Monday, April 17, 2017

Sauer Mountain

The Enchantment Peaks from Sauer Mountain
6 miles round trip, 2000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead; trailhead parking on private land, no access fee

Sauer Mountain is an inconspicuous forested ridge that rises just to the east of the town of Leavenworth, Washington State's cute but tacky take on a Bavarian village. There are many nearby peaks that offer much better views and more enjoyable hiking: in fact, both Stuart Lake and the Enchantments, which offer breathtaking views of mountain lake and jagged granite peaks, are accessible from Icicle Creek Road just out of Leavenworth. However, Sauer Mountain, a dwarf compared to the nearby high peaks of the Stuart Range, has the advantage of melting out earlier in the year, making it a perfect spring hike while nearby alpine terrain is still snowbound. Spring wildflowers are an added bonus for hikers who choose this low-key but enjoyable hike.

I hiked this trail on a nice April weekend, one of the first weekends of truly clear weather after an abysmally rainy and gloomy Northwest winter. We set out from Seattle early in the day, taking about two and a half hours to follow US 2 east across Stevens Pass and past Leavenworth to the left-hand turnoff for the town of Peshastin. Crossing the Wenatchee River on the Peshastin Main Street Bridge, we made a few turns to stay on Main Street, passing through the tiny town. Main Street became North Road; about half a mile out of town, heading north on North Road, we turned right onto Anderson Canyon Road and followed that road uphill three-quarters of a mile to a marked trailhead parking lot on private land. A man who appeared to be the owner of the property directed parking and was selling bottles of local wine.

From the trailhead, we headed uphill on the marked trail. The initial terrain was very unconvential for a Washington state hike: as the trail passed through a tract of private property, we saw some intricately carved totem poles and figures of different animals. One sign welcomed visitors to the mountain.

Welcome to Sauer's Mountain!
Beyond the trailside art, we passed a vineyard before the trail left that more manicured landscape for the less developed slopes of Sauer Mountain. About a quarter of a mile into the hike, the trail came to an unmarked trail junction with a smaller trail making a sharp switchback from the main, wider trail; both of these trails lead to the same place, but we chose to hike the main trail straight ahead. This trail started a vigorous ascent up the grassy east side of the mountain.

Trail up Sauer Mountain
The spring wildflower bloom on Sauer Mountain had started after a lengthy and snowy winter. Balsamroot had just begun blooming on the grassy lower elevations of the mountain, along with fields of bell-like purple flowers that I didn't recognize.

Balsamroot at Sauer Mountain
As the trail rounded a bend and came onto the southern slopes of Sauer Mountain, beautiful views of the Cashmere Valley and the snowy Stuart Range opened up. Vineyards and apple orchards were spread out below in the valley of the Wenatchee River.

First views of the Stuart Range from the trail
Continuing further, we came to a second, marked trail junction: here, the trail to Sauer Mountain led to the right while the trail to a viewpoint led to the left. Once again, both trails eventually met up, although the trail to the right was more direct and involved less overall elevation gain. We took the viewpoint trail, which continued skirting the grassy southern slopes of the mountain.

After following the viewpoint trail for a bit, we came to a no trespassing sign indicating that the trail ahead passed onto private land. Fortunately, a use trail had been created that stayed on national forest land, so we followed this use trail as it climbed steadily up to the ridge of Sauer Mountain. From here forward, the trail was mostly forested as it followed the main north-south ridge of Sauer Mountain.

After passing over a small knob, this trail rejoined the other trail from the earlier fork, about a mile from the trailhead. We continued following the trail along the ridgeline, passing through small meadows of blooming glacier lilies.

Trailside wildflowers
In the next two miles, the trail stayed on the undulating ridgeline, with occasional short descents but generally maintaining an uphill climb. The ascent was often quite steep; I appreciated that the trail tread was dirt rather than rock, making the hike a little easier on our knees. Views occasionally opened up on either side of the ridge: Leavenworth was often visible to the west at the base of Icicle Ridge. At one spot with a gap in the trees, a sign pointed out that Glacier Peak was visible far to the northwest.

Icicle Ridge rises above Leavenworth
The final half mile was a sustained climb to the summit of Sauer Mountain. Through this climb, the top of mountain was visible ahead of us and there were frequent clearings to the east, opening up views of nearby ridges and the snowy Entiats across Cashmere Valley.

Cashmere Valley and the Entiat Mountains
The trail crossed a forestry road before making a final, steep push to the summit. The summit area was lightly forested, with tree cover at a low enough density that there were reasonably good views of the surrounding landscape. A wooden sign at the summit labelled some of the peaks in the view, pointing out the Enchantment peaks, Icicle Ridge, and Tumwater Mountain. Leavenworth lay at the foot of Icicle Ridge and Tumwater Mountain, at the mouth of the narrow Tumwater Canyon. The wildflower bloom had not yet reached the highest elevations of Sauer Mountain; we were still a few weeks too early for the great balsamroot bloom.

Enchantments, Icicle Ridge, and Leavenworth from Sauer Mountain
After eating lunch near the main clearing at the summit, we wandered slightly farther along the ridge to the true high point, where we found very nice views to the north of the North Cascades and Glacier Peak.

Glacier Peak and attendant North Cascades peaks
We returned the way we came until reaching the trail junction about one mile from the trailhead; this time, we chose to take the left fork for the shorter route down. We were serenaded on the final stretch with the calls of wild turkeys, the barking of the many dogs on the trail, and distant rumbles from tractors in Cashmere Valley. Although not a highlight in a state with many extraordinary hikes, Sauer Mountain was enjoyable and a good way to see some beautiful country when higher elevations are still snowbound. We met plenty of other hikers on the trail, likely due to the extremely nice weather and the hike's proximity to Leavenworth.

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