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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm

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This is one of the most scenic, most accessible (including for kids, at least to the pass), and not surprisingly the most crowded high-country romps in the North Cascades-and the only trailhead in the 684,000-acre North Cascades National Park that you can drive to. Mixed in with the throngs of Puget Sound hikers are folks from Munich, Tokyo, and Kalamazoo. And none of them return disappointed after frolicking among fields of flowers, peaks of ice, and boulders bearing basking marmots-some of the most outstanding alpine landscapes to be found anywhere in the world.

Long used by Native Americans, explorers, prospectors, and surveyors, this relatively low pass was a wise choice for passage through the North Cascades. And it was once considered by railroad and highway planners too. Thankfully it will remain trail, protected as wilderness within a national park. But despite its wilderness status, this special place needs your care. Stay on established trails, or when you choose to veer off keep your boots on snow and rock, not fragile heather and alpine vegetation.

The views are amazing before you even hit the trail. To the south, the fierce face of Johannesburg Mountain peers down at you as you lace up, periodically shedding shards of ice to the valley floor from its hanging glaciers. Stop staring and hit the trail-it gets better. The trail starts by switchbacking some thirty times on a forested rib to propel you high above the avalanche-debris-littered valley floor.

After climbing 1400 feet in the first 2 miles or so, the grade eases, making a long traverse toward the pass, breezing by meadows, talus, and the occasional lingering snowfield en route. Johannesburg's equally fierce neighbors introduce themselves: Cascade Peak, Mix-up Peak, and The Triplets. At 3.7 miles reach the heather parklands of Cascade Pass (elev. 5400 ft), a perfectly fine place to call it a day. But if the prospects of going higher and farther tempt you, carry on.

Locate the trail for Sahale Arm that takes off north just a short way east of the pass. Prepare to get down to business. Beat to the ground by climbers, the trail wastes no time, gaining about 800 feet in 1 rocky and steep mile. Reach a junction (elev. 6200 ft) with a trail heading right, bound for Doubtful Lake and losing all of that hard-earned elevation gain.

The trail left to Sahale Arm, however, is nothing but pure delight from this point. Follow the path upward through rolling meadow and alpine tundra while peeping pipits and whistling pigs (marmots) announce your arrival. Hike all the way to the toe of Sahale Glacier at 7200 feet (but not on it-that's for equipped climbers) or until snowfields block passage. You may have to overcome panorama paralysis, a condition known to stop hikers dead in their tracks when barraged by boundless beauty.

Don't fight it. Look north to 8484-foot Sahale Mountain's glistening glacier; south to the sheer vertical walls of Johannesburg and company clad in hanging glaciers; east down the lush Stehekin River valley, with McGregor Mountain standing proud and Doubtful Lake below; and west to Hidden Lake Peaks, Eldorado Peak, and Mount Torment.
Driving Directions:

From Marblemount head east on the Cascade River Road for 23 miles all the way to its end at the trailhead (elevation 3600 ft). You will follow the Cascade River the whole way; it takes nearly an hour on Cascade river road. The last half can be rutted and primitive depending on how much maintenance the road has received lately. Privy available.

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

Recent Trip Reports

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There are 152 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, Sahale Glacier — Oct 26, 2013 — kgouibourk
Overnight
Features: Fall foliage | Ripe berries
Issues: Snow on trail
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Our goal was to summit the Sahale Glacier and maybe do Boston Peak. We left the TH at 1PM on Sat...
Our goal was to summit the Sahale Glacier and maybe do Boston Peak.

We left the TH at 1PM on Saturday and got to the Sahale Glacier Campground at 6PM. The Campground is at 7700 ft, not 7200 as we though initially. The Campground spots are covered by a few inches of snow. There are some small rockwalls but that was far from enough during our night. There is running water next to the campground, but I don't know for how long it will be accessible.

At night the wind picked up badly and we could see our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL and MSR Hubba hubba tents bend terribly due to winds, those are 3 season tents, it bended some poles but never collapsed. 7 inch of snow got added during that night. We ended up cancelling our "summit" day because of the snow and visibility was terrible.

We came across a few people that went towards the glacier, they had ice axe and microspikes. Their comments were that they wished they had a rope for one of the sketchy section.

The trail is clear of snow until you hit the pass. We had microspikes and crampons, there is only a 20 meters stretch on the Sahale Arm that you would want an ice axe, if you fall you have a steep 10 meters to arrest or its down 4000 ft cliff... After that there is nothing special except rock fields that are now slowly starting to be covered by snow. The views are beautiful and you might here some avalanche from time to time ;)
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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm — Oct 24, 2013 — Altamel
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage | Ripe berries
Issues: Snow on trail
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The weather was absolutely perfect today and the hike was amazing. We hiked to Cascade Pass and the...
The weather was absolutely perfect today and the hike was amazing. We hiked to Cascade Pass and then quite a ways (about 1/2 way) up Sahale Arm.

