I haven't done much hiking in North Cascades National Park. Since Sandy is a day hiker and not a backpacker, on our hiking trips we stay in motels. A lot of parks have gateway towns that are just outside the park, where there are motels, restaurants and shops. Examples would be Springdale, Utah (outside Zion), Torrey, Utah (outside Capital Reef) or Estes Park (outside Rocky Mountain). That works well for us on our hiking trips.
Last year on our way back from Whistler, BC we took a slight diversion to scout out possibilities for North Cascades National Park. We drove home on the North Cascades Highway, the only major road that goes into the park. What we found was that there was almost nothing near the park. That meant that I took it off the list for potential trips for Sandy and me. But after spending the weekend at Game On! in Seattle, I was on for a couple of days of hiking in the North Cascades.
I thought I would try staying at the one motel in Marblemount, a tiny town just outside the park. I'm not as fussy about accommadations as Sandy is so I thought I would take a chance and stay at the Buffalo Run Inn. Looking at Trip Advisor, there were definitely some interesting reviews. Often when people make negative comments on Trip Advisor, the management will respond with some kind of apology or explanation. The management at the Buffalo Run took a different approach. I saw one review where the person complained that when they checked in, they weren't made to feel welcome. The manager's response was "We're sorry you didn't feel welcome. Next time let us know when you will arrive so we can set off some fireworks."
It turns out that the Buffalo Run and Restaurant is both a motel and a restaurant (duh!). It's a family run operation so when I arrived there was no one at the motel and I had to go across the street to the restaurant to check in. Everyone was working there. Of course they were quite busy so I can understand that someone might have felt that they didn't get a lot of attention. It didn't bother me. Hey, they were all working hard. The room that I stayed in was actually quite nice. So my experience was good. Since the location is excellent for accessing the west side of the park, I'm hoping that I can go back with Sandy another time so that we can do some hiking together.
I wanted to get an early start the next morning since I was hoping to drive all the way home after the hike. And it was a long way home. Even though I didn't fall asleep till quite late, I still woke up at 5:30 am. Even with a stop at the gas station convenience store for a Diet Coke and Twinkies (the breakfast of champions) I was on the road by 6 am. I was right across the street from where the Cascade River Road branched off of the main highway but I still had to drive over twenty three miles, most of it on a dirt road, to reach the trailhead. It took me an hour.
When I was getting close to the trailhead I pulled onto the side of the road where I had a good view of the peaks up ahead. When I tried to take a picture with my phone it was all blurry. Apparently something had happened with Ivan's repair of the camera lens. Oh well. At least I got to use it for a couple of hikes. Fortunately I still had my DSLR with me for this hike so I could get photos of the spectacular scenery.
What was really weird was that after I got home, the camera on my phone was working fine again, and still is. I have no idea what happended that morning. Maybe the camera on my phone was affected by a cosmic vortex. It's happened to me before.
Finally I reached the trailhead. There were a lot of cars parked there. Since it was still very early these were obviously people who were backpacking.
I was here to do the Cascade Pass Trail. It's an old indian trade route through the mountains and probably the most famous trail in the national park. The hike to the pass is moderate, 1800 feet of elevation gain in three and a half miles. That was as far as I was planning to go today. As I mentioned, I had a long drive home after I finished the hike. But from the pass, the trail continues up Sahale Arm to campsites below Sahale Peak. In 1988 I did this trip with my old climbing partner, Brian Breckenridge. We planned to climb Sahale Peak but I ended up having a major problem with one of my boots. A shank broke in the side of the boot and kept jabbing the side of my foot. In those days I was tougher so I just kept hiking. By the end of the day my foot was torn up so badly that I could barely walk. We camped on the Sahale glacier and the next morning Brian went up and climbed Sahale Peak by himself while I stayed in camp. I couldn't even put on my boots and was barely able to limp down in the tennis shoes I had taken along to wear in camp. Not my best ever showing in the mountains. Maybe some day I'll come back and get to the summit of Sahale Peak.
