Backpacking Jade Lake and Dip Top Gap
DATE HIKED: 10/13-14
TOTAL DISTANCE/ASCENT: 26 MILES AND ~6,000 FT
DIFFICULTY: DIFFICULT TO JADE/ VERY DIFFICULT/ EXPERTISE NEEDED TO DIP TOP GAP
REQUIRED PERMIT: REGISTER AT TRAILHEAD
DOG FRIENDLY: YES
LOCATION: ALPINE LAKE WILDERNESS
RECREATION PASS: NORTHWEST FOREST PASS
Jade Lake seemed to blow up on social media this summer and for a very good reason, it’s absolutely gorgeous. I have wanted to go for a couple years. I didn’t want to go during high bug season or high busy backpacking season. When we randomly got a nice weekend in October I grabbed a couple friends and said LET’S GO FOR IT! And I’m so glad we did.
Kaelee and I left Seattle at 4:00 A.M. Oooofta. It was rough but also no traffic and barely anyone at the trailhead when we arrived. This is the same trailhead we used for Tuck and Robin as well. We donned our packs and head lamps at 6:30 A.M and hit the trail. It didn’t take long for the light to slowly seep into the forest and light the way for us. We knew the first 4.5 miles of this trail. We had done it before. This part does not have much gain and is quick going. We reached the PCT junction and moved on towards Jade. This was all new territory for us now. The ground was frozen and crisp. Meadows covered in frost and ice. Cracking noises reverberated under our hiking boots. The cool fall morning was slow to wake up, just like us.
We meandered through flat, winding meadows for some time. There was a big decline in the trail that already had me thinking that it would not be fun to come back up (I was right). We were cruising, but it also seemed to be taking forever. It would be 11 miles to Jade Lake. We finally began the climb to Marmot Lake. We arrived looking over Marmot Lake, a beautiful lake all in of itself, but we had other plans in mind. The nice trail up until this point, is now not so nice. Around Marmot Lake it gets a little bush-whacky and hard to follow the small boot path. It slowed down our pace considerably. We finally got around the lake and then looked up at what would be the “trail” up to Jade.
We hiked up the rocky trail and then arrived to a big boulder field. There are cairns here and there to guide for navigation, but we found they were not 100% reliable and didn’t always lead us to the best path. We ended up scrambling up the boulder field when there was a nice trail to the left we didn’t see right away. Whoops. We huffed and puffed up this last gain and finally saw the giant peaks towering over Jade Lake. We declined to the lake and were in awe over the insane glacier blue color. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. So stunning. We quickly looked for a campsite. We knew there were only about 6 or so sites up here. We went right at first and didn’t find anything and then went left and found a nice large, flat durable surface. There was no one else at the lake yet. We had this magical kingdom all to ourselves. My friend Andrew hiked up a bit after us and joined us as well. We set up camp, enjoyed taking photos for a but and soaked in what felt like a summer day in mid October. Remember to only pick durable surfaces to camp on fragile meadows! There was evidence of meadow camping around the area. You can camp at Marmot Lake if Jade is full. There is also a pit toilet at Jade and at Marmot.
We all had a debate about if it was a good idea to attempt Dip Top Gap this day. The snow looked shinny and icy. I knew attempting it the following morning would be a worse idea as the snow would be even more firm. If we were going to attempt, it would be now. Kaelee wasn’t feeling up for it, so Andrew and I said we would attempt and turn around if it didn’t feel good. We went up the left side of the lake, following narrow boot paths. We took one that went high and spit us out on a nasty scree field. We tried traversing it for a bit, but it was horrendous. We down climbed it and went up the gully instead. Much better option.
Climbing up the gully, we eventually reached the snowfield. We had microspikes with, so we put them on to help with the traction. They were getting a good bite and I didn’t feel nervous about the snow. We rotated between rock and snow and ice going up. At the very top was steeper snow, so we decided to take the boulders on the left instead. This was pretty spicy, climbing over big boulders, trying not to fall in massive holes between them. All the while, there was rock fall on the cliffs above us. Not a great place to stay for long. I climbed over the boulders carefully and finally made it to Dip Top Gap.
Coming over the gap and seeing Pea Soup Lake with my own eyes is something I will never forget. The massive Mt. Daniel hovering over it. The deep, untouched wilderness. So hard to get to. Worth every step and curse word to get there. We didn’t stay for long as all we could think about was getting down safely. This time, we took snow all the way down. It was a bit steep, but I felt secure. We saw one other guy and one couple up there as well. One person had an ice axe and the couple had crampons. Going up Dip Top Gap wold be much more enjoyable if it was all snow and no rock (going earlier in the season). I would bring crampons and an ice axe if I were to go during early season. We got down the snowfield rather painlessly and made the trek back to camp.
We made it back to camp, had dinner, hot toddies and enjoyed lakeside laughter to keep us warm. We stayed up till it got dark enough for me to do a few night shots and then it got too cold to stay out any longer. This night got really cold. Probably in the 20’s. The price to pay for October backpacking. I’ll take it.
We woke the next morning and had breakfast and coffee. We didn’t stay long as we had a long hike back to the car. For some reason coming down, we got turned around at Marmot Lake and could not find the real trail. Gaia data was not accurate for the current trail. It said I was on the trail in the middle of a forest. We spent about 30 minutes bush-whacking and finally got back on the real trail. We booked it out rather quickly and was back to the car by early afternoon.
If and when I were to do this trail again, I would do this itinerary in 3 days, instead of 2. It depends how enjoyable you want it to be though. Doing this all in 2 days was definitely a death march, but definitely worth it. It may have taken the cake on my favorite alpine lake to date.