sauk mountain


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Before heading to New Zealand for a month, Elena hoped to see some of Washington’s fall colors. She had her heart set on seeing the notorious Golden larches that line the hills of the North Cascades each October. But searches of other hikers’ recent trip reports didn’t show any sign of them yet. Instead, we settled on a hike up to Sahale Arm since recent reports had shown a smoke-free sky.

Until we reached Rockport, the smoke layer in the sky thinned with every mile. Then as we moved toward Marblemount, the smoke layer was steadily getting thicker. Before we even reached Cascade River Road, the smoke was so thick that we decided it wasn’t worth the health risk. While driving, I noticed that the area around Sauk Mountain was clear. So after turning around, I headed for the trailhead.

Luckily the sky above Sauk Mountain was clear and blue. The higher we got on the road, the better the air got.

first section of trail with fall colors
first few feet of trail
elena walking up the trail
elena on the summit trail
sauk mountain from the parking lot
sauk mountain from parking

Unlike my previous winter trip up Sauk mountain this past March, we were able to make it to the trailhead parking area. Like other roads in the area (think Mount Pilchuck), the road is rough. We made it without high clearance, but it was slow going.

The fall colors started from the beginning of the trail, and we both were delighted that, despite the thick haze of smoke, we still found a hike for the day. From the start, the Sauk mountain trail heads uphill and almost immediately launches into switchbacks. With the views covered in a thick haze, the fall colors were a welcome sight to take our minds off the ascent.

trail switchbacks heading up hill
trail switchbacks
lower portion of sauk mountain trail
lower part of trail
looking back down the main hill
looking back down hill
For me, the one thing I noticed during the main ascent is how steep the hillside gets. When I climbed Sauk mountain in winter, the descent was terrifying. But afterward, I told myself maybe I was blowing it out of proportion. Seeing it again from the view of a summer walk up some switchbacks reminded me that I was not. This hill is steep and may be difficult for some hikers. From the top of the first hill, the trail winds around the north side of Sauk mountain. Compared to the first portion of the trail, the final stretch up to the summit is an easy walk.
fall colors along the ridge line
fall colors along the ridge line
waterboy and elena on the ridge
waterboy and elena
trail heading off into the smoke
trail heading into the smoke

From the top of the first hill, the trail winds around the north side of Sauk mountain. Compared to the first portion of the trail, the final stretch up to the summit is an easy walk.

upper trail along north side fo sauk mountain
upper trail
trail near the old lookout tower
trail near the old lookout tower
sauk lake from the trail
sauk lake

The views from where the old lookout tower used to stand are fabulous when there is no forest fire smoke. Unfortunately, on this day, Mount Baker was barely visible through the fog. We still had some blue sky to enjoy and a place to get some fresh air for the afternoon.

Despite the smoke, we found our fall colors. That’s a win.

waterboy and elena at the lookout tower site
waterboy and elena
sauk mountain summits from the trail
sauk mountain summits

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