Giving Thanks At Washington's Jackson Wilderness

The best way to honor a wilderness-minded senator is to hike the Jackson Wilderness.
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The best way to honor a wilderness-minded senator is to hike the Jackson Wilderness.

If politicians like to be remembered for the achievements that they held most dear, Sen. Henry M. Jackson should be well pleased with his legacy. The longtime Washington statesman was a career conservationist who pushed through a slew of wilderness legislation and co-authored the National Environmental Policy Act. A year after his death in 1983, his legacy was permanently enshrined as the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness, a 102,000-acre preserve that hugs the peak-riddled spine of the Cascade Range.

I paid my respects to the Henry M. (as it's commonly known) with a trek on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which bisects the wilderness from north to south. On the way, the PCT meanders through 31 miles of fir and hemlock forests, occasionally tagging tiny lakes and tarns as the path bobs and weaves with the rugged terrain. With relatively low elevations and a trailhead conveniently located on US 2, just 1 = hours from Seattle, the Henry M. offers an easy, last-chance trip in the Cascades before winter closes in with deep snows.

I hopped on the PCT at Stevens Pass, near the wilderness area's southern border, and hiked past huckleberry bushes and mountain ash on my way to the indigo waters of Lake Valhalla. From an open slope north of the lake, I caught a bird's-eye view of the wilderness and the formidable crags on the northern horizon, where the Henry M. gives way to the Glacier Peak Wilderness. (The PCT continues another 60 miles through Glacier Peak, making this one of the longest roadless sections along the entire trail.)

High peaks in the wilderness average about 6,500 feet, as though here the land was granted a reprieve from the geologic forces that grew 10,000-foot giants elsewhere in the Cascades. The exception is the northwest spur of the wilderness, where you'll find a handful of glaciers and the Henry M.'s highest point, the 7,835-foot Sloan Peak. Good fall destinations in the glacier district are Goat and Blanca Lakes; both are low-elevation basins with nice, high-country views.

EXPEDITION PLANNER

DRIVE TIME: The Henry M. is about 80 miles (1 ? hours) east of Seattle.

THE WAY: From Seattle, head north on I-5 to the junction with US 2, then drive east 60 miles to the Stevens Pass Ski Area and the PCT trailhead. From Wenatchee, follow US 2 west through Leavenworth and Tumwater Canyon to the pass.

TRAILS: The PCT is the backbone of a 200-mile trail network that crisscrosses the wilderness. The 20-mile hike from Stevens Pass to Cady Pass gives a good taste of the Henry M. and allows you to turn around at any point to shorten the distance. Use the Blanca Lake Trail for Blanca Lake and the Elliot Creek Trail for Goat Lake (both less than 10 miles).

ELEVATION: The lowland forests along the North Fork Sauk River are just below

2,000 feet, while Sloan Peak tops out at 7,835 feet. Average for the PCT is about 5,000 feet.

CAN'T MISS: The view from Cady Pass or any alpine meadow along the PCT.

CROWD CONTROL: The Henry M. is a popular horsepacking destination all season long and attracts hunters during the fall, but traffic is at a minimum in October.

GUIDES: The Skykomish Ranger District map is available for $3 (see Contact below). Best of the PCT: Washington, by Dan A. Nelson (The Mountaineers Books, 800-553-4453; www.

mountaineersbooks.org; $16.95), will help you find a wide range of nearby alternatives.

WALK SOFTLY: Avoid camping on lakeshores where revegetation projects are in the works.

CONTACT: Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Skykomish Ranger Station; (360) 677-2414; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs.