Cathedral Pass Loop
Pasayten Wilderness, WA
September 5-9, 2016
It has been a while since I have posted to here – just over a year! I promise that we have been going on lots of cool adventures that you would love to read about. I don’t promise that I will write about all of them and post lots of cool photos. But I did just get a new Iphone 7+ with a fancy new camera so that might motivate me to blog more. To ease back into it (hopefully) I am posting a report from a trip that we did last fall – our first 5-day backpacking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness of WA. I wrote the report a while ago and posted it to an online forum. I figured sharing it here would be an easy way to kick this blog back off. Why are we not adventuring on a Holiday weekend you ask? – well I got really sick a few days ago and am recovering. Otherwise, we would be skiing the Russel and Flett Glaciers above Spray Park in Mount Rainier National Park – maybe next weekend…
Day 1 – We hiked from the Thirtymile trailhead to the horse camp just before intersection of the Chewuch River Trail and Tungsten Trail for a total of just over 8 miles. The first five miles are in an area that has been devastated by wildfires. Nonetheless, it is quite beautiful and the trail is fairly easy-going/in great shape. The burned area gives way to a typical east-slopes pine forest as we got closer to camp. There is plenty of room at the horse camp and the Chewuch River flows right by camp making water access easy. We shared it with three other groups of 2-3 each (2 starting their trips, 1 heading out).
Day 2 – The original plan was to hike to Remmel Lake for night two, set up camp, then do a short hike to check out the old cabin at Spanish Camp. Once we were moving, we felt good, and decided to push all the way to Upper Cathedral Lake and do a longer day hike on day 3 to Spanish Camp without heavy packs. The trail is in good shape. Once we got near Remmel Lake, we became a little confused since we have the older Green Trails Map for the area. According to the WTA trail guide, the Green Trails map was just updated so be sure to check which version you have. We met some forest service guys on day 3, and took a picture of their up-to-date map of the area (see picture above). This should be helpful to you if you make this trek soon. Even though we were a little confused by the trails, we didn’t have a problem staying on track to Upper Cathedral Lake. The trails are well-signed. We actually never saw Remmel Lake though. The pine forest gives way to a more moist sub-alpine forest as you climb higher towards Remmel. Then above Remmel you arrive to a truly spectacular tundra-like alpine setting. The trail stayed this way until we neared the cliffs and larch-covered sloped of Amphitheater Mountain. A couple guys bagging peaks in the area were packing up at Upper Cathedral Lake and pointed us to the best campsite near the middle part of the shore. We set up camp and settled into our home for two nights. There weren’t more than a couple other groups at the lake each night and it is big enough that we never really noticed them. It definitely was a lot colder at Upper Cathedral than it was the night before at the horse camp. I’d guess it got into the mid-30s and it rained some on us. We did about 12 miles on day 2.
Day 3 – We decided to do some exploring on day 3 with just a light daypack. We hiked down to Lower Cathedral Lake, then continued on what we still thought was the boundary trail around to Spanish Camp. I now realize the trail we took is marked as trail 545 on the USGS maps and is not shown after Lower Cathedral on the map picture below. It is marked as 533 on the old Green Trails map. It was an enjoyable, peaceful hike and we did not see another soul until Spanish Camp. The trail was hard to follow at times and had a number of blowdowns and swampy section. We met a couple of guys with the forest service doing trail work at Spanish Camp. Spanish Camp is a cool little cabin and it had a nice outhouse as well! We continued on the actual Boundary Trail (much better shape) back to our camp at Upper Cathedral for a total of about 8 miles.
Day 4 – Night 3 was the coldest night and we awoke to a dusting of fresh now on the cliffs just above Cathedral Lake. We got an early start since it was so cold and we had about 12 miles ahead of us back to the horse camp. As we were leaving the lake towards Cathedral Pass we spotted a black bear and her cub just off the trail above us. They quickly noticed us and the cub ran away out of site. We observed from a distance and the mama bear kept her eye on us. We decided the trail went to close to her for comfort, so we cut the trail a little up to the pass to keep our distance. It was very windy at the pass with snow flurries. Once we descended on the other side, the wind died down. This was one of our favorite parts of the hike. The larch-covered slopes were beautiful with the cliffs of Amphitheater and Cathedral looming over us. I can only imagine how beautiful this area is once the Larch trees have turned more. The 5 or so miles to Tungsten Mine went by fairly quickly. Tungsten mine is a cool place and we met a couple of Boundary Trail thru-hikers there who had spent the night in the upper cabin the night before. The Tungsten Trail was not hard to find. It was a little swampy in some sections within the first 1-2 miles, then it was pretty easy going and went by quickly to the horse camp. One other group of 3 stayed at the camp this night as well. They had done the same loop we did, but camped at Remmel Lake on night 2, so it was fun to catch up with them. Also, we were starting to miss people at this point since we had seen so few on our trip.
Day 5 – we repeated day 1 in reverse and were back in Winthrop to enjoy some burgers and beer at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery by early afternoon.
Awesome loop! Highly recommended!