Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has had a few recurring motifs: Stay local. Shelter in place. Minimize contact with others. Make sure you have emergency supplies. And stay out of the hospital. With family and work obligations, and a robust recreational life, I've unwittingly been doing these things for years. So, what the hell, I figured I'd play the themes of 2020 and try out a route that I had considered back in 2018 after a fall Larch run from Stevens Pass to Chatter Creek through the Chiwaukum Mountains. My friend Walter and I finished that run, and I thought...what if we had stayed on the ridge and run back to our neighborhood? What if we reversed the line, started at icicle Ridge Trail near our neighborhood in Leavenworth, and made our way to Stevens Pass, spanning the full climatic and ecological gradient of the eastern Cascades? If we did this, we'd go from Ponderosa pine to subalpine dry forest to alpine meadows and eventually the larger, wetter mixed fir forests of Stevens Pass - an ecologists' dream tour! After a bit of research on 30 July 2020, I planned my line to just send it and onsight the middle sections that I'd never traveled.
I biked to the Icicle Creek Trailhead at 0300 on 1 August 2020 and was hiking up the trail at 0327. After hiking/jogging/pooping my way up the ridge with great views of the Stuarts and the recent Chikamin fire above the Chiwawa, I dropped down into Cabin Creek, traversed the burns and blow downs, got lost due to some random flagging that went nowhere, waded through the wetlands and crossed the creek, belly scooted through thick alder, then navigated up the "trail" to the ridge. There were no less than twenty bear turds on the trail and my feet were soaked. A bit of buyer's remorse set in as I tended my scratches and mosquito bites in the still, late morning humidity.
After gaining the ridge, trail conditions continued to improve and I happened into what may have been the largest deer I have ever seen from ten feet away. The rack was so big, it hit its antlers on two different trees, knocking itself down. Hunters beware, if you get a shot at this fella (20 points!?) without a horse, you will regret trying to pack it out. I fell into a rhythm of hiking and jogging, topping out just below the cutoff to Big Jim Mountain. After a downslope bowel movement, I encountered Dan from Bothell, who was doing his own 50k+ run around the Chiwaukum. We chatted for a few miles before climbing out of Pioneer Creek where I wished him well and descended. In past years the trails between the Lake Augusta cutoff and Chatter Creek/Lake Edna cutoff were thin, but I was able to find it this year and proceeded around the lake to Cape Horn and Ladies Pass where I looked at my watch, which had just claimed that it registered a 6:xx mile!! The Chiwaukum GPS curse strikes again! Somehow the up and down and the thick forest always loses SPOT/inReach/Suunto satellites and then skips to catch up. My inReach would later fall to the bottom of my vest and cease to send tracking points around Chain and Doelle Lakes, leading to a few emergency contacts sending me messages that I would later get at Stevens Pass.
I made a water stop below Ladies Pass where I ran into a couple horsemen out clearing trail (thanks, boys!) and discussed timber prices and alpine hunting before continuing around Mary's and Frosty Passes. At Frosty I found the cutoff to Chain and Doelle Lakes, traversed into the basin and then climbed the pass between Doelle and Chain, descended around Chain, apologizing to a woman who frantically put her mask on as I shuffled by. I dropped to the Icicle Creek/Chain-Doelle Lakes Trail junction, losing elevation and gaining blisters on my macerated feet. After a couple photos to document the described route, I headed up valley on Icicle Creek trail and toward the PCT. After a few more ups and downs, I hit the southern PCT trailhead at Stevens Pass in 14:16:23. My backyard, social-distance line accomplished, I ate three nectarines (Smithson's Ranch is my primary fruit sponsor), emailed my safety contacts to say I was out, and called Swain, who had dropped our respective partners off for a bike tour that morning.
- 0327 - Start at Icicle Ridge TH -
- 0653 - Icicle Ridge-Fourth of July Cutoff
- 1003 - Icicle Ridge-Hatchery Cutoff
- 1039 - Saddle below Big Jim
- 1240 - Icicle Ridge - Chatter Creek Cutoff
- 1333 - Mary's Pass Cutoff
- 1354 - Frosty Pass Cutoff to Chain and Doelle
- 1559 - Chain-Doelle and Icicle Creek Trail Cutoff
- 1648 - Icicle Creek Trail and PCT Cutoff
- 1744 - Southern PCT Trailhead at Stevens Pass
14:16:23 elapsed time
This is an admittedly soft FKT, but I'm a bit of a boy scout and carried some extra food, a SOL escapelite bivy, spare socks, inReach, light jacket, tights, 2x buffs, light first aid etc. I would probably advise similar gear for future attempts since rescue personnel would have a really hard time getting in or out of the brush and burned drainages here sans helicopter. Note that the Chiwaukum, with its dense forested valleys, has a way of losing satellites (this has happened to me several times), so prepare accordingly and carry a physical map/compass.
This route ends at Stevens Pass instead of the cutoff as J. Douglas Anderson originally described. I doubt many folks will do this line and loop back to Icicle Creek, and the point-to-point nature of the full traverse is just a more complete and aesthetic line. The total route has ~46 miles and ~17.5k' ascent and ~14.5k' of descent. This route includes off trail travel and requires significant navigation as the trail from Fourth of July Trail to Hatchery Creek cutoff is an unmaintained route (Cabin Creek in particular) while the section between Frosty Pass and Chain and Doelle Lakes is overgrown and faint in the best of years.
This is rad man! Sounds like a good adventure route