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Backpack - McAlester & Park Creek Passes

Spectacular high passes and deep basins in the North Cascades, with breathtaking views of peaks and glaciers, and 2 high alpine lakes with invigorating swimming options for cold-tolerant.

  • Very Strenuous
  • Challenging
  • Mileage: 55.0 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 13,500 ft
  • High Point Elevation: 6,100 ft
  • Pace: 2 mph

North Cascades National Park Wilderness Information Center, 7280 Ranger Station Rd, Marblemount, WA 98267 at 8:30 AM on Thursday, September 18, 2020. 

Rated and 9 (out of 10) for scenery by Douglas Lorain in Backpacking Washington (Wilderness Press), this very strenuous 55 mile 6-day (5 night) trip of more than 13,500’ total of ascent and 16,800’ total of descent and the longest day of about 11 miles.  

  The plan:

 Day 1:  After dropping a car at Colonial Creek Campground, drive 29 miles along Route 20 to Bridge Creek Trailhead and then hike to McAlester Lake camp.  Approximately 7 miles, 2,200’ ascent, 1,200’ descent.

 Day 2:  Hike over McAlester Pass through Rainbow Canyon to Rainbow Creek, ascend to campsite at Rainbow Lake.  Approximately 9 miles, 2,700’ ascent, 2,600’ descent.

 Day 3:  After climbing over an unnamed pass descend to the Pacific Crest Trail, and follow to North Fork Camp.  Approximately 10 miles, 1,300’ ascent, 4,400’ descent. Possible side trip up North Fork Bridge Creek.

 Day 4:  Follow the Pacific Crest Trail south, including a short gravel road section, and begin the ascent to Park Creek Pass and Buckner Camp,  Approximately 9 miles, 2,600’ ascent, 1,300 descent.

 Day 5:  Continue north though ever improving views and meadows over Park Creek Pass (described by Lorain as “a joyful climb through these lovely alpine gardens”) and descend to Junction Camp.  Approximately 11 miles, 3,500’ ascent, 4,400’ descent.

 Day 6:  Hike down Thunder Creek Trail through old growth forest to our car at Colonial Creek Campground, retrieve our second car at Bridge Creek Trailhead before driving home (with perhaps a calorie replenishment ice cream stop at Cascadian Home Farm in Rockport).  Approximately 9 miles, 1,100’ ascent and 3,000’ descent.

 Total (excluding sidetrips) approximately 55 miles, 13,500’ ascent and 16,800 descent.

 Leader permission is required, which you can obtain by sending an email to the leader.

 I expect low overnight temperatures will be in the 30s. You should check the current weather report shortly before departure: https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?textField1=48.5075068116&textField2=-120.731163025#.XJ-pLphKhpg  Rain should be expected, and you should bring a rain coat, rain pants, and pack cover and clothes that will keep you warm when wet (no cotton!). The trip is subject to change or cancellation if the predicted weather is unusually poor or there is substantial smoke.  

 Maps:  Green Trails Diablo Dam #48, Mount Logan # 49, McGregor Mountain #81, Stehekin #82.  

 Guide books:  Backpacking Washington (Lorain) (Wilderness Press) Trip 8; 101 Hikes in the North Cascades (Spring and Manning) (Mountaineers Press)Trips 19 and 80.

 Conditioning:  This trip requires excellent conditioning.  We will average about 2 mph on the trail, including breaks.  You should be able to climb Mt. Si with a full backpack in 3 hours or less, and be able to repeat the climb on the next day.  

 Cost:  I already paid $20 for the permit.   Assuming a 4 person group, the cost will be $5 per person.  

 Car shuttle required:  The end trailhead of this trip is 29 miles from our starting trailhead, along paved Highway 20, so we will need 2 cars.  I plan to drive and can carry 4 people with backpack, but we will need a second car to leave at the starting trailhead.  

 Gear notes:

  1.  Bear canisters are not required.  We will hang our food or use provided bear boxes each night. I plan to bring my Ursack. 
  2.  You should bring some method of water purification.
  3.  You should bring a means to carry at least a gallon of water.  
  4.  Bugs are certainly possible; bring bug repellant.
  5. Normally, I encourage gear sharing to save weight.  However, due to the current coronavirus pandemic, and depending on the situation this September, sharing might be a bad idea.  Carpooling might also be a bad idea.
  6. Some of the campsites are small, so small tents are strongly encouraged.
Route/Place

McAlester & Park Creek Passes



  • Green Trails Diablo Dam No. 48

    Green Trails Mt Logan No. 49

    Green Trails McGregor Mtn No. 81

    Green Trails Stehekin No. 82

    Trails Illustrated North Cascades National Park
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Required Equipment

Required Equipment

The Ten Essentials plus overnight gear which may include:

  • Tent with footprint/ground tarp
  • Stove and fuel
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Water filter
  • Bear canister, Ursack, or extra stuff sack and cord designated for hanging food
  • Cooking pot/pan with plate and utensils
  • Toilet paper and shovel
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