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Backpacker Magazine – March 2014

The Beautiful North Cascades

Talk about a dream job: Photographer Ethan Welty roved secluded valleys and isolated mountaintops as an artist-in-residence at Washington's North Cascades National Park last summer. That was just the capstone on eight years he's spent photographing the area. Here are a few of his favorite spots.


Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF
Three Fingers Lookout

"This is far and away the most implausible and dramatically situated human structure I've ever slept in," Welty says. It has also become one of Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest's least-visited spots. When the road to the trailhead closed, so went the crowds on this once-popular hike. Nowadays, the equipment you need to reach the 6,870-foot-high bungalow reads like an inventory list at REI: mountain bike, ice axe, crampons, snow pickets, rope (depending on comfort level and season), and, of course, a sleeping bag and cooking gear (because you don't want to miss the sun setting into the Pacific). Start pedaling where Forest Service Road #41 is closed, and it's 10 miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain to reach the Saddle Lake/Goat Flats/Three Fingers (#641) trailhead. The path winds 2.5 miles on trails overgrown with salmonberry to Saddle Lake, and then passes to a ridgetop meadow at Goat Flats. At Tin Can Gap (mile 6), the route crosses a steep snowfield (head uphill to the moat for a late-summer bypass option) to the Queest Alb Glacier on the south side of the ridge. From there, three vertical ladders deliver you to that endless view from the mountaintop hut. It's first-come, first-serve but is so infrequently visited that Welty says his party's trip in August accounted for just the second one that year. And though the 7.5-mile trip (excluding the biking) is strenuous, Welty says the hardest part was packing to go. "I've never been so unwilling to leave a summit," he says. "Next time, I'll pack in enough food for several nights." Help maintain the lookout: bit.ly/save3fingers. Info bit.ly/3fingers


Left to right
Ascending ladders to the cabin; sun sets over the north cascades; a room with a view.

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