Canyon Prospects in the North Cascades

Agnes Gorge

Located in the heart of the North Cascades, the gorge of Agnes Creek presents yet another untouched canyoneering challenge. The glacial fed creek is a tributary of the Stehekin River. The narrow deep gorge is about two miles long and is easy to get to, despite its remote location. From the town of Chelan, take the “ Lady of the Lake” up Lake Chelan to Stehekin. At Stehekin take the park service shuttle bus up the one and only road for ten miles. Shortly after the road crosses the Stehekin River at High Bridge, hike the Pacific Crest Trail westward. It soon crosses Agnes Creek. The trail parallels the gorge on its south side, but it is not close enough to provide views. Agnes Creek is glacial fed, so an early start is advisable since afternoon water flows tend to be higher. The Mt Lyall and McGregor Mtn. Quadrangles cover the area.


Gorge Creek and Thornton Creek

Both of these creeks have there own pages on this website. In both creeks, only the lowest portion closest to the road has been done. There are many more waterfalls and much room for exploration upstream.


Hells Gorge

This is a tributary of the Chilliwack River high up in the North Cascades National Park. Very little is known about it. The watershed is small. The elevation is between 4000 and 5000 feet so it may not be snow free until August. Access is very good if a bit long. From Bellingham, drive east on state route 542 for 46 miles to forest service road 32 (Hannegan Pass Road). Turn left and go 5 miles to the trailhead at the end of the road. Hike the trail four miles to Hannegan Pass, and continue another mile to Boundary Camp, which is located at the national park boundary. The trail splits. Take the left (upper) trail. This is known as the Copper Ridge Trail. This skirts the upper most edge of Hells Gorge in about a mile and a half. After descending the gorge you will come to the Chilliwack River trail. Turn right (west), and head uphill less than a mile to return to Boundary Camp. The total round trip from the road is about thirteen miles, twelve of which are on trails. Since we don’t know how long a descent of Hells Gorge will take, it might be a good idea to take camping gear and plan on an overnight trip. A permit is required for camping. The USGS Mount Sefrit Quad covers the area.


Canyon Creek (Whatcom County)

This creek has a page on this website. There is a steep tributary with waterfalls on the north side. Canyon Creek is about six miles east of Ross Lake. To get there take highway 20 to the Granite Creek trailhead about 18 miles northwest of Rainy Pass. From the parking area, take the trail upstream about 200 yards and cross Granite Creek on a foot bridge. The trail turns left. In a short distance you will see Canyon Creek Trail No. 754 taking off to the right. Bear left at the junction, and take the trail which very shortly crosses Canyon Creek. Once across the creek bear right, and go uphill for about a mile to an elevation of about 3200 feet. Leave the trail, and contour slopes east about a third of a mile to the second drainage. This is the desired tributary. The USGS Crater Mountain quad covers the area.


Ladder Creek

Ladder Creek has a very exciting looking slot canyon. While not deep, it is very narrow, as little as three feet in places. There are six or seven waterfalls ranging in height from 8 to over 50 feet. There is a lot of water and strong current in the creek. If you rappel a water fall you could easily be swept over the next one before setting up your next rappel. In addition there are few if any natural anchoring possibilities in the slot. It might be possible to preset a series of ropes from trees on the canyon rim and remove them at the completion of the descent. This canyon will be a challenging undertaking requiring considerable planning and skill.

To get there, go to Newhalem. Walk the suspension bridge across the river next to the power house. The lowest waterfall is accessed by a very short trail. Continue up and left on the trail. You soon reach a three foot high fence with a locked gate and a sign that says “danger”. On the other side of the fence a faint trail switchbacks up the hill, eventually leading to an old wooden bridge spanning the slot. Easy open slopes lead upward to a dilapidated old building on the right side of the slot (looking up hill). The apparent top of the slot is a short distance above this building. The remains of an old lighting system used to illuminate the falls are found above and next to the canyon. This probably accounts for the fence and the warning sign. Don’t touch any wires. They should be easy to avoid and are not in the slot. This description may sound complicated, but it is actually quite easy and obvious once you are there.

The following photos of Ladder Creek are by Robert Cobb. More photos of canyons in the Northwest, Utah, Colorado, and Australia can be seen at his website Image Events at http://imageevent.com/robertcobb.

 

On the south side of Gorge Lake there are several steep canyons on the unnamed mountain. They appear to be dry. Access is a problem. You would have to cross Gorge Lake in a canoe or other small boat and then bushwack up steep slopes to get to the tops of the canyons.


Penders Canyon

Penders Canyon drops over 3000 feet on the south side of 5770 foot Spring Mountain, which is southeast of Darrington in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The water shed is very small, so it should be entirely dry after the snow melts. Little is known about the canyon. The upper part appears to be very steep. This may prove to be a major dry canyon, a real rarity in western Washington.

