Sunday, August 26, 2012

Prelude to the North Cascades Extravaganza

Friday morning, I packed up and left town. It sounds so simple when I say that, but it took days of preparation to get everything together. I was planning on car camping for 2 nights in Newhalem in the North Cascades National Park, then spending 5 nights and glorious days at the North Cascades Institute (NCI) with a small group of friends. It was still up in the air as to whether or not I would car camp near Baker Lake at the end of the week, but I needed to be prepared with supplies for that part, too.

The biggest consideration was, of course, the food. I had to have breakfast, lunch and dinner for the first couple of days and possibly the last day, but also the snacks for the entire week to keep me going on the trail and keep my blood sugar from plunging between meals which would be provided by NCI (which is one of the many reasons I love NCI).

I arrived at Newhalem in time to score a nice camp spot away from screaming children and, after setting up my tent, I had to deal with the oppressive heat. Unlike at home when I could just turn on a fan, I was not able to command the wind to blow. Even as I sat by the banks of the Skagit River, toes glancing the cold water, the breeze was intermittent at best. Then I heard nearby campers mention something about a swimming hole nearby and I set out on a mission to find it. I went on a walk up and down roads that were near creeks, I peered over bridges and bashed through some brush, but I only found marginal areas that either had too much current or too many obstacles to reach water.

There was a sub-group of Mountaineers staying at the group campsite across the highway and I decided to pay them a visit, hoping that they could offer a diversion from the heat or at least a cold beer. On the way to their site, I saw a faint trail leading into the woods and soon I stumbled upon what could only be termed as a "Queen's Bath". I was first introduced to the concept while traveling in Hawaii where, after snorkeling in the Captain Cook area, there was a freshwater pool fed by an underground spring which had been historically used for royalty to refresh themselves in its waters. I left my clothes on the banks and settled into the basin-like area of the creek, rinsing off sweat and cooling down my skin.

the view from Cascade Pass
When I returned to my campsite, it was still too hot out to do any cooking, so I nibbled on some nuts and was prepared to go to bed somewhat hungry and take my chances for the next day's hike. Just then, my neighbors came over with a plate of food that they had as leftovers. It was a chicken dish with gluten-free noodles and lots of vegetables. I thanked them profusely, then devoured the food, licking the paper plate. I felt ready to hike some miles the next day.

Siv arrives, surprised
we called this water, "Lake Louise"
My friend Bobbie joined me later that night and in the morning, we set out for the Cascade Pass trailhead, about an hour away. The plan was to get up to the Pass, then go on to Sahale Arm above it to wait for the Mountaineers group of friends who were coming up for the day. We made good time on the gentle grade to the Pass, then were sucked up by the scenery toward the Arm where we found a delightful and mysterious body of water, sized just right for dipping feet or head.

We spied the group below and I got the camera ready to capture each of them as they made their way to our new-found paradise. One member of the group, Siv, had been the inspiration for the duet of hikes for the weekend; her 2-year contract was coming to an end and she would be returning to her home in Denmark at the end of the month. The weekend hikes were a way for her to experience the very best areas of Washington State and for the rest of us to enjoy her company. Today was Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm and Sunday would be Trappers Peak and Thornton Lakes.

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