Day Hiking: South Cascades
by Dan A. Nelson (The Mountaineers Books)
© 2007 Dan A. Nelson /The Mountaineers Books. All Rights Reserved.
On the weekend of Sept. 15th 2012 we went for a backpack to circle Spirit Lake. The road to Independence Pass and Windy Ridge Trailhead was closed to vehicles and hikes. So we our backpack route changed to: from Norway Pass Trailhead, take the Boundary Trail to Bear Pass, drop down on the Lakes Trail follow it to the Whittier Ridge Trail, up it to the Boundary Trail and return to our vehicle. We had no clue as to the terrain of either the Lakes or the Whittier Ridge Trails.
The Whittier Ridge Trail is a short 2.1-mile trail. However nearly half of that distance is on 2nd class terrain (hands required for balance), with a few short 3rd class rock scrambles (easy climbing but hands are required) thrown in for good measure. To cover this trail in 2 hours would be a good pace, 4 hours with a backpack is still reasonable.
There are many short exposed hiking sections en route. Two of the more exciting ones are:
The final climb up Mt. Whittier has the most significant 3rd class climbing. Mt Whittier at 5,883’ is the highest point on the ridge.
And a very exposed 2nd class ramp on the side of a pinnacle between Mt. Whittier and the Boundary Trail climbs about 40 feet.
Route finding is another issue. Once you find the correct path on the rock cliffs, the route is easily followed. The route finding problem is mostly an issue in the easy hiking terrain where people wandered off the scantly marked trail and where animals’ paths intersect the trail. In a few sections the mountain goat paths are more obvious than the hiking trail.
Is it easier to go from the Lakes trail to the Boundary Trail or visa versa? Technically they will be about the same, however many sections we went up could be scary looking when hiking down. From my experience mountain climbing I think hiking up the trail (Lakes to Boundary) is easier psychologically than the reverse.
Unless you are extremely experienced with steep snow/ice I would not attempt this trail under snow/ice conditions.
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