After our trek to Heather-Maple Pass Loop, which involved over an hour by car, we weren’t too eager to repeat that car ride again the next day. While there were 3 other hikes near Heather-Maple Pass I wanted to do, there were a dozen options a bit closer to Concrete.
In particular, Sauk Mountain. From our cabin it was only a couple minutes east on Hwy 20 for the trailhead turnoff, and the hike came well-recommended by locals. Once you turn off the highway, you are immediately on a dirt road for the next 8 miles, so set your odometer here. Nearly all of this 8 miles was wide enough for two cars to easily pass, which helped calm my nerves a bit. The road was in decent shape right up until around 7.8 miles in, where a divot was so deep at least one car had given up already and parked off to the side. Switching drivers, we carefully made it up the last few hundred meters. High-clearance vehicles should be fine.
Almost immediately on the trail, through the morning fog we saw we were headed to Switchback City. They don’t call this hike a mountain for nothin’, and you will be feeling this climb fairly quickly. The boyfriend immediately noted that this hike was similar to Cleetwood Cove in Crater Lake–tons of switchbacks and erosion on one face. Unlike that trail, there were no signs here warning hikers to not kick rocks down the hill, and about one-third into the climb I literally had to dive out of the way from a giant jagged rock headed towards my skull courtesy of the hikers one switchback above us. I don’t know if they accidentally set off a mini-slide or kicked the rock not knowing I was under them, but either way, not cool.
We kept climbing, up up up towards the spine of the mountain. The ample switchbacks meant we took many breaks, hoping in vain the clouds and fog would dissipate. Instead, they turned to a light rain, prompting us to put our raincovers on our packs. As we stopped to catch our breath, we could see the Skagit River winding below us, growing with every new level of switchback. I know I’m harping on the switchbacks, but the majority of the hike’s 1200-foot elevation gain is in the first mile or so, making it a bit challenging. Once you hit the spine of the mountain it calms down significantly, giving you a chance for some stunning views.
However, the hike is not over yet. You’ll see the trail split off to the right, heading downhill, but you’ll want to keep left for the mountain. The spur goes to Sauk Lake, and to do so you will lose all of the elevation you just gained (-1300 feet in 1.5 miles). This trail is infrequently used, so if you want solitude and don’t mind the quad-shaking up-and-down, go for it! We, however, had the mountain in our sights.
Trip reports warned that the trail splits a bit here and can be confusing, but we easily found ourselves at a bit of a flat area overlooking Sauk Lake. The basin showcased the emerald lake beautifully. There were other hikers snacking here, but we saw that the trail continued up and to the left towards a talus slope, so we opted to follow that and have our break at the actual top. The trail here was clear enough, but I noted some rocks had red paint on them to show the trail in case of confusion. As we climbed towards the peak, the rain around us turned to a very fine snow that thankfully wasn’t sticking, as I had assured the boyfriendo that it wasn’t going to snow at all and we had removed our spikes from our packs.
On a clear day, you can see from the summit of Sauk Mountain as far as Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island. A clear day, this was not. However, we still enjoyed the view as our soup heated on the Pocket Rocket stove. We also enjoyed having gloves packed, as the exposed top was bitterly cold. We enjoyed a hot meal and the view for a bit, and for awhile were the only ones at the top.
Now, there was nothing left but the climb down, the drive down, and the beer waiting for us at Birdsview Brewing. The twenty or so switchbacks waiting for us were not appealing, but once we started moving there was nowhere to go but down. I am a bit timid in going downhill when the rocks are loose, which probably didn’t do my quads and knees any favors, but it kept me upright. We still made it down in a fraction of the time we needed to go up, and we promptly shed our rain layers and muddy shoes before we got in the car.
While the time of year meant no wildflowers, and the clouds and rain diminished the view, this was still a very worthy hike, especially if you are in the area. It’s always nice to bag another peak! I’d do this hike again–but on a clear day.
Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation: 1200 feet
Bathrooms: Pit toilet at trailhead
Best Beer Bet: Birdsview Brewing is a hop, skip, and jump away.