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Trip Report    

Golden Lakes Loop

Great trail, beautiful lake and meadow camps, and fantastic fall color with golden larch, yellow aspen, dark green spruce and whitebark pine, red berry bushes and golden meadows! Go within the next week as the larches are beginning to thin out.

  • Mon, Oct 4, 2021 — Thu, Oct 7, 2021
  • Golden Lakes Loop
  • Backpacking
  • Successful
  • Road suitable for all vehicles
  • Excellent trail throughout, though heavily impacted by bike tires in places.  We saw several mountain bikers but all were polite and slowed down or walked.  

Our group of 4 Mountaineers friends started at the Crater Creek TH with a plan to do 4 days around the Golden Lakes loop including nights on the ridge near N Navarre Peak and at Sunrise Lake.  The roads to the TH were very good, only a few bumpy sections, and the parking area at the TH is very large with a toilet.  When we arrived at around 11AM on a Monday there were already a dozen vehicles in the lot.

The trail to Upper Eagle was dusty at the bottom but well graded (with lots of trail engineering for mountain bikes and motorbikes) and signage is good.  Golden larch and aspen appeared part way up and by the time we got to the lake the larch color was all around us and stunning!  Needles are falling fast now though I project that the color will last another week, windstorms notwithstanding.  We arrived first at Upper Eagle and took lovely camps by the lake;  probably another 8-10 people arrived after us and there was room for everyone to disperse out of sight and hearing.  There is a box toilet at this camp and the lake is gorgeous, highly recommended!  We arrived there in about 3 hours.

On day 2 we set out up toward Horsehead Pass, good trail with a few boulder-hopping sections.  Great views on the way up, looking across Lower Eagle Lake to the eastern plains.  From the pass the views to the west along the Chelan summit ridge are really beautiful, a mix of golden larch, dark evergreens, yellow aspen, red berry bushes and broad golden meadows.  We descended to Boiling Lake, then took the route signed 'Cub Lake' which then requires keeping an eye on the map and taking the turn on the Summit Trail going east.  Many people get confused and take the spur straight along the shore of Boiling Lake - don't do that, as that trail goes up to a ridge and stops.  The Summit Trail is flat for awhile through forest then climbs and turns east through broad meadows with views.  We passed by the turnoff to the Angel's Staircase (well signed) because we wanted to explore the ridges along the Summer Blossom trail to North Navarre peak and camp along there.  Well worth the walk along the summit trail - more lovely meadow and fall vegetation - but then there was a steep (but well graded) larch-lined climb to Horsethief Pass (much damaged by bikes).  At the top of the pass we could see that the ridges above Horsethief Basin on both sides had burned out and weren't so pretty to look at, though there were still larch and spruce in the basin.  (You could probably find places to camp below but we didn't look.) We saw a bear below as we followed the Summer Blossom trail - narrow but pretty easy to follow with lots of ups and downs.  Finally there was a steep descent and then a climb to the ridge with N Navarre Peak ahead, where a friend had suggested a ridgetop camp.  However weather forecast was for cold wind and the ridge was burned out, plus the creek before the ridge was down to just a trickle.  We decided to go back and camp under a patch of spruce in the gorgeous larch meadows on the other side of Horsethief Pass and this was a good call - low clouds and mist/rain blew in later and we were glad for shelter under the trees.

The next morning dawned VERY cold - mid 20s.  Our water filters froze sitting for a short time next to our cooking area!  We bundled up in all of our clothes, treated water with aquamira drops, and set out to go up Angel's Staircase.  The trail through here is just fantastic, gentle climb to the ridgetop with dramatic views though everything was quite frosty (about an inch of heavy frost near the top covering all the rocks, though not slippery).  From the top of Angel's Staircase we descended through Merchant's Basin and set out to climb up to Sunrise Lake to camp.  (Note that most maps including Gaia show a turnoff well before the clump of evergreens where the Sunrise Lake trail sign is posted - but the trail is very faint and I've missed it twice!  Not to worry, you can cut toward the creek and will find the trail.)  We got to Sunrise Lake to find a VERY cold wind blowing even at 11AM and insufficient shelter from the wind, so anticipating having to hide in our tents the whole day and night we decided instead to enjoy a chilly lunch at the lake and then go back down to Merchants Basin where there are lots of really nice sheltered camps and protection from the wind.  (A very good decision as we heard the wind roaring through the trees up in the direction of the lake through that night!) We explored along Foggy Dew creek and I read for awhile in the sun before an early dinner and into our tents.

On day 4 we woke to another very cold morning, bundled up and headed back up the trail through the basin, over the crest and down the trail to Cooney Lake.  (This section is steep with poor traction in places.)  Cooney is beautiful with a lot of camps but was deserted on this Thursday morning.  Larch color on this side is well on the decline and the ground drifted with golden needles.  We made quick work of the 6 miles from Cooney back out to Crater Creek TH.

Gaiagps folder for our route:  https://www.gaiagps.com/public/jPIiTaKgKJnFEjKWPdIreYIY

Google photos album for this trip:  https://photos.app.goo.gl/DvP7j6MxvwMmVedk6