Monday, July 31, 4:30 PM

Hello from Whatcom camp, at 1500 meters elevation. It's the end of day two of a 5-day solo backpacking trip in the North Cascades, beginning at Hannegan Pass trailhead and ending at Ross Lake Resort, near the highway 20 junction. With the exception of swarms of biting flies who are apparently Deet-tolerant, so far it's been a great trip.

My vacation began at 4AM Saturday morning when, as is often the case, I awoke way prior to the alarm I'd set for myself. Lil took me to the airport; we arrived at 7AM which gave me plenty of time to check in my backpack and duffle bag and grab a low-number boarding pass for the right-side window Cascades views. SW baggage checkin lines were nonexistent this time; not the huge lines on Friday morning a few weeks back when James and I flew up to Portland.

The mountain views from the plane were outstanding; we flew just west of Crater Lake and all of the Cascades were visible off the right side. Landed a bit early at 10:05AM but the luggage took nearly a half hour to arrive; I still caught my 11AM two-shuttle bus (Airporter Shuttle, with a change of vehicles in Mt. Vernon) to Anacortes with no problem. Due to several accidents on the road and consequent heavy traffic, we arrived at my drop-off point a half-hour late but I hooked up with Kate's friend Jean with no problem.

Kate and Sherlock's 3PM wedding at the local Presbyterian church was very nice. Everyone chuckled when they were introduced as "Mr. and Mrs. Kate and Sherlock Hirning" at the ceremony's conclusion. A friend of theirs played the harp, and two others serenaded us with a duet. I thought their selected second reading, from "The Prophet", was a classy selection; it talked about how a couple should maintain their individual independent identities in their marriage, versus becoming a 'homogenized' single identity.

The reception was also very nice; I was only able to stay till 6PM but got to see them cut the cake. A real family affair; Kate's mom made her beautiful dress, while Kate made the wedding cakes! Only one calamity; the servers dropped two of the five cakes; one was ruined but the other was salvaged and served.

Dave and I headed up to Glacier, WA, stopping off along the way at a great co-op restaurant on highway 542. He had seitan tacos while I had seiten and soba noodles. A glass of Zinfandel for him but nothing for me; too tired and I'd already had a beer and small dinner at the reception. The B&B we stayed at was the two extra bedrooms ($65 each) of a condo, hosted by a very nice couple who ended up looking at some of my Nepal website photos on their WebTY box. Straight to bed for me; Dave stayed up for a bit and read.

After meditation and coffee the next morning, it was off to the ranger station to get a permit. No trouble getting backcountry campsite reservations, even though the campgrounds are few in number and only have a few sites each. I'm at U.S Cabin camp Sunday night, Whatcom Monday night, Beaver Pass Tuesday and 39 Mile Wednesday. The ranger strongly recommended I not go up Copper Ridge (my original plan) due to heavy snow; even though the elevations are moderate, the extreme north location (only 10 miles from Canadian border) means it's still spring here. It also explains the lack of people; since beginning to hike alone I saw one woman hiking back out yesterday afternoon, and the campsite next to mine was occupied last night, but I've seen no other people today.

Back to the B&B for breakfast and to settle out bill, then up highway 542 and road 32 to the trailhead. There I filled the backpack, and the duffle with extra clothes and gear for Dave to take back to Sherlock and Kate's house that evening. Though I'm not doing Copper Ridge, I've still brought the ice axe along. I forgot my UPS-shipped campstove back in Anacortes and declined Dave's invitation to borrow his WhisperLite. The temperature's balmy enough that I won't need hot food and drink to keep warm, I have plenty of other food, and lack of freeze-dried food, stove and pans will keep pack weight down.

We started at 10:30 AM and Dave accompanied me to Hannegan Pass, where we had lunch. The majority of the ascent was pretty gradual, though it got steep at the end. Enjoyed the wildflowers, the views of glacier-filled Nooksack Ridge to the south and Hannegan Pass and Ruth Mountain ahead. After Dave and I said our goodbyes, I negotiated the steep and sometimes snow-covered descent down to the Chilliwack River. There I had my only accident so far; broke through a snow bridge over a feeder creek and ended up in cold water on my side. Scraped up my right knee a bit but nothing else damaged.

