Thursday, September 28To save us 150 miles of driving through urban areas to get to the Northern Cascades, we chose to take a ferry from Port Townshend to Whidbey Island. We haven’t done this with the LD before, so we were just a bit nervous – for no reason really. It was a simple process and went smoothly. We showed up early and drove on separately to save some money. The LD was first in line and I drove on all the way to the other side. I had a great view from right inside the rig. Mary was directed to a different line and came on a little later.Once we were underway, it was a pretty short and uneventful trip across. Upon landing, we made our way to the Whidbey RV Park for the night to get laundry done and empty tanks. The next morning we stopped at a forest service building just outside of Concrete after some Garmin misinformation had us wandering around the fringes of town for a while. The office was of great help with hiking and camping suggestions. Well, not so much the camping part. Virtually every park and forest service campground is closed for the season. We are staying at the Howard Miller Steelhead County Park – open all year. Priced about like many RV parks, but also includes water/electric, especially handy on these cloudy, rainy days. The wifi here is quite good most of the day, but slows at night. We were surprised the the place was nearly full for the weekend – only a handful of rigs today. But we are happy to be set for the next few days and ready to hike.
Northern Cascades – Dock Butte Trail
Friday, September 29The ranger we talked with highly recommended this trail for views of Mt. Baker and some possible fall foliage color. It looked a little daunting at 1500’ in 1.5 miles, but it was only 1.5 miles, so we decided to give it a try. Today is supposed to be the only sunny day of the week, so we didn’t want to waste the chance. The mountain can hide for days on end sometimes, so we are hoping for the best.It was pretty cloudy start to the morning, but mostly all fog. It should either lift or bun off – hopefully. The trip up to the trailhead was a bit confusing with several forest service roads required to reach it. Mary doesn’t seem to read as fast as I tend to drive, so we missed a key part of one sign and drove a few miles on the wrong road before Garmin convinced us we were wrong. We eventually did find the trailhead and were the only ones there.For a trail with a 1500’ elevation gain, I was surprised to see it start off downhill for a piece. It didn’t last long as we soon started up sharply. It was steep, but also pretty easy to walk. There were areas of slick roots and rocks, but much of the trail was easy. After each major elevation gain, the trail would level off for a bit, then head up sharply again. The heavy forest we started in began thinning and we got our first peek at the peak through trees. Mt. Baker was pretty heavily covered in clouds still, but looking thinner than before. Along the way we came across lovely little alpine-like ponds and meadows. I understand the wildflower in late summer here are amazing. We made due with surprisingly nice fall color in the low growing brush all along the trail. We dallied of course, so didn’t even make it to the top by the time we were hungry for lunch. We stopped at a wonderful open spot with a steep drop-off and wide view of Mt. Baker. We watched as what fog remained thinned, leaving just a skirt around the base of the mountain. We thought we were pretty close by now. We must have walked a least a mile. There is supposed to be a 350 degree view from the top. We look around and saw a peak off in the distance. It resembled Mordor. Had to be it.But the trail made up for the difficulty with many spectacular views as we rose. It meandered – almost straight up in a few spots – to a final set of long switchbacks. Then a final scramble over shattered cap-rock to the top. Once on top, it was a short walk to the best viewing areas. Yes, from up here it truly is a 350 degree view. My iPhone pano couldn’t even take it all in. By now, the fog was nearly completely gone, leaving just a few clouds wafting around. It was very still and warm and we just took it all in for a while. Then, more picture taking. The trip back went much quicker of course. We stopped several times and it was just as enjoyable on the way down. The light was slanting in at a steeper angle and there was less fog obscuring it. We passed a few groups on their way up, but I was surprised at how few people were out here. Another reason for early hikes.