Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ice Lakes, North Cascades

Ice Lakes are a pair of beautiful alpine lakes sitting in a high cirque above the Entiat Valley. Lower Ice Lake sits at 6,822', while Upper Ice Lake rests at 7,200'.

The hike up the Entiat is long - 28 miles round trip to the lower lake, with not much in the way of views until near the end.

I elected instead to hop the ridge from the Chiwawa River side, hiking up Phelps Creek and Leroy Creek, following the Carne Mountain high route south and climbing over the south shoulder of Mt. Maude.

The approach from Phelps Creek involves ~4,100' of elevation gain, and involves off-trail travel and route finding skills. Throw an overnight pack on and this makes for a pretty good day! I actually lost the trail at a stream crossing below a waterfall in Leroy Creek Basin, and climbed an unecessary 800' or so into the upper basin, only to have to descend again via a loose boulder field to cross the deep "cleft" feature coming down Mt. Maude. From here cairns mark the way back to trail, which leads up to the notch in the ridge at 6,800'. From the notch, a steep climber's path climbs to the pass south of Mt. Maude at 7,600', where one can look down on Upper Ice Lake and make the easy descent down to camp.

There was only one other party camped at the upper lake when I arrived, and though I saw a few people during my 3-day stay, the numerous camps remained mostly unoccupied. I saw no one at the lower lake until the last evening, when two tired hikers arrived at sunset from the Entiat.

I bivied on a rock rib above the upper lake and spent my first evening exploring the area. Specifically, I tried to locate the trail down to the lower lake that is depicted on the Green Trails map. I was unsuccessful.

The next morning I awoke early and was surpised to see the upper lake holding a reflection. Upper Ice Lake is rather large - probably three times the size of lower lake. Large lakes in general can be very challenging for reflection shots as their waters aren't typically still.

The stillness in the water didn't last for long, and soon I descended the outlet stream to Lower Ice Lake. Along the way I found a tarn holding a nice reflection (seen above).

Past the tarn, I followed the trail down to Lower Ice Lake, in view almost the entire way. The trail follows the south side of the lake past numerous scenic campsites, again all empty during my visits. At the far east end, I found a nice reflection shot (right) and found reason to relax and watch the morning sun shadows slowly begin to disappear.

I continoued around the northeast side of the lake and located the trail that climbs up to Upper Ice Lake. It was quite easy to follow actually, and was much more pleasant than following the outlet stream. It pretty much disappears up high, so it is no wonder I wasn't able to locate while exploring my first night near camp.

I returned to the lower lake once again in the afternoon for more photography, again finding myself alone. I photographed until about 6:00 when the shadows took over the basin, then returned back to camp for the evening.

That night I fell asleep once again under stars, but was awakened at 1:30 am with rain drops on my face (I often sleep with my bivy open). By the time I opened my sleeping bag and sat up, the rain drops had turned to snow fluries. Within moments, they were gone. I experienced a couple more quick showers throughout the night, but they never lasted more than a couple of minutes. Still, they signaled a change in the weather for the next day - my exit day.

Some photography notes on the area:

Lower Ice Lake does not receive first or last light. It is best photographed mid-morning and mid-afternoon. It is the more scenic of the lakes with many more larches, an isthmus and an island.

Upper Ice Lake is excellent for first light. The water held a reflection my first morning, but did not on the second. The larches are much fewer at the upper lake.


  1. We saw a goat one time - with a transmitter collar - it came right into our campsite, seemed to have no fear of us, in fact it came right at me and I had to get out of the way...

    Like you we took the same straight-up route, Phelps and Leroy creek. Some killer hiking, it's best to be in good shape - but it saves about 20 miles coming up the valley. Funnest hike ever!

  2. Thanks for posting Phil! I didn't realize any goats in the Cascades were carrying transmitters, but I guess it shouldn't be surprising. I have seen several of them in the Olympics, however.