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Cramer Mountain Loop

South Cascades

Location

South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley
View map below

Length

14.0 miles, roundtrip

Elevation

Gain: 1800 ft.
Highest Point: 6000 ft.

Rating

3.00 out of 5

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This is a hike of sounds and smells of the forest, with limited vistas and lots of lakes. With easy access from White Pass, it can be done in any season as a hike or snow trip.

A spring trip is dominated by the sound of running water with the snowmelt and the whine of mosquitos. A mid-summer trip has the sound of flies and bees, with coyotes howling in the evening; in the meadows, the smell of mountain wildflowers and the glorious array of blooms dominates the senses. In late summer, the forest and meadows have a continuous hum of wasps & bees; the air smells of ripe huckleberries with a periodic musty whiff of bear and elk. In the fall, the elk bugling dominate the evening, with a few howls of coyotes, and the fall foliage is colorful around the lakes. In winter, there sound of silence in the crisp cold air.

This description is for a counterclockwise loop, to avoid the 550 foot climb on the Dark Meadows Trail near the end of the clockwise loop.

From the trailhead at 4430 feet elevation, the wide and somewhat eroded Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) climbs through the forest, crossing a jeep road at 0.4 miles, and entering the W.O. Douglas Wilderness Area at 1 mile. At 1.1 miles is the well marked junction with the Dark Meadows Trail (1107) at 4820 feet elevation. Turn on to the Dark Meadows trail and immediately note this lesser used trail has more forest duff on it and is less rocky. At 1.2 miles is a side trail to a meadow at a mud bog creek crossing. Periodic patches of berry bushes start along this section of trail and continue through most of the loop. At 2.1 miles, the trail leaves the wilderness and starts a steeper descent, reaching the Cramer Lake Trail (1106) at 2.8 miles and 4280 feet elevation. This trail junction is only 100 yards from the Dog Lake Campground/Trailhead, the start point for the shorter alternate for this loop.

At the junction, turn left (north) onto the Cramer Lake Trail and start a nearly level 1.3 mile walk through the forest with obscured views of Dog Lake and Spiral Butte. After entering the wilderness at 3.1 miles, the trail is crisscrossed with many prominent game trails, created primarily by the elk. At 4.1 miles and 4330 feet of elevation, the trail reaches the North Fork Clear Creek. The bridge abutments are evident, but the bridge is long gone. The crossing at this point is either a ford or about 100 yards upstream along a major trail is a single log crossing and sand bar (in 2016).

After the creek crossing, the trail starts a climbing traverse through open forest. At 4.9 miles is a distant view of Dog Lake and the White Pass Ski Area. At 6.4 miles and 5040 feet of elevation, the trail reaches the edge of a large meadow and a trail junction. To the right is a 100 yard access trail to Cramer Lake. There are a few campsites at the northwest end of the slightly marshy lake and small fish are evident.

The main trail continues along the edge of the meadow and reaches the Dumbbell Lake Trail (56) at 6.6 miles and 5040 feet elevation. Turn onto the Dumbbell Lake Trail and climb slightly to reach a pass at 6.9 miles and view of the eastern end of the lake. The pass is not evident but the drainage changes to western Washington and the jurisdiction changes to Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The view of the lake is a teaser, as the trail turns away from the lake. At 7.3 miles is an unmarked access trail to the campsites on the northeast shore of the lake.

At 7.4 miles and 5140 feet of elevation is an unmarked access trail to the peninsula on the north side of the lake. The access trail leads to 4 campsites on the peninsula and one on each of the islands. Some of these are quite "horsey", and others do not meet the 100 foot setback from the lake shore requirement. The one on the eastern island is exposed, with little privacy.

For backpackers doing this loop, Dumbbell Lake is about the halfway point and makes a good basecamp for exploration both on and off trail. To the south is Cramer Mountain, standing at 5990 feet and reachable by a one mile crosscountry climb/scramble. To the north and east are many small lakes and ponds, while farther to the northeast is the trail up Tumac Mountain at 6330 feet. Both Cramer and Tumac mountans provide grand views.

