North Cascades National Park

Trip Start Mar 26, 2006
Trip End Oct 20, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Thursday, August 10, 2006

Washingtonians are used to drizzly days and it shows in how they camp. Though this is their most beautiful season of the year, they still set up portable carports over their tents to keep the rain out (no kidding!) and enormous 5-room tent compounds they can retreat to in case bad weather sneaks up on them and they need some room to move around. So, following their example, for the first time in 5 months of camping we hung our green tarp above the tent and, sure enough, overnight it rained continuously while we stayed snug and dry inside our humble 1-room backpacking tent.

Everything here is covered in spongy green moss, including our picnic table, the trees are draped with yellow green lichen that hangs beard-like from the limbs, and waist-high deep green ferns carpet the forest floor. Enormous cedars and conifers grooved with 3-inch deep bark create a sense of timelines, and a hush of quiet sits in the air. You half expect Robin Hood or one of Tolkein's elves to step out from the depths of this primeval place.

North Cascades is a hard park to get to know. The two roads give access to just a tiny portion of the hundreds of thousands of acres here, and the views along the main highway drive leave us unfulfilled. So we opt for the Maple Pass Loop Trail, one of the few easily accessible alpine hikes. We're hesitant when we arrive at a parking lot packed with cars and the trail is jammed with people, but once we reach the pass at 3-1/2 miles none of it matters. The views rival those usually only seen by avid backpackers. Dramatic craggy mountains surround us. A brilliant, startlingly blue lake in the valley far below reflects the peaks above. A snowy, glacier-covered range beams crystal white on the horizon. We settle onto a well-placed outcropping of rocks and munch our lunch, blissfully absorbing the showy alpine views. If this is a hint at the soul of the North Cascades, we'll be back when we have more time to backpack and try to uncover more of her hidden natural treasures.
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