Jogging with a dog. Bugaboo has been the best dog I’ve ran/hiked with thus far and I couldn’t believe I got to go on a larch march with him! I’ve clearly been a larch madness craze lately, from the North Cascades to the Chiwaukum, it’s been a non-stop search for those beautiful yellow trees and fall alpine colors. No doubt Washington has some of the most wonderful displays of autumn colors. And the larch is the most highly sought after plant. Never mind the red vine maples or golden grasslands. Everyone still flocks to the same 5 trails and to be honest, I’m tired of seeing the same hikes! The Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness has been on my radar for a while now, but it takes a 4 hour drive each way, making it less desirable than many other hikes.
Originally, I had planned to do a nice solo trail run in the Chiwaukum (then later changed to a backpacking trip). But then my friends asked me to join them on a more leisurely hike in the Sawtooths and I couldn’t resist. I’d make a weekend out of it so I’d only drive about 4 hours each day instead of 8 hours in one day. The first day, Colie and I stopped at what seemed to be the only fall hike anyone knew – Maple-Heather Pass. Way too many people! But we had already arranged to meet up with other friends and it was too last minute to change that first hike.
Let me let you in on a little known secret: Just across the street from Rainy Pass is Cutthroat Pass and it has far more larches to wander through than Rainy Pass/Heather-Maple Loop and 99% of the time has fewer people on the trail. Similar elevation gain but overall, a fairly moderate hike. But if you’re looking for even more larches, read on or check out my blog on 20+ crowd-free larch hikes in Washington!
For Courtney, I did zero planning of this hike and just showed up to meet everyone. Kyle had planned out this thru hike with a car shuttle starting from the Buttermilk Trailhead and ending at the Eagle/Oval Trailhead. The long hike in went by far faster than I expected because, before I knew it, we were already at the saddle between Courtney and Star Peaks. These have been on my list of scrambles and it’s kind of cool that they make the top 100 highest Washington peaks list despite being fairly easy to summit.
At the saddle, we saw a group of ladies coming up the other side after their overnight trip. And looking down at Star Lake, it looked pretty awesome. Steve was adamant about wandering through the meadows and somehow we all were convinced too and I’m glad we made this little detour! I decided against bringing more weight, so I armed myself with only the 50mm lens and prepared myself for many panoramas.
After the chill break, we headed back up to the saddle and started scrambling to Courtney. Well, I’d hardly call it a scramble except the last 100 ft or so. And this was when poor Bugaboo had to be carried. I’m not a dog owner myself, but apparently certain rocks and features can be damaging to a dog’s pads. So in caution, Steve carried Bug through all the boulders. Both dog and human were miserable throughout. At the top of Courtney, we took a short break for pictures and 360 views before it got too windy and we decided to catch back up with Steve who was getting a head start to check out the descent.
Scrambling down the west side of Courtney was somehow more boulder filled than the easterly sandy side. Quick and nimble we all got back down to the safety of the sandy slopes again much to the duo’s delight. We were a mere 50 feet away from safe haven when Bugaboo was so over it that he had to hide under a tree, unwilling to be carried further. I’m still in awe of the whole situation. The control needed to carry a 50+ pound wiggly weight and the calmness to be relocated against your knowledge.
Down at this saddle between Courtney and Gray, we took a really, really long break to soak in the sun and the views. And also for all of us who wanted to get that perfect golden glow against the dark gray rock. It was worth it!
On this side, we saw more people on the trails but we never ran into them. It’s amazing how many social trail are out here that aren’t necessarily on any official map. But the trails are well defined! Just one of many things I love about the Sawtooths. Eventually, we made our way downhill to our last stop at Oval Lake. Technically, there’s 3 of them but 2 seemed a bit more off route and we were plenty full of the day already. For most of the downhill, we took an easy jog-brisk walk which made the distance pass so much quicker.
Larches everywhere we went! We mostly stayed on trail and passed 2 little ridges to get to the lake. We stopped just long enough for a few pictures before deciding it was time to leave. After about 7 miles of downhill easy trail running, we found ourselves back at the cars enjoying a pumpkin cake!