UPWC - Big Jim and The Chiwaukum

Decided on a Friday night that on I needed a big adventure on Saturday. I had been thinking about it for a few days, thinking I needed to get back on the horse after being bucked two Saturdays before during an attempt to traverse the entire Icicle Ridge Trail. That's a long story, but the short and simple of it is I made some bad decisions about water capacity assuming I'd make progress easier and faster than I did on long abandoned trails. Eventually I came to an impassable point in the trail a mile from my water resupply and had to backtrack to an alternate exit very thirsty and a little scraped and bruised from falling a few times on a sketchy hillside. It was a day filled with invaluable lessons for a very inexperienced adventurer like myself. I got a little hysterical in the dehydration and danger, so it took a heavy toll on my confidence.

I signed up for the Big Jim and The Chiwaukum route on Ultrasignup and immediately started doubting my ability to complete it. It was probably a good thing that I waited so long to actually make the commitment, because if I had more time to be in doubt I might have talked myself out of it. I am amazed at how big of an impact that Icicle Ridge fail had on me, but then again it is like the second solo back country adventure I've undertaken and the fail was pretty hard and scary. Getting ready in the morning was the heaviest internal battle. I talked myself out of it and back into it so many times that I was 30 minutes late leaving the house, eventually winning the fight by telling myself that if I didn't do this now it would only be harder next time. I knew that might mean there wouldn't be a next time, and I am not someone who likes the idea of giving up on anything, ever.

I finally left the house at around 5:30 a.m. and made the hour long drive up to the Hatchery Creek trail head. It was still dark when I left the house, but by the time I got to the parking area it was daylight, a little before sunrise. I was one of three vehicles in the parking lot. I hung out at the trail head for about ten minutes waiting for my inReach Mini to find GPS and send a message before hitting the trail. I like to know this guy is working before I set out on solo adventures, especially after feeling close to calling for help two weekends prior. I took a deep breath, started my watch, and headed up the trail.

The Hatchery Creek trail was in remarkably good condition. It was steep and rocky for the first few miles but well defined and easy to follow. I ran into my first human when I was almost to the top, a gentleman with a large pack and a rifle heading out. We said hi to each other as we passed. The first five miles were through old burn and the last mile more foresty. Once I was up the climb there was quite a bit of runnable trail, definitely more than I had expected, so my time was looking better than I anticipated. Also during this section my doubts had faded to a light whisper as I remembered how much I loved doing this. How much I loved the peace and quiet both around me and in between my ears I experienced when out in beautiful nature pushing my body and mind to their limits. I was starting to realize it was going to be a great day.

At six miles in I turned on to the Icicle Ridge trail and started making my way up to Lake Augusta. The beauty continued to astound me throughout this trip. I was really excited to be making my way to the first lake of this adventure. A large part of this section was flat or down so I took advantage of the ability to get some running in. The meadow just below the lake was gorgeous and I made a mental note that this could be a possible campsite for a future backpacking trip, if I ever get the guts to backpack. A lone deer bounded across the meadow past me and I wasn't fast enough with my phone to get a good pic of her. I looked for her friends but she seemed to be on her own today.

After a small climb past the meadow I arrived at my first lake. Augusta was of course gorgeous, nestled in a bowl below a steep, rocky ridge. Swimming was a temptation as the water was insanely blue and clear and cool. I filled my water bottles and took a minute to just appreciate the calm, serene lake before starting the climb up to the ridge. I made sure to take pics of the lake on the ascent. I am pretty sure pictures and glassy eyed staring added about an hour to my overall time.

The climb up from Augusta finally forced me to pull out my trekking poles. After spending a minute enjoying the views from the top of the ridge I made the steep descent into the valley below where Carter Lake and Painter Creek awaited me. The poles helped me make the drop quickly, as the switchbacks are loose and steep on the way down.

Now, I had read the trip reports from my fellow UPWC adventurers who had completed the route this year and made sure to by hyper-vigilant of the trail once I was in the Painter Creek area. Many thanks to those who warned about this section as the trail is pretty hard to follow. Cairns are present, but spaced out enough I could see how it would be easy to make a costly mistake. I pretty much had my phone in hand with Caltopo open and leading me through this valley. The first place the trail eluded me was leaving Carter lake and I did a little bushwhacking to get on course. I never saw the Painter Creek trail turn, but then again I wasn't really looking for it. The next place I found it hard to stay on the trail was the short track up alongside the small creek drainage to the ascent out of the whole thing. It was in this section that I ran into my second humans, a group of three women and a young girl with huge packs heading the opposite direction. We chatted for a bit and during the conversation they mentioned they were coming from Lake Edna with the intention to exit on the 4th of July creek trail. After I shared with them my tale of failure trying to make that path two weekends prior the other direction they decided to aim for a Hatchery Creek exit instead. They told me that they had already spent too much time trying to find their way on abandoned trails in the north fork of the Chiwaukum earlier in their trek (I think they said they were on day 3 or 4) and had no interest in more shenanigans. They told me they had seen another runner a day or two before and I wondered if this was a fellow UPWC-er. We wished each other well and parted ways. Once I started climbing the wall it got pretty easy to find the path.

