“The North Cascades are the wildest and steepest mountains in the lower 48 states. The ice age lives on within these mountain peaks with more than 300 active glaciers in North Cascades National Park Service Complex. Snow melts when summer comes to the North Cascades valleys. In the shade of some high mountains, where snowfall exceeds melting and evaporation, snow remains year after year and forms glaciers. Glaciers are compacted layers of snow and ice that creep and slide downhill. These powerful masses of flowing ice and rock constantly shape these mountains and provide streams and rivers with life – giving fresh water in summer.”
We left Whidbey Island and headed east on Hwy 20 towards North Cascades National Park.
When we were there two weeks ago with Molly, we only saw a small piece of it. We decided to return and explore it a bit more. This time we stayed at Newhalem Campground near the Skagit River.
It was a large, private campsite with lots of shady trees. We got settled, and then we took a short 1.8 mile hike on the River Loop Trail that surrounds the campground.
The trail led us to the water’s edge.
“The Skagit River was born from snowfields and glaciers high in the Cascade Mountains. As you walk along the river, notice waters tinted green by glacial ground “rock flour”. The Skagit’s flow carries these minerals and organic sediments which provide nutrients to life along its course.” In the picture below you can see the green-tinted water. It was beautiful!
The following morning, we got up early to drive farther north to hike Cascade Pass and the Sahale Arm Trail, a 12-mile, round-trip hike with just over 4,000 feet elevation gain and amazing views.
“The Upper Skagit people utilized Cascade Pass for thousands of years to travel to Eastern Washington. This popular hunting, trading, and camping route became a crucial path for fur traders and explorers.”
Today, it is a popular hike but not necessarily an easy one. The first 3.7 miles had 33 switchbacks through a shady forest with a moderate elevation gain.
This was the last of the switchbacks. At this higher elevation, there were some wildflowers still blooming. To our right we could see several glaciers when the clouds unveiled their presence.
As we climbed a little bit more, we could see Doubtful Lake below us. The color of the water from glacier run-off is one of a kind!
It wasn’t long before we came upon a young couple that had retreated about a quarter mile after seeing a mountain lion. Because it was so cloudy, they were hesitant on continuing on until the clouds passed. Below is a picture of us staring off into the distance at what we believed to be a mountain lion perched on a rock. If you zoom in on the second picture and look dead center, you can see “something” perched on a rock.
Another couple that we had previously passed had caught up to us. The six of us formed a pack and continued on, believing that six versus two people would scare off the wild animal.
The last 2.3 miles took us up and over ridges, until we reached the final stretch which was straight up very steep, rocky terrain. I was loosing my ambition to reach the peak, so I stopped to rest and eat lunch. I encouraged Scott to continue on since I was pretty much done with uphill for the day. After finishing my tasty peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, another hiker stopped to rest with me. Together, we decided to continue to the peak as we had come so far and were almost there. We took each other’s picture to prove our quest.
Sahale Arm Trail has sites for overnight camping for those ambitious folk who don’t mind carrying their heavy packs up this steep terrain. Off to the right are small camping holes that can fit two small tents. They are surrounded by a three-foot rock wall to provide some shelter from the wind. Scott walked up higher to check out the various camp sites.
The picture below shows one of the campsites up on the rocks. If you zoom in and look to the left center, you can see a woman sitting on a rock wall that surrounds their campsite.
We sat down for a while to take in the beauty all around us.
We stayed longer than we normally would, as the view was spectacular. Since we were not camping overnight, we needed to get up before our muscles would tighten. We still had roughly six more miles to go. And, so the descent began.
After the initial 2.3 mile steep descent, we enjoyed stopping every now and then to take some photos now that the clouds were waning and revealing some of what we could not see on the way up. I was in my glory, ahead of Scott, walking and whistling down the trail. I love going DOWN. All of a sudden, I heard him tell me to STOP. Then he said, “Bear! Bear!” I saw the bear to my right, and my adrenaline started to rush through my body. I turned around and quickly got behind my tall, brave husband while my heartbeat rapidly increased. He told me to be calm and to take the bear spray out of his pack. If you look closely, the black bear is dead center in the picture below. There was a group of hikers toward the left under the clouds that had stopped to watch the bear (and us).
How about some live footage?
For some reason, I cannot get the video to load. I will try to edit and add the video when we get into an area with better WIFI.
The bear retreated over the ridge, and we went on our way. Here are a few more photos as we continued our descent.
It wasn’t long before we were at the start of the 33 switchbacks, which indicated another 3.7 miles to the parking lot. It was after 6:00 p.m. It was a long day but certainly one of our favorite hikes to date!
The next morning, we were back on Hwy 20 heading east towards Idaho. We stopped in a town called Twisp and parked our car near a park to eat lunch. Scott spied a swim club across the street, and I excitedly changed my clothes and went for a swim. While I swam, Scott read under the shade from the tree in the park.
A few more hours on the road, and we called it a day. Arriving in Idaho would have to wait until tomorrow. We spent the night at Canyon Creek Campground, WA.
I met three bicyclists from Maine that were riding across the country. They had stopped here in Colville to spend the night. Talk about determination and energy. They carried their sleeping gear, etc. on their bicycles!! They had left in early May and were on track to arrive on the west coast before the end of August. Quite ambitious, but not for me.
Off to Idaho!