Friday, September 4, 2020

Beckler Peak

Index, Baring, Merchant, and Gunn from Beckler Peak
7.5 miles round trip, 2250 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Reasonable gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Beckler Peak delivers wide views of the many Cascade peaks along US Highway 2 in Washington State and it does so with a pleasant, moderately difficult trail on a trailhead that is a reasonable drive from Seattle. I've enjoyed revisiting this hike due to that excellent combination. Despite hitting the sweet spot when it comes to scenery, hiking effort, and driving effort, the hike to Beckler Peak, while deservedly popular, has not become an overcrowded mess like the hikes along the I-90 corridor. 

I've hiked Beckler Peak a number of times, usually with friends as this hike is a big hit with most of the people who I've come with. My most recent visit was on an early May day, when the upper stretches of trail on the peak were still snow-covered. From Seattle, we followed Highway 522 (Lake City Way) northeast to Monroe, where we then took US Highway 2 east past Skykomish. After crossing the bridge over the Beckler River, we made a turnoff to the left onto FS RD 6066- watch out for the sign as the road itself can be a little hard to spot. Forest Service Road 6066 was a reasonable (some bumps and potholes) but narrow gravel road that ascended via switchbacks for seven miles to reach the Beckler Peak trailhead, shaving off 1600 feet of the elevation gain from US Highway 2.

The first 1.5 miles of the hike follow a former logging road, a continuation of the road that brough us to the trailhead. Ascending along a gentle grade through forest that had been logged a few times, this stretch of trail was fairly uneventful, only becoming a little steeper after a switchback after 1.2 miles. At a mile and a half, the trail split from the logging road, following a single track path instead. This single track soon came out into a recently logged area where the forest is still recovering: there were good views across the South Fork Skykomish Valley to the peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and the Foss River watershed.

First views from the trail
At 1.7 miles from the trailhead, the trail entered a lovely old growth forest, passing through a saddle before beginning the main ascent up Beckler Peak. The trail maintained a moderate grade as it made a 600-foot ascent with switchbacks through the forest to reach the ridge of Beckler Peak. The trail was exceedingly pleasant to hike: the trail in the forest has a perfect, soft dirt tread that is forgiving on the knees, with no rocks, roots, or other obstacles that can make trail travel unpleasant. In fact, it's difficult for me to think of another trail that has a trail surface as soft and pleasant as the Beckler Peak Trail: were hiking bucket lists based solely on the quality of the trail surface rather than scenery, I'm sure this hike would rank among the top in the Northwest. The ease of moving along the trail made the moderate amount of elevation gain on this hike feel even easier.

Trail through old-growth forest
Atop the ridge, the trail ascended gently through forest until reaching a series of small meadows. When I hiked in May, these clearings were still covered in deep snow; we donned microspikes here to tackle the final ascent that followed. In summer, these small clearings will likely be populated by blooming wildflowers and ripe berries.

Past the meadows, the trail began its final climb, covering the last 450 feet of elevation gain to the summit in 2/3 of a mile. After ascending via moderate switchbacks that became progressively tighter as we approached the summit, the trail ascended through a well-built stone staircase, one of the few spots along the trail that isn't immaculately rock-free.

Stone staircase near the summit
A few more steps brought us to the summit. The actual summit is not very large and can only accomodate a few groups at a time, although there's some room just below the summit where hikers can rest, albeit without the same views from the very top. There's a 360-degree view of the Cascades from here, although trees on the southeast side of the summit are growing taller every year and are gradually starting to eat at the view.

The western and northern aspects of the mountain drop away steeply from the summit, with an open, rocky slope separating the east peak, where we stood, from Beckler's rockier west peak. Beyond the west peak was the heart of the view from Beckler Peak: a glimpse of the steep, dramatic mountains that define the western entrance to the Cascades along the Highway 2 corridor. Mount Index, Baring Mountain, Merchant Peak, Gunn Peak, and Eagle Rock rose majestically to the west. This is a particularly good angle to study the north face of Baring Mountain, a sheer dropoff that makes Baring one of the steepest mountains in Washington State.

To the north were views of the North Cascades. Spire Mountain led our eyes over to the snowy Monte Cristo Range, one of the taller subranges in the area. Columbia Glacier and the bowl holding Blanca Lake were visible beneath Kyes and Columbia Peaks. Faraway Mount Baker poked its head out to the left of the Monte Cristo Range. Sloan Peak's sharp pinnacle jutted out on the right side of the range.

While much of the land to the north is protected in the new Wild Sky Wilderness, clear cut scars on the slopes rising above the Beckler River Valley reminded us that much of this land is still actively used for logging. We were still able to spot other Wild Sky peaks like Evergreen Mountain and Mount Fernow- although this Highway 2 Mount Fernow should not be mistaken for the Mount Fernow near Holden that is among the state's highest peaks. Glacier Peak reigned in the distance, its snowy ridges connecting on the east to the icy wall of the Dakobed Range, from which the sharp pinnacles of Tenpeak Mountain could be easily spotted.

Evergreen Mountain, Glacier Peak, Dakobed Range, and Mount Fernow
Mount Baker and the Monte Cristo Range
The views of the south were slightly obstructed by trees, but we could still see Mounts Daniel and Hinman, two icy giants in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Summit Chief, Overcoat, and other rocky spires in this range were also visible. The Chiwaukums formed an alpine wall to the east of Stevens Pass. Highway 2 ran below along the South Fork Skykomish River, the town of Skykomish visible on the river's banks. Power lines cut through the forest below, ferrying power generated from the dams along the Columbia River to the Puget Sound metropolis. Phelps Mountain towered over one indentation into the wall of peaks around the Skykomish Valley: this tributary valley led towards the Tolt River Watershed, a watershed placed entirely off-limits to the public (except, ironically, logging) for use as Seattle's water supply.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks
The US Highway 2 corridor along the South Fork Skykomish River
This is a lovely hike that is just two hours driving from Seattle and boasts beautiful views. The well-graded, perfect dirt trail up to the summit combines with the views to make this a thoroughly enjoyable hike. While not among the state's highlight hikes, the many great attributes of this trail still make this a recommended hike, especially for Pacific Northwest residents looking for a good weekend hike with just moderate effort and moderate crowds.

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