Copper Ridge Loop and Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 1

Copper Ridge Loop, with spur hike to Whatcom Pass, plus day hikes to Tapto and Middle Lakes, and Hannegan Peak

A broken finger and a weather window combined in perfect harmony to allow me to take five days last week and get away on a solo backpack trip. I broke my right ring finger in a dog accident (bowled over from behind by three dogs!) on August 31. There are many things one can do with a broken finger, but, alas, delivering massage is not one of them.

But backpacking with a splint? No problem.

I had wanted to do the Copper Ridge Loop for years, having only done it once with my ex-husband, back in 1997.  We also did it in September, and it stayed in my memory for its high ridges with stunning views, deep river valleys with exciting crossings, pristine alpine lakes and meadows, old growth forest, a spectacular lookout, plenty of mileage, and great day hike potential. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

View from Copper Mountain Lookout

Stats on my trip:

TOTAL DISTANCE  —  About 55 miles.
LOCATION  —  Begins and ends at Hannegan Trailhead (FR road 32).
ELEVATION GAIN —  About 8600 feet.
HIGH POINT —  Copper Mountain Lookout, 6260.
SIDE TRIPS  — Hannegan Peak, Tapto Lakes, Middle Lakes, Egg Lake.
DIFFICULTY  —  Strenuous! But so worth it.
REQUIRED — Backcountry permits to camp (available at the Glacier Service Station), first come first served. Northwest Forest Pass for parking.

A word about permitting:  This is a very popular loop hike, and permits are required. I showed up at the ranger station the day before my planned departure, which is the earliest you can get a permit. The rangers were extremely helpful with trip planning. I wanted to take the loop clockwise, as that is how I’d previously done it, and that seems to be most “recommended”. However, campsites were not available on the dates I wanted to go that direction, so I opted for counter-clockwise. And an extra day — originally I planned for 3 nights, but to do all I wanted looked like it would take 4 nights and 5 days.  I left the ranger station excited and ready for adventure!

I will break this trip into five (hopefully short!) posts. But don’t wait until the last post to consider this for a great fall backpack trip. Fall color and blueberries await!

Day 1 — Hannegan Trailhead to U.S. Cabins (10.2 mile).  Side trip to Hannegan Peak (2.2 miles). Sept. 10, 2017

Trailhead to Hannegan Pass

My permits secured, I drove straight to the trailhead Sunday morning.  It wasn’t as early of a start as planned, but I was on the trail by 10:25. My pack was heavy — much heavier than I wanted. Not only did it contain 5 days of food, but extra clothing galore, as I had been warned of potentially “waist high” river crossings. Plus, while Day 1 was mostly clear, it had rained substantially the previous two days (thankfully, as it cleared away significant forest fire smoke) and rain remained a slight threat in the forecast. I knew I’d be hiking in a river valley for two days, and I am absolutely paranoid about getting wet and cold. I didn’t weigh my pack, but it was on par with last years heaviest on the John Muir Trail — 57 pounds. I struggled to even get it on at the trailhead!

One more note:  This was the first significant backpack trip since knee replacement last November. Though healing has been good, I am a bit knock-kneed as a result of the surgery. I tend to drag that right leg a bit, and I trip much more often than I used to. So I knew I would have to be extra careful with the added weight of the pack.

The first three miles of the trail were uneventful. Ruth Mountain emerged after a couple of miles, and she was spectacular despite the clouds. I have climbed Ruth once, and I loved it. Good memories of that trip and watching her come into view made the tedious going up the pass somewhat easier.

Ruth Mountain from Hannegan Pass Trail

I arrived at Hannegan Pass (four miles) at 12:30. I immediately dumped my pack, fished out a jacket with pockets and stuffed in my lunch. I wanted to climb Hannegan Peak (1.1 miles, 1100 feet elevation) while I could. The day was mostly clear, and this would be my only view opportunity for the day, as I knew I’d be heading into forest for the remainder.

From Hannegan Peak trail…Mt. Sefrit, Nooksack Ridge, and Mt. Baker

I sailed up Hannegan Peak, enjoying the absolute freedom of hiking with no pack after miles of slogging upward with a heavy one. I joined four other people at the top, all basking in the intensely powerful views.  I took pictures in each direction, trying to determine which peaks were which. I settled down and ate my lunch squarely in front of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, Ruth Mt., and the Nooksack Glacier and Tower.

Top of Hannegan Peak, with Baker and Shuksan

It was hard to leave this scene,  but I still had 6.2 miles to go for the day. After 40 minutes, I reluctantly retraced my steps back down to the pass and re-shouldered my heavy pack.

Hannegan Pass to U.S. Cabins

View North to BC peaks and Silesia Creek Valley

The trail drops for a mile, then splits in three directions. To the left is Copper Ridge Trail, the one I would be taking if I had my druthers. To the far right is a trail to Boundary Camp, which, thankfully I was not staying at. Apparently, it’s trashy. Instead, I followed the Chilliwack Trail, loosely following the river.

I didn’t particularly like this section, as both the ground and brush were very wet from recent rain. The trail was mostly cut away, but in some places I had to blindly plow my way through wet brush. At times I couldn’t see the trail at all, a bad scenario for me. I tried my best to move carefully, yet keep up some speed.

Then the inevitable happened. I tripped, tried to save my fall with my right pole, but the ground was too soft. My pole sank uselessly a foot or more into the soft ground, and I landed hard, face first in the wet dirt, pack pinning me down. I was both surprised and embarrassed, though no one else was there. There was no way I could get up except to unhook my pack and ungracefully roll out from under it. I was covered in dirt and frustrated.

Shaking myself off, I continued on. I remembered the very first time I backpacked, at age 7. Then I was carrying a pack too big and heavy for my small size, and I similarly tripped. The pack went over my head, such that I was bent in half, unable to get up until an older sibling helped me. At least then I was agile enough to stay partially upright! With age, I’ve found I fall more spectacularly, as it seems to be easier on the body to not fight it.

Sunset on unknown peak from campsite, Day 1

After the fall, I slowed down, checking footing with each step. When I came to Copper Creek campground, I saw my first hiker since Hannegan Pass. Named Derek (pronounced Dirk — he was German), I learned he was headed the same direction as me, and on a similar hiking schedule. We’d be at different campsites that night, but would both end up at Whatcom Pass the following night. I was grateful for at least one person hiking my way, as the trail had been so quiet.

The theme of solitude continued when I finally arrived at U.S. Cabins campground, right at 5:00 pm. I had my choice of sites in the sprawl, as no one else was there. I chose the site closed to the Chilliwack river, both for ease of getting water and for the calming sounds of the flowing water.  My site was big enough for 6 at least, and I got to do the Kathie Tupper Sprawl! The evening was stress-free and leisurely, as I spent time writing and reading after dinner. Magnificent colors emerged at sunset, and I crawled into my tent by 7:40, even before complete darkness fell. A great first day, fall and all.

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