August 16-19, 2006

Over the piano was printed a notice: Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best. ~Oscar Wilde

Kool-Aid Lake and my reflection.

Day One - ~ 100 miles Round Trip via foot, bike and kayak. Another version of this story is posted on the NW Mountaineering Joural.

~ A solo adventure by Jason Hummel

I left the trailhead at Cascade Pass just before 8pm on a Wednesday. My hope was to get there earlier, but no matter how fast I drove, I couldn't beat the clock. The miles weren't my enemy, though. It was my plan that had time consuming detours. You see, I wanted to cross the Ptarmigan Traverse, but I couldn't find anyone who had time available. This left me without a second car or an easy way back to Cascade Pass, some 67 miles away. So Tuesday I crouched over the maps and came up with a plan, but would it work?

The Suiattle River can be run from Downey Creek all of the way to the Sauk River (~24 miles). From there a road bike can take me to Cascade Road and up to the beginning of the gravel (~30 miles) where a mountain bike could then take me up the final grind back to my car (~13 miles). Now I just had to cross the traverse, which I've heard is anywhere between 30-45 miles.  

I won't be hiking by these next time I see them.

Continuing my walk up to Cascade Pass loaded with several days of gear, I began to get cold when fingers of fog licked the trees and wind picked up as if swept along by those great hands. They convinced me that camping low would not be worth it. Hiking toward Cache Col I found a nice camp on the final ridge before dropping down to the glacier (I only had an hour to hike before dark). Here I was above the fog and could see the stars. They stole the loneliness that would have surely existed here without them because this was my first solo outing. Having their good company and never ending cheer kept me up late after an already long day.


That morning I rose to fog flowing like an Alaskan glacier down the valley to the east. Southbound with breakfast in me, I set sights on Cache Col where my first barrier, Red Ledge awaits. No matter how much I felt like lingering, I was off chasing the light up the Glacier.

Mountain Goat hiking to Cache Col.
Fog flowing and myself overlooking the fog.
Another view of Cascade Pass under a mass of fog.

Getting up here in summer is obviously much different than in winter or early spring. Usually I prefer the snow blanketed heights, but that morning when I arrived at Kool-Aid Lake with shadows walking the ridges and fog and clouds boiling and frothing below, I was captured and more excited than I had been in a long time.

How I lost the trail from here was as simple as following one of the many that dead end. Reason, of course, would entail reversing your steps, but reason is lost to me because I set off bound and determined. Any determination was flustered by botching Red Ledge. At least I was on Red Ledges

Mount Formidable far away and a close up.
Mr. Marmot keeping an eye on me and Mountain Sorrel.

On top the Middle Cascade Glacier is a narrow slot down through which you can see Le Conte Lakes. These only hold your gaze shortly because Old Guard and Sentinel and their associated glaciers are truly fantastic, deserving of a break and time for reflection, but soon Yang Yang Lakes (perched below and out of sight) soldier me forward like a bugle boy.
Boot skiing most of the way down the narrow snow patch allowed me to move quickly. Soon I was wondering down a nice path toward the lakes where the shore made a fine lunch table and a log just as fine of a bench. I saw two people here. It felt crowded. I did bother them for directions over to Le Conte Glacier because it wasn't terribly obvious and I had foolishly left my directions at the car. They were glad to help as they had just gone up for an attempt of Le Conte Peak.

Confident that I was on the right path I leapt over boulders in haste to a steep gully that would lead to a bench. Here tarns were cupped in heathery glades full of Indian Paintbrush and Dwarf Fireweed and Alpine Fir took up residence on small ridges where granite shone through. The higher I went the more rock I was on until only snow and occasional rock bands separated me from the Le Conte Glacier.

Left: Yang, Yang Lakes. Right: Le Conte Lakes and glacier. I tried to catch myself (timed picture) in the col, but I didn't quite set it up right.
Dwarf Fireweed.
Left: My shadow on the Le Conte Glacier. Top: Le Conte Glacier. I climbed up on the snow far right. Bottom: My bivi site above the South Cascade Glacier.

I put on my boots when the slope steepened and winded my way through crevasses and over a few snow bridges before climbing to another pass. By then the day was waning and my shadow stretched across the snowfield.

The South Cascade Glacier is amazingly flat all the way to its terminus where a lake by the same name sits in milky luminescence. Any consideration of making White Rock Lakes was wasted on me because a sunset was more important to me, and the mountains would make for a perfect frame to another wondrous night. Between waterfalls on a polished ledge I pitched camp for the night, and set about making dinner. By the time the sunset came its warm, colorful glow made up for my lack of dessert. Stars again kept me company and I enjoyed another peaceful night.

Mountains silhouetted against the colored sky and myself watching the sunset.
South Cascade Lake and White Rock Lakes with the Chickamin and Dana Glaciers in the background..


