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Trip Report    

Backpack - Horseshoe Basin via Cascade Pass

A backpack trip starting with a hike over Cascade Pass, a 1.5 mile side-trip to Doubtful Lake, then descending into Pelton Basin to spend 2 nights at Basin Creek Camp. We visited Horseshoe Basin on Day 2.

  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • The hike began at Cascade Pass Trailhead, which is roughly a 3-hour drive from Seattle, not counting stops and assuming no traffic delays. As part of the trip, I reserved a car camp at Mineral Park, which is about 2 miles from the trailhead for the night before and offered for participants to stay there with me or meet at the trailhead at 9:00 AM. Two participants car camped and the last person met us at the trail head.

    I was able to get a permit through the NCNP's advance reservations system but be aware that you still have to pick up your permit at Marblemount Ranger Station the day before or the day of your hike (unlike some other NPs).  The Ranger station is only  open from 7:00 - 4:00 so factor that into your logistics. It takes an hour just to drive the Cascade River Road from its junction with HWY 20.

    I couldn't make it to Marblemount before they closed at 4:00 but they said anyone in my party could pick up the permit as long as they had the reservation letter from the Ranger with my permit number on it.  I emailed my reservation letter to a participant who was willing to pick it up for me on the way, along with an email saying he had my permission to pick up the permit. He was there at 7:00 when they opened and it was no problem picking it up (on a Friday).

    Cascade River Road is about 18 miles long and the last 11 miles or so are dirt road. That said, it was pretty easy to drive on. I think a sedan could do it, though having a higher clearance Subaru made it a piece of cake. Yes, there are a few pot holes and washboard sections. I drove in a manual gear for the last several miles.

     One section of the road crosses a creek. It has a sign warning of flood hazard so keep that in mind if your hike is earlier in the season.

The hike up to Cascade Pass is only 3.8 miles and about 2200', so relatively easy. I let participants know ahead of time that we would decide if we wanted to take a side-trip on the way to Sahale Glacier as far as Doubtful Lake, which would add another 3 miles round-trip and about 500' of gain before getting back to the junction that would take us down into the basin, where our camp destination, Basin Creek Camp, was located.  If we did the side-trip, our total mileage would be about 10 miles with gain and loss of about 3,000'. (I'm going by memory; check a map for accuracy.) I was not planning to attempt going up to Sahale Glacier because that would have made the entire day a 13 mile hike with too much total elevation gain, IMO.

We had high clouds but could still see the mountains so the group opted to take the side trip to Doubtful Lake.  After stopping to look at Doubtful Lake, we hiked back to the junction and took the well-marked left turn on the trail sign that says "Stehekin" on it toward our camp.  We saw a bear right off the trail on the way down but he was very busy eating flowers and didn't pay us any mind so we carried on.  (The flowers were prolific.) At about  1.5 miles from our destination, we crossed Basin Creek, which had a delightful waterfall with pools for dipping. We soaked our feet and I made a mental note that I wanted to take a full dip in there before the weekend was over. 

Basin Creek camp only has 3 sites with total capacity of 12 people so we had to fit 4 tents on one little site. It was a tight fit. The camp has  a separate cooking area and a bear box for food and a private privy, which was nice. It also was on the creek for easy water access and the soothing sound of flowing water at night. The view of the surrounding mountains was very nice from the creek and one of the sites.

There was a pesky deer hanging around our camp who later managed to pull my hiking poles out from under my vestibule and nibbled the rubber handles of my poles almost completely off! The next night, I hung my poles in the trees and they were unmolested.

Day 2 was beautiful! We hiked 1.6 miles to Horseshoe Basin and explored around there. Some participants hike up to the edge of the mine while others preferred to sit and admire the many cascading falls flowing over the ridge and into the Cirque. We also saw many artifacts from the mining operation including a portion of a train track, cables and some squashed, rusted barrels.

On the way out of Horseshoe Basin, we decide to break into groups of 2 because two of us wanted to hike up back up to the waterfall for a dip and the other two wanted to hike farther east past our camp to Cottonwood Camp to check it out. We agreed to meet back at our camp NLT 6:00 PM. These were all experienced hikers and leaders so I didn't have any concerns about the arrangement. If it were people new to the Mountaineers, I would have made the group stick together.

On Day 3, we hiked back and took another dip in the creek.  It was great to hike in soaking wet clothes because we needed the air conditioning. Also, the star gazing at night was spectacular. I don't think I've ever seen stars so bright. I saw a shooting star both nights.

The group was great. I got a lot of pointers from others on future trip itineraries in the North Cascades.  The next time I do this trip, I will hike all the way to Stehekin for more adventures.

It would be possible to do this trip with just one overnight by visiting Horeshoe Basin on the way out on day 2.  We enjoyed the kick-back pace of the long weekend but those who can't take a day off could do this  same trip by hiking roughly 10 miles each day.