I was missing the North Cascades and also wanted to do a little recon for future adventures, so I decided to head up Thunder Creek towards 4th of July Pass. I did some research (satellite imagery, slope angles, weather, and NWAC forecast) and decided Monday was a good day to go. Unfortunately, “party cloudy” ended up more like “mostly cloudy/overcast” – but hey, it didn’t rain or snow, and I could see all of the peaks around me, so I’m not really complaining. However, I will use the flat grey light as an excuse for my less than stellar pics.
Road conditions: Hwy 20 was clear and dry! Yippeee! Colonial Creek Campground is still unplowed, with at least a couple feet of snow in the parking lot. That said, the plows have cleared a spot on the opposite side of the road (the Thunder Knob trailhead) so there is plenty of room for parking.
Thunder Creek: There is a well-packed snowshoe trench through the Colonial Creek parking lot and campground to the Thunder Creek trailhead. Thunder Creek trail itself is also pretty packed down up until the bridge across Thunder Creek. In the morning I was able to get all the way to the bridge in just trail runners. The bridge across Thunder Creek is easily passable, but has a bunch of snow on it. Just don’t lose your balance. 🙂 On the other side of the bridge, things are much less-travelled. Once you cross Thunder Creek, route-finding/nav skills are required.
4th of July Pass: The climb up 4th of July Pass gets down to business pretty quickly, which was a good way to warm up on a chilly morning. I put snowshoes on at the base of the climb, only to take them off at 1800 ft! There is a cliffy area that clearly gets a good amount of sun, so I was walking on…. BARE TRAIL for approx 1/4 mile! Very exciting. But by approx 2000 ft the trail was snow-covered again. At approx 3000 ft the route starts to traverse some steep slopes, at which point I put on microspikes instead (see Gear for more details).
After a long slog uphill in the snow, I finally reached a clearing in the trees – 4th of July Pass. I even spotted and excavated the wooden sign marking the pass, which was buried under snow. The views from the pass weren’t quite as astounding as WTA claims, but it was still so lovely just to be out there – there wasn’t precip falling on my head, I could see big wild mountains, and life was good. I am very grateful to live in a place that has so many lowland options during the winter… But nothing is quite like the North Cascades.
Gear: Trekking poles, snowshoes, microspikes. The trekking poles were handy from start to finish. In the morning, I didn’t need any traction or flotation until around 3000 ft on the 4th of July Pass trail, at which point I put on microspikes. The spikes were useful not so much because the trail climbs steeply, but more because the route traverses multiple steep slopes. The traction helped ensure I didn’t go side slipping down the hill. The slopes were all heavily treed, so you can’t really take a long fall, but the landing probably wouldn’t be comfortable.
I put the snowshoes on as I descended. The warm temps had softened things up considerably and without the snowshoes I was doing a lot of postholing. I wore them all the way back to the car (except for the section of bare trail at 1800 ft).