Pacific Northwest Trail: North Cascades National Park

Since I last checked in, I’ve been ticking off the miles required for my completion of the Pacific Northwest Trail.  I hiked about 750 miles of it in one shot last summer, and intend to complete the remaining 450 miles this summer through a combination of backpacking and bikepacking.

In early August, I met up with my friend and trail angel extraordinaire, Rebecca, for the section of trail through North Cascades National Park.  (A trail angel is someone who provides help and random acts of kindness to a hiker.)  Rebecca and her husband, John, two of the most kind and generous people I have ever met, host PNT hikers in their home – The Happy House – on Whidbey Island.  When I was in need of a place to recover from a leg injury last summer, they didn’t hesitate to invite me into their home for as long as required.

Rebecca and I chose to hike through the North Cascades eastbound, which is the opposite direction than most PNT thru-hikers travel.  Going in reverse afforded us the opportunity meet the current thru-hikers and invite them to stay at The Happy House when they would be passing by a few weeks later.  Their faces lit up when they realized that Rebecca was one half of the famed “Whidbey Duo.”

Starting at the Hannegan Pass trailhead, we battled numerous biting flies while heading to the park boundary.  After the pass, we were treated to the glow of colors and shadows spread by the waning sunlight, and a marmot played hide and seek among some rocks.

Rebecca heads up towards Hannegan Pass.

The hillsides east of Hannegan Pass glowed pink with the waning daylight.
A marmot plays hide and seek.

Much of the trail was protected under a dense canopy of conifer boughs.  When we gained elevation, the trees became shorter, then disappeared entirely, and we found overgrown trail.  But that was ok, because the views of the jagged peaks and glaciers at that point were phenomenal.  The trail dipped down into the forest again, eventually crossing the Chilliwack River via a cable car.  Actually, fording the river on foot may have been easier, but the cable car definitely had a coolness factor that could not be ignored.  Besides, our arms needed a workout.

Lovely forests provided some much needed shade.
Fireweed with Mineral Mountain peeking out from the background.
The cable car over the Chilliwack River.
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Rebecca climbs the ladder to the cable car platform. No easy feat with a full pack!

Day three presented us with the journey over Whatcom Pass, of which the east side (our downhill) boasted a nearly vertical face supported by hand-placed and maintained cedar log and stone retaining walls and crazy tight, steep switchbacks.  It was here that we ran into a trail crew who had been working their way down the entire length of the PNT within the park.  We were informed that the trail had been cleared and brushed for what would be the remainder of our trip through the park.  Oh, happy day!

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Views eastward of the North Cascade’s Pasayten Wilderness.
The descent from Whatcom Pass was pretty exciting. Photo by Rebecca Roberts.

Whatcom and Challenger glaciers, and the headwaters of Little Beaver Creek.

Once again, we had great views while descending back into the forest, this time into old growth cedar.  It had been pretty hot during our journey, and being back in the shady valleys near the rivers and streams was a welcome relief.  Eventually we reached a trail junction near Ross Lake, a massive reservoir, and the end of our trip.  There are many wilderness campsites lining Ross Lake, accessible only by boat or by foot.  We wandered through one of these to the associated dock in order to hitch a boat ride.  Luckily, there was a group staying at the campsite who were kind enough to give us a ride.  Ross Lake boasts some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, which were unfortunately largely obscured by wildfire smoke blowing in from British Columbia.  Before I knew it, we were deposited at the dam, traveled up the short trail that led us back to my car, and were driving down the road.  Our 40 mile, 4 day trip was successfully complete!

Old growth cedar near Big Beaver Creek. My trekking poles, between the trees, provide some scale.
A smoky boat ride across Ross Lake completed our journey.