Ask Me: Where Should We Backpack Around Sahale Glacier Camp in the North Cascades?
We are thinking about a trip to North Cascades National Park in late August or early September. We will have about four days for a backcountry trip. I would love to camp one night at Sahale Glacier Camp. It looks more like an out-and-back trip. Any suggestions on how to incorporate Sahale into a three- to four-night trip in that area? Just my wife and me, 10 miles a day max, preferably seven to eight miles a day. Thanks for the help. You responded to an email I wrote last year on Grand Teton National Park. We did the Teton Crest Trail—it was great. Thanks for the advice on that trip.
You’re right that it’s hard to plan a logistically convenient multi-day hike that incorporates Sahale Glacier Camp (see lead photo at the top of this story and the lead photo in my story “Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites“). One option that I’ve wanted to backpack, but would require a vehicle shuttle, is to hike a horseshoe-shaped route from Cascade Pass Trailhead to Thunder Creek Trailhead via Park Creek Pass (or hike it in the other direction). The total distance, if you include the side trip to Sahale Glacier Camp, is about 44 miles, with some pretty big hills in there. It may be longer than you want, unless you can add a fifth day to your itinerary or believe yourselves capable of hiking somewhat longer days than you planned. Keep in mind that the North Cascades are notoriously rugged, so it’s not easy hiking, although the trails are generally good and part of the route I described follows an old, dirt road.
Short of a trip that ambitious, I suggest you try to grab a permit for two nights at Sahale Glacier Camp, or if that’s not available, then one night there and one down at Pelton Basin Camp (I have camped there) in the Stehekin Valley east of Cascade Pass. Given the erratic nature of the weather, two nights at Sahale is not a bad idea—you could have whiteout conditions half the time you’re up there, and you don’t want to miss that view. When the weather is bad up there, you could dayhike from your camp (leave most of your gear) down to Doubtful Lake, and possibly drop below the cloud ceiling. From Pelton Basin Camp, you can dayhike up into Horseshoe Basin. That entire area is quite spectacular; you won’t get bored spending extra time there. That also gives you more opportunities for clear skies at Cascade Pass, a gorgeous spot.
If you camp two nights in that area and then hike back out to your car, you’ll have an extra day for a dayhike, and there are many good ones. My first pick (after you’ve already done Cascade Pass) would be the 7.2-mile Heather Pass-Maple Pass loop, which I describe in this story.
Good luck. Let me know if you have other questions and what you decide to do. By the way, bring a sturdy tent for Sahale Glacier Camp. Also, I like to wear pants (rather than shorts) and long sleeves in the North Cascades because of the mosquitoes and deer flies, which usually last until late August, or when nights drop to around freezing, so you may arrive late enough to miss them.
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