More North Cascades

Friday, October 5A day after our Sauk Mountain hike, we had a late morning inside the rig before venturing out. It was quite overcast, cool and drizzly. We did a drive into North Cascades National Park, but neither of us was particularly motivated to photograph much. We drove as far as the power station town of Newhalem and stopped for a time at the hydroelectric plant there. Many years ago, the owners created a kind of illuminated fairy garden amongst the forest and extensive waterfalls behind the plant. The illuminated part has gone away, leaving a sort of abbreviated botanical garden on one section of the property. Here we found a wonderful row of maple trees planted along a walkway. The five trees each turning a different shade of autumn. We walked the grounds a bit more. There is a short trail that leads into the steep forest behind the plant, but a fire some years ago has left it kind of trashed looking. The powerful cascade of water coming down the mountain falls, is clogged with wicked looking logs, so is not terribly attractive as waterfalls go. We headed back to camp, looking forward to out hike tomorrow.

Dock Butte Trail
Saturday, October 6As was predicted, the day dawned bright. There was heavy fog again in the valley where we were, but not as thick as earlier in the week. We had a longer drive this morning to reach the Dock Butte Trailhead. 20 miles of highway and 10 on twisty forest service roads. These FS roads were in much better shape than the road up to Sauk Mountain. All of this to hike up another 1,200 feet on a 4-mile out-and-back hike.As usual, the first 3/4 mile switchbacks up through the heavily forested mountain. The trail here is full of slick tree roots and can be rocky with a few drop-offs. I’ve been on much worse however. As the forest begins to thin, a few tarns emerge among the diminutive meadows. The surface was still partially frozen from overnight cold, and ice crystals decorated the top. A good place to catch breath. We came across a couple more ponds, each with different ice patterns to play with. The trail continued through more colorful meadows as the trail rose steadily. Not as steeply as the first part, but unending uphill. I kept being distracted by tiny frost-tinged plant life, or neon back-lit color on either side of the trail. The first real views of Mt. Baker came along, but the mountaintop would not put in an appearance. The best I got was a brief look at an upper edge, then it was gone. It was obscured the rest of the day. As we climbed higher, the views opened up and we could better see the mountain peaks all around us. As was the case during the last hike, on one side of the trail we could photograph frozen stuff, on the other, brilliant color. Looking closely at some huckleberry plants, I noticed little frozen water droplets on the frost covered leaves. They were beginning to thaw as I watched. I eventually caught up with Mary having a little break on a large boulder. Way up behind her, I could see our eventual destination. It looks pretty daunting, but the way the trail is laid out, it is not a really difficult hike – except for one section just below the summit where the rock juts upward. Some dicy rock scrambling over slick stone is required to get to the top. It’s a very short distance to scramble, but a little scary looking. Once up that last bit of trail, we arrived at the top and the panoramic views all around. There was still a fair amount of haze/smoke over the Baker Lake valley, but everywhere else was quite clear. There were just a couple of guys at the top who were quite talkative. They were amateur ham radio operators, who had set-up antennas and transmitters, trying to contact other radio operators on surrounding peaks near us. It’s a sort of game they play to gather points in order to attain “Mountain Goat” status for having transmitted from high-points. Dock Butte equals 6 points, while Mt. Baker gets you 10. Mountain Goat status equals 1000 points. While we were there, more people began showing up. I thought today being Saturday, we would see a lot