Failure and Success in the North Cascades
The North Cascades are commonly referred to as the "American Alps." It's an apt description: high rugged terrain, with thick forests, tons of glaciers, and quality rock for climbing. I've had my eye on a number of objectives in the range and wanted to give them a shot before leaving Washington for good.
My first objective was Luna Peak. Luna is the highest of the famed "Picket Range" in the heart of the national park. The Pickets are just that - a fence line of impossibly steep spires smothered in snow and ice. The Pickets are remote; no trails lead into the range itself and access requires extensive bushwhacking. With all the difficulty, why bother? According to those that make the trip, Luna Peak has the best alpine view in all of Washington, possibly even in all the Lower 48. I love good views so that put Luna at the top of my list.
I borded a water taxi on Ross Lake to bypass 7 miles (one-way) of lakeshore trail. I was dropped off at the Big Beaver trailhead and hiked in 11 miles along Big Beaver Creek. I should have camped there and started off fresh the next day. But I didn't.
|Ross Lake water taxi|
Then I had to cross the Big Beaver. The guidebook says that you can usually find a log but I didn't see one and I wasn't about to frolic about along the creek bank through more devil's club just to keep from getting a little wet. So I plunged in and waded across.
The devil's club eventually gave way to slide alder. Imagine a bunch of trees that are just waiting for an avalanche or a blowdown to open up a spot in the forest canopy. Then they all grow simultaneously, fighting each other for supremacy in a sadistic hierarchy of trees. They grow so fast that they intertwine themselves like something Hitler concocted to keep the Allies off Normandy Beach. At one point it took me an hour to go 250 yards. And then I realized it was kind of in the wrong direction and so had to exit the labyrinth of greenery for a net gain of about zero for 2 hours of intense effort.
All told it took 5 hours to go 2.5 miles. On top of the 11 miles I hiked earlier in the day. I was exhausted and I smelled like I got in a fight with a salad. I spent 15 minutes picking pine needles out of my beard. I decided to camp in the first suitable spot I came to. I left some of my sweaty smelly gear outside my tent to dry overnight.
I woke up to a ravaged camp. Apparently some little mountain rodent creatures liked the salts in all my sweaty gear and ate everything. I hope they choked to death. They destroyed my t-shirt. They ate the wrist straps and cork handles off of my trekking poles. They gnawed on my water bladder. I never did find my trusty ball cap. Worst of all, they took my spoon (though that was entirely my fault - in my exhaustion I forgot to secure it properly after dinner).
I had to whittle a stick into a primitive spoon to eat my breakfast. I patched my water bladder with duct tape. Then I grabbed the nubbins of my former trekking poles and continued to climb toward Luna Peak.
|Improvise, adapt, and overcome|
|Didn't get a whole lot closer than this...|
I made camp along the Big Beaver trail, happy to be on a marked, alder & devil's club free path. The following day I headed back to the lake. I had made my return water taxi reservation expecting a 4 night trip and the Pickets whupped me in only 2. Luckily I met another group heading out and hitched a ride with them. They took pity on my story, particularly when I showed them my handcrafted spoon, and didn't charge me for my part of the taxi (which also helped reduce the sting of replacing expensive trekking poles). Thanks guys!
The icing on the cake was discovered when I returned to my truck. Not only had rodent creatures wrecked my camp in the mountains, but they somehow got inside the back of my truck and went to town on the food I had stored. Crackers, trail mix, dried soups, all stored in ziplock bags, were chewed through. They made a nest out of my paper towels. And pooped everywhere. If I die of hantavirus in the next month or so, all I ask is that my friends avenge my death and kill all the rodents in North Cascades. And find my spoon.
I took some time off to recuperate in town and catch up with good friends. I'll take a moment to thank everyone in the greater Seattle area that I stayed with in August: Phil & Andi, Raf, The Musselwhites, The Robertsons, James & Heather, and The Porters. With clean laundry and renewed motivation, I set off for redemption in the North Cascades.
My second objective was Sahale Peak, 8600ft. Sahale means the "high place" in native tongue and is purported to also have great views but is a much more manageable route. I enjoyed the hike in on good trail though lovely alpine meadows smelling of piney heather and ripe blueberries. Best of all - no bushwhacking!
|The legendary trail along the Sahale Arm|
|Sunset from 7600ft|
|Good view of my old friend Forbidden Peak from the summit of Sahale|
|North Cascades redemption!|
|Friends at high camp|