Off trail in pika country

  • Day 9, July 23: 11.9 miles, total miles: 295.5 – hiking, off trail travel
  • Parks, Trails & Places of Significance: Davis Peak Trail 1324, Davis Peak, Terence and Michael lakes, Lake Michael Trail 1336, Trail Creek Trail 1322, Cathedral Rock Trail 1345, Pacific Crest Trail Trail 2000

It’s a treat to start a Monday walking up a mountain abundant with wildflowers. Our day began with a brief climb amid coiled lousewort, larkspur, lupine, Thompson paintbrush, and purple penstemons. The flowers radiant in the morning sunshine. There was much ohhing and awing and appreciation of petaled friends.

Eventually we got to our breakfast spot at the base of Davis Peak’s middle summit. Lovely views east toward Ellensburg and south to Adams and Rainier. We also had a view of what the rest of our day would entail: descending down to Terrence and Michael Lakes followed by rolling forest over to the base of Mt. Daniel. For fun, rather than take trails – we’d opted for a cross country route down to lakes we’d never been to and a network of trails that eventually connect to a very popular area (Mt. Daniel, Cathedral Rock, and the PCT).

Gabriel and I put on our helmets and descended down a gully in the cliff band to the talus-covered slopes on Davis Peak’s northwest side. Back in late June when we’d scrambled Davis and Goat, we’d still had good snow cover that made for easy walking around here. Now it was a rock hop and talus plunge stepping with some areas more stable than others. We carefully picked our way down to a meadow, but still had several hundred feet of descending to reach Lake Terence.

This was where the mosquitoes came out in earnest. We donned our bug nets and wielded our duff axes. A new bushwhacking combo for us! We picked our way down the steep hillside  of mountain hemlock and down logs. Avoiding a few short cliff bands, eventually we got down to the beautiful blue waters of Lake Terence.

Along the lake shore pikas “meeped” at us amid the talus slopes and Cascade frogs splashed in the water just ahead of us. Two beloved creatures of the Cascades! Also two creatures of concern as both of them are susceptible to changes in climate. Cascade frogs are dependent on ponds and lakes fed by snowmelt – and their young may not develop fast enough as alpine ponds are  have less water and are evaporating faster. Pikas don’t do well when it’s too hot for them either, they depend on thick snowpack to insulate their burrows, and snowmelt supplies water for their forage plants.

Today I’m grateful to be walking a lake shore bounded by favorite animals. I’m also reminded that for all my love of being out in these beautiful places that it’s important to work and contribute to efforts that help protect what is so loved. It can’t just be fun marmot adventures all the time. I wish more people were considerate of other species (animal peoples, plant peoples, rock peoples, etc.) and took a long view about what we do with limited resources. But for now it’s time to appreciate the lake. Treat some water and find the trail down to Lake Michael.

After finding the fisherman’s trail that connects the lakes – the rest of the day was easy on trail walking. We weaved in and out of pocket meadows, through pine and Douglas-fir forests, through spruce and fir forests, and through mountain hemlock, Pacific silver fir, and Alaska yellow cedar forests. A prelude of things to come on the west side of the Cascades. The unknown route of the morning that had looked somewhat vast and potentially tedious when we stood near the summit of Davis Peak looking northwest to Mount Daniel was actually a stroll (after the talus and steep hillside above Lake Terrence).

We didn’t see anyone until we got on to the Cathedral Rock Trail (~6 people) and then it started to feel fairly crowded on the Pacific Crest Trail (~20 people). This area is definitely one of the hotspots on the heat map of Washington recreation.

One highlight near Cathedral Pass, we encountered Arrow whom I’d met in February at the ALDHA West winter ruck at Cascade Locks. He was hiking southbound on the PCT! For all the thousands of people hiking long-distance trails these days, the trail community can still feel like a small world.

Originally we’d planned to camp at Peggy’s Pond and scramble Mount Daniel (the high point of the Mountains to Sound Greenway). We started over to the pond on the scramble traverse and my safety marmot brain kicked in. I wasn’t thrilled with us doing this as a team of two (Mukmuk isn’t so useful when it comes to safety considerations). We’d both been up Daniel and nearby peaks before – it’s a fun scramble! But in recent years the accidents of friends in places I known on routes I’ve climbed – has significantly influenced the level of risk I’m willing to take. And I’m in a dialed down phase. I can too clearly picture that if an accident happened – what it would mean for the other person to deal with helping the injured person. And while probabilities are low – if you’re out in the mountains a lot – you are exposing yourself to risks more often. Gabriel and I had a quick huddle. I felt bad for wanting to bail, but he understood my reasons and saw no point in going up a mountain if we weren’t going to enjoy it. Thank you Gabriel! We’ll be back (again) beloved Daniel.

We retraced our steps back to the PCT. Went back over to the eastside of Cathedral Pass and found a stealth camp spot in a grove of mountain hemlock. Tent up to keep the mosquitoes out. We had dinner on the nearby ridge looking out to Hyas Lake, Trico, the Granite Peaks, and the Paddy Go Easy peaks. The peaks glowed pink with sunset colors. We talked of trips taken up these mountains, places still to explore, and where we want to go again. We plan to be in the mountains for a long time to come.


Thompson’s paintbrush (Castilleja thompsonii) – on the slopes of Davis Peak. A sign we’re still on the east side of the Cascade Crest.


Whitebark pine – the needles come in bundles of five and look like they are glued together (compared to western white pine).


Breakfast time view of Lake Terence and the terrain out to Mt. Daniel and the Cascade Crest. Photo by Gabriel Deal


Gabriel descends down some of the nicer talus.


Helmets and bug nest for bushwhacking – a first! Photo by Gabriel Deal


Steep duff descent. Photo by Gabriel Deal


Walking along the lake shore.


Fierce lagomorph on a rock! Pikas were all over the talus slopes.


Cascade frog.


Nice trail through lush meadow and rosey spirea.


Noble fir cone.


Approaching Cathedral Rock on the PCT.