Washington has certainly ignited my passion for hiking.
While I’ve always enjoyed an outdoors lifestyle, most of my weekends in Newcastle were spent bikini clad and beachside rather than tackling switchbacks in my rainproof jacket and hiking boots.
My new ‘home state’ is not short on mountains, and over the past 14 months of living in the USA, I’ve hiked almost weekly to climb as many peaks as I can.
Last October, myself and six friends set off for a camping and hiking adventure in the North Cascades National Park. While drinking red wine by the campfire was definitely on the agenda, our other main aim was to hike the Thornton Lakes Trail to Trappers Peak.
It was the longest, most challenging hike I’d completed until quite recently. The trail’s length and steep gradient means it receives far less foot traffic than others in the national park, and affords some of the greatest views. It also became one of my favourite hikes in the state.
The unsealed and rocky access road to the trail head gives a clear indication of what’s to come: a lot of hill climbing. While the trail is just a little over 10 miles round trip, it gains a thigh-aching 2900 ft to reach its highest point, Trappers Peak (which stands at 5000 ft).
The trail began quite calmly, with a well-worn trail and a few smaller creek crossings to manoeuvre. We passed some waterfalls and soon the trail became increasingly steeper, with plenty of switchbacks. I’m not going to lie, it quickly becomes grueling work in dense forest.
Four miles in we were met with an intersection and a tough choice: one way lead downhill to the lowest of the Thornton Lakes, the other would take us further up the mountain to Trappers Peak. Keen for some panoramic views, we headed uphill.
A short while later, I caught a glimpse of why this place is so special.
The group unanimously decided this patch of grass would be our lunch stop. You can see why!
After refueling, it was time for the most grueling part of the day – the final ascent to Trappers Peak.
Luckily, brief views of Thornton Lakes gave me the encouragement I needed.
The trail guide likes to call it ‘a scramble in places’, but this relatively novice hiker prefers a full on rock climb up the side of a cliff.
I was certainly out of my comfort zone, but when in the company of more experienced and properly fit hikers, I was too embarrassed to chicken out. The exhaustion was well worth it when I reached Trappers Peak.
It’s rugged, remote and spectacular.
Vistas stretch across the North Cascades National Park, and its iconic craggy granite mountains dotted with glaciers.
After a short rest to take it all in, it came time to head the five miles back down the mountain and return to camp.
What better way is there to fall asleep in your tent than totally exhausted and inspired?
Field Notes: we camped two nights at nearby Goodell Creek Campground, which was free and first-come-first-served as October is off season. It’s also possible to camp in the backcountry here but you’ll need to get a permit from the ranger station in Marblemount beforehand.
Have you hiked the Thornton Lakes Trail? What other hikes in Washington would you recommend?
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