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Trip Report

Thornton Lakes and Trappers Peak — Saturday, Sep. 3, 2022

North Cascades

Beware of road condition! I did it in an SUV and had no problem but at least two sedans didn't make it up today. I heard one got a little stuck. There was only one sedan in the parking area. Just figured I should post a warning. 

Road to Junction: The trail up to the split (to go to the lake or the peak) is completely tree covered. Most of the way the trees separating you from the views are just a thin veil that you can almost see through, with the vistas hovering tantalizingly close, just out of sight. We were able to tell that we were just above the clouds, but nothing more. 

It starts out nice and flat and about halfway transitions to a choppy steady uphill climb with lots of roots and rocks. There are two bridge crossings (one a sturdy log with a hand rail and one a plank bridge in rough shape). There are a couple other tiny stream crossings and a couple dry ones. If you are headed for the peak get your water before the junction. 

Junction to Peak (scrambly bit): Past the junction the trees quickly fall away and the views open up, continuously changing as you climb. You see first one lake, then two lakes, then a third with ice still floating in it!

I stowed my poles for the scrambles on the way up and stowed one while using the other on the way down. I felt like the scrambles were pretty safe and had nice grippy rocks. My hiking partner for the day felt they were a bit more challenging, but managed just fine as well. I did it in my regular hiking shoes, tactical trail runners. There were a couple of spots with some rocks that could be bumped onto people below if you are not careful, but all of the ones we climbed on were solid. 

The first scramble was a nice chimney with no exposure. Both hands were required and there were a couple sections with big steps where some flexibility helped. After the chimney there is a nice saddle where you can see all the lakes and a great view of the far side too that you won't get from below. Some people may choose to stop here.

The next section is the trickiest. You have to cross a narrow point in the saddle with a significant drop on both sides. There is a path across with just one boulder to climb over. You are exposed on both sides, but the rock has great grips on it and if you are flexible/tall enough to swing your leg over it is a breeze. 

We just had one section left, but the clouds were completely obscuring the peak. We decided to go for it anyways. The final section was pretty easy and I got my poles back out for it. There were only a couple small area that required hands at all. You have an option or left (lakeside) or right and I highly recommend keeping right on the way up and coming back down that way. We did right to go up and left (lakeside, your right on the way down) for the way down. Right feels a little more exposed, but is on nice solid rock and almost feels like stairs. Left is the official trail according to the track, but feels more like bush whacking in some areas and has some loose scree. On my way down some birds flushed right next to me and startled me so much I almost fell. 

At the top you can sit back and enjoy the views or pick your own adventure exploring the rocky top. 

Stats: 10.5 miles, 3350 elevation gain, 7 hours total, 5.4 hours moving. 

Parking: There was parking for about 10 cars in the main area and a few more on the road. There was a nice pit toilet and it was even stocked with hand sanitizer. The board had a great trail map posted including difficulties of the different trail sections. 

Final Thought: Everyone we met on the trail was incredibly friendly and warm. Lots of backpackers and experienced climbers out there this weekend, including one group that climbed/bush whacked their way to the upper lake and had plenty of battle wounds to prove it. This one is long, but the payoff is huge, although best saved for a nice clear day. 

PS. Berries everywhere at the top and so so tasty! Also, I didn't get a single bug bit until I got back in my car. Somehow one got in there and was biting me on the drive back down. 

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