North Cascades Love Affair, Part 4
| January 18, 2017 |
My blog post series on North Cascades National Park continues. After spending the last ten days in upstate New York taking a Wilderness First Responder course (much more on that later!), I found myself continually reminiscing on my memories of Washington. I still feel incredibly connected with these mountains. They have deeply inspired me, and are pulling me further toward my dreams. The North Cascades truly made a lasting impression…
Part 4 of my love affair with the North Cascades features a snowy weekend in late October. Rumor had it that Highway 20 would be closing soon as early snowfall was eminent in the higher elevations. As I had no experience with snow hiking, I was a little questionable if I could successfully navigate through powdery white paths. I also wasn’t sure of my gear: could I get by without microspikes, or would I be slipping and falling all over? What kind of layering of clothing would be appropriate for winter exertion? How could I stay warm, yet allow for ventilation?
I decided not to let these questions deter me from wandering into snowy landscapes. I consulted with park rangers, and headed to Blue Lake with my fearless adventure partner who was always up for anything–even though he didn’t have winter gear and would be hiking in jeans…
I called the Marblemount Ranger Station late on a Friday evening to find out if traveling to North Cascades National Park would be feasible for the weekend. Based on Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC), there didn’t seem to be avalanche danger in hikes at the lower elevations. The snow line was at about 2,500 feet, and I felt prepared to hike through the snowy wilderness with waterproof pants, gaiters, and waterproof boots. I received awesome advice to trek into the park and consult with a ranger station on recommended hikes. The ranger I spoke to also recommended camping at Goodell Creek Campground, which was technically closed for the season, but still accessible (aka FREE).
The drive into North Cascades National Park was more dramatic than other seasons. Though it was still fall, snow dotted the higher elevations and created a dusting on all the peaks in view. As we drove on Highway 20, I found myself pulling over to take photos constantly. The yellow, red, and orange trees dotting the road was sharply contrasted by the white peaks. The transition from autumn to winter was clearly in process, and the blurred lines were enchanting.
I could have drove forever if it weren’t for our mission to do a hike, honestly. I found myself wanting to pull over every quarter mile to soak in my surroundings, feeling completely overwhelmed by the beauty. Good thing I noticed before getting into the park that I had left my camera memory card at home! We had to turn around before getting onto Highway 20 to purchase a new memory card at Target. Had we not done so, I definitely would have been severely disappointed. The beauty was everywhere.
I wonder if Thoreau had visited the North Cascades? I think he would have loved it.
I found my mind whirling, grasping onto the changing view and complex landscapes. The horizon seemed to expand and pull me in, sucking my body and soul into its beauty. My heart was pumping viciously as I breathed in the profoundly wild air. I had no desire to conceptualize time. I allowed the day to blossom naturally as we headed toward the trail head for Blue Lake…
Length: 4.4 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,050 feet
Highest Point: 6,254 feet
Location: Highway 20 (click to see map)
Parking Pass/Entry Fee: Northwest Forest Pass
With confidence-boosting guidance from the park rangers, we confidently journeyed to the trailhead of Blue Lake. We were informed the path would be easy to follow, and the views would be well worth our time. The small parking lot of the trailhead wasn’t too full of cars, but it was abundant in fresh powdery snow! We were completely submerged into a winter wonderland with Liberty Mountain and deciduous larches. The yellow larch trees dotted the landscape as we began our walk through the forest…
The clear-cut trail opened to a landscape that made my heart leap with gratitude & I felt so alive in this instant.
As a snow gently fell around me, I began reflecting on previous thoughts. When I moved to Florida in April 2015, I thought living without winter would be a dream come true. The thought of never having to shovel snow, or wake up 15 minutes earlier to scrape the ice off my car’s windshield, and being able to wear a bikini year-round sounded pristine. Honestly, it almost seemed unachievable having grown up in New York my entire life. How could I live somewhere so wonderfully different, and embrace a salty lifestyle year-round? I couldn’t resist the urge to see what it would be like, and grasped the opportunity to move to South Florida when it was presented to me.
I loved everything about my time living in South Florida. Yet… it also taught me something valuable about myself. I learned that stagnancy in many ways is poisonous to my adventurous spirit. I love to be out of my comfort zone in my work and play lives: to be challenged and stimulated in as many ways as possible. When the seasons stayed the same and the weather was either hot or really hot, I started feeling reverse seasonal depression. I craved sweater weather, fireplaces, and hot chocolate. As annoying as the daily tasks that accompany the snow are, I knew I needed it.
I need the seasons. My body and soul crave the complexity of Mother Nature. I realize the seasons aren’t limiting, but rather open unimaginable possibilities and unfathomable beauty. This revelation was chilling, and I know I can play year-round despite the weather. Glacier travel, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, mountaineering… all of these ideas suddenly came into the forefront of my mind. The mountains are calling, and there’s so much more to learn about them. They offer year-round possibilities and unpredictability…
When we made it to the frozen Blue Lake, I felt all these emotions resonating with my soul. I felt myself growing in gratitude, energized with a blood-rushing excitement for all that may be revealed in the mountains. I saw the complexity of the mountainous landscapes and seasons as a reflection of our human beings. We can’t always entirely understand or comprehend what we’re feeling. We can’t predict what will come next, or who will enter our lives, or who will leave. Yet, I we be present with the season of our lives, and recognize its impermanence. We can embrace the changes as part of the natural flow of life. Mother Nature seamlessly transitions from fall to winter, without questions or unnecessary contemplation. She greets each season with open arms, and surrenders to the unpredictability.
We can really learn a lot from Mother Nature, huh?
Our night was well spent at Goodell Creek Campground, and the sun kissed our tent as we rose to a new day. Due to my adventure partner’s lack of a fresh change of clothes, we opted to head back toward Olympia rather than explore another snowy hike in the North Cascades. I was again enchanted by the sidelines of Highway 20, especially a cascading fall in the distance, perfectly surrounded by fall colors. It’s like a divine power framed the falls…
En route, we saw signs for Baker Lake in Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Foreset, and decided to take a look…
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
– Henry David Thoreau –
Thank you, North Cascades, for yet another weekend of memories and awe-striking landscapes.
Thursday, January 19, 2017 @ 6:37 AM
You write beautifully and take amazing photos!!! Can’t wait to read what you write about our WFR!
Thursday, January 26, 2017 @ 7:59 AM
Thank you so much, Elisa! Oh goodness – I wish I had taken more photos at WFR! But I can’t wait to talk about it, what an awesome experience that was… lucky us 🙂