Area: French Creek

Length: 9.0

Elevation: 2900 +4880 -2230

Condition: brushy, primitive to gone

Solitude: scary extreme

Appeal: great

Features: isolation, physical challenge, views

Difficulty: seriously hard

Administered: nominally USFS, Wenatchee River R.D.

Trailhead: Blackpine / Icicle Creek trailhead

Connects to:
   Cradle Lake

Guides: 100Al (partial)

   Green Trails Chiwaukum Mountains
   USGS Jack Ridge
   USGS Cradle




When it comes to hiking: French Creek is middle school, Snowall Creek is community college, and Blackjack Ridge is a post-doctoral degree.

The Blackjack trail runs high and dry for miles. The terrain is stony, burnt and sun parched in places, choked thick with brush and scrub trees in places, waterless everywhere. The "trail" of sorts is unreliable and often missing. The route shown by even the best maps — all of them! — cannot be trusted. Even my illustration map is only a "best guess" in places. This is enough to chill even RidgeRat's furry spine. So why consider it? For the challenge, of course. For the monstrous views, and for the sheer exhilaration of it all. It is a trip to remember, if you survive. Make sure your "last will and testament" is current.

For a relatively tame preview, take the last part of the trail in the reverse direction, 3.5 miles up the dry 3200-foot north ridge from the Blackpine Horse Camp. That's the "easy part." If you can handle that, you should also be able to rock scramble to the summit of Bootjack Mountain to get a good overview of most of the route. Horses? They won't compete with you here. Imagine that! A trail terminating at a horse camp, and zero horse traffic. For good reason.



This description starts from the south end of the trail, a strategy recommended for:

  • the best odds of successful route-finding,
  • net elevation loss rather than gain.

Take the Cradle Lake Hike. After visiting the lake, reverse back down the trail, about 1.1 miles down the ridge, and take the Blackjack Ridge trail fork to the north. Mileage tallies for the trip start here.

Though it is almost 0.8 miles to descend to Pablo Creek, at about 0.6 miles there is a delightful little meadow with fresh running water for comfortable camping among the sparse trees — a good place to stop-over for the night.

Pablo Creek crossing

Pablo Creek crossing


After a cool and refreshing rest, load up with 3 to 4 quarts of water at camp. You will need it under typical conditions, about 85 degrees with hot sun beating directly down on you. Continue the trail 0.2 more miles to Pablo Creek, which will look like an impassible brush-marsh. You can pass, if you are committed. Take off your boots and begin wading. It is cold and a little mushy, but not deep. A slight hint of a passage will lead you through the towering brush and across to the other side.

Beginning the ascent

Pablo Creek crossing


Once you get your boots back on, a little careful squinting should reveal the vestiges of old trail ascending diagonally rightward between young trees. Can you see it in the photo? Expect much more like this, as you pass between snags up the old burn to the ridge, about 1.6 miles from the Cradle trail. This is actually the highest point along the route.


The old burn zone thins, and there is decent trail as you pass over the spur ridge. Here you can take stock of the terrain that still lies ahead.


Blackjack Ridge

Blackjack Ridge view

Switchbacks take you down relatively steep slopes without too much grief, losing 900 feet to reach snow-collector meadows in the valley above Ben Creek, 2.6 miles. Observe the prominent stony lump towering at the head of the meadows on your left. Some maps show your trail passing over the top of that lump... do you believe them?

You might find water at these meadows, but more likely only muck. In either case, thrash your mucky way across on the ground that appears most firm, as the trail vanishes. It is about 200 yards. Look for the most direct route to reach the firm sloping ground straight across; you can find the trail again at this point. Climb only a little, and then begin rounding the slopes on a contour line eastward.

At 3.2 miles, things get a little strange as the trail vanishes in a thicket of lodgepole regrowth. Maps often show the trail at a higher elevation; they are wrong, but if you become worried, going up-slope to avoid some of the thicket is not a terrible strategy. As you clear the east-facing slopes and their scrubby trees, it is relatively easy to spot the trail again from above. At 3.5 miles, the slope gets steeper, and you come to switchbacks. The clear intent is to take you directly up and over the spur ridge to your north, gaining about 500 feet.

The trail gets better as you pass over that ridge, 4.0 miles, southeast of Bootjack Mountain. You don't give up too much elevation as the trail contours around slopes, about a half mile to the next ridge, straight east of Bootjack.

Ascending the final ridge

Trail approaches final ridge

Drop down on the other side of that ridge, at 4.5 miles, descending about 200 feet on switchbacks. Resume a more level course across open high meadows with light forest. The trail is much easier now, making quick progress. As you approach the next ridge, the trail circles up and to the left, gaining back some of the elevation lost; then it circles right to cross over the ridge at an advantageous location, at 5.5 miles.

Descending to Icicle Creek

Descent to Icicle Creek Road

At this point, consider your life expectancy restored. There is a minor traverse on open northeasterly slopes, taking you to a ridge that descends steadily 3.3 miles to Icicle Creek — with fabulous trail by the standards you have become used to. Arrive at the Forest Service's Blackpine Horse Camp, 9.0 miles from your start at the south end of the trail.

It is fortunate that no Minotaurs prowl the maze of mule trails that is the Blackpine Camp. There is no right or logical path. Go whatever way seems to continue north, toward the road. When you emerge, you are only 0.2 miles from the Icicle Creek trailhead, and only 1.2 miles from the Meadow Creek trailhead. That means there are several ways to combine with these other trails in the area to make glorious big loops!