(Extracted from the Cle Elum Ranger Distinct Trail Guide)
Situated north of Interstate 90, this area includes the Cle Elum District's portion of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as well as other areas. It is bordered on the west and north by the Cascade crest, on the east by the Wenatchee Mountains, Cle Elum River and Lake Kachess, and on the south by 1-90. The highest elevation is 7899 feet at Mt. Daniel; the lowest elevation is 2400 feet at the Salmon La Sac Trailhead.
This area contains several major drainages including Gold Creek, Cooper River, Waptus River, and the Cle Elum River. It also has a great number of prominent peaks and ridges, some of which still hold remnants of the alpine glaciers that once filled the valleys with ice and carved the land into its present shapes. Evidence of glacial activity can be seen in wide U-shaped valleys such as those of Waptus River and Gold Creek and also in the jagged peaks and cirques where lakes now fill rock bowls carved by the ice. A great variety of rock types can be found in this area, from the Snoqualmie Batholith (granites) in the south and west to the metamorphosed sandstones of Bear's Breast and Summit Chief Mountains and the volcanic rocks of Mount Danieln and Cathedral Rock. These are all interspersed and folded with a variety of other rocks including fossil-bearing sediments.
Altitude, topography, and climatic variations create a wide range of plant habitats in this area. The highest places are islands of arctic life, featuring rock lichens and stunted wildflowers such as phlox and heather. Alpine fir and low ground-hugging conifers mark the upper reaches of timberline, where flower-filled alpine meadows become interspersed with trees. As one moves downhill, trees get larger and more numerous and diverse. On the lower slopes and in the valley bottoms, large trees such as Douglas-fir, hemlock, grand fir, and cedar dominate. Vine maples and alders occupy avalanche chutes and border the creeks, where occasional cottonwoods can also be found.
Variety of habitats also means a variety of wildlife. Marmots live in the high rocky meadows. Mountain goats inhabit the mountainsides and alpine meadows. Deer, elk and bear can be seen from alpine meadows to valley bottoms depending on the weather and time of year. Beavers are scattered along the slower streams, building and maintaining their dams. White-tailed ptarmigan, ravens, golden eagles, and jays are found at higher altitudes, and the forests contain various species of woodpeckers (including pileated), owls, small hawks, and assorted small birds. The lower altitude lakes and streams are sometimes good places to spot Canada geese, mergansers, loons, ducks, and water dippers.
In former times, Native Americans spent summer and fall camped in these mountains. They fished, hunted, and gathered berries. The first Europeans were probably British trappers who followed the Indian trails in the early 1800s. In the late 1800s, large numbers of prospectors began to comb the hills and discovered deposits of copper, gold, silver, and other minerals. A road was built to Fish Lake in the 1890s to serve numerous mines in the upper Cle Elum Valley. Gold Creek and Mineral Creek were also developed and evidence of this can be seen where there are sections of old roads, prospect holes, and mines. Mining peaked in the early 1900s. In the 1920s and `30s, many of the present-day trails were constructed by the Forest Service for access to proposed lookouts and for fire suppression. Many of these lookouts were built and all have since been abandoned. Remains of the lookouts can be seen at spots such as Davis Peak and Pollalie Ridge.