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A Walk Through the Chiwaukums

A Walk Through the Chiwaukums
 by Bill Wicheta


What's the best way to do a 19-mile, one-way day hike that maximizes views and territory covered? You grab a handful of like-minded nature-loving masochists, divide into two groups, have one group drive to one trailhead, take the other group to the other trailhead, hike towards each other, and switch keys when Stanley and Livingstone converge. On arrival at the opposite trailhead and the  ‘cached auto,’ you drive to a designated meeting place (such as Gustav's in Leavenworth) for regrouping, reclaiming the right car, retelling stories of the day, and restocking with food and brew!

With the weather still holding for late October, this is just what Tom Janisch, Mark Shipman, Bill Dobbins, Doug Parker, Mark and Margareta Dilly, Dave Allyn, Dave Jaecks and I did.   The route picked was a Chiwaukum Traverse.  One group, led by Tom, drove up the Icicle River Road to the landslide closure point and went up the Chatter Creek Trail.   My group, led by Mark Shipman, went to the Whitepine Trailhead (el 2,800’) off of Highway 2. 

Our route went up White Pine Creek to the junction with the Wildhorse Trail, up that trail to Frosty Pass (el 5,700’), then onto the Icicle Ridge Trail to Lake Mary, Upper Florence Lake, and Ladies Pass (el 6,735’).  Then we went around Cape Horn, past Lake Edna, over the shoulder of Grindstone Mountain, and descended the Chatter Creek Trail.  Tom's group hiked the same route in reverse.  We met in between Ladies Pass and Frosty Pass for a brief visit.

 

The fall colors were spectacular, the views magnificent, and the enjoyment factor high!   Both groups started walking from opposite ends of this traverse at about 7:30 a.m., but due to the short October days, we used headlights during the last hour of the hike.  My group got to the car on the Icicle about 7:50 p.m. (about an hour later than Tom's group).   Thankfully, we still made it to Gustav's in Leavenworth for that all-important refueling before they closed!

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DETAILS, DETAILS

Access

  • To reach the Chatter Creek Trailhead, leave Leavenworth from the west end of town and follow the Icicle River Road roughly 15.25 miles to the parking lot for the trail.  
  • To reach the Whitepine Trailhead, drive 10.6 miles west of Leavenworth along Highway 2. At White Pine Road (milepost 78.4), turn left and follow the dirt road 4.1 miles to the trailhead.

Helpful guidebook:  Washington's Alpine Lakes, third edition, by Spring and Manning (Mountaineers Books). While this exact hike isn’t covered in the book, many portions of the route are. The best way to visualize the route is with our maps or the appropriate Green Trails map.

Maps: Map 1 (northern part of trip)Map 2 (southern part). Note: Both of these maps are formatted for 8.5"x 14" paper (legal sized). Print both in portrait mode. Use 'Print Preview' to properly size the map to the paper before printing.

Trail Details. Gleaning information from different hikes listed in the guidebook above, it is 9 miles from the White Pine trailhead up to Frosty Pass, 2.25 miles to Mary's Pass, and 1.25 to Ladies Pass, another 1 mile to Lake Edna, and 5.25 miles down Chatter Creek to the opposite trailhead. Total: 18.75 miles. 

Elevation Gain. Both trailheads start at an elevation of 2,800 feet and the high point of the day is along the shoulder of Cape Horn at an of about 6,800 feet. Given the other minor undulations in the route I would  estimate the total elevation gain is roughly 4,300 feet.  

Time. Our group required 12 hours to complete the traverse and I suspect this would be a fairly good average time. 

Direction of Travel. The trail going from the Chatter Creek Trailhead to Lake Edna is much steeper, rougher, and rockier than the from the White Pine Trailhead to Lake Edna.  It’s easier on the joints to climb up Chatter Creek and descend White Pine Creek than the other way around.

What to bring. Besides the normal day-hiking kit (10 essentials), I brought walking poles.  We had a few short, steep patches of snow to cross and I was glad to have them. Even though we intended to swap keys en route, each party also had a spare key to the vehicle awaiting us (in case we somehow missed each other). Headlamps were also important. Water was plentiful along the route so we didn’t need to carry a whole day’s supply.

Miscellaneous. Another advantage of having two groups is that hikers of similar fitness can be placed in the same group. 

Permits. Northwest Forest Passes are required at the trailheads.

Preferred Seasons: Latish summer, after the snow is mostly gone, and autumn when the colors are peaking (October). year to year, and on into the fall, as we did, with spectacular colors.  

Trip Reporter: Bill Wicheta, First reported in October 2008. Updated September 2015.

More Hikes: 
Maps and details of over 150 regional walks in our on-line hiking guidebook.

Leave It Better Than You Found It. This should be every outdoor user’s goal. Pick up trash left by others, pull some noxious weeds along your route, throw branches over unwanted spur trails, don’t ride or walk wet trails when you’re leaving ruts/footprints deeper than ¼ inch…

Disclaimer.
 Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change, and those contributing these reports are volunteers--they may make mistakes or may not know all the issues affecting a route.You are still completely responsible for your decisions, your actions, and your safety. If you can’t live with that, you are prohibited from using our information.