The Copper Ridge loop trail is an American classic, tucked right beneath the Canadian border, in the North Cascades National Park. While I’ve been on parts of this trail a few times before, I never have tried the full loop, until this week. Far too long on the bucket list, but no more.
My friends Mike and Rich and I ran the loop in a day, starting at about 7:20 AM and finishing sometime before 9 PM. This made for a long day, indeed, after meeting in Mount Vernon just after 5 AM. The loop is about 35 miles, give or take, and I understand our technology registered 8800 feet of climbing. We took our time, in part to enjoy various stops, in part because the trail is sometimes slow, and in part because they waited for slow old me. Thank you guys!
The day started overcast, with even a bit of a mist. A clear sky is highly desirable here, to maximize views from the 6000 foot ridge. We climbed through the mist, eventually reaching the ridge, and then the Copper Ridge Lookout, which is perched at the highest point for miles, amongst a sea of mountain ridges. We spent a bit of time at the lookout, talking with the Park Ranger and checking out weather meters, the lightning stool and the library. I’m always a little curious as to the book choices in lookouts. Are people reading classics or paperbacks?
Wildflowers are still in bloom on the ridge, which doesn’t open until late in the season. Yet, there are also subtle signs of fall. Ranger Abby said that this was the first time in three years the ridge trail was completely snow-free, or at least so early, or something like that. Message: we picked a good weekend.
The trail past the Lookout took us by a beautiful teardrop called Copper Lake. The lake is cobalt blue—my camera doesn’t do it justice, with a little peninsula on the far side. Worthy to camp at some time. While the trail had a number of backpackers and hikers up to the Lookout, we really didn’t see anyone on the middle 15 miles of the loop.
After Copper Lake, the Ridge meanders through huge white boulder gardens, at a gentle runnable grade, with views of Whatcom Pass, Canada, and a host of other mountains. Eventually, just before descending, we caught a beautiful peek-a-boo view of Chilliwack Lake (which at first we thought might be Ross), up in Canada. Then, it was downhill for four or five miles, into the valley. Hard on my quads. I think I heard a bear on the way down, but didn’t register this until a few switchbacks down.
Highlight of the day for me: fording the Chilliwack River and Indian Creek, at the bottom of the ridge. Sockeye salmon are now running in these crystal clear waters. The sockeye are the salmon that turn that red and green when they go to spawn and die. I can’t think of anything quite like these in nature, and it was just amazing after 18 miles of hiking and running, just five miles south of Canada, and pretty far from anyone, to encounter this bit of nature at work.
The Chilliwack Valley trail is relatively flat, with perhaps a slight grade uphill. The trail is full of ancient, old growth cedars. Additional highlights include as a number of glacier clear creeks, one very jangly suspension bridge, and then the cable car river crossing. The cable car holds up to five hundred pounds, rides about 30 feet above the river, and is operated by pulling yourself across the river. It's pretty cool, so far in the middle of nowhere.
The final eight or so miles were hard for me, and I walked a lot. Basically, you climb out of the valley, and then trot down Hannegan Pass. If I was in better shape, it would’ve went easier, but it’s August, the mountains are open to play, and I was willing to push myself, and so I expected this. Soon enough, we were all back at the car, and we never needed to use our headlamps.