The East Bank Ross Lake trail, while not the most stunning route in the North Cascades, is appealing in part because it’s almost exactly 50k from end-to-end (a common ultra distance), and also because it’s relatively low-elevation and therefore tends to melt out before many other trails in the area.
My original plan was to park at the East Bank Ross Lake TH on Highway 20, and then run 6 miles west along the bottom of the lake via the Happy Panther trail to the Ross Dam water taxi stop (see map below). I figured I would have the water taxi take me all the way to Hozomeen Campground. Then I would run the 31 mile (50k) East Bank trail southbound from Hozomeen Campground back to my car.
Unfortunately, Ross Lake is still too low for the water taxi to get all the way to Hozomeen Campground. The farthest north they could take me was Lightning Creek. This meant I was looking at 20 miles just to get to the “starting line” at Hozomeen Campground (6 miles on Happy Panther, 14 miles from Lightning Creek to Hozomeen).
I decided to turn it into a fastpack. I dropped my daughter off at preschool on Thursday morning and then headed north towards North Cascades National Park. Along the way I stopped at the Mountain Loop Books and Coffee, where I had a nice chat with the owner, Tony. Great place to grab a snack and/or a good book! I also got suckered into a strawberry smoothie from the Cascadian Farm roadside stand. Too idyllic to pass up.
I finally reached the East Bank Ross Lake TH around 1 pm. I ran west along the pleasant, flat Happy Panther trail to the place where the taxi would meet me. As instructed, I picked up an archaic old phone randomly located along the lakeshore (no cell service in the area) and called the water taxi driver to let him know I was there.
It’s still early season on Ross Lake and I was the only one on the boat. The water taxi driver said all of five words to me during the 30-minute trip (“Hop in.” and “Here we are.”), which was actually kind of nice. I’m used to more questions about where I’m going, how long will I be out there, am I alone, how far am I going, etc. This guy really didn’t give a shit, and it was refreshing.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time by myself in the backcountry, but it’s usually a gradual process. I drive to the trailhead, perhaps see a couple other people as I head up the trail away from more crowded areas, and after several hours eventually I find myself alone.
The water taxi drop-off was different. One minute I was on a loud boat zooming across the water. The next minute I found myself in complete silence, 16 miles up Ross Lake. Because it’s early season, there was absolutely no one else around but me and Maggie. Lightning Creek camp was empty. The trail was empty. It was exhilarating.
The run/hike towards Hozomeen Camp was fine, although I definitely hit a low point when the trail cut away from the lake. The woods were dark and deep and I could only catch an occasional glimpse of the mountains through the trees. It was many miles of wooded valley floor, which can be beautiful in its own right, but I had been hoping for some vistas. I reminded myself it was good mental training, and pushed on.
I reached Hozomeen Camp with plenty of time to set up my tent and get settled. Hozomeen was not officially open for the season (I got permission from a ranger to camp there before I left), which meant I had the entire campground to myself. There was even a bear box – no need to deal with a bear hang.
Maggie and I snuggled into the tent and quickly fell asleep. Around 11 pm the loons started wailing. It was an eery, beautiful noise. At first, Maggie jumped up and started whining, but eventually she realized they weren’t going to bother us. The loons wailed off and on all night, waking me every couple hours, and I didn’t mind one bit. (If you’ve never heard a loon, go here and skip to 0:30.)
I was up by 430 am, took my time packing everything up, and was on my way at 530 am. The entire East Bank trail is in excellent condition. It is completely snow-free, and there were exactly three blowdowns in 31 miles. A trail crew had clearly been through recently.
This time of year, there is plenty of water along the trail. I don’t think I ever went more than five miles without a water source.
It was a sunny Friday, but I didn’t see anyone at all until Roland Creek (7 miles out from my car), and even then it was just 2 other parties – both single guys that appeared to be heading out for a weekend of backpacking.
One word of caution: lots and lots of ticks. I found 2 in my tent, 3 on my dog, and 1 crawling up my leg (I brushed it off before it got me).
I made it back to the car just after 2 pm and was home in time for dinner on Friday! All in all, some great miles in the legs, and a fun overnight with the pup. A few more pics below: