Mileage: 17 miles (16.6 + Fall Mountain summit of .4 miles)
Elevation Gain/Highest: 900ft/5600ft (you gain and lose that 900ft several times during the trip!)
Favorite Eats After Hike: Wallace Falls Café
This was a repeat of my PCT work party that I did last year on my adopted section of the PCT from Lake Janus to Pear Lake. We had a four day backpacking trip planned with the intention of logging out as many downed trees as we could and do some minor trail maintenance as we made our way on the trail up Smithbrook to the PCT, north to Pear Lake and then out the Top Lake Trail.
Thursday we headed up from the Smithbrook TH around 9:30am. The trail here is well traveled and fairly maintained but we did have a few logs to cut out before making it to the junction of the PCT at Union Gap at 1.2 miles and 4688ft. There was one right at the junction that folks had been cutting around up to the PCT but the way is clear now and hopefully that cut in the trail will cease to be used.
Heading north towards Janus, there were only a few more logs but it was 2:45pm before we got to the lake. Water was flowing well along here, at least 3 good sources. We had heard the bugs were bad at Janus, so we opted to pass it by and camp about 1.2 miles at a campsite along the trail (PCT mile 2472.78) near a stream before you get to the saddle (about 4980ft, just after the small set of switchbacks and a next to a knob on the map). There was enough room for our 3 tents and 2 hammocks. Although there are several paths down to the small stream, the best one is up the PCT (mile 2472.93) a few hundred yards where the water comes down over a rock. Bugs were marginal.
The next day we didn’t go too far, just logged out as many logs between camp and Janus as we could. Unfortunately the day ran out before we could get to the them all but we did at least cut a notch in a large one that was tricky to get over and not enough room to go under. Sorry to the group of women struggling to get over it just as we got there! This section is mostly forested but there are at least a few breakouts with wildflowers to walk through and views across the valley.
On Saturday, we continued up from camp towards Grizzly Peak and Pear Lake where we hoped to camp for night 3. There were not a lot of logs across the trail so we spent most of our time cutting back brush and small trees that were crowding the trail and causing folks to step off the tread.
We could have spent days doing this, especially on meadowed slopes and switchbacks. Wildflowers are a mixed blessing, they sure like to take over the trail. There were some nice glimpses of Glasses and Heather Lake below us on the right.
But nothing beats the views on Grizzly Peak!
And the lineup of the mountains on the horizon: Glacier, Columbia, Baker, Sloan, Pugh, Fortune, and Rainier to name a few.
Trail work isn’t all work, we stopped for lunch here about 11:45am. This meadow sits at about 5580ft and meanders along the contour line as you make your way over and then down to Wenatchee Pass.
There was a large campsite at Wenatchee Pass (PCT mile 2479) just off on a trail to the west but the water is marshy and fit more for horses. However, as we continued on up the trail from the pass, I did manage to find a way to access the creek flowing just off the trail (PCT mile 2478.87). You will see a very faded boot path to the left (looks like a drain) that will take you to the creek and you then drop down the steep bank to the water. I say steep but anywhere else along its path is much steeper.
From here it was just under a half mile to the junction with the Top Lake Trail. The rest of my crew decided that the climb up to Pear Lake was more than they wanted to do at 4pm, so since we were headed out Top Lake anyway the next day we took a right and made our way over. Unfortunately because it was Saturday night, the lake was full. So, those with tents asked to camp near one of the sites taken and I made my way up the trail past the lake to find a flat spot with two trees for a little stealth camping. There was the perfect spot and I enjoyed the solitude while the rest of my crew got to deal with dogs, kids and Motown into the night.
Sunday we hiked out on the Top Lake Trail, cutting a few logs, brushing back trees and shrubs and enjoying a few more views before sitting in HWY 2 traffic. The climb out of Top Lake to the ridge of Fall Mountain is a bear, definitely not PCT specs.
But the view into the Enchantments to gorgeous, you can’t beat those green meadows of the North Cascades. Have I said how much I love where I live? I even took a short break to scramble up to the summit of Fall Mountain, accessed on the east side of the mountain where the trail crossed off the ridge and onto the contour line (heading west) at about 5220ft (see my GAIA above).
It looks like a viewpoint but you will see a faint boot path that continues up the ridge for about .2 miles to the summit. It’s not consistent so route finding is suggested or at least comfort not being on trail.
Top Lake Trail continues to be a trail that needs some love; expect mud, brush and trenched trail. There is also the burn area from the switchbacks all the way around the contour of Shoofly Mountain heading westbound.
We had to leave about 8 downed trees that were not within the wilderness boundary, the FS will hopefully be getting those with chainsaws soon. I do want to say that despite its challenges, I do think this is an underrated trail and if you are willing to make the 14 mile drive from HWY2 at Coles Corner, Top Lake offers some great views and not a lot of people (unless you want to camp on Saturday night in July).
Directions: Head east on Hwy 2 from Monroe for 58 miles to Stevens Pass, and turn north onto Road 6700 (Smithbrook). Look for where the highway divides and there is a left turn for FS 6700. Be cautious crossing the westbound lanes of Hwy 2. Once on FS 6700, follow the road up about 2.6 miles to a TH parking lot on the left. A NW Forest Pass is needed and there is no privy. You can go before hand by stopping at the privy at the pass by the southern TH for the PCT.