My other memory from that trip was that before we started, we saw a notice at the ranger station that the flies had just hatched out. Sure enough, the black flies were absolutely horrible on that trip. It was even worse than the Olympics, and they are pretty bad. It was definitely not fun on the way down when I could hardly move. So I was a little nervous as I started out this morning. I was hoping that with an early start, I wouldn't have to worry about flies for a couple of hours.
Well, I needn't have worried. I didn't have any problems with bugs on this hike.
The hike entered the forest and climbed at a steady grade. There weren't any views but it was pleasant hiking in the cool of the morning. As I got higher I started to get a few views through gaps in the trees. There were spectacular peaks across the valley: Mt Johanisberg, the Triplets, Cascade Peak and Mixup Peak. They looked amazing in the early morning light.
As I continued to climb, eventually I started to come out of the forest. Now I had distant views to the west of Eldorado Peak and Mt Torment. I have always liked the names of some of the peaks in the North Cascades, like Mt Torment and Mt Terror. Years ago I remember reading Challenge of the North Cascades by Fred Beckey, one of the most famous American climbers of the twentieth century, about his many first ascents in the North Cascades. Back then I wanted to climb those scary sounding mountains. These days, I am content to hike to where I can get good views of them..
As I approached Cascade Pass I could see that I had to cross one snowfield on a fairly steep slope. From pictures I have seen on the web, this snowfield seems to stay most of the year. There was one party ahead of me and they took their time but did make it across, so I figured that I could make it too. When I got there it wasn't bad. The snow slope was moderately steep, but a good track had been made in the snow by many hikers going before me. The hardest part was at the far end where there was a short scramble of about six feet up a steep dirt slope. Steep, scramble and dirt are three words that you don't ever want to have in the same sentance. But I managed to make it ok.
After the snowfield it was just a short way to the pass. From there, the trail continued over the pass and descended to Stehikin, a remote town with no road access at the end of Lake Chelan. With side trips, that would be an amazing backpack to do some day. To the north, the trail continued up Sahale Arm, but I wouldn't be going up there today. I settled in at the pass to enjoy the view.
The party that I had seen cross the snowfield ahead of me was there. It was three women, and one of them came up to me and said "so you're from Boise". That caught me off guard for a second. I'm a proud Idahoan, but I don't think it's that obvious from a casual glance. I must have looked puzzled because she pointed at my head and said "You're wearing a BSU hat". Ok. That made me feel better. I was pleased to find out that I'm not that transparent.
As we chatted, the subject of the eclipse came up. It was only a week away. I mentioned that I was thinking of hiking into the Sawtooths. Since the centerline of totality went right past Sawtooth Lake, I was thinking about hiking up Alpine Peak to view the eclipse. Watching it from the top of a mountain seemed like it would be really cool. One of the ladies told me that her husband had invited his brother to come from back east and they were going to backpack into the Sawtooths to see the eclipse. Oh no. I thought my idea had been very clever, but it sounded like maybe a lot of other people had the same idea. Things might get pretty crowded. I decided then and there that I would give some careful thought to where I would view the eclipse.
The view from Cascade Pass was magnificent but eventually it was time to head down. There were more great views to the west as I headed back. The hike to the trailhead went quickly and soon I was back at my car. I drove the Cascade River Road and was in Marblemount by noon. I stopped at the convenience store again for another Diet Coke and then started the long drive back home. It was early in the day and I had plenty of time. Instead of going through Seattle, I took US 2 over the Cascades, a route I had never driven before. I made a brief stop in Leavenworth, a town that Sandy and I had used as a base for hiking on a trip many years ago. From there, it was just many hours of driving to get home, boring except for listening to Rush on my stereo.
It had been a good trip. Two and a half good days of wargaming, followed by two and a half good days of hiking in the North Cascades. You can't do much better than that.