Back to Northern Cascades – West Side
Wednesday October 3We left our creekside campground late morning on Wednesday, headed back to the northern Cascade mountains. This time to the west side. The weather forecast was sounding better for the north after last nights light rain. It was cold again last night where we were, but as we began traveling up to Stevens Pass, we could see how cold. Looked to be a few inches of new snow blanketing the mountains. At the pass, we managed to pull the LD and Rav into a turnout to take in the scene. Fortunately the road was clear and we had no problem getting through.There are few easy ways to get from one side of the Cascades to another, and it took all day to get to Howard Miller Steelhead Park. This county park is right on the Skagit River near the town of Rockport. It is very tidy with water/electric and a dump station. Great to have the hook-ups during these extended grey days. The park was pretty empty when we arrived, but the reservation board showed it to be nearly booked for the weekend. There were 3 lesser sites (parking on wet grass) available for Friday and Saturday so we took one, but will have to move.
Sauk Mountain Trail
Thursday October 4Yesterday’s grey, rainy day was replace by a sparkling morning – above the fog that is. It was heavy in the campground when we awoke. Usually that would mean we’d go out looking for images, but because of today’s 1,200’ 2.5 mile hike, we decided to skip the early morning walk for the larger hike ahead.Sauk Mountain trail is reached after following an 8 mile heavily potholed and switchbacked forest service road. Oh and it’s quite narrow. But once up the 4000’ elevation gain to the trailhead, it becomes clear how wonderful this hike can be. Most of this hike is made up of long switchbacks that traverse a very steep and wide meadow. The trail is narrow all the way up and it feels like one little slip could lead to a long slide. The autumn color didn’t seem to be at peak here. Not as intense as 2 years ago. But this year we found pockets of frost in every shadow on the steep hillsides along the trail. A cold morning at camp meant a freezing morning up on the trail. It wasn’t cold in the sun though. We could photograph the shadowed hillsides while standing in the sun. A treat to be able to keep warm and take lots of rests in-between switchbacks. Frost clung to edges of ferns, vine maple and huckleberry. We found icicles forming of tree limbs and rock outcroppings. It was a bit odd concentrating on the details of the flora frosted for autumn, while walking up this panoramic mountainside. We continued up the trail, constantly alternating between views of the valley from up high and looking at the minutia of the undergrowth. Once up past the switchbacks, the trail levels a bit and moves through more meadow/forest mix terrain. We found a lunch spot overlooking Sauk Lake and watched clouds forming and moving around the valley. Moving further upward, we were now hiking above the tree and snow-lines. The rocky trail was still easy to follow as it wound up to he pinnacles at the end. From the top, commanding views of the river valley below. We arrived at this ending viewpoint early afternoon and enjoyed the views for a time before turning around for the walk down. Along the way we stopped to locate the source of the distinctive whistle we were hearing. This little pika was quite content to sit on his rock in the warm sun. The trip down went pretty fast, but we stopped again for views that had changes a bit since coming up the trail. Checking out the still frozen areas, i found the exquisite little ice sculpture, reminding me of a seahorse. It was maybe the size of a half-dollar and nestled into some star-like plants. Nearby, water, frozen over twigs, created a sort of icefall. Arriving back at the now quite busy trailhead, we broke out the coffee and enjoyed the views of the dried fern hillsides and panoramic views of the valley before heading back down the 8 miles of forest service switchbacks.Our next hike is another favorite from 2 years ago – Dock Butte. It is another 1200’ accent, but this time, a 4 mile round trip.