What to do on Labor Day weekend? After dumping a planned
five day trip to Fire Creek Pass due to having a long bushwhack with wet
brush and just generally lousy weather in the offing, Kim and I decided
at the last minute to head just east of the crest for three days at Schaefer
Lake up the Chiwawa River. Gary was in on the original plan but screwed
up communications (read that to mean I screwed up) left just the two of
us. Highway 2 is almost impossible on any summer Sunday return. We did not
want to try it on a holiday Monday so we opted to hike from Friday to Sunday.
That part of the plan worked well as the traffic was minimal in both directions.
The hardest part of the Schaefer Lake route is getting across the Chiwawa
River. There is no bridge. Previous year's reports were from an easy log
jam to nearly impossible. A report from only two weeks earlier stated that
a very easy log jam was in place and recent trail work had removed all logs
from the trail. With this knowledge we set out. It was warm and a bit muggy
as we started from the trailhead down to the river. A short walk brought
us to the mighty Chiwawa. The recent work gouged a route through 10 foot
tall trees and brush to the crossing.
There is now a jam complete with logs placed where needed to make for
a reasonably easy crossing. Not sure how long it will survive but it is easy
for the rest of this year at least. Once across the trail proceeds across
the forested river basin. Some of the trees here are huge. We passed lots
of thimbleberry bushes but almost no berries. That was a theme for this
hike. Lots of bushes and very few ripe berries. There are going to be some
mighty hungry bears in another month.
After meandering on the flats the route begins to climb. The trail is
never very steep. In places it flattens out then begins to climb again. It
is a long rightward traverse with only few switchbacks before crossing Schaefer
Creek at about 3 1/2 miles. Total gain from the 2450' trailhead to the 5131'
lake is about 2700' in five miles. We gained about 600' in the forest before
some views out began. Across from the trail is a big barren face on the
opposite valley wall. A large slide is on one side. It must have been more
than 1,000' long.
The trail is in very good shape. We could see many hundreds of trees
that have been sawed out over the years. Not a single one remains across
the trail. There are a number of small creek crossings but all are easy
enough. We stopped for lunch about half way up. We had better views out
here including Mt. Maude, Seven Fingered Jack, Red Mountain, and Chiwawa
Mountain. Clouds were coming in but it was still shorts and short sleeves
A report said the bridge over Schaefer Creek was fairly new and so it
is. Half the boards on the bridge deck are shorter than the others. It looks
like parts of the old bridge were reused. After the bridge the trail began
to switchback up the slope. There was one car in the lot when we started.
So far we had not seen anyone else. With about a mile to go I sped up while
Kim stopped to apply some bug juice.
I came upon a father and son resting along the trail. That too was a
theme of the weekend. With nobody ahead of me I plowed on to look for the
best camp spot. I reached the lower lake which was larger than the map suggested
and just a few minutes later reached the main lake. There was a cool wind
blowing as I approached the lake. Hmm... that's another theme for the trip.
I noticed some ripe blueberries at the lake (that small patch were the only
ones likely to ripen this season) and headed to the east side of the lake.
I found one big camp site on a small point, dropped my pack, and headed
on around the lake. I found one more good site though it was more in the
trees. Better wind protection but lesser views. I headed back to site number
one. Soon the father and Kim arrived. The son had some leg cramps but he arrived
soon. We set up camp as some light rain began. Kim and I each took a short
hike around the area. The trail continues past the other camp site to the
lake outlet. It is a meandering flat steam leading to the lower lake. The
lakes must be almost the same elevation as the water did not seem to be flowing
The creek between the lakes is in a grassy meadow with flowers till blooming.
We made a few trips back here for photos. A few rain squalls blew through
and the wind mostly gusted. When it stopped the skeeters were out in full
force. Since the wind blew most of the time the bugs were not too much
of a problem. A big flat sided log was a perfect wind block for cooking
or just escaping the cold wind. By 8:00 pm it was getting dark and we turned
We did not have any concrete plans for what to do at the lake. Mtn Mike
and Putz-In-Boots had written a report including scrambles of Point 6764
to the north of the lake and Sylvester Mountain to the southwest. We were
late getting up as it was very cold in the morning. The wind stopped for most
of the night but picked up again in the morning. We hiked over to the northeast
side of the lake where we met another father and son combo. They had hiked
in early the previous evening. He suggested checking out a meadow to the
east of the route up 6764. It looked like it might get up to the same place.
