|Larches at Easy Pass|
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required
One of the words that make up the name "Easy Pass" is incorrect and it's not "Pass." Easy Pass is a fairly challenging but highly rewarding hike in Washington State's North Cascades that visits a high mountain saddle with views of glaciated peaks, a secluded alpine basin, and a chance to see golden larches in the fall. Although the trail starts in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, it offers access to North Cascades National Park at the pass. Hikers who don't mind tackling a rocky trail with a heavy amount of elevation gain can peer into the remote and unspoiled Fisher Creek Basin, which is ringed by craggy peaks, and Mount Logan, one of the tallest peaks in North Cascades National Park.
Looking for more larch hikes? Consider Lake Ingalls, the Enchantments, Grasshopper Pass, or Maple Pass.
I've hiked this trail twice: on my first visit, low clouds prevented me from appreciating any of the views at the pass but gave me more time to appreciate the many wildflowers from columbine to heather to paintbrush that bloom along the way to Easy Pass in early August. My second visit was on an early October day to see fall colors and perhaps catch the larches at the pass at their peak golden color. Hiking on a day when the forecast called for mostly cloudy skies, I hoped that I wouldn't again get socked in by the clouds once I reached the pass. I accessed this hike from Mazama, which is east of the trailhead on Highway 20; hikers coming from Seattle can reach the trailhead by following I-5 north to Burlington and then taking Highway 20 east from Burlington through North Cascades National Park to the trailhead, which comes after Highway 20 has exited the park proper. There was a small parking lot for about 10 cars; there were plenty of spots left when I arrived early on a Sunday morning. By the time I returned, a few cars were parallel parked on the edge of the lot but it seemed hikers who intended to come here had all found parking; the foot traffic on this trail is much less compared to the nearby Maple Pass Loop.
I set out from the trailhead down a flat path through the forest and quickly reached a well-built log bridge over Granite Creek. Granite Creek is the main drainage for the valley north of Rainy Pass; the bridge across the creek is one of the nicer bridges that I've seen that have a bridge span built out of a single log.
|Log bridge over Granite Creek|
When I started paying attention to life at the ground level, I realized that mushrooms were sprouting up all along the trail. While I was unable to identify any, having almost zero knowledge of wild mushrooms, I admired the seemingly diverse set of shapes and colors of the fungi that I spotted.
|Mushrooms in the forest|
The trail tread changed from dirt to rocks after the Easy Pass Creek crossing. In two spots right after the crossing, small streams had repossessed the trail as a streambed. At this point, the vegetation also changed: the forest ended and was replaced with an overgrown meadow. Upon seeing a thick layer of frost coating all the vegetation at this clearing, I realized that it must have been quite cold at upper elevations in the Cascades the previous night.
|Morning frost along the trail to Easy Pass|
At the end of the talus slope, the trail reached the base of a steep slope separating the upper and lower basins of Easy Pass Creek's valley. A sustained uphill climb through a set of switchbacks brought me up to the upper basin. Along the way, the fall colors became increasingly impressive: berry bushes had turned crimson and mountain ash had turned shades of orange and yellow, putting on an impressive display.
|Fall colors beneath Ragged Ridge|
|Columbine along the trail in August|
|Ripe huckleberries along the trail|
|Meadow in the basin before the final ascent to the pass|
|Golden Horn and Hardy with fall color on the trail|
|Switchback on the approach to the pass|
|Fisher Creek Basin with Fisher Peak and Black Peak rising behind|
|Western anemone (pasqueflower) and heather along the trail in August|
To see more of these odd deciduous conifers, I wandered around the larches on a social trail leading southeast from the pass. This path climbed uphill for a bit to even more golden larches and a clearer view of the impressive sharp summit of Mesahchie Peak, the high point of Ragged Ridge, and of Klawatti Peak far away. The large Klawatti Glacier seemed to cling precariously to the mountain wall between the arete of Klawatti Peak and the fin of Austera Peak; it's actually one of the larger glaciers in both Washington State and the contiguous United States.
|Mesahchie Peak viewed from above Easy Pass|
|Klawatti Peak and Austera Peak viewed from above Easy Pass|