Cady Ridge to PCT and Other Extensions
Henry M. Jackson Wilderness
I had received a recommendation from a friend to check out the hiking in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest which is about two hours east of Seattle and just northwest of the tourist town Leavenworth. When I opened my mapping tools and did an internet search I found plenty of possibilities. There are multiple entry points with established trails running throughout the area, including the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). With some research I pieced together several options for weekend itineraries that seemed challenging, interesting, and of course beautiful. With so many options, I left my plans open and decided to play it by ear as the weekend went along. I snuck out from work early (shh) and arrived at the trailhead at 3pm on Friday for a two night weekend adventure!
I decided to start the trip at the Little Wenatchee Ford Trailhead and hike up to the PCT using the Cady Ridge Trail. The Cady Ridge Trail is fairly steep and makes you earn your admission into the beautiful backcountry. At first the trail starts out with a series of switchbacks, but changes (mercilessly) to a sandy, straight uphill path. However, once you gain the top of the ridge the views start to open up and Glacier Peak is visible on the horizon. From there it is a mostly flat walk along the ridge and through a few meadow-like areas to connect with the PCT. Funny how once the views start to open up you always forget the pain it took to get there.
After connecting up to the PCT I headed south a short distance to Lake Sally Ann, where I had planned to camp for the weekend. Lake Sally Ann is an established campsite on the PCT and, as expected, there were a number of groups already set up for the night. After wandering around for a bit I found a fairly obscure campsite up on a little knob above the lake. Ultimately, I do not like camping at such highly populated sites, but that was the arrangement for this weekend. The hike in totaled 7 miles and +3340/-960 feet of elevation gain/loss.
On Saturday I woke up and headed out for a day of adventuring! I hiked back north on the PCT through Ward's Pass and Dishpan Gap. in Dishpan Gap I took the trail fork to the left, leaving the PCT and joining the Bald Eagle Trail towards Blue Lake. My plan was to hike out to Blue Lake and back, but everything after that was still to be determined based on how the day went. On my way out to Blue Lake I took the "long route" following the Bald Eagle Trail to the Pilot Ridge Trail, and then finally connecting to the Blue Lake Trail. There were many beautiful views, making the extra length worth it...but I decided I would definitely take the "short route" back!
After I finally arrived at Blue Lake I dropped my pack and sat down on the edge of the lake to rest and eat lunch. Wow, what a beautiful spot with spectacular clear, blue water. You can quickly understand why it is named Blue Lake. I was sweaty and hot so I really wanted to get in the lake, but the water was absolutely freezing still in mid-August. I lounged around awhile before finally deciding that it was time pack up and hike back towards the PCT.
I hiked out from the lake taking the "short route" back towards the PCT. Specifically, the route is called the Blue Lake High Route and is an off-trail or unofficial climbers route on the map. This climbers route was definitely steep and rocky, but a boot path exists, was snow free, and was obvious and/or marked with cairns throughout. Despite being called a climbers route, it really did not involve any scrambling. I never used my hands for assistance, just took it slow through somewhat steep and sandy/rocky hiking. The route leads you up and over the low point in between two mountain peaks and back down to the PCT. The views did not dissapoint!
After connecting back to the PCT, the day was still young! I continued hiking north along a beautiful open section of trail overlooking Meander Meadow and Kodak Peak. Eventually the trail turned north and started losing elevation, so I decided it was best to call it a day before I got too far out. On the way back I passed another hiker, a 70 something year old women who was a retired wilderness ranger. We had a great conversation about this particular National Forest area, bears, and also about how she was trying to reduce her pack weight with modern gear! She tried to point me to a stealth campsite location for the night. Her directions were "walk about 15 minutes and then it is the third game trail off the main trail." Needless to say, I could not find the supposedly awesome site (despite really trying) and I returned to camp at Lake Sally Ann for night two. One of the best things about backpacking (at least on trails) is meeting the unique, interesting people along the way. Ultimately I covered 15 total miles and +3,700/-3,600 feet of elevation gain/loss for the day.
On Sunday morning, I woke up and headed back to the trailhead via the Cady Ridge Trail. It was uneventful, but pretty walk out on the same trail as I had entered, but this time hitting the steep decent for 7 miles and +960/-3340 feet of elevation gain/loss. I was back at my car by lunch and headed homeward to Seattle. Overall, this is a perfect introductory backpacking weekend offering views of Glacier Peak, beautiful valleys and meadows, multiple alpine lakes + a jaunt on the PCT! Camping at Lake Sally Ann is mundane though and too highly trafficked since directly on the PCT. North of Dishpan Gap there are many backcountry camping sites and I'd check those out instead (if only I could have found that stealth camp site!).