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National Parks: North Cascades

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

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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