Hiking to Cutthroat Pass

Yesterday, M and I hiked up Porcupine Creek from Rainy Pass to Cutthroat Pass, in the North Cascades area of Okanagan National Forest.

[img_assist|fid=38|thumb=1|alt=Looking West From Cutthroat Pass|caption=Looking west from Cutthroat Pass down Porcupine Creek valley. North Cascades area, Okanagan National Forest.]

The trail we covered is a 5-mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the area really should be part of a wilderness preserve or national park.

The hike is mostly a moderate but insistent climb up through the valley, with a number of wide switchbacks at the eastern end. Each switchback seems to get steeper as you climb up to the pass, which connects the Porcupine Creek watershed to the Cutthroat Creek one.

Down in the valley is rich green rainshadow forest (meaning, not as rich and green as on the west side of the Cascades), and a few nice creek crossings. I managed to dunk myself in the first one, right off the bat. No harm done, however, and it was kind of nice to cool off as the water evaporated from my clothes.

There's only one crossing of Porcupine Creek, on a log bridge a couple miles in. No porcupines sighted, however.

Once the trail gets high enough that the trees thin out with the air, the happy hiker is presented with alpine meadows with their myriad colorful flowers waving in the breeze. We were lucky in that once we left the shade of the trees, a high cloud diffused some of the sun, so it wasn't quite as baking hot as it could have been.

I should point out that I'm a lightweight when it comes to hiking. I haven't done much exercise of any kind since I got back from my long-week-in-a-car road trip a couple weeks ago. So I was huffing and puffing and making frequent stops. The 30-second stop is much more effective than the minute-plus one... You give your body just enough time to quit telling you to give up and go back home, and then betray it by going further. Haw.

Anyway, the point here is that we were leaving the trailhead just as some folks with a dog pulled in to park. We could see them gaining, on the trail below, too. Somewhere around mile 4, I joked to M: "That dog is going to make it to the top before I do." A few switchbacks later, we stopped so the dog and the couple could go by.

Eventually the trail rounds the last switchback and heads off across the broad incline of the saddle. We still had the benefit of some high clouds, but the mosquios would swarm around us if we stood still.

There's really no point in describing the view, other than to say it's beautiful, and worth hiking 5 miles uphill. Some people try to describe these things, and they tell you which mountains they could see in the distance, and so forth. But I find those kinds of descriptions empty, so I won't do it.

The story, however, is that we met a man named John, who was hiking alone. We ended up hearing a great deal about his life of the past four or five years, and I don't feel like retelling it here at the moment, mostly because it's not my story to tell.

We decided to hike back down with John, who, again, was telling us a lot about the last four or five years of his life...

So somewhere about a mile and a half down the trail, my knee started complaining. We took a few minutes and I cooled the knee with some creek water. Feeling a little better, we set off again, but as the hike progressed, it just got worse and worse. I was using my monopod as a crutch, and having to lift my foot over roots or rocks was agonizing. I eventually got the hang of it, and could make reasonable time, although with frequent stops.

John and M would go ahead a little bit and find some flowers or something to marvel at, and then I'd catch up, and the process would start over.

As to why the knee was unhappy: When we started back down, I was just bombing down the trail. I don't think there was any single injury, just collective stress of going down a relatively steep trail with rocks strewn about.

We eventually reached the trailhead and clamored into the car, trying to avoid mosquitos. John had parked at the Cutthroat trailhead and hiked up that valley, and run into us at the top. We had hiked down the Porcupine valley, so he was about 8-9 miles away from his car. Naturally we gave him a lift.

There's also a whole thing about buffalo burgers, but that'll be another 'blog, maybe. :-)

Topics: 

Comments

sean's picture

how far from home do you have to travel to get to all of the great hiking? just curious..

We had two destinations in mind: Lake Dorothy, which is about an hour and a half away, and this Cutthroat Pass one, which is about 3 hours away. Cutthroat Pass was my idea. I think it won because neither of us had hiked it before.

The closest hike that's worthwhile is Snow Lake, in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which is about 45 minutes away. It's right off the interstate. EZ-OFF, EZ-ON. :-)

Mmmm. Buffalo burgers.

Sounds lovely. I always get knee-aches coming down mountains that are more than a mile or so... hope you're sufficiently healed today (or soon).