North Cascades National Park
Ross Dam Trail; Big Beaver Trail
Estimated drive time from Portland, OR.
September 15-16, 2018
5.4 miles RT
Our second backpack was a little less planned than the last. We picked a weekend that worked for all of us and decided on the North Cascades NP for our destination. My friend, Anjelica, lives in the Seattle area and had came down to the Portland area for the first backpacking trip. This meant it was our turn to make a trip up to her. Alex had a wedding to go to Friday evening and then we planned to leave around 3AM Saturday morning to get there before the ranger station was open for permits. Permits are now reservable online through recreation.gov which is a blessing and a curse. Online permits are easier to access but it drives more people to the park and makes getting permits more competitive. When we visited the North Cascades NP you had to submit for permits during a certain time period. Otherwise, you were at the mercy of what is left in walk-ups. We didn’t plan far enough in advance to have permits secured ahead of time, but we were winging this one. The plan was to ask for a recommendation on a permit within a certain area of the park that fit within a certain mileage. We didn’t really care where we ended up, we were just happy to be there. Alex and I drove to Anjelica’s house first from Portland and then she drove the remainder of the way to the park. We arrived at the Marblemount Wilderness Information Center an hour after it had opened. There were a few people there and we hoped they had something available for us. The ranger we spoke with was very helpful and had a few recommendations for us. We knew we wanted to be near Diablo Lake since pictures of the lake were what first piqued my interest in the North Cascades. Her first recommendation was a 6-mile one way camp along the East Bank Trail on Ross Lake. I wasn’t confident in my backpacking mileage yet, so I requested something shorter for one night. Her second recommendation was Green Point on the other side of the lake. It was a little under 3 miles one-way and had the luxury of a back country toilet, fire rings, picnic tables, and bear boxes. It is technically considered a boat in campground but there is a hiking route to get there and it still requires permits. We all agreed this sounded like a decent option and if we wanted to explore more we could continue farther up the Big Beaver Trail. We headed back out on the road with permit in hand. It was only another 45 minutes to the trailhead from the Wilderness Center. The trail starts from the paved Ross Dam Trailhead right off of HWY-20. We made a quick stop at the Diablo Lake Vista Point on the way. It is an impressive overlook of the lake and mountain range. It is also where most people stop to take their picture in the North Cascades NP. I used to constantly see this exact picture on Instagram and thought it was on some impressive hike in the back country. It was still gorgeous nonetheless.
The trail moderately switchbacks down towards the Dam from the parking area. It will briefly meet up with a service road that will take you to the Ross Lake Dam. You will need to walk across the Dam to reach the other side of the lake and connect with the Big Beaver Trail. Once on the other side you will continue along this trail for less than a mile before you reach the junction towards Green Point. On your way there you will pass the Ross Lake Resort which is a boat or hike in only resort. It offers boat rentals, overnight camping, and cabin stays along the lake shore. From the signed junction to Green Point it is another half of a mile of switchbacks down to the camp. The Big Beaver Trail continues farther into the wilderness and connects with longer routes through the park. It was nice having mostly elevation loss on the way in, but I wasn’t looking forward to only gain on the way back to the car in the morning. There are a five camp spots to choose from when you reach the campground. It also has a dock for those that choose to boat in to the sites. We had the whole place to ourselves for the weekend and only saw a few day hikers on the trail before we crossed the Dam.
The forecast for the weekend wasn’t great. We knew that. There was a definite chance of showers with small breaks in between. We were lucky enough to only get cloudy skies with a bit of sun on the hike in to camp. The weather was even kind enough to wait for us to set up camp before the rain clouds rolled in and it started raining. We all huddled in one tent for a round of cards with wine and charcuterie. Anytime we heard a break in the rain we would exit the tent to enjoy our wine on the shores of the lake instead. Eventually we surrendered to the fact that we were going to be damp this whole trip. This made the draw of jumping into the crystal clear water more appealing as the day went on. I was already wet, so why not take a dip in the lake? We decided to build a fire before committing. This way we would have somewhere warm to dry off immediately afterwards. I had brought way more clothes than I needed for this trip too and knew I would have something dry to change into. I was the first to take a dip and the water was FRIGID. I made it up to my chest before deciding to run back to shore. Anjelica and Alex eventually worked up the courage to take a quick dip as well. Alex went all the way in putting his head underwater. I ran back in for another dip with them and then we all ran out to huddle around the fire for warmth. We hung around the fire for the rest of the evening until well past dark. The rain started to come down a bit heavier forcing us to retire to our tents. It continued to rain heavy all through the night.
I woke up early the next morning to the sun rising behind the peaks overlooking the lake. I sat on the dock for a bit by myself while everyone was still asleep. It was a calm morning that gave the impression of a nice day ahead. Once everyone started to wake up we made another fire. Alex, once again, planned the meals for this trip which consisted of miso noodle soup for dinner and avocado toast for breakfast. The avocado toast was so good. We roasted the bread over the fire and had pickled roasted peppers, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette for toppings. Talk about gourmet! Shortly after we finished breakfast the rain rolled in again. It was heavy and had no plans of letting up. We packed up in the wet and hiked out in the wet. I was completely soaked by the time we reached the car. The ride home consisted of car karaoke and a late sushi lunch.
Despite being a relatively successful trip, I was once again ill prepared. I only mention this in hopes that you can learn from my embarrassing mistakes. Invest in proper rain gear people! Even if you aren’t planning on backpacking in the rain. In the Pacific Northwest, no matter what, the rain will eventually follow and find you. My rain gear for this trip consisted of a jacket that was water-resistant but not water-proof, the rain cover from my day pack since I hadn’t bought one big enough for my backpacking pack yet, and rain pants. The rain pants were my only effective piece of gear. I layered the jacket over my puffy which worked to a point but it would’ve been a poor choice for a longer trip. The rain cover for my day pack barely covered my larger pack but it did help keep the top of it dry. The hike in had been dry so all my gear was dry when we set up and it really only got wet on the hike out. I was pretty lucky this trip.