Continuing on, the Dumbbell Lake Trail enters a burn area and reaches a junction with the Long John Lake Trail (1142A) at 7.6 miles. To the left is an access trail to campsites on the west end of Dumbbell Lake. After looping around a pond, the Dumbbell Lake Trail reaches a well marked junction with the PCT at 7.9 miles and 5100 feet of elevation.

Turn left, heading south on the PCT and follow the trail as it skirts meadows and ponds, passing an unmarked trail to a campsite at 8.1 miles before reaching Beusch Lake outlet at 8.4 miles. Buesch Lake is very marshy; well into the transition from lake to meadow. There is one campsite at the outlet and another on the northwestern side of the lake. From the lake, the PCT starts climbing up a side ridge from Cramer Mountain and then steepens on a climbing traverse to an unnamed pass at 9.4 miles and 5500 feet elevation.

At the pass is an unmarked trail to the west that climbs a bump to a campsite (no water) and beyond the campsite is an obscured view of Mount Rainier. The PCT continues south, crossing the crest and back into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest as it travel through meadows, which are full of flowers in the summer. It reaches a junction with the Cortright Trail (57) at 9.6 miles. The PCT continues south, reaching the high point of the loop at 10.1 miles and 6000 feet of elevation.

The trail starts a gradual descent with a few views, staying just below the ridge crest and passing through sloping meadows and forest. It passes a campsite near a pond at 11 miles before reaching Sand Lake, situated in a large meadow at 11.4 miles and 5100 feet of elevation. The junction with the Sand Ridge Trail (60) is on the west side of the lake.

Sand Lake has no outlet and is situated on porous soil. As such, the shallow lake is deepest in the spring with the snowmelt and can be up to five feet shallower in the fall after the water has seeped into the soil throughout the summer. In fall, the lake is less than half as large as it is in spring and the shore is mostly sand beach (a little mucky in places).

The PCT continues south and descends past another large meadow and at 12.1 miles and 5200 feet of elevation reaches an unmarked access trail to Deer Lake. The lake is about 70 yards from the junction and has a massive camping area in the forest on the north side. A 0.8 mile boot trail around the lake leads to campsites on the west side and near the outlet. This popular lake can be somewhat crowded on a sunny weekend with many hikers and fishermen.

From the Deer Lake access trail, the PCT continues to descend, passing a campsite at 12.5 miles before reaching the Dark Meadows Trail at 12.9 miles. This point completes the loop part of the trip, with just the retrace of 1.1 miles back to the trailhead.

The Cramer Mountain Loop has an alternative starting point at Dog Lake Campground. The alternate is two miles shorter, eliminating 400 feet of the elevation gain, without missing any significant views.

 

Cramer Mountain Loop

Map & Directions

Trailhead
Co-ordinates: 46.6447, -121.3823 Open map in new window

Trailhead

South Cascades -- White Pass/Cowlitz River Valley

Pacific Crest Trail (#2000), Dark Meadows Trail (#1107), Cramer Lake Trail (#1106), Dumbbell Lake Trail (#56)

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, Naches Ranger District

See weather forecast

Guidebooks & Maps

Day Hiking South Cascades (Nelson

2007)

Hiking Washington (Leonard

2005)

Best Loop Hikes Washington (Nelson

2002)

Green Trails: White Pass No 303

Green Trails: Goat Rocks & William O Douglas Wilderness 303S

USGS 7.5 min Topographic: Spiral Butte

USGS 7.5 min Topographic: White Pass

Getting There

From White Pass, go 0.6 mile east on US 12. Turn left at sign for White Pass Campground. Follow gravel road for 0.2 mile to the trailhead, just beyond the road to the horse camp. The trailhead parking is shared with the Leech Lake
access.

For the shorter loop:
From White Pass, go 2.1 miles east on US 12. Turn left at sign for Dog Lake Campground. Drive halfway around campground loop to trailhead parking (on right). Parking for 3 cars in the first lot and 3 more after campsite #5.

Winter Parking is in pullouts along US 12.

 

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Cramer Mountain Loop

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