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Backpacker Magazine – June 2011

National Parks: North Cascades

Come for the sheer, glaciated peaks, but be mesmerized by rain-fed waterfalls that pour down on all sides.

by: Kim Phillips

Copper Ridge Trail in North Cascades (Kim Phillips)
Copper Ridge Trail in North Cascades (Kim Phillips)
Copper Ridge Trail in North Cascades (Kim Phillips)
Copper Ridge Trail in North Cascades (Kim Phillips)
The Nooksack Ridge (Kim Phillips)
The Nooksack Ridge (Kim Phillips)
Copper Mountain Lookout (Kim Phillips)
Copper Mountain Lookout (Kim Phillips)
A maple leaf on Big Beaver Trail (Kim Phillips)
A maple leaf on Big Beaver Trail (Kim Phillips)

Like in the Olympics, the forest here is lush even by Pacific Northwest standards. I get a glimpse of what 84 inches of annual rainfall can do for the landscape on day three, when we hike along the Chilliwack River. The cedar and fir canopy is so dense it repels the drops like a thatched roof. Thick carpets of cushy moss, frilly ferns, and an Alice in Wonderland variety of mushrooms grow in profusion.

When we leave the forest shelter for the final, exposed miles to our camp at 5,206-foot Whatcom Pass, the staccato tapping of raindrops ricochets off my hood and reverberates in my ears. That night, recurring blasts of wind and sleet pelt the tent for hours.

The next morning, we descend scores of switchbacks that drop into the Little Beaver Creek Valley. The trail crosses half a dozen streams ferociously swollen with runoff. Because each crossing makes my heart rate spike, and because I’m concentrating so intently on keeping my balance, I’m caught off guard by the next sight.

The low-hanging clouds suddenly lift, unveiling a profusion of waterfalls flanking the valley. I’m awed by the scene’s fairy-tale quality, and the way it materialized out of nowhere to glitter like something from a dream. The silvery ribbons sparkle on all sides, tumbling down sheer, 7,000-foot peaks. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, in any mountains anywhere. I imagine the peaks have just been created before our eyes, born this very morning and still dripping with the raw materials of creation. Now I understand that the Cascades only reach their full potential when they’re covered in, well, cascades.

I realize something else when we finally move on. We still have 21 miles to go to reach Ross Lake. And I hope the rain returns, making every mile as glorious as this one.




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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Mike
Jan 02, 2014

Normally I don't recommend a backpacking route that I love, but I've been on the one in this article and agree 100% that you'd better love cold rain, sleet, snow stream crossings, and isolation. Those things alone will keep most away. A side trip on this route is to go up and over to Tapto Lakes from Whatcom Pass. The huckleberries are rampant and delicious there and few people bother to go to this lakes basin. If it clears off the glacier views are perfect and you will likely here chunks calving off hanging glaciers.

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