Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hiking Esmeralda Basin: In Celebration of Wildflowers and Mountains

As snow recedes from higher elevations in the Northwest, fragile yet hardy wildflowers spring to life.  While the wildflowers around Paradise on Mount Rainier are legendary, mountain meadows with wildflowers are all over the Cascades. 

Over Fourth of July weekend, we hike up to Fortune Creek Pass through Esmeralda Basin in the Teanaway region of Washington's central Cascades. On the way up we pass gorgeous mountain meadows spiked with brilliant Indian paintbrush, shooting stars, and more.

Our hike began at the end of the road up the North Fork Teanaway basin, at a trailhead for numerous excellent Teanaway hikes. Here on the eastern crest of the Cascades, the landscape is more arid, with less thick underbrush and more pine trees.

I'd done this hike back in the 1990s, but this time we see many diseased and dying trees as we start up the trailthe curse of the pine beetle, fire suppression, and likely climate change.  It's noticeably different.

But the healthy creek swollen with snowmelt is a nice contrast. As the trees transition to subalpine varieties, they appear healthier.

A mile or so up the trail, which angles up Esmeralda Basin at a gentle grade, we start passing more wildflowers. The real treat, though, is the brilliant meadow full of flowers.

Magenta paintbrush in foreground
Shooting star

We pass a few more meadows, amble along sideslopes, and walk up a few switchbacks to the last stretch through a quickly melting snowfield. Before I realize it, we've reached the saddle at Fortune Creek Pass. Overall it's a pretty mellow 3.5 miles here, ascending over 1,700 feet.

And the views!  

Hawkins Mountain

Fortune Creek Pass

Mt. Daniel in the distance.

Name that peak!

So we pull out sit pads and take a leisurely break enjoying the view and our lunches.  Not a bad way to spend a day.

Up here on the exposed ridge at almost 6,000 feet in elevation, the flowers are more sparse and hardy.

Since this is not a steep hike, the trek down doesn't batter the toes or knees like some downhill hikes can do. We stop and take lots more flower shots and wind up back at the trailhead a little less than 6 hours after we started.

Friendly hikers

Scarlet gilia

Six hours has passed? Times flies when you're outdoors in a beautiful mountain valley surrounded by wildflowers, happy hikers, and sweet fresh air.

Have you hiked in the Teanaway too? Would love to hear about your trip or favorite hikes in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

When You Go
A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park at the trailhead. From Seattle area, take I-90 east to Cle Elum, then exit east of town to Blewett Pass/SR 970. Take SR 970 north to the Teanaway Road. Follow the North Fork Teanaway Road to the 29 Pines Campground where the pavement ends at a fork in the road. Take the right fork, FR 9737, 10 miles to its end at trailhead #1394, Esmeralda Basin.

Don't forget your sunscreen! It gets hotter and drier here than on the western side of the mountains.


JoJo said...

I'm gonna guess that is Glacier Peak?

jill said...

Hey JoJo, Actually not a bad guess based on where we were, but it's not Glacier Peak, which is farther north and more of a conical peak (stratovolcano). I'm actually not sure what that is myself....:)for now.

Suezy P said...

Not sure, but it looks like South Lemah Mountain.

Beautiful flower shots, nice trail and a great way to spend the day.

My favorite place for wildflowers is Slate Peak on Hart's Pass north of Mazama. The road up is the highest in the N Cascades at 7300' with a hike further up to
the lookout tower at 7800'+. it crosses the Pacific Crest Trail. There are as many different butterflies as there are wildflowers. In season, it is spectacular. Caution - snow can come at any time and the road is treacherous in places (but worth it)

jill said...

Hey Suezy,
I'll have to check on a map for the peak we saw, just south of Mt. Daniel. Love Slate Peak! Have hiked from there a few times, once a backpack leaving Harts Pass north up the PCT, then down and back up to Slate Peak via the West Fork Paysaten (think, was 20 years ago). Thanks as always for your thoughtful comment.

Joe Leeak said...

Scarlet Gilia's are still in bloom up at Mt Laguna east of S-Diego-- very cool little flower. But I think the Shooting Stars are my fav. I'm not sure we have those here.