The rest of the hike was pretty flat, parallel to the river and in forest. The biting flies are quite ferocious; stop for a moment and they swarm all over you. Deet doesn't chase them away but seems to lessen their biting enthusiasm. Arrived at camp 10 miles later, at approx. 5PM. Dinner was pitas and the remainder of Dave's smoked cheese along with an avacado. Went into the tent at 7PM (bugs seem to decrease in number in the evening) and to bed soon afterward' lulled to slumber by the sounds of the nearby river. Briefly awoke a few times in the night and enjoyed the star views out the top of the tent. No bears, though I'd canistered food just in case. Awoke for good at 7:15AM.

I'm not wearing a watch, and I forgot to check, but I think I left camp at around 8:30AM after a breakfast of sunrise tomato-flavored bagels and cream cheese. Stopped (briefly, no thanks to the flies) for a Powerbar at Graybeal camp, and ate a Cliff Bar and orange during the Whatcom Pass ascent, which was steeper than yesterday's climb and a bit of a butt-kicker. The views of snow- and glacier-covered Easy Ridge and Whatcom Peak made it worthwhile. I didn't realize till I got to camp just how close it was to the pass; it's in sight and according to the topo is less than 200 feet elevation up. For a while I was worried I'd taken a wrong turn at a creek crossing and was headed up to snow-covered Tapto Lakes. The close proximity should make tomorrow easier. I arrived at around 1:30 this afternoon, after hiking 8 miles. Like yesterday's hike after the pass, most of today was in forest, though lack of a breeze still made the going warm and sweaty.

My campsite, which I think is one of only two here, has an excellent view of Whatcom peak and the ridge to the south. The weather was very warm and blue skies when I arrived, but through the afternoon the winds have picked up and clouds have formed all around me. I've spent my time attempting zazen (buzz, buzz, bite....), writing in the journal, reading David Chadwick's book "Crooked Cucumber", and watching the mountain-created weather form around me. I can literally see vapour rising from the unseen but (according to the map) massive Challenger Glacier behind Mt. Whatcom, and see Whatcom snag and combine passing cloud tufts around its summit.

It's 7PM and I'm in the tent after a dinner of 8 oz of medium cheddar cheese in pitas, washed down with an avacado. I think I'll probably dodge a rainstorm but just in case, and for warmth, have put the rainfly on the tent. While sitting outside earlier I put on my Windstopper jacket and pants; am glad I dragged them along! Will read for a bit then off to bed. A surprising lack of wldlife so far; some birds, a single chipmunk and that's it, though I've seen plenty of deer tracks in the mud. Hoping to NOT have a bear visitor tonite. I feel pretty good except for both hips, which have become abraded by the backpack waist strap.

Tuesday, August 1, 3:15 PM

With the exception of an approx. 2 mile stretch of trail, today was a good day ;-) I awoke at 6:15 and was on the trail by 7:45. A quick stroll to the top of Whatcom Pass was followed by a steep, avalanche-eroded descent towards the swollen Little Beaver creek. Just below the pass, I came across a group of three hikers going the opposite direction, who warned me of the heavily overgrown trail to follow and that I'd have to walk in a stream for 100 yards or so. On neither point did they exaggerate.

From the moment I neared the creek until I reached Twin Rocks camp, I was wading through shoulder-high, often thorny underbrush that nearly obscured the trail and left my exposed legs and arms cut up. Runoff from East Lakes had taken over the trail for 100 yards or so and ranged in depth from my knees to my hips. The current was strong and very very cold; thank goodness for my hiking poles. I pulled off boots and socks and traversed the stream with only an old pair of poly inner socks to protect my feet (note to self, next time don't save weight by leaving sandals behind). Of course the biting flies were there to prompt me to keep moving. My only consolation was the amazing views of Challenger Glacier to the south.

Ate a powerbar at Twin Rocks, and a cliff bar and orange at Stillwell camp. The hike between the two was very pleasant; flat and in the forest with a clear and well-maintained trail. At Stillwell I turned south towards Badger Pass, traversing several waterways via a combination of logs and a rickety bridge spanning both banks. The climb to Badger Pass comprised a series of switchbacks and wasn't too bad, though I didn't factor how wide the pass would be at its top. From when I crested the pass till I arrived at camp seemed to take FOREVER.

