The start of this wonderful trip is the Crater Creek Trailhead, 4,700, near Twisp. It is about a five hour drive from Seattle. Made famous in Ira Spring and Harvey Mannings’ 100 Hikes Books, this trip is known as the Golden Lakes Loop. Often compared to the Enchantments, this is a wonderful area to visit in the summer with miles of lush flower covered meadows. This time of year the many larch trees turn golden in a stunning array of color. We caught them as they were beginning to turn.
At 7 miles the trail reaches 7,590’ Horsehead Pass in the larches after passing fine camps at Eagle Lake and Upper Eagle Lake. Upper Eagle Lake is in a rocky bowl reaching up to the summit of Mount Bigelow. From the Pass we descended down the longest switchbacks we have ever seen to Boiling Lake and camp.
Why is it called Boiling Lake? On this day we could only figure that the 80+ degrees was causing some folks to jump in for a dip! There are a few picnic tables around the lake, built long ago. The trout were jumping from the water to the hooks at the end of fly rods! Our neighbors had 3 each for dinner! Yumm!
A gentle walk up through grassy meadows brought me to Hoodoo Pass. From
here it was an easy 1,000’ scramble up to the summit Mount Bigelow, 8,444’.
I found many familiar names in the summit register, most recently Michael
Balise on a marathon ridge ramble peak bagging expedition! Murray Khan, and
Jonathan Pryce also were seen. It seems that this a favorite area for the
WAC. I descended the ridge back to Horsehead Pass and then down to Boiling
Lake in time for dinner.
After a beautiful night of stars, the Milky Way, and even Mars bright above, Doerte and I set off through the larches for Cheops, Martin, and Cooney. We followed the trail a half mile to below the saddle between Cheops and Martin, and then scrambled up to the saddle. We had a wonderful view of Martin Lakes and larches in every direction.
About an hour of scrambling north up the ridge brought us to the summit of Cheops, 8,270’. A few feet short of the Bulger 100 Highest, Cheops doesn’t get climbed as often as its nearby neighbors. The new register, placed by Fay Pullen, only had two names in it. We have never met Fay, but seen her name on almost every mountain we have been on.
We watched a small plane circling over the Eagle Lakes Basin. After a few minutes a parachute could be seen descending. Every time the plane circled another parachute would drop. Doerte counted five chutes. We hoped there wasn’t a fire as that was our way out. It was great fun to watch the plane and the smokejumpers.
Retracing our steps down the ridge, we continued on to Martin, staying a bit below the ridge on the west side, and finally up some solid rock with a couple of class 3 moves to the summit, 8,375’. Doerte called it, "a rewarding ascent to the summit". As on Bigelow, the summit register was placed by the Mountaineers in 1984. Familiar names included Peggy Goldman, (author of the Scrambles book), Fay Pullen, as well as Michael Balise, Jonathan, Tom, and Murray.
From Martin, it is an easy one mile hike over to Cooney, 8,321’. Ira says this was called Switchback Peak for generations! It is always odd when the historical name gets changed! We left a new register, but with only one small piece of paper. If you go to Cooney please bring a small notebook to leave behind. Our views of the valley below and peaks in the distance were awe inspiring. Looking across to Merchant’s basin we could see Surprise Lake in a hanging valley. To the North and East the valley was filled with smoke from the Needles Fire, burning very near Mazama. To the South and West were jagged peaks beckoning for us to visit.
From Cooney, it was an easy hike down it’s South Ridge to join with the Trail from Cooney Lake to Boiling Lake. Called the Angel’s Stairs, it is brutal collection of switchbacks. Luckily we were going down on this day. Two hours later we were back at Boiling Lake camp in time for an afternoon dip in the Lake.
Amazingly, this area is NOT in the Lake Chelan Sawtooth Wilderness! Motorcycles are permitted. Some of the trail is even maintained by local motorcycle clubs. We saw two parties of motorcycles, two horse parties, two mountain bikers, one trail crew, and six parties of hikers. Hopefully someday this area will be added to the wilderness area.
3 days, 27 miles, 6,500’ elevation gain.
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