Hiking in the North Cascades, Washington

Into the North Cascades

Since July, I’ve been planning a trip with a friend in Washington to hike the North Cascades – which is supposed to be amazingly beautiful. I’ve been communicating with this friend, Matt, and we planned on leaving Seattle early Friday morning, and be back on Monday afternoon. We discussed a few different trips – Mt. Logan, Mt. Goode, Mt. Shuksan, Ragged Ridge, then we decided on Primus Peak.

Last Thursday, I went to Seattle again for another night. This time, I went around downtown, which was very busy, hilly, and full of one-way streets. Many people recommended visiting the Pike Street Market, so that’s where I went. Since it was the middle of the week, it wasn’t too crowded, and was nice to visit. Mostly miscellaneous shops and vendors selling knick knacks, crafts, fresh fish, and a few farm stands. I did have a looksy to see if I can find a few nice gifts, but it was mostly touristy stuff which wasn’t very appealing.

There was a bit of a challenge in getting prepared for this hiking trip, since I left my good trail-running shoes in the back of a friend’s car before I set out on my journey (which turns out to be a lost cause), and was wearing temporary (inadequate) shoes – not at all suited for mountain climbing. My brother had mailed a pair of hiking boots but they wouldn’t arrive until Friday afternoon – when I would have been on my way up the mountain. So I went to REI to try and find a suitable pair of shoes and surprisingly, REI did not have a single, suitable shoe in my size to rent or to buy. By the way, the Seattle REI is the flagship store, and is HUGE. I can wander around in there for a long time. I did end up buying thermal pants and a waterproof outer shell, and borrowed a down winter coat.

I emailed Matt about this minor obstacle – that I didn’t have proper shoes, and REI did not have size 15 shoes for me, and he replied back saying he understands that problem, as he himself wears size 17 shoes. LOL! He said he may have a pair I can use that might fit, which actually turned out he had a pair of size 16s that I was able to comfortably wear (a bit loose, but comfortable).

So naturally, I was wondering how tall he must be to wear size 17 shoes (I’m *only* 6’1″ and haven’t really grown into my shoe size which is a snug 14 or a comfortable 15 – like a puppy with big paws).

So the next morning, I say goodbye to the other WWOOFer as he heads to Idaho for a job interview, and 10 minutes later, Matt shows up. And yes, he is TALL, at 6’9″ (as you can see in the pictures). So we load up the car and head out to the Cascades, which was about a 3-hour drive from Seattle. Once we drove off and talked, and I noticed he’s making some unusual sounds. As politely as I can, I ask him about it, and he says he has tourette’s – since he was born. Mmmmkay, this will be an interesting trip, I think to myself. And he continues with his tourette’s (which doesn’t bother me).

Once we enter into the Cascades, I’m immediately amazed at the beauty. This place is so lush and green and full of life. Very dense, untouched forest. Lots of mushrooms. Another friend from Washington strongly suggested I go huckleberry picking, which apparently grows wild in the mountains, and is past the season, but I managed to find a few huckleberries on the trail, and they are tasty!

Of course, about a mile in, I realize I forgot my (extra) food, so I drop my things, run to the car, and back. And luckily was able to go to the bathroom before heading back in (I only mention this because toilets are a luxury when backwoods camping, and it’s no fun when you don’t go for 2 or 3 days).

Anyway, I meet back up with Matt, and we continue on. And almost immediately, I realize I brought way too much stuff. About 25lbs too much. Mostly unnecessary food and *stuff*. I probably had a 60lbs pack, which was torturous on a climb like this. So we decide to camp at the first campsite, spend the night, and the next day bivy camp (minimal – sleeping bag, some food, water, and some sort of lightweight cover) on top of the mountain the next night, and back to base camp the following night.

We finally make it to base camp, which was 6 miles in, and I am exhausted from carrying all that weight. I may as well have had tourette’s myself from cursing so much; that was not fun and definitely a lesson learned on what to pack for a mountain climb (which I should know better by now, I’ve done it enough).

At the base camp, we head to the nearby river, and build a super giant cairn. We unpacked, set up the tent, had some food, and went to bed around 6:30pm, which was fine, because I needed some rest.

The next morning we get up at 9am (lots of sleep, right? Hehe), and pack *lightly* for the climb to the top. And what a climb it was! Uphill, followed by more uphill, followed by more uphill. This climb is steep! Good thing I like hills (after all that training and running those trail races). Only problem was that the shoes I’m wearing are regular street shoes, and not suited for hiking or mountain climbing.

Once we make it to the top of the mountain (not quite the summit, but very close), we set up camp at an existing bivy site. Oh, and the view is incredible! You can literally see forever. We saw mountain ranges in Canada, as the air was so clear (reminded me of New Zealand – how mountainous the landscape and how clear and fresh the air is). The sunset was beautiful – always nice to see the sunset from a mountaintop.

Saturday night was a full moon, and at night, from the mountaintop, a full moon is very bright. I can still clearly see everything – very, very cool! The next morning – early – Matt wakes me up, and says “look”. Oh my my my, the view we saw in front of us. The sun was just barely rising, a slight chill in the air, the condensation from the night had frozen on my sleeping bag (though I was nice and toasty warm inside), and the entire valley was blanketed wth a cloud of… clouds! That view is now at the top of my list of “one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life”. I took many pictures, but to experience that in person, especially from our vantage point, was worth everything. With air still so clear, the sun rising behind the nearby mountains… so awesome.

Later in the morning, Matt decides to move on to the summit (I stay behind as I feel a bit if altitude sickness – first time ever – but I attribute it to dehydration and lack of food), and returns a few hours later saying he was about 500 feet from the summit, and couldn’t ascend the loose, rocky slope by himself.

So we pack up, and head back down, of course getting lost. This was not fun, frustrating in fact, since there was a lot of bushwacking and steep slope on soft, loose soil, wearing the wrong shoes, and having a cut on my palm from getting a walking stick earlier. I had to use the ax to descend down slowly and cautiously, as it was VERY steep – at least 50-60°. I kept wishing I had my trail shoes for that. Another lesson learned. So I’m following the path of foul language (which actually turned out to be very helpful), and we made it back to base camp just after dark – exhausted and stiff).

The next morning, on out way out, we stop by a store so Matt can get his usual quart of milk. I’ve never known anyone to drink milk like this guy. He says he drinks a gallon every 2-3 days, and swears by how much he loves milk – and Costco poppy seed muffins). Very interesting guy. Oh, and he’s left-handed (as is Chris – the guy who’s place I’m staying, and the other WWOOFer who left last week. Yay leftys!).

While driving on the road, I notice a mouse walking along the windshield wipers, hanging on for dear life in the wind. After a laugh and a picture, it crawls into the engine compartment, so we pull over to try and get it out so that doesn’t chew on the wires. After chasing it around the car, we decide to give up and drive off, when we see the mouse run along the floor of Matt’s seat, and we stop again, only to give up again. Oh well, he has a new pet in his car (which apparently has been on there for a while, since Matt said he saw chewed-up toilet paper a month ago.

I made it back to the tree farm safe, sound, and sore, feeling a sense of completion of this beautiful state of Washington. Now it’s time to plan the next destination, maybe by next weekend.


Posted on October 1, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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