Wolves are part of attraction of Teanaway River
The return of wolves adds another good reason to visit the North Cascades.
The trail to Esmeralda Basin follows an old mining road and gives visitors a great hike spectacular alpine vistas and possibly a glimpse of the Teanaway wolf pack. Seabury Blair Jr. | Kitsap Sun
Now there's another reason to head for the high Cascade Mountains whose snows spawn the splendid Teanaway River.
Used to be the biggest draws were the spectacular alpine vistas and kaleidoscopic wildflower meadows, and that's still a great reason to take a day hike or backpack in the Teanaway. But now, hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers and hunters have another reason to visit: to hear and perhaps see one of only four wolf packs in the state.
The Teanaway Pack, only verified by the Department of Fish and Wildlife last month, is cruising the Teanaway country north of Cle Elum in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The department has photos of the wolves and is tracking one via a radio collar.
The trip to the Teanaway can be a long day or weekend outing for hikers and backcountry equestrians from our neck of the woods. Give yourself about 3 hours, 30 minutes to get to trailheads leading to the Esmeralda Basin and Fortune Creek Pass.
Another popular wildflower hike along Stafford Creek is nearby, where a hiker last month spotted one of the wolves of the Teanaway Pack. Although officials only confirmed the pack's existence in July, hunters have reported sightings and tracks in the area for at least two years.
In fact, one of the photos of a Teanaway wolf was taken last winter near the "ghost town" of Liberty. That historic gold mining community is a couple miles off Highway 97, the Swauk Pass highway.
You'll have to drive a lot farther to find the rest of wolf country in this state. There's the Lookout Pack, in eastern Okanogan County, and the Salmo and Diamond packs in Pend Oreille County.
The Teanaway Pack has at least four adult members. DFW biologists believe there are also pups in the pack. The department estimates a total of 25-30 wolves now den in this state.
One of the nicest introductions to hiking or riding in the area is the Esmeralda Basin Trail 1394, an abandoned mining road that leads to expansive wildflower meadows. It's a good hike for families with younger children, although they are certain to complain at that steep quarter-mile section at the start of the trail.
The trailhead itself is scenic, surrounded by 7,000-foot peaks and its own cascading waterfall. The trail climbs about 250 feet in the first 0.2 miles, then enters the basin itself and the grade eases.
At 0.4 miles from the trailhead, you'll arrive at a junction with a steep trail heading toward Longs Pass and Ingalls Lake. Stay left, here, and continue across several crystal streams and wildflower meadows.
At 0.8 miles, you'll wander into the basin's most spectacular wildflower shows, where the variety of alpine blossoms includes a pink stalk of flowers that look like miniature elephant's heads. The name? Elephant's Head Lousewort.
The trail continues for another 1.3 miles before it enters the forest and begins climbing steeply once again towards Fortune Creek Pass. This makes a good turnaround spot for families, with a round-trip hike of about 4.3 miles.
Hikers seeking more exercise can follow the trail another 1.5 miles and 1,350 vertical feet up the Esmeralda Basin Trail to 5,960-foot high Fortune Creek Pass, where you can look into the vast Alpine Lakes Wilderness. That would make a round-trip hike of 7.1 miles.
For an even tougher workout, turn right at the junction with the Ingalls Way Trail, 0.4 miles from the Esmeralda Basin Trailhead. The path begins a steep switchback climb up a rocky ridge of the Wenatchee Mountains and at 2.4 miles, you'll find a junction with the Ingalls Way Trail.
Stay left for the lake and continue on a climbing traverse to Ingalls Pass, 3.9 miles from the trailhead, where you'll enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and begin a descending traverse and eventually climb to Ingalls Lake, 6,463 feet above sea level. This is a strenuous 10.8-mile round-trip hike, gaining and losing 2,600 vertical feet.
The quickest route — assuming you don't go when the Washington Department of Transportation isn't blasting or working on I-90 — is to follow I-90 to the Cle Elum Exit 85, then follow Highway 970 east for 6.6 miles to the Teanaway Road.
Turn left on the Teanaway Road and follow it for 23.6 miles to the Esmeralda Basin Trailhead. The pavement ends after 13 miles, at the Twentynine Pines Campground. Follow Forest Road 9737 to the Trailhead.
IF YOU GO
You'll find a number of bed-and-breakfast spots and motels in Cle Elum and plenty of camping along the Teanaway River past the crowded Twentynine Pines Campground. One of the nicest is Beverly Campground, about 6 miles below the trailhead, with tent sites along the river.
A Northwest Forest Pass ($5 day; $30 annual) is required at the trailhead. Closest dealer is Teanaway Mercantile, 6.7 miles up the Teanaway Road.
For trail and road information, call the Cle Elum Ranger District, 509-852-1100, or visit www.fs.usda.gov/okawen.
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