Highway 20 Larch Tour

Tuesday, October, 9
We avoided doing any hiking the day after the Dock Butte hike. The beautiful weather of Saturday, turned into the wet, not quite rain, cold dreary Sunday. We spent the day catching up on image processing, writing and reading. There were still more hikes on the east side of the Cascades we wanted to do, so we headed back for a few more days. Weather was supposed to be clearing and we wanted to use those days for hiking.

We spent a couple of days in Winthrop. On Monday, weather was still kind of iffy. We visited the nearby Forest Service office to see if we could get some advice on a nice larch drive. The ranger there recommended a drive up Highway 20 to the area of the Loup Loup Campground. In winter this area is a snow park and the paved access road is for snowmobiles.

It turned out to be a great way to get off the busy main road and have a pleasant drive where we could stop mostly at will, walk around and investigate without having to dodge traffic. We first tried a few forest service roads off highway 20 as we drove up to Loup Loup. Several were showing nice larch from the highway, but getting the right angle was difficult and the roads we chose were more suited to off-road vehicles rather than the RAV.  Much of the forest around here has either burned or been managed, meaning undergrowth has been removed. While it really helps in making clean compositions, I find I don’t like the unnaturally open looking result.  The larches at this lower elevation seemed different than what we’ve seen at the 5-7 thousand foot level. They looked more like sugar-pine tree trunks with larch branches. They were thicker, more symmetrical and exhibited some nice levels of layered branches. Hybridization with western larch is apparently the answer. While there are no subspecies of larch, they are genetically different trees from their high elevation versions. This access road eventually moved out of the thickest larch area, so we turned around and went looking for the Loup Loup turnoff. Unfortunately, we found the road we wanted to drive was gated just a mile into it. We looked around another short road nearby, but the trees were not as accessible nor plentiful along there. The clouds were thickening again, dulling the light, so we called it a day.Next up – our hike to Cutthroat Lake.

Cutthroat Lake Hike
Thursday, October, 11
We left Winthrop Wednesday morning to return to Klipchuck campground for 2 more days. Our final hike in the northern Cascades will be a new one for us. It is rated as an easy 4 mile roundtrip hike to Cutthroat Lake, with a 650’ elevation gain.

In the few days we were away from this campground, half of it had closed. Our favorite campsite was now behind a gate. In the remaining loop, we did find a nice large fairly open site where I should be able to get enough sun for the panels.This time of year, cloudless skies mean cold temperatures. It was a very still morning, and even at 9 am, in the shade of the valley, frost still clung to everything. On the railing of the bridge over Cutthroat Creek, the frost stood on end as if it too was trying not to touch anything metal. The trail was one of the easiest to walk on this trip. It was wider than most, not very rocky, nor full of wet slippery roots. It rose steadily most of the way, but was gradual, so hardly noticed. Frost on everything again stole my attention for a time, but it wasn’t long before the sun reached us and everything melted.  But by now we were getting into views of the surrounding area and the larch were lit with morning sun. They simply glowed. The trail would plunge into forest for a time, then cross an open area revealing more views. Once at the top of the ridge, it leveled out for a quarter mile before reaching the lake. It’s another Lake-in-a-Bowl kind of place, with steep mountains dropping to larch infused pine forest at lake edge.Wonderful grasses in the still waters of the lake created nice patterns and reflections. Large boulder seemed to float on the opposite shore. We lunched here and enjoyed the quiet spot. Only a few hikers were seen on the trail on the way up but most seemed to be going on to Cutthroat Pass and beyond instead of stopping at the lake. We were alone. After lunch, we tried to walk around the lake a bit more but the trail seemed to peter out after a time. It became more of a bushwhack. I don’t like tromping through such fragile areas  if thee is no path, so we turned around. We backtracked back down the trail a ways, before trying another branch trail pointing to the lake. About a quarter mile later we came upon new angles of the lake and shoreline.


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