Area: French Creek

Length: 6.2

Elevation: 3340 +2900 -220

Condition: brushy, primitive to gone

Solitude: extreme

Appeal: fantastic

Features: isolation, views, high meadows

Difficulty: medium high

Administered: nominally USFS, Wenatchee River R.D.

Trailhead: Icicle Creek trailhead

Connects to:
   Cradle Lake
   French Creek

Guides: 100Al

Maps:
   Green Trails Chiwaukum Mountains
   USGS Jack Ridge
   USGS Cradle


 

map

Overview

This unassuming trail takes you to jaw-dropping beautiful high meadows, and onward to a pass with stunning views, as much as you can stand. Guide book authors have forgotten about it, and have never seen it. Horses long ago forgot about it (a blessing). Hikers don't know about it, except for you and me.

Though no parts are difficult, long stretches are so obscure that even RidgeRat watches carefully and navigates with caution. This is not a good trail for you if you do not have skills and experience for off-trail wilderness navigation. Not that you would intentionally leave the trail, not that anything about this description is less than brilliantly clear about how to best follow it, but there are places where the trail becomes so obscure that it can seem to "just vanish before your eyes."

 

Details

Take the French Creek hike. At 6.5 miles from the Icicle trailhead, reach a creek-side camp. Just beyond this, locate the signed trail junction; there won't be any doubt when you have found the start of Snowall Trail.

There is a comfortable and only slightly horse-pounded camp just before the junction, beside French Creek. This can be a good place for a stop-over, and a fresh start early in the morning. I have only seen this site used once, though there is a chance you could encounter a savvy traveler (familiar with the RidgeRat site) on a trip to Klonaqua Lakes.

Follow the short spur trail from the junction and cross French Creek. There is no bridge, but the water is generally comfortable, and wading across on the friendly gravel is very safe.

The trail takes you toward a steepening slope. As the ascent begins, there are two large switchbacks, with a gain of about 800 feet. The trail begins curving to pass around the north nose of "The Cradle" ridge, and soon approaches Snowall Creek. You follow along the creek for a while, and then at 1.7 miles, reach a ford. Old guidebooks describe this crossing as deep and dangerous. However, that was all artificial, as creek water was backing up behind what was once the foundation for a foot bridge that washed away generations ago. The crossing became tame and easy after those obstructions were pulled out of the creek channel.

At 2.2 miles, reach the first area where a primitive camp might be feasible, though you will not find any of the "hardened" camps of the sort that are typically the plague of horse country. At 3.0 miles, reach a spectacular open meadow, identified by a large white granite boulder near the trail. Historically, there was a camp here; passing in front of this rock to the right and heading across the meadow, there is a bare trace of a foot/game trail to Snowall Creek. Please don't harm the rare bull trout, even if they seem abundant.

Back at the large white boulder, continue on the trail along the left side of the meadow; and then more and more meadows. The grade begins to increase slightly; at about 3.4 miles, pass through some sparse larger timber. You might face a challenge depending on how many big trees now lie fallen across the trail.

Continue on. At 4.1 miles, you will see the creek valley continuing onward somewhat to the right, but there is another creek fork splashing down sharply amid cracked boulders to the left. Do not ford this creek, even if it seems that the trail was heading that way. The trail probably isn't gone, but it lies buried so deep below thick brush on your left above the creek that you won't find it. So your strategy is to pound your way up along the creek, keeping impassible brush on your left, creek on your right, irregular boulders in your path. You should start to see occasional evidences of pieces of trail along here which you can follow. At 4.5 miles, the trail take a square left turn and dives straight into timber, brushy but thinner brush under the darker cover. There are a couple of switchbacks; you do want to follow them.

climbing out of the valley

Snowall high trail


As you emerge from trees, the trail is relatively easy to follow, at the fringe of the timber, above meadow slopes descending to the creek on the right. Zig and zag upward with the trail through a maze of thick brush clumps until, at 4.8 miles, emerge in a small meadow. This is a good place to take a break and appreciate the surroundings. This is also a terribly easy place to lose the trail when trying this hike in the reverse direction.

The trail vanishes at the meadow. Pass straight up the mild slopes, watching on the right. In 100 feet or so, you should have little trouble finding distinct trail again, cutting through the last bits of thick brush, and beginning an irregular ascent on irregular rocks. The brush gets thinner as you work your way up along the top of a small fold. My notes indicate three set of switchbacks following generally in the direction of the creek drainage but high above, gaining 600 feet.

You are getting very high up the ridge; the higher you go, the more weather-beaten and obscure the trail becomes. The final leg of the trail, toward the saddle ahead in a southeast direction, is so obscure you will wonder if you are off track or just following a game trail. Set your sights on that saddle and get yourself there, contouring across and up the slope.

And then, find the stunning views at the pass.

 

Cradle Lake from the Snowall Pass

Cradle Lake from the pass

Just the other side of the pass, find the obvious connection to the Cradle Lake Trail. The rebuilt trail is relatively easy after a couple of stony switchbacks directly below the pass. Curl across the red rocks on the face of Cradle Mountain, dropping about 200 feet to visit Cradle Lake near its outlet.

As noted in the Cradle Lake hike notes, the camp site at the the lake is seriously damaged. If you will be continuing further, consider moving down the Cradle Lake trail 1.1 more miles, plus 0.4 miles on the side trail to the north, for secluded camping near Pablo Creek. If not going further this way, one will blame you if you turn back the way you came, into the seclusion of the Snowall valley. Your trip back to the valley will be much faster and easier now that you know the way.