Earl Peak and Navaho Pass
Once again, we had multiple options for this day’s excursion. We had high hopes for a scenic loop in Mt Rainier National Park, but the weather seemed sketchy and we weren’t in the mood for the early morning rise that was needed to ensure we would have the time needed for the drive to and from the park. A closer option with fewer miles was a 13 mile loop that would take us along Navaho Pass in the Teanaway area. Navaho Pass is certainly a “must see” in Washington, so it seemed like a no-brainer to chose this option. Not to mention the weather was much nicer on the other side of the mountains.
We arrived at the Beverly Creek trailhead after 10:30am, which was super late for us, but it was only 13-15 miles, so we figured we had plenty of time. I had only reviewed the map during the drive there and thought I had a clear idea of the direction we were going. I was concerned about the elevation gain, but figured I’d give it my best shot! It’s light out late still, so worst that would happen is we would be driving home in the dark.
We started a moderate jog up to the first trail junction. I thought we were going left, to continue up Beverly Creek. We reviewed the map again, and decided we weren’t too confident about the Hardscrabble trail, and we didn’t have time for a crazy bush whacking tour, so we opted for going right up Bean Creek trail. This was a good 2,200 feet of elevation gain in under 3 miles, just to get to the side trail (not on maps) to Earl Peak. Here at this plateau we took a much needed break for lunch, soaked in the view of Mt Stuart, and pulled out the map again to decide what direction we wanted to go.
Our goal was Navaho Pass. Earl Peak sounded interesting, but we weren’t sure we had time for both. We started down the trail towards the pass, but five minutes in we saw some amazing rain clouds, that happened to be dumping rain from them right in the direction we were headed. We didn’t want to get caught in a rainstorm this day, so opted to turn around, do the little scramble up Earl Peak, and see what the weather was like at that point. If it was good, we could always come down and try the pass still, or just go back the way we came.
This “little scramble” up to Earl Peak turned out to be an hour of me literally using both of my hands the entire way to crawl up the mountainside. Every time I thought we were almost to the summit, I’d crawl around another boulder and see more rocks to climb up. Scrambles are not my strength, so this was certainly a challenge for me, physically and mentally.
After what felt like forever, and another 1,000 feet of elevation gain literally crawled up, all of my frustrations from the climb melted away with the intake of the panoramic scene I had before me. Mt Stuart in all it’s glory, as well as range upon range of breathtaking mountainous views. We signed the logbook and had a snack, at what felt like was nearly the top of the world.
To the northwest we could see an enticing ridgeline. There was no trail, but it seemed to go along the wilderness boundary line, and then drop off to the Navaho Pass trail, which we could also see from our perch. We got the bold idea to traverse the ridge, drop down to the trail, and make a lollypop loop complete by coming back through Navaho Pass and some connector trails.
What we thought would be an easy ridge traverse turned into another test of my abilities. Steep scree fields that didn’t look nearly as intimidating from afar made me seriously consider going back down that crazy scramble that I was so glad to get behind me. Multiple times we thought we were to a point that we could trek easily down to the trail below, only finding more scree that we weren’t willing to gamble with.
Even through the uncertainty and challenge of this trail-less adventure, the views continued to amaze, so it was easy to continue on without complaint.
We finally found a safe place to slide down the mountain into a field that connected us with the trail we had been looking at form afar for some time. I felt like someone who had been shipwrecked, and they had found dry land for the first time in days! I nearly kissed the ground.
After a few more diversions to get through the field safely (not all fields are flat, you know!) and some conversations with the ground squirrels, we finally made it to a cairn marking the trail to Navaho Pass.
A short jog up to the pass rewarded us with more views of Mt Stuart and the ranges that skirt it. We were behind schedule. I was tired. Now we only had one route option back to the car, and it wasn’t going to be easy. Yes, we now had a trail, but we still had some big climbs, and a steep decent at the end that I knew would leave my knees screaming at me.
Another quick snack and we were on our way down the trail, homeward bound. We had two small passes to go over, so it was a mixture of “run while you can” and then “trek up the switchback slogs”. It was hot and I was tired from the challenging terrain we already covered. I wouldn’t call this part of the adventure fun, but the views continued to amaze, so I tried to keep a positive attitude and continued to push myself.
The base of Navaho Pass is a popular backpacking destination. I’ll admit, I would smile as I passed people carrying their huge packs in, thankful I didn’t have that weight on my back!
Even though this trip wasn’t what I had planned, or prepared myself for, it was still rewarding and I’m proud that I was able to complete it. We reached the car at 7pm with a total distance of 13 miles, with 5,600 feet of elevation gain. Lots of learning, pushing, and accomplishments!