Penders Canyon can be descended from the ridge west of the summit of Spring Mountain. Directions to the summit are taken from Fred Becky’s Cascade Alpine Guide (Stevens Pass to Rainy Pass) page 120. From Darrington, take Forest Service Road 20 south to road 49 which is in the valley of the North Fork Sauk River. Turn left on road 49 and drive 3.2 miles to the Lost Creek Ridge Trail No.646. About a mile before the trail head you will pass a sign indicating the bottom of Penders Canyon. Hike three miles to Bingley Gap, elevation 4400 feet “From the gap follow the crest WSW (avoid a brushy rock point 0.15 miles west of the gap by a south side dirt slope traverse). Reach the broad heather slopes of the upper ridge, which curve NW to the small summit (four hours from the road).” Alternatively, one could use Penders Canyon as a climbing route and descend the above route from the summit.

Maps: USGS Sloan Peak Quad, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Darrington Ranger District map

 

Box Canyon

Box Canyon of the South Fork Cascade River is in the North Cascades National Park. From Marblemount, take the Cascade River Road for 16.2 miles to the South Fork Road. Go 1.7 miles to its end. Hike the trail four miles to the Box Canyon. The USGS Cascade Pass quad covers the area.

Another Box Canyon is found north of Grouse Mountain west of Lake Chelan. It is labeled on the USGS Navare Peak quad. On the map this canyon appears to be very deep and steep. A road goes to the summit of Grouse Mountain which should provide access to the top of the canyon. The bottom can be accessed by hiking three miles from Twenty Five Mile State Park. The park is reached from Wenatchee by going north on Hwy. 97A. Drive nine miles north of Entiat, and turn left onto Hwy. 971. Continue seven miles until the highway ends at south Lakeshore Rd. Turn left, and travel the lakeshore for nine miles. Turn right into the park entrance. To reach the park from Chelan, travel south on Hwy 97A. Three miles south of Chelan, turn right onto south Lakeshore Rd. Drive 15 miles, and turn right into the park.


Dickerman Canyon

This steep canyon is on the north side of Mount Dickerman. The upper part of the canyon is reached from the 5732 foot summit. Mount Dickerman is easily climbed on a 4 mile trail which leaves the Mountain Loop Highway 16.4 miles east of the Verlot Ranger Station. The bottom of the canyon is reached by hiking the Perry Creek trail for two miles. The trail is reached by driving the Mountain Loop Highway 15.1 miles east from the Verlot Ranger Station to the Perry Creek Road 4063. Turn left and drive one mile to the trail head. The USGS Bedal quad covers the area.

 

Wells Creek

Wells Creek is located near Mount Baker. Access is good. The upper end starts at Mazama Lake which is reached by a trail from Artist Point. A half mile downstream from the lake there is a series of seven waterfalls totaling between 400 and 500 feet in height. These waterfalls have been collectively labeled Mazama Falls. The potential appears to be outstanding. Two miles down stream there is a 100 foot waterfall in a scenic gorge a short distance above where the creek goes under Forest Service Road 33. There are several cascades in between this falls and Mazama Falls. If you are doing the entire creek, a car shuttle is recommended. The canyon downstream of road 33 has more falls. The road parallels the lower part of the creek.

Maps: Mount Baker Snolqualmie National Forest Mount Baker Ranger District. USGS quads: Shuksan Arm and Mount Baker.

The following photos were provided by Aaron Young. More fine photos of northwest waterfalls can be seen at his website at http://aaronswaterfallworld.com

 

Sulphide Creek

This spectacular canyon drains Sulphide Lake and Sulphide Glacier on the south side of Mount Shuksan There is no record of descent or exploration. The creek drops 2000 feet in a half mile. From the outlet of Sulphide Lake the creek flows through a narrow gorge followed by a series of very high waterfalls. The only good photos available were taken from an airplane. It looks very challenging, far harder than any canyon yet done in Washington. Since Sulphide Creek drains a glacier, water levels are likely to be lowest during cool weather when glacial melt is less. The photos show what appears to be a short dry tributary canyon immediately east. Access to Sulphide Lake uses the approach for the Mount Shuksan climbing route on the Sulphide Glacier. There is no need to go on the glacier which is well above the lake. It is possible that snow fields may be encountered on the approach. An ice ax might come in handy. The photos below were taken in late June when there was still considerable snow.

To get there take I-5 to Burlington. Drive state route 20 east. Turn left onto the Baker Lake- Grandy Lake Road and go 23 miles to just opposite Shannon Creek Campground. Turn left on forest service road 1152 and drive 4.5 miles to the end of the road at 2500 feet. Turn right on road 014 and drive another 1.4 miles to the end of the road. Hike the trail on an old logging road bed to where it ends in an old clearcut. Hike the trail steeply up onto Shannon Ridge above (about 4600 feet) in old growth forest. Follow this trail in forest on the ridge. Hike the ridge to its end below a pass (about 5400 feet) that leads to the southern flank on Mount Shuksan. From the pass make a descending traverse northeast about 1.3 miles to Sulphide Lake at 3800 feet.

Maps: USGS quad Mount Shuksan. The Mount Baker- Snolqualmie National Forest Mount Baker Ranger District map is very useful for navigating the roads in the area.

The following aerial photos of Sulphide Creek are by John Scurlock. Hundreds of outstanding aerial photos of northwest mountains can be seen on his website at www.pbase.com/nolock