Visibility was good all the way up and the trail was dry and free of snow except for a few stretches near the pass. Trekking poles or crampons help in these places (I walked it once with poles and once with crampons), but a careful walker in boots with good tread would have little trouble.

At the pass we saw a beautiful black bear far enough away that no one was frightened but close enough to get a really good look at him grazing on the hill below.

The views from the pass and the part of the arm that we walked to were spectacular -- peaks, ravines, and Doubtful Lake all crystal clear. There were also still some ripe blueberries as we ascended up the arm. And, except for a few mosquitoes on the arm portion of the hike, there were no bugs.

If the weather holds this weekend, I would highly recommend making the trip to do this hike -- I can't imagine that there will be many more opportunities this year.
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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm — Sep 13, 2013 — Daniel Y
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming
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On a sunny Friday AM, I arrived the well maintained and spacious parking area from Seattle via Marbl...
On a sunny Friday AM, I arrived the well maintained and spacious parking area from Seattle via Marblemount. The trip took 2.75 hours. The concluding 13 miles was a relatively even dirt road which should pose no problem for any car.
Trail was in very good shape all the way to Sahale Arm with features accurately described by WTA. One thing need to be emphasized: a good hiking trail to Cascade Pass becomes an exceptional one if a hiker ascends to Sahale Arm. The very steep slope b/w the Pass and Arm requires a second gear, but well worth the sweat and grunts. The spectacular Sahale Arm (a ridge) leads to the rocky steep climb to Sahale Glacier base camp. This final challenging ascend is optional IMO; Sahale Arm is a worthwhile payoff.
That is not to say the Glacier is not inspirational on its own right. The base camp intimates the expansive ice field, with several melting pools of ice water waiting for a hiker's sore and tire feet to dip in. I wish I brought a filter so to imbibe the cooling water as well.
The descend is just as resplendent, though the steep rocky decline from Glacier requires caution and good footwear.
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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm — Sep 11, 2013 — Ramona
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage | Ripe berries
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Road to trailhead and trail to Cascade Pass were in great condition. NOTE: the park service is usin...
Road to trailhead and trail to Cascade Pass were in great condition.
NOTE: the park service is using a small helicopter to move materials for trail improvements and to make tent pads in Pelton basin Monday through Thursday. I found this fascinating, and remembering less than wonderful camping at Pelton, was all for it. If noise is an issue for you, go on week ends.
Trail from pass to Sahale Arm is steeper with some loose rock and long steps, but improves with elevation. Stoped for so many photos, and to watch chopper, that I only got to the start of the more or less flat stretch leading to the scree below Sahale.
Eventually figured out that choper was taking bags of fill from morain to Pelton Basin as well as hauling other supplies up from the trailhead.
Aroma of blue berries rich in air where they grew; berries mostly small after our long dry summer.
Fall color just beginning to show.
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Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm — Sep 07, 2013 — TRON
Overnight
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
Issues: Water on trail
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Trail condition : well maintained until the last scree to the campsite before the sahale glacier . ...
Trail condition : well maintained until the last scree to the campsite before the sahale glacier .
Follow the cairns and keep right to the top where you will see a picket for toilet , keep right and you will see the campsites ( like forts for wind breaks)

Trail Difficulty : class 2 scramble at the scree , other wise well paved with steady elevation gain post cascade pass.
In total there are 35 switch backs to the cascade pass.

Camping :Permits are required and are mandated on this hike , there are climbing rangers which will ticket people .
Campsite is amazing with established privy , very windy in night . No dogs or campfires at this altitude but view are amazing .

Time to complete : 4-4.5 hr up with steady pace and 3-3.5 hr down .
Dogs : Dogs are not allowed

Tips:
Carry a light tent with rain fly .
if you want to climb to the summit , bring crampons , glacier goggles , hiking poles will work .
climbing to true summit will require harness and rope.
Plenty of water on the hike and snow on top so no need to haul more water than needed ( max 2-3 Lt)
Carry a nice jacket as it gets cold up there.
Bears and marmots can be viewed on this hike .


Cascade Pass Pano:http://photosynth.net/view.[…]34988&p=0:0&t=False


Campsite Pano : http://photosynth.net/view.[…]71257&p=0:0&t=False
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IMG_2110-smaller.jpg
View towards Doubtful Lake Basin and Sahale Mountain. Photo by Kim Sharpe Jones
Location
North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway
North Cascades National Park
Statistics
Roundtrip 12.0 miles
Elevation Gain 3600 ft
Highest Point 7200 ft
Features
Lakes
Old growth
Wildflowers/Meadows
Mountain views
Wildlife
Ridges/passes
User info
Dogs not allowed
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: North Cascades (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
Green Trails Cascade Pass No. 80

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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Red MarkerCascade Pass and Sahale Arm
48.4748333333 -121.0735
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