Tuesday, October 4On Monday we moved our camp further east over Washington Pass to the town of Winthrop for the next few days so we can hike a couple of trails on this side. We will still have 30+ miles to drive to get to each of the hikes, but since there are few campgrounds that would accommodate us, this was the best choice. Also, rain is expected on and off for most of this week, so having hook-ups will make life easier.The ride over the pass was easy to drive and quite nice to see as well. We stopped a few times to check out the POI’s, but most I didn’t find particularly photogenic. We spent a little time at the main Washington Pass Overlook where there is a great vantage for Liberty Bell Mountain – except for Highway 20 that runs along and over it’s base. It was from here that we got our first look at the Larch trees that grow in the higher elevations here. We’ve never seen them in fall and didn’t realize they turned color just as aspen and so many others do. The kick here is that in summer, they kind of just look like sickly pines. There needles are similar looking to pine, but a lighter green. In fall the turn various shads of yellow and orange. Very striking and we seem to be here at peak color. Our hikes are to be Larch centric so we can walk among them.In Winthrop we found The Pine Near RV Park. A cute little park with resident deer and a quiet location. We got a site near the back of the park well away from the road. While there we met a couple of other Lazy Daze owners who told us since the new owner took over a couple of years ago, the facility has improved lots. It has what we need for the next few days.
North Cascades – Blue Lake Trail
Wednesday, October 5Reports said today was to be the best weather day of the week. Still a chance of rain showers, but less than the rest of the week. When talking with, well, everybody about what hikes to do in this area, the names Blue Lake and Maple Pass kept coming up. We picked Blue Lake first because it was just 4.4 miles out and back, with an 1,100’ elevation gain, had great views – and larches. Maple Pass is twice the elevation gain and almost twice the distance at 7.4 miles. If the weather holds this week, Maple Pass is still on the table.Funny thing is, it was quite sunny and warm in Winthrop, but by the time we got back into the mountains to our trailhead – a distance of 35 miles – we were once again in cold rainy weather. These mountains are among those that wring the moisture out o the clouds before it gets to Winthrop. It was also much colder at this elevation (5412), and we were happy to have brought plenty of warm clothing and rain gear. It will get colder as we rise, but we’re game.The trail rises steadily in dense forest with just occasional breaks to see views. It was very misty too. Sometimes a light rain fell. The trail rarely felt steep, but did rise steadily. After maybe a half mile, we were up close with larches. I always love that feeling the first time I see something so different from the usual. In all the fall seasons I’ve photographed in, I have never seen a larch. I have known they turn color, but it just didn’t sound spectacular. Nice to be proven wrong sometimes. We kept climbing up through the larches, until we eventually got to our destination – Blue Lake. We were welcomed by a snow flurry that lasted a few minutes. Much colder up here, and moisture was billowing through and over the lake. Occasionally, sun would break out – very occasionally. We sat through still another flurry while we had lunch, but soon got cold enough to get up and photograph more. The lake color today is more of an emerald green and very reflective. During flurries, it changes, becoming nicely textured. A Stellar Jay with wonderfully colorful feathers came by for a visit at one point, and I also found an interesting, mostly submerged tree. I love how the reflections interact with what is underwater. The larches always drew me back. Such an unlikely shape and wonderful variety of colors in these trees. We spent time just looking. As we sat the scene continuously changed. The lake would get calm and glassy. A flurry would blow through, then sun would break for a minute. I didn’t have to move much to get new views. We eventually just got too cold and a little wet so we started back down the mountain. We were getting more light breaking through now and it gave a new look to the landscape. A lot more pictures were made. The views were clearing up as well. Once we were back into the heavier forest, we just made a b-line back to the trail head and then back to camp for the night.
North Cascades – Maple Pass Trail
Friday, October 6A down day for us on Thursday. We did a brief walk around a beaver pond for a leg stretch, but just caught up on reading and writing beyond that.Friday we were ready for another hike. The weather is a little more iffy today. Rain is supposed to come in later this afternoon, but I think, from the start, today will be wetter than Wednesday. Mary is not so sure about doing the whole hike, being 7.2 miles with a 2000’ elevation gain. It is a loop and can be walked either way, or just up and back down. Going counter clockwise is less steep – rising up more gradually than on the other side. There are arguments in favor of both, but we decided counter clockwise gets us up there with some energy left over to want to look around once to the top.Again we had a 30+ drive to the Maple Pass trailhead, so it was already 9:30 by the time we started off on the trail. Just like the last hike, it was only partly cloudy in Winthrop and lightly raining in the mountains. The trail starts off in deep forest again and begins rising right away. Soon there are a few breaks in the forest and Lake Ann began to come into view. The fall color included larch once again, but also great sections of bright reds and orange foliage. The mirror-like surface of Lake Ann made for some nice reflections of the surrounding slopes. The steepness of the slopes doesn’t really translate in these images. Above, if one was to fall down this slope, one would probably be found somewhere at the bottom when one stopped rolling.We eventually reached Heather Pass as the weather continued to worsen. But not terribly bad. It was cold yes, but also was beginning to snow lightly. We took a side trail out to the overlook and found more larch and great views (what we could see of them anyway). It was at this point that Mary decided she’d had enough of the trail. Other hikers coming down the trail told of more snowing over the top to Maple Pass, and the much steeper decline on that side would mean more slippery conditions. Mary turned back, but I was still game to finish. I don’t mind getting snowed on. It’s better than being rained on anyway. Maybe the views won’t be as amazing, but I wanted to see the rest of the trail. I was soon in even brighter fall colors. Each turn of the switchbacks moved me into new views of lake and larch. Cloud cover was heavier the higher I climbed. Snow flurries were more frequent and lasted longer – and it was colder. It was also great. Near the top of the pass, snow began to stick to the trail. I was a little hesitant, but the snow actually added traction to this muddy section of trail.Looking down from the top, I could see how the trail switchbacked down the other side. When the fog and clouds would lift, I could see another small lake underneath. It was much wetter on this side of the pass with blowing snow flurries being pushed up against the slop. But it’s all downhill from here, so should be quick going. Conditions were ever changing and just standing at various points, I could watch as clouds would rise, fall and reveal interesting details of the landscape. I was almost completely fogged in at one point.Suddenly, much of the cloud cover lifted and I could see all around me. There was actually a view of Lake Ann again under one big mass of clouds that I didn’t notice when I first got there. As I zoomed down the trail, I eventually hiked out of the larches and back into the forest. The trail becomes very steep on this side. I think I would have been exhausted trying to hike up this incline, so I was pleased to be going this way. My knees would be complaining by the time I reached the bottom, but it is a much quicker way to get down. Everything we’ve heard about this trail is true. One of the most amazing hikes I have taken – even if some of the views were obscured. I am constantly amazed at how many people we encounter on these wet, steep hikes. Even today I must have passed a dozen people going either way. Most were doing the entire loop. Many were locals just killing a few hours before picking up the kids at school or going to work. We hiked it today because it was our last chance. A slightly less rainy day would be better.
We are moving out of the area tomorrow, headed for Spokane for a couple of days before moving on to the Palouse where we hope to spend another week or so, weather permitting. Rain is forecast again for much of the week, but there won’t be much hiking – just a lot of day trip car rides to photograph the area. What fun!