North Cascades National Park, Washington
July 25-27, 2006
David Svilar, Mason and Brenna
|As they appear... Dave, Brenna, Mason. Brenna gets a tall guy sandwich before leaving Easy Ridge.|
They were completely at my mercy. Making a wise decision for a final trip before leaving for the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, Mas and Brenna had taken an excursion from Colorado to explore the Cascades and San Juan Islands. Naturally, they consulted the resident expert on these places (me), and I told them the normal outings - Heather Meadows, Cascade Pass, etc. However, since I was joining them for a few days I had no real interest in joining the herds at Heather Meadows.
So, when Brenna, in a most trusting sort of way, asked me for a new recommendation I paused and thought. "How about the Pickets?" A nice little hike, with good views, and a virtual gaurantee to not to be fighting any of the summer crowds. What I didn't mention was that it was the most difficult place in all of the contiguous 48 states to reach. Brenna, always thinking ahead, inquired about how long it would take probably thinking something on the order of a couple of hours. She took in in stride when my response was "give yourself the good part of the day."
In reality, we never did plan to go all the way to the Pickets, instead settling for the gateway to the Northern Pickets - a long, absolutely scenic ridge that was mis-named Easy Ridge. Buried in the Red-covered Beckey guide amid all of Fred's geologic techno jargon is the simple statement that Easy Ridge may have the best views in all of the Cascades. It wasn't the Pickets, but it wasn't Easy either as we fought two passes, abundant flies, a raging creek, and lions-tigers-bears (just bears). The pass came first (Hannegan Pass), followed shortly by a black bear that was guarding a trailside switchback. Brenna's imposing presence didn't frighten the bear as expected, so we stared awhile and finally cut the switchback and continued down trail into a vast expanse of old growth forest - a no-man's land devoid of roads and full of true mountain adventure.
The branch of trail that takes the occasional foot traveler to the Pickets is not marked on the map, so we had to rely on my memory of Beckey's description that I had read the night before by headlamp before dozing off to sleep - never a good omen. This caused a bit of confusion and an overshot of the trail spur. On the upside it provided my Colorado friends to backtrack through several patches of slide alder and devil's club - a Cascade's experience not to miss. We finally found the spur where we promptly were forced to deal with a river crossing. Brenna's diminutive body blasted across the river as she waded almost waste-deep. I chose to demonstrate superior balance and coordination by crossing on a downed tree. After my first few wobbly steps I had visions of falling with my new digital camera into the current and promptly dropped down and humped the log for 80 feet across the river.
At this point our group was feeling a bit lethargic and were in no mood to follow an un-maintained trail, through the humid forest and up 2,000 feet to our ridge. We made more frequent stops, and although Brenna would not complain, I'm sure she was probably cursing me under her breath. I sure hoped Fred was correct about this place.
Sometime in early evening we broke into open meadows, and as we continued higher on the ridge the views rewarded us with each step. By the time camp was set, dinner cooked, and the sun set over Canada we had all forgotten about any of the hardships to reach this point.
I awoke at 3:30 am to take my D200 for a walk. It likes its morning walk - particularly before the sun rises, which in the summer is a bit too early for even my taste. We found flowers in the open meadow and views in 360 degrees. We walked several miles up and down the ridge stopping frequently to take in views and snap over 200 photos (I love the delete button). I had thoughts of climbing Whatcom's NW ridge, but it remained just that - a thought. I'd bag Whatcom, Challenger, and Fury on some other excursion. This day was to be simply enjoyed on this vast ridge. Several times I just laid down and took a snooze in the warm sun.
We started early under merciful overcast skies and returned to the cars without incident, except for the resident Hannegan Pass bear.
The pleasant surprise of the summer was seeing so much of Mason and Brenna - Longs Pk, wedding in Havasu Canyon, biking in the San Juans, and now a great trip into the North Cascades. From my standpoint Mas and Brenna got the full meal Cascade experience in one trip - long approach, breathtaking scenery, and even a little bushwacking. Even though it's listed in the 100 hikes book, it appears that Easy Ridge is seldom visited - we didn't see a soul - and based on the trail tread it is probably just passed by climbers on their way to the Pickets. Make no mistake, a trip to Easy Ridge must be earned, but for the willing it will pay hefty dividends for each mile passed to reach this incredible place.
-written January 2007
|Packing after car camping at the Hannegan Pass trailhead.|
|Look who's peering out from the bushes - the resident Hannegan Pass black bear.|
|Descending from Hannegan Pass into the old growth forest.|
|A random sign alerting us to the fact that we are entering the National Park provides another opportunity to apply the bug repellent.|
|Brenna wades the creek.|
|Mason and Brenna disappear into an alder thicket. Classic North Cascades!|
|A tarn on Easy Ridge.|
|Jill doesn't have to worry about losing her job, but Brenna made a willing and very capable subject.|
|Mason ignores Brenna's cocoa offering, focusing his attention on the abundant photo opportunities.|
|Aaaaah... summertime. Brenna and Mason enjoy a sunset over Canada high on the ridge.|
|Dave looks ready to conquer the Cascades with just his ice axe and t-shirt. Overlooking Whatcom Pass.|
|Northern and southern Pickets taken near Whatcom Peak.|
|The newlyweds descend from the high point on the ridge towards camp on our last night.|
|Bookworm Brenna reads on our last night near camp.|
|Mas and Brenna strip down for a cool bath in the Nooksak River following our trip.|
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