We hiked through easy forest to a big rock field. Beyond that Kim spotted
an interesting scramble route up towards the ridge above. Some dirt and
rock scrambling did indeed bring us to the ridge which was better with solid
rock or blocks. We headed up this to a face that I was not interested in.
Very steep and exposed. I might have been able to get up it but I had no
interest in down climbing it. We had some nice views here. We were able
to see how lousy the route around the ridge and up to Point 6764 looked.
With that in mind we headed back down and back to camp.
By the time we had lunch and were ready to go it was 2:30. We decided
to take a crack at Sylvester. From our previous perch we could see around
the ridge of Sylvester and what looked like moderately steep slopes leading
to the ridge top. We crossed the lake outlet on a long log jam and admired
all the flowers still blooming. Next we headed up along side or on a big
boulder field. This brought us up 350'. We headed left into a forested
saddle on the ridge. Nice easy walking here though the trees were tightly
packed in spots. Then we found what we did not see from our earlier viewpoint.
Crappy brushy steep hillside to traverse.
We were below cliffs and the going was not too difficult but not much
fun. After slogging along with little elevation gain Kim spied a ramp through
the cliffs and up we went. Fifty feet of gain brought us to the lightly
forested slopes we had seen earlier. Now the going was much better. All
of this took a lot more time than we expected. Being on the back side of
the ridge we were completely out of the wind. When we reached the ridge
top it was instant November. It was clear that if we did follow the ridge
we would be frozen and might end up coming down in the dark. We chose to
enjoy the views from here and head down.
Sylvester is a very reasonable summit if you do not spend the morning
climbing something else. The traverse back was a pain but soon we were at
the boulder field then back to the lake. We took some time to photograph
along the outlet creek and meadow before heading back for a late dinner.
No rain this day but it was not a warm August day. The first father and son
had left while we were scrambling and that site was now occupied by...another
father and son.
Another cold morning meant another late start. With only five miles to
hike down we were in no hurry. We were packed up and ready to leave at
11:00 am. There is a meadow with a small tarn not far from our camp. We
set down our packs and took out the cameras. This had lots of elephants
head as well and gentian and a number of other flowers or seed pods. The
tarn was full of tadpoles. A short 45 minutes later we were ready to actually
leave the lake. Kim had mentioned a strange plant and a possible old trail
she had seen after I went ahead coming up. We planned to check out both.
She found the plant. A strange white fungus like thing poking out of
the ground. Not mushroom like at all. Hopefully we'll figure out what it
is. At the 4500' level I spied the old trail. It is right where the trail
switches back to the right. The old trail heads on down steeply. It could
be a reroute or it could be a totally different old route to Schaefer Lake.
We dropped our packs and followed it down. There is a cut bank and obvious
tread. This is not an animal trail. It is much steeper than any part of
the current trail. We dropped 100 vertical feet and the trail kept going.
It starts right below a small ridge crest and crosses over it to the northeast.
We have another mystery to check on.
We climbed back up to the real trail and it continued to make short switchbacks.
We could not see any other trail where a reroute may have started. Down
at 4000' we crossed Schaefer Creek. We did see one couple of day hikers
nearing the lake as we left. They caught us down near the river. Another
group was less than half way up late in the afternoon. That was it for the
three days. Kim found lots to photograph on the way down. Much of it was
back in the river bottom. Some were fairly unusual plants we have not seen
often. At long last we reached the river and soon after the truck.
This was a fun weekend though the weather did not entirely cooperate.
We were not all that far from the Cascade crest so all in all we did pretty
well. Some folks were snowed on this weekend. We certainly never felt crowded.
We did not get to any summits but the scrambling was fun and we did get
to some higher ridge views. It was dramatically different than Idaho backpacking
the week before. There is something to be said for cold and wet vs. hot
and dry. At least for a couple of Seattlites.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Kim On Log Jam
False Solomon's Seal
A Little Fall Color
White Clouds & Schaefer
Red Seed Pods
Great Green Color
Walk Along Shore
Climbing Boulder Field
High Above Lake
Kim At Work
Schaefer Log Jam
Elephants Close Up
Leaving Schaefer Lake
A Little Color
Red & Green
Trips - 2008