Monday, August 24, 2009

North Cascades At Last

Well after two years of living out here Natalie and I finially got a backpacking trip to the North Cascades going this past weekend. Guess that really says something about the amount of hiking in the area.

For some reason all of the trips I plan seem to start out pretty straight forward in the planning stages and then morph into something much more by the time we are hiking. This trip was no exception. The origional plan was that we would get up Saturday morning, grab some coffee and head up the road. The drive is about 3.5 hours but that would be pretty nice too since we had never been to the area. Once we got to the trailhead we were going to hike up to Easy Pass (not an easy 4 miles with 3300 feet of elevation gain) and then back down the other side to Fischer camp which would be a nice 6 mile push.

Well things went according to plan until we stopped in at the welcome center to get our backcountry hiking permit. Turns out nearly all of the campsites in the area were spoken for (can only reserve 24 hours in advance and in person) so our leisurely 6 mile backpack in turned into a 9 miler. There was a day when I really did not think that 9 miles was very far but in those days I did not have huge mountain passes to go over. I don't want to make it sound like I am dissapointed that the trip got longer because I do love that sort of thing.

Well the push up Easy Pass was everything we thought it would be. It was hard work but we took our time and got up without too much trouble or pain. The view from the pass was amazing. We spent quite a bit of time saying ooo and ahhh and the top and then decided that these backpacks were not going to carry themselves to our campsite and headed down. We immediately set into steep switchbacks and dropped 2000 feet in about a mile and a half. We hiked down through the valley that we had been looking down on earlier and after a few miles we were "in the timber".

Many sections of the trail felt like Linville Gorge because in places the trail became faint and there were several major blowdowns that were fun to reroute around.

As the sun began to fade, which was early since we were under a thick canopy, we pull into camp. What a spot! We were under the trees so there was not any dramatic Hurricane Ridge'esk view but through the trees you could make out the huge cliff faces surrounding us, we were right on the banks of a glacier fed river, and there was not a single noise except for the trees creaking in the wind. As wiped out as I was I headed straight for the river to rinse off. Natalie said I was crazy and the water was going to be freezing seeing as how it was straight snow runoff. Nah, I am tough, it is just cold. Well it was so cold that it took me a couple of runs in before I could actually force myself to go underwater. After a little toweling and a brief period of shivering I was very refreshed.

We spent the night chatting and just enjoying being out in the woods by ourselves. We also managed to down the entire bottle of wine that I carried in. I have never slept so well on a camping trip in my life.

The morning was cool and crisp which made it tough to get out of the sleeping bag. After a little work we managed to pry ourselves out of the toasty bags and make some coffee. After a round of oatmeal we packed up, worked on our torn up feet for a bit and headed out.

The hike out was beautiful. The day before was pretty since we were looking up at the glaciers hanging on a range in front of us but this was even better. The whole hike out we were looking up into the valley we had hiked down and off in the distance we could see the pass we were headed over. There were waterfalls coming down the cliff faces from snowmelt and the wildflowers were all blooming in the valley around us. Very very cool.

After 4 miles of gradual climbing up the valley we hit the switchbacks to the pass. The push up the 2000 feet of verticle in 1.5 miles was not nearly as bad as we thought it would be and before we knew it we were up on the pass. On the way up we did take a long break to watch a marmot on a rock above us whistle to all of his friends below.

We spent a long time relaxing our backs and feet at the top and then headed down to the car. We made it back to the car a few hours later and pulled our shoes off to reveal our mutilated feet. At that point I think we both wanted food so bad it did not phase us too much.

We had both seen a little greek place on the way in and had our minds set on dinner. I think we would have been crushed if the place had been closed but it wasn't and we gorged ourselves until we could not hold another bite of pita and hummus if we had too.

It was a great trip and I can see why everyone is always talking up the North Cascades. We will be back as soon as we can.

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