North Cascades Love Affair, Part 2
| December 30, 2016 |
This is part two of a five-part series professing my love to North Cascades National Park. Mother Nature was relentless in my second hike along Heather Maple Pass Loop where my crew and I experienced all weather conditions, including a 2-hour horizontal hail storm.
There’s debate of whether to take this hike clockwise or counter-clockwise, and I suppose it depends on your preference! According to WTA, “One can debate the merits of hiking this loop either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Going clockwise, one reaps the benefit of getting the steep part of the trail out of the way early in the day and a more gradual descent at day’s end, while a counter-clockwise hike offers ever more dramatic views of Black Peak and the North Cascades National Park as you climb to the pass. But at the end of the day, you will be in awe of the area no matter which way you elect to go.”
Which path did we choose? Read on…
Starting from our nightly accommodations at Skagit River Resort (a last-minute booking), we headed to our new favorite restaurant in Marblemount. Mondo is a Korean-American restaurant, and certainly #1 in the small town outside of North Cascades National Park. After our first day of hiking, we headed to this restaurant to get our fill of burgers, noodles, tea, and misspelled ketchup before retiring to our sketchy, 1970’s-style room at the inn.
On our second day, we again headed to Mondo. This time, we indulged in eggs, hash browns, and correctly-spelled ketchup. After a filling breakfast and quick stop at the North Cascade Visitor Center (the largest one, just off Highway 20), we were prepared to head toward our second hike of the weekend at Rainy Pass Picnic Area.
Heather Maple Pass Loop
Length: 7.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,000 feet
Highest Point: 6,650 feet
Location: Highway 20 (click to see map)
This is yet another famous, well-known hike in the North Cascades. Sarah had already done this hike in a clockwise fashion where lake views are sprung upon hikers, and the trail begins intensely with a steep incline. On this September day, my group opted for a counter-clockwise direction in order to gradually build into views, and finish with a longer forested hike (figuring out exhaustion would probably set in by then, and we wouldn’t be as awe-stricken and interested in scenery). It’s a darn good thing we decided to do this because the turning of weather as we approached the peaks left us needing to get back to the car. We’ll get to that.
We started walking through a forested area accompanied by a father and his two sons. We ended up playing leap frog with the family the entire hike, especially the eldest son because he tended to run ahead of his father & brother, then wait for them to catch up. I love seeing younger kids on the trails being taught the beauty of nature!
It wasn’t too long before the forest opened up to views of mountains in the distance. The sun shone in the distance, spotlighting the rough mountainsides. With a gradual incline, we were slowly introduced to views of Lake Ann, which we continued to circle for a majority of the hike.
We marveled at the glassy lake as we started feeling rain droplets. As we continued our ascent, the rain started pounding a little more heavily on our jackets. Suddenly, we realized we weren’t in a rainy downpour after all. The water droplets were actually little balls of ice… Cue punny jokes, such as “OH HAIL NO!” and “To hail with this weather!”
What started as a vertical dumping of hail turned into a vertical, don’t-turn-your-face-to-the-left kind of storm. Our gore-tex rain jackets were lifesavers. Our leggings offered some protection. Our fingers screamed for more layers. We had no choice but to keep climbing, despite the cold, unwavering messages from Mother Nature that she is far more powerful than us.
Somehow, there was still sunshine in the distance illuminating the peaks. Somehow, we still had some epic views.
There really was no escape from the hail, so we just kind-of embraced it… and pretended we weren’t freezing. And smiled.Once we were away from the open trail and began descending, we escaped the hail. The hail turned to sunshine, and we were offered a peeking view at Rainy Lake.
Somehow, when we got to the bottom of the trail, we ended up walking about 0.5 extra miles as we took a right instead of left to head toward the ‘parking lot.’ We actually were wandering along a walking trail that would have eventually led to Lake Ann–an added adventure we were not prepared for after our exhausting fight with Mother Nature and hail.
When we finally made it back to the car, we stopped for coffee in Marblemount and headed our merry way toward Seattle for thai food, stopping for nothing bug views of Mt. Shuksan along the way…I am thankful for the hail because it reminded me of the unpredictability of nature. To me, this relates to life. We can’t predict everything. We can never fully plan for situations, because we don’t know entirely what may lay ahead. We can be prepared for the plethora of options, but preparedness doesn’t mean we know what we’re getting ourselves into. This level of unpredictability leads us to make constant adaptations, and therefore grow in each stage. The unyielding hail was uncomfortable and cold, but feeling this level of discomfort enhanced the accomplishment of the hike. Every hike and life experience will not always be beautiful. But it’s the walks through the storms that strengthen us and make us believe in the undeniable beauty after the rain (or hail)…