As soon as I got here I peeled off my so-far-unchanged clothes and took a much-needed cold bath in the nearby stream. My timing was good as, within 15 minutes of my toweling off and donning clean clothes, a group of three older women strolled into camp to say hello. Another woman just stopped by to see if I had a cell phone; she's leading a group of kids from Big Beaver to Little Beaver and one of them fell and broke his nose. Unfortunately my father-in-law’s analog cell phone won't receive a signal at this location.

Thursday, August 3, 4:00 PM

Yesterday was a long and enjoyable end to the trip, in which I decided to compress two days' schedule into one. Tuesday night I was in the tent nearly all afternoon and evening (including eating dinner) and was in for good by 6PM. However I was unable to fall asleep till after dark. I awoke yesterday morning at 5:45 AM and was on the trail by 7AM. I arrived at 39 Mile campground, my supposed overnight stop, by 10:30AM.

It was too early to stop (and I was tired of the biting flies and mosquitoes), my legs and lungs felt fine, my hips were sore and oozing from open wounds (leaving me not terribly enthused about a fifth day with a pack on my back), and I was experiencing my fourth straight day of blue skies and didn't feel like pushing my luck, so I decided to push on for the full 19 miles to the end.

When I got to Big Beaver camp, I started up a conversation with a senior park service employee who wanted to know about various trail segment conditions. He radioed his dispatch to call Ross Lake Resort and see if they could send a 'water taxi' (boat) to pick me up. It would have taken them 2.5 or more hours to arrive, so I just decided to hike out the final 6 miles (I think I was just looking for an excuse not to wimp out). After a steep initial climb, the remaining portion of the trail was pretty flat till it approached the dam, where it rapidly descended to lakeside. It was a nice stroll through forest with a few spectacular creeks, though the trees changed type and decreased in size the last few miles and I was consequently hiking more in the hot sun. I arrived just after 3PM.

The resort wasn't exactly what I'd imagined. For one thing, despite the park service guy's assurances to the contrary, it was fully booked for the night. A collection of lakeside 'floating' cabins, it had no restaurant to satisfy my food or cold beer cravings (though the gal behind the counter took pity on me and sold me a beer from her personal stash). Fortunately when I called Kate she was willing to break her movie date with her now-hubby Sherlock and come get me. A $1 boat ride across the lake saved a mile of hiking across the dam, and after a 0.8 mile steep ascent to the road my hiking was done. Kate picked me up at 6PM, we had a nice chat on the 2-hour drive back to Anacortes, and the three of us stayed up talking, eating and drinking wedding leftovers till 10PM or so. After a refreshing shower and a much-missed conversation with Lil it was off to bed.

This morning I called up Southwest Airlines and decided to grab a flight out this evening. Downloaded a few hundred emails, checked voice mail, did a load of laundry. Sherlock picked me up at 2PM and took me to the shuttle pickup spot. I'm headed to SeaTac now and hope that anticipated delays caused by Blue Angels practices (and corresponding freeway closures) won't cause me to miss my flight. I've finished "Crooked Cucumber", which I enjoyed very much, and have begun reading William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's "The Difference Engine".

I depart the North Cascades with fond memories of beautiful vistas and wonderful friends, and a rememberance of how powerful the mind is in shaping experiences. The times I was most frustrated where when I thought I was close to my destination, and (to use Buddhist terminology) was fixated on the desired future instead of dwelling in the present moment and enjoying the beauty around me. Once I got caught up in frustration and negative energy, it was very difficult to snap out of the mood unless I forced myself to take a break and chill out.

Trip mileage beginning at Hannegan Pass trailhead, courtesy of the always-friendly park rangers at Marblemount station:

Day 1 total: 10.1 miles

Day 2 total: 7 miles

Day 3 total: 9 miles

Day 4 total: 19.8 miles

Four-day total: 45.9 miles

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This page was created on August 28, 2000. It was last updated on August 10, 2009.

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