Skyline I and II to Mowich Camp
Parts of the Skyline trail can be done as a day hike, but its real beauty becomes apparent when the trail is done as a backpacking trip. Skyline I is a loop trail that starts at Strawberry Flats and ends at Spruce Bay (Lightning Lakes campground). Skyline II skirts Snow Camp and Lone Goat mountains before heading down into Mowich camp and continuing on down into the Skagit Valley. Our route was to start in Spruce Bay, go up and over Skyline I (counting down the km markers), pick up Skyline II and continue on to Mowich. On the return we took in Lone Goat and Snow Camp mountains before taking Skyline I back to Strawberry Flats. We organzied this hike through Wanderung and we amassed a group of seven: Andrew, Merewyn, Victor, Jennifer, Paul, Maria and me. We parked a car at each trailhead for convenience.
But this trip was all about getting close to Mt Hozameen. We were captivated by the sight of those jagged teeth-like peaks the first time we saw it back in September 2005. Recently we had noticed a trail on the BC Parks map of Manning Park called Hozameen Ridge, which looked like it went right down to the US border and would deposit us in the shadow of the mountain. How could we resist? There were no trip reports on Club Tread, the trail had only the most cursory description on their trail wiki, so we had to rely on the map (shock horror!) to estimate distance and elevation gain. One thing that was apparent was that while the elevation gain was not large, the route was very bumpy with some significant ups and downs. More of that tomorrow, though :-)
We set out on a bright sunny morning, Maria in her brand-new boots. The trail rose fairly gradually out of Spruce Bay, but it felt quite steep with a full pack. After an hour or so pushing uphill the trees thinned out and we passed through an old burn area, with a sign telling us all about it. Beyond that, the trail kept ascending until it topped out on a great viewpoint overlooking the Lightning Lakes valley below. Here we stopped for lunch and even spotted a bear wandering about in the meadows below. Then the fun started. The stats on the park website just don’t tell the whole story when it comes to the elevation gain: it claims 775 m, but checking out the topo map shows that it’s more like 1200 m by the end of the day. The first thing we noticed was that we started going downhill and immediately in front of us was what looked like another great big hill. Sure enough, up we went, over the top and guess what? Down again into another dip.
You can probably guess what came next: more up, then some down, then another up. Some of the ups were quite steep and we were all getting pretty tired. At least there were views, really great views. On reaching the final up, there was considerable relief that the trail did not go over it! The trail now crossed the south-facing flank of the ridge. Some of this was quite tricky with a long descent below if someone was to trip…! In places the trail was barely a game track wide, and we felt we needed the sure-footedness of a mountain goat. Andrew stumbled at one point and re-opened the grazes he’d received when he was knocked off his bike – ouch! The consolation was the continuous view south, with mountains galore. Although dry and comprising loose shale, the slopes here were full of flowers, which really helped folks like me who get a little dizzy looking down a steep slope.
After what felt like an age we reached the junction between Skyline I and II with great views of Mt Hozameen across the border. Of course, the next stage of the trail went downhill, into the aptly-named Despair Pass. However, the climb out the other side was not as bad as the name suggested it might be. Before long the trail emerged into the sunshine again at the foot of Snow Camp mountain, which we saved for the return trip. Moving on, the trail did yet more down and up, though we found a couple of patches of snow to cool off in. Eventually we reached the base of Lone Goat and turned the corner to descend into the Mowich valley. These were the longest 2 km of the day! But eventually we stumbled into the campground, claimed our spots and set about making dinner.
Mowich camp has a fire ring and a shelter, and though the mosquitoes were annoying, we were too tired to think about a fire. We stayed up long enough to watch the sky clear and the stars appear, and then it was time for bed.
Since we had pitched our tent on a slope, we woke up in a different place to where we’d gone to sleep, having slid down inside the tent. Crawling out we found it was a sunny morning, though a little chilly with a sopping wet dew on the plants. We made breakfast and got ourselves ready to head out for the day.
The trail rose up steadily out of Mowich camp and after about 1 km we came to the junction with the Hozameen Ridge trail, which branched off to the left. However, we had spoken to someone else in camp and they had told us of a great viewpoint looking over Ross Lake. Sure enough, only 5 minutes further along Skyline II trail was the view of Ross Lake, the Skagit River valley and many peaks of the North Cascades. Then it was back to Hozameen Ridge. The trail started off with a gentle decline (uh-oh) through subalpine meadows, before climbing up to the first bump along the way. Then it was downhill again, before a slightly higher climb up to the second bump. Here and there were wide-open views back towards the Skyline trail to the east, which halted us in our tracks and had is reaching for our cameras (again…).
Then it was time to go downhill again, a long steady decline through more meadows. As we bottomed out, we looked ahead to see a big lump between us and Mt Hozameen. Surely we didn’t have to climb up… But oh yes, we did. It was a steep slog up to the summit of this bump, especially after yesterday’s never-ending ups and downs. As we reached the top, and the high-point of the trail, we had to skirt the last remaining snow patch. But the rewards were stunning views of Mt Hozameen. This was without doubt a most excellent lunch spot! After a long leisurely lunch we headed for the border. We’d met a group heading down from this peak who said they couldn’t find the trail down off the bump to the border, but as we ate our lunch a couple of hikers appeared over the lip of the downslope and pointed us in the right direction. Pointed in the right direction, we noticed that there was a small cairn which marked the way down. The trail down was even steeper than the way up the other side, and on a very loose surface so Maria was glad of the grip of her new boots. We lost about 120 m of elevation but then suddenly we were at the border: a shiny silver obelisk (Monument 74) marking the location of the 49th Parallel (easily traceable to the east and west by the gap in the trees). From it would have been easy to continue (no armed border guards to check passports here), but that would have been illegal. Right? :-)
We eventually pulled ourselves away from the fabulous views of the mountain, and prepared ourselves for the hard bit: the climb back up and out. But with head down and gritted teeth it wasn’t too bad. Finding the trail back up was as tricky as coming down, but there are no dangerous headwalls to block your route. Back at the top a few of us made use of the snow patch to slide down. Down a very scary convex slope that is… Then back down the steep bump and it was time to do it all in reverse. We were back in camp for a leisurely dinner, camp fire and clear night skies (complete with numerous satellites and a meteor or two). Perfect.
Return via Lone Goat and Snow Camp mountains
The third morning dawned sunny again and we had a pleasant breakfast, before packing up and getting ready to head off. One last group shot at the Mowich shelter and then we were off, climbing uphill out of the camp. First the trail was in the trees but then we broke out into the sunny meadows and plodded our way up, gradually gaining elevation to reach the base of Lone Goat mountain.
We dropped our packs in the shade of a large tree and made our way up to the summit. It was steep and the trail varied from faint to non-existent but the views were well worth it. The initial summit is just a bump, admittedly with great views, the real summit being a few yards further. The eastern face of the summit is very crumbly rock so we didn’t get too close. But more great views, this time north towards Red Mountain – looks like a nice little ridge wander.
Conscious of the time, we headed back down, this time finding a trail that took us all the way back to ours packs. Then it was back on the trail for more up and down. Then drop the packs again at the base of Snow Camp, climbing its gentle slope to the small flat grassy summit for more great views. Back down, re-shoulder the packs and prepare for Despair Pass again. A stiff but short climb out of the pass to the Skyline I/II junction and then it’s all (well mostly) downhill from here to Strawberry Flats.
A great way to spend three days.