Cascade Pass is one of my all time favorite hikes. The scenery is spectacular! We will stop off for dinner after the hike, so plan on this being an all day event. Because of the limited number of spots available, please do not RSVP "YES" unless you are 100% sure you can make the hike.
This is one of the most scenic, most accessible 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.
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.