Secret Spaces

I love people. I really love people. But I also love untrammeled wild spaces and I think that the North Cascades are one of those places where the masses shouldn’t go. I think it’s fine for most of humanity to approximate the experience by hiking Mt Si or Tiger Mountain, or any of the other bazillion easily accessible hikes off I-90 in the central Cascades. Most hikes are well documented on WTA or similar sites and people can pick from hundreds (yes, literally) in the state. So when a friend offered to go hiking on a less known trail up in the far reaches of the North Cascades, I couldn’t say no. The rest of the trip slowly revealed to us the reasons why this trail is rarely hiked (or rarely hiked reasons – RHR).
 
Sunday the parking lot looked like this. Pure heaven. Except for the biting flies. I won’t go into the drive details, but most cars with less clearance than this one wouldn’t make it up there. Rarely Hiked Reason #1 (RHR)
The first thing we found on the trail was the hike registry log. No one had signed in or out since Friday. A dozen steps later, we ran onto a fresh pile of bear poo. Neat! A little later, elk tracks maybe a day old. I wondered for a moment if we were following deer runs rather than a hiking trail. The path was worn but thin and without a single boot track.

Then we lost the trail for a while and rambled over some blow downs. (RHR#2)

 My pants were soaked immediately from moisture-covered brush along the path (RHR#3). My face was covered with spider webs because no one else had gone through for a while (RHR#4). I felt a little like Indiana Jones in the opening scene of Raiders. Lots of spiders, bushwhacking a trail, and me without my machete.

 
As we went it was mostly shaded by trees, no views to tempt us (RHR#5) except a peek-a-boo here and there. Just forest and mud and dew. Until we reached the bog. I attempted to bushwhack around it because just getting to the edge we were both muddy up to ankles (RHR#6). And it’s August. The dry month. I crawled over alder and skunk cabbage before circling back and tromping through the middle of the bog. Of course I looked down into the water and of course I saw dead people. (Gees, I’ve been watching too many movies lately.) But I sang the Bog Down In The Valley-O song the rest of the trip. And in that bog there was a hoard of mosquitoes, a rare hoard, a ramblin’ hoard… and so we didn’t dally.
 
But there were huckleberries. 
They were more plentiful than anywhere I’ve ever seen – even the blueberry farm. Unbelievable. We snacked and hiked and tried to ignore the near constant spider streamers across our faces.
 
We climbed up a shallow gully to a rock outcrop and found a couple of waterfalls. The sun kept some of the bugs off, so we rested on the boulders and had a little lunch while listening to the falls. We couldn’t see the falls too well from the trail (RHR#7), and the cliff edge prevented much exploration in that area. 
 
But there were pretty flowers!
 
Wild azela

 

 

This looked like a necklace to me.

 

Wild spirea I’d guess.
 
Moments later we met up with the only people we’d see during the whole trip. A group of seven climbers had arrived on Friday, summited Saturday and were on their way back down. They looked beat but happy. This trail is an old climbing route that has been mostly abandoned because there are other shorter, more scenic, less labor intensive routes to summit. So unless you’re a climber who’s in no hurry, doesn’t like views, and loves to cut your own path en route to the actual climb, this isn’t the hike for you. We talked to them for a minute and as they left, they thanked us for clearing the bottom half of the path of spiders for them.
 
 
About an hour later, dew soaked and bug bitten, mud covered and footsore from attentively picking every step (RHR#8), we reached a clearing. Unfortunately the clouds didn’t clear.
 
But when a mountain hides, you have a few options, so we exercised all of them:
Look at bits of the mountain as they peek out

 

Look for other, less majestic, but more cooperative mountains.

 

See the trees

 

Focus on nearer things…

 

Look for diamonds in the flowers

 

Encourage the mosquito eaters

 

Stalk the flowers
Eat more berries
Talk to the mountain and ask it to come out (note the Mountain Whisperer in the lower right)
Shoot more wildflowers (wild violets)
Have another lunch then wander a bit.
We found a shotgun shell or two and remembered that bear hunting season is currently open. Didn’t see any bears, didn’t act like bears. But the horseflies were getting nasty (RHR#9) so we packed it in and headed back down in full anticipation of facing the spiders again. I nearly tripped over a pair of ptarmigan who were perfectly plumed to match the trail rocks. They fluttered and as they went and I didn’t see much of them, but the elusive chicken-like birds have few likenesses. It had to be ptarmigans. Something to check off in my bird book! And then I walked face-first into an inhabited orb.
 
 

Did I mention there were spiders? (RHR#10, 11, 12) My arm muscles are toast two days later because I waved a trekking pole in grand circles in front of me for two miles of trail. Despite the effort I still had enough webbing all over me to make a me-sized web. Instant Spider Girl. I think we were naming the ones we picked off of ourselves by the end. There were spider parties – three or more on a single web at chest level just hanging out and chatting. They quit talking when we approached. There were long strings with little guys hanging from the ends. Big ones right in my face, dripping off my elbows… “Oh, can you get that one, he’s in my hair.” Not a good place for arachnophobes. But they were pretty! We almost felt bad for wrecking all the work they had done… twice in one day.

 
 
And so now we know why it’s not a heavily frequented trail. And I hope it stays that way because it was a joy to have the solitude. It was a challenging adventure to bushwhack and trail find and ford streams. It was interesting to see flowers that no one else had seen, and it was fantastic to be completely still and hear nothing human but my own breath. Only the crack of a glacier and a hiss from a faraway creek and the wind in the trees. 

2 thoughts on “Secret Spaces”

Comments are closed.