Switchbacks to a Scenic Summit
The weather is always a toss up in the Pacific Northwest at this time of year. We carefully plan around the forecast and keep our fingers correct it’s correct. This October brought record rainfall, so when meteorologists predicted a few rain-free days, we quickly made plans. Sauk Mountain, in the North Cascades region, is an area we wanted to explore more. With a chance of clear skies, we headed to the trail.
Looking at the zig-zagging switchbacks and the ridge of craggy peaks from the parking lot, the 2.1 miles to the peak seemed a bit daunting. But we had the place to ourselves, so we strapped on our packs, briefly looked at the signs warning hunters of the differences between black bears and grizzly bears in the area, and were off.
At the lowest part of the trail, recent snows had melted and become slush and mud. However, the views to the Skagit River were already terrific, and we knew they would only improve as we climbed. Numerous varieties of maple trees were dressed in their finest fall colors, and the morning mist lingered in spots as we gazed toward the San Juan Islands.
The trail was clear until we reached the first of the 26 turns we would make as we gained 1,200 feet in elevation. Scant snow and slush were intermittent on the narrow path, so we carefully chose our footing. Back and forth, climbing ever higher, our path became more blanketed with snow. There was not enough snow to warrant snowshoes, but good, waterproof boots were essential. A time or two we wished we’d brought our micro-spikes.
On a few occasions, the trail led us into the trees, but most of the hike skirted the face of the mountain. Exposed to a combination of warm sunshine and the icy mountain breezes, we stayed comfortable on our trek.
As we rounded the corner on turn 26, views of the surrounding mountains became visible. Valleys of green with deep amber and bright orange trees lay below the snowy peaks encircling us. Shiny ribbons of the Skagit River wound their way through the landscape. What a spectacular scene!
The snow was probably 2-3 feet deep at the top, and the end of the trail vanished beneath it. Boot prints marked the path to the ridge, so we followed the tracks and appreciated the scenery. After lingering for about 30 minutes to take photos and have a snack, we began our descent as the clouds returned and the temperatures dropped. We’d timed our hike perfectly!