Morning came with an intention to reach White Rock Lakes before the sun rose too high. This wasn't to be as I went over the wrong pass and was halfway down on ledges before I pulled out the maps and realized my error. This cost me an hour and a half, but no matter the waste, I was happy to see how easy it was to drop down to the lakes when I arrived at the correct pass. This meant I could make up lost time.

The first lake is covered partially by snow, surrounded by heather and boulder fields while the other two lakes are melted into the surrounding bedrock. The waters are crystal clear and the camps set with perfect views of the Chickamin Glacier and cirque, which appears an impossible wall above a jungle of trees where waterfalls cascade down. This continues from your left all of the way round to the Dana Glacier whose lower rock slabs await my booted feet, but first a break and a moment to reflect. I had come a long way in a day and a half. 

When time came to go, I left with a heavy heart. I had an extra day, but I didn't stay. Instead I climbed up, not quite sure where exactly to go from there, just making small decisions along the way. Shoes were changed to boots for the ice, which I could've crossed on shoes, but I was trying to be smart since I was alone. Just below I had explored an ice cave echoing with harmonic rumbles of rocks and water gushing out and over those cliffs I had mentioned earlier. On the far right I wondered over and around glide cracks to another pass where my excitement couldn't be contained. Glimpses of Cub and Itswoot Lakes provided familiar sights for me. I could hardly contain my thrill.  

Downward boulders and more boulders led to more boulders which brought me to Itswoot Ridge. To the east was the shark fin of Dome Peak. It beckoned me, but I was headed westward to Bachelor Creek or at least as far as I could get.

Left: An assortment of flowers. Top: Purple Monkey Flowers. Bottom: Ice Cave that I explored on the Dana Glacier.
Left: Downey Creek. Top: Cub Lake. Bottom: Ice Cave that I explored on the Dana Glacier.

I reached 6-mile camp at the confluence of Bachelor and Downey Creeks, at least that's as far as I thought I would make it. After dinner darkness brought out the stars which could hardly keep me company through the thick canopy of forest. Instead the resident mouse unfettered by my presence munched anything he could find until I packed everything away, everything except my fingers which were all that remained peeking out of my sleeping bag. A sharp pain raised me not long after I closed my eyes. The CARNIVOROUS bastard only managed to get one chunk of skin before I decided to finish my hike off in the dark. Never had I had a mouse do that.  

I reached the parking lot later that night and started a fire. With my bed set and the fire flickering, I saw in the shadows another mouse. Any fingers were kept in my bivi and my pocket rocket stove and fork close at hand. My rest lasted a few hours. I had a big day ahead, and I was too full of anticipation to sleep too long. Near the parking lot I headed into the jungle where I switched my overnight gear for a kayak and paddle.

Underneath the Sauk River Bridge.


Going from the high alpine to the cold glacier runoff was an exhilarating change. This section of river had been pounded by huge floods that filled most rapids and corners with logs and debris. For the most part I boat scouted and had to portage a few log jams I couldn’t squeeze through.

In contrast to the upper section, the lower portions featured a canopy of trees, filtering sun dancing on waves, and clean rapids. Along the way, I met a group of rafters who were spending a few days on the water. One guy told me how they used to go down Cascade River in drift boats which must've been exciting.

Fun and exciting for me were miles and miles of wave trains and boulder gardens. The splashes were always refreshing. I rounded hills, rushed by tributaries, sped through rapids, crashed over rocks to finally meet the Sauk River exhausted and tried. My hands felt like lead weights.  But I didn't have time to rest; I had to hit the highway.

Only a few cars passed me by as I sped toward Cascade Road; my head down, I grinded the miles away and found myself making great time. That is until I started clicking the gears down and down until I could go no further. My legs were already jello, so anymore punishment was too much. By the time I reached the end of the pavement, it was a relief. This was short-lived as I knew the mountain bike portion would be worse and it was

When I arrived at my mountain bike, I drank a little water (as I had only a liter). Every creek tempted me for miles. When the road was too steep, I’d walk for short distances, but I knew I had to ride. I didn't have time to walk the entire way. At mile 21 I stashed my bike in the trees next to the gate and walked. It was getting dark by then, and every car that passed was another temptation. I was on a mission though and to give up this close would be a shame. I'd spend the night with my camelback as a pillow before I'd give up.

At 9:30pm, 74 hrs after I began, I was back at my car. Another mile would've been too much, but there wasn't any more. I was done and very happy that my solo venture had been a success ... better than that even. It was an experience that I will never forget. A solo journey that changed me in more ways than I can explain; it was very satisfying to see so much country in such a short amount of time, and to travel from the high country to the low country, to walk high ridges and glaciers, and to kayak rivers and ride the highways all of the way back to the beginning; a round trip journey completed in fine style. Unfortunately my drive home wasn't as enjoyable, but hey, you can't be too choosy.

My hands after 24 miles of river and my shadow while resting near Cascade River.

THANKS for reading!!!! ~Jason Hummel More photos: see Alpine State OF Mind. If you enjoyed your visit, CONTACT ME or tell us about it on the GUESTBOOK.