted weather but please keep LNT principles as well as individual and group safety and comfort in mind.

Packing List (Gear) 
Backpack + whistle
Sleeping bag/quilt + pad
Tent or bivvy
Water bottle/bladder 2 liters
Water purification/filter
Sun protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, hat)
Hiking pole(s) 
*Even if you don’t typically hike with a pole, on a longer trip having at least one pole is good practice for managing unforeseen injury
Bug protection 
Pocket knife or multitool
First aid kit 
*Everyone's personal first aid kit should include personal meds, a small ACE type wrap, Tylenol + ibuprofen for small injuries, band aids, blister management (Moleskin/tape for hot spots  or my preferred is a hydrocolloid such as Band-Aid Hydroseal for open sores). Trip leader will have a more substantial First Aid kit.
Personal hygiene (TP/Kula cloth, wipes, toothbrush/paste, spade, bag to carry out paper waste,  gender specific items)
Gaia or CalTopo app on phone with downloaded maps of area 
*All with cell phones should have a navigation app on their phone, trip leader will also have a paper map.
Cell phone/camera/battery pack (optional)
Reading material/cards/games (optional)
Sit pad (optional)
Packing List (Food)
Ursack + Opsak or bear canister required
*No reliable bear hang in all camps
Breakfast x 5 days
Lunch/snacks x 6 days
Dinner x 4 nights
Electrolyte powder (optional)
Packing List (Clothing)  
Hiking boots or hiking shoes
Camp shoes/water shoes (optional)
Hiking socks (wool or synthetic)
Hiking Gaiters (optional)
Short or long sleeve shirt
Long sleeve sun protection shirt
Hiking pants 
Rain protection 
Puffy layer (Down or synthetic) + midlayer
Long underwear or base layer (which can also be a sleeping layer)
Hat if no hood on warm layer

Trip Reports