Day Hiking: North Cascades
by Craig Romano (The Mountaineers Books)
© Craig Romano/The Mountaineers Books. All Rights Reserved.
It's way early in the season for this hike but with the unseasonably warm and dry weather we've had all winter, I figured it would be open. The road to the trailhead was 21 miles long and gave me the assurance that this was going to be a beautiful trail. It was, but it ended up being 2.3 miles longer than advertised, due to road closure at mile marker 21. The road had a steep grade, winding through trees for a mile or more until it opened up into a huge valley, with Johannesburg Mountain on the right hand. There's a pile of rubble somewhere in the first mile, making it clear why the road was closed. In the second mile, the concrete is buckled like the top of a pan of brownies, apparently marking the passage of some very heavy rocks making tracks for the valley floor. The guidebook says the first 2 miles of the 3.5 miles to Cascade Pass is in the forest, with 33 switchbacks taking you up the grade. I didn't bother counting, due to the fact that my attention was being placed elsewhere. I'd begun to notice that the trees along the trail were bare and torn from the ground and up twelve feet, on one side only. It dawned on me that bears make those sorts of marks. I began blowing my whistle at the end of every switchback, warning any critters ahead that I was coming. Before the first mile was up, I was hitting snow deep enough that when I fell through I often went in up to my thighs. At 1 3/4 miles, I decided it was too risky to continue. I had not encountered a single other hiker, and the tracks I'd been following had disappeared. I did run into one couple near the trailhead on my way back. They had seen a bear when they were on the road up here and were spooked. I'm disappointed I couldn't make the summit, but it's a phenominally beautiful trail and I'll definitly be back to finish what I started, this time with a very large friend to keep me company and scare the bears away!
It was an awesome adventure. Friday started with us leaving at 4:00 am from the Tacoma area. We arrived at the Wilderness Information Center at about 7:30 am. We were able to pick-up the permits we wanted and we headed out to the trail head (there was a line and getting there early is important). From the edge of Marblemount it was about 22 miles. My daughter and I arrived there by about 9:30 am. We geared up and headed out. The trail was cloudy and the mountains were difficult to see and visiblity was limited. From time to time we were granted a peek at the glorious vistas, then they were gone. It was still breath taking. We took our time seeing several Ptarmigan, Blacktail deer, pika and Marmot standing along the trail. By the time we reached Cascade Pass the clouds were lifting. The wind was blowing at the pass making it a bit blustery. It was an easy hike down to Pelton Basin where we stayed the first night. We made camp and relaxed. I spend several hours just sitting quietly in the wilderness just listening and watching. It was totally incredible! The rain began about 9:00 pm and continued throughout the night. It was very heavy at times. We had planned to meet a couple of friends in morning at the base of the Shahale Arm. At 10:00 am the rain was still very heavy. We descided to sit tight until 11:00 am and make our decsion. At 11:00 the rain was still coming down, but we elected to pack-up and make our way back up the trail to the Shahale Arm and then we would make our choice. As we were dropping the tent we met up with the backcountry ranger (we had met him the day before and we made plans to go up the Shahale Glacier together). He indicated that the weather was horrible at the glacier and he strongly advised us from going up there, he was canceling his ascent until the weather cleared. He indicated that the heavy rain, very strong winds, poor visiblity and very cold temperture made it unadvisible and a less than desirable experience. We elected to make our way back down to the trail head and returned home. But overall we came away with a totally awesome experience that we would gladdly repeat. We plan to attempt the Shahale Arm in the near future.
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