Fourth of July Creek, Leavenworth
- Round trip: 13 miles
- Elevation gain: 4,800 feet
It was 1980s. I was young and dumb.
I decided to climb the ridiculously steep Fourth of July Creek trail to the top of Icicle Ridge near Leavenworth, Wash., without food or water on a 90-degree day. Did I mention that I was young and dumb?
Hours went by as I sweated and puffed my way upward. At some point, I realized that I had made a huge mistake not bringing water, but I was too stubborn to give up. I had summit fever.
Once on top, I was so delirious that I stayed maybe 10 minutes, turned around and nearly stepped on a timber rattlesnake on my way down. Stumbling to the car, I was on the verge of heat exhaustion. I was dehydrated and sick for days afterwards.
It was with some trepidation that I returned to the Fourth of July Creek on a recent June afternoon. I had ample food and water this time, and the temperatures were in the 50s. But I’m almost 60 now and this hike is a mother.
The trail starts from a small parking area off the Icicle Creek Road, at 2,260 feet, about 9.4 miles from the junction of U.S. Highway 2 in the town of Leavenworth.
The first third of a mile take place in rolling forest, then the climb gets serious. A relentless series of switchbacks lead you up an impossibly steep route above the Icicle Valley. Very shortly, you’ll see Cashmere Mountain and the impressive Stuart Range across the valley to the south, and the views only get better the higher you go.
It’s a grind, no doubt about it. About five miles in, at 6,000 feet, you’ll hit the end of the hard climbing and cross a fire-damaged slope and reach a rock outcropping. You can stop here, where the views are fantastic, or fulfill your summit dreams with another mile-plus of climbing to the ridge top and site of a former fire lookout at 7,000 feet.
Water: Don’t be dumb, like the young SkiZer. Carry at least two liters of water per person; there is no reliable water past a creek crossing at one-quarter of a mile from the trailhead.
Energy factor: Before starting this hike, ask yourself, “Do I really have the juice to do this entire hike?” The views of the valley and surrounding mountains certainly get better the higher you go, but once you reach about 4,000 feet, you’re into some great country. If you’re feeling gassed, you might consider grabbing a seat on a convenient rock, having lunch and then returning to the valley bottom for a dip in the welcoming waters of the Icicle.
Blister rating: Five out of five stars. Break out your preferred treatment before starting and carry it with you. It’s steep and your heels will take a beating on the way up, your toes on the way down.