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Giving Thanks At Washington’s Jackson Wilderness

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.

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