On the ridge between Painter Creek and Index Creek I was treated to nice, runnable trail which stayed that way most of the way down to Index Creek. At Index Creek I stopped to refill my water bottles and was startled by my third human encounter. A savage young couple also from Wenatchee (we determined the similar origins by the fact that we were both wearing RunWenatchee hats) who were on their second day coming from a Stevens Pass entry via the PCT. They were somewhat familiar with the route I was doing, asking if I was on the Chiwaukum Big Jim run. I told them I was. They too were heading out the 4th of July Creek trail and I told them my experience with it, but they planned to give it a shot anyways. I later found out that they were able to make a route through the section, and I fully plan to plagiarize their Strava post to complete my Icicle Ridge traverse in the future.

On the way up to Edna I was treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, including Big Jim, gorgeous meadows, beautiful wildflowers, and delicious trail. It was all so distracting I don't even think I noticed that I was climbing. My time here was terrible because I just couldn't help but take a bazillion pics.

Lake Edna was so peaceful and serene. The water was deep, blue, and very clear. I sat down on a small rock outcropping and had a snack. A cold wind was blowing pretty constantly off the lake. After filling my bottles I stood up to leave and was greeted by my fourth and final human of this adventure. A German (estimate based on accent) gentlemen with a large pack who shouted through the wind to me "I have nothing to complain about!" I agreed with him that out here in such amazing nature it would be hard to find anything to complain about. We tried to talk for a minute but that sentence appeared to be the bulk of his English. I did work out that he was heading to another lake to spend another night out in the mountains before was parted ways. I wished him well and started making my way up to Ladies Pass.

Ladies Pass, and the climb to it, is amazing. Once again the stupendous eye candy all around me made me completely unaware of the fact that I was climbing. Or maybe it was just easier because all the pics made for a ton of micro-breaks. Either way, I was blown away by the views and very distracted. So distracted in fact that I completely missed the turn to Chiwaukum Creek trail. The trails through this section were in such good shape I was able to make great time and ran about a mile and a half before noticing I was off course. It was looking down at Upper Florence Lake that clued me in. Based on a previous map check I thought the position of the lake to the trail was strange and pulled my phone out to check my position. The bonus miles were too beautiful to be mad about so I laughed at myself and headed back to the sign that I was suddenly realizing probably signified the intersection I missed. I think I was too busy taking selfies by it to notice the other trail. This is my second UPWC route and I am now 2-0 for bonus miles. I worry that if I keep this up Ras and Kathy are going to start charging me the difference for my over indulgences.

Back on track I was on my way down the long descent out the Chiwaukum Creek trail. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of brushiness here, but after a lot on initial overgrowth and slow going I was able to really move for quite a bit of this section. Way more running than I had expected. Fast running for a great deal of it. There were a significant number of big blow downs in the lower section, but I was able to maintain enough speed to leap onto or over most of them. With the amount of water available throughout the whole of this route I was able to stay super hydrated, so my muscle soreness was at pretty much zero and I was in full gazelle mode for the last five miles of the trail. It was glorious. I sent a one-hour-out text message via inReach to my lovely wife at the confluence of the north and south fork of the Chiwaukum Creek and when I arrived at the trailhead she had only been waiting about 10 minutes. It actually took me 1.5 hours from the point I sent the message, but I figured she would need time to get ready and get to me since she was an hour from the rendezvous and likely not sitting in her car waiting. She greeted me with two ice-cold cans of Pepsi and my love for her in that moment couldn't have been any greater. I chugged one and sipped the second as we drove up to my truck at the Hatchery Creek trailhead. Once at my truck I got out of my muddy, dusty Calderas and slipped my disgusting feet into my cushy Hoka recovery slides. Mission accomplished.

In conclusion, this is an epic, awesome, super-cool amazing route and I fully plan to do it again in the future, hopefully dragging others with me to experience this treasure. Off the top of my head I know at a minimum I will do it two more times. I will be fast-packing it with a friend that was going to do it with me this year but suffered an injury that set his training back too far for an attempt this season, and as a two day backpacking trek with my amazing wife next season. This one is waaaaaay to good not to share.

Caltopo of planned route: https://caltopo.com/m/0N3B

Strava of my actual effort, with bonus miles:  https://www.strava.com/activities/3984416354


  1. Thanks for sharing! Maybe we will catch you around Wenatchee. Let us know if you want further details about the way through cabin creek. - “the savage Wenatchee runners”. - Erin and Anthony

    1. I will need FULL DETAILS! I thought about you guys for the rest of my run that day, worried about how you would do since I got my butt kicked so hard there. I did think however, based on your savageness, you probably would be fine since you surely had more experience with these things than a outdoor noob IT guy like myself does. Maybe we should get together for a run or a hike sometime to discuss! My email is edhenleyii@gmail.com. Hope to hear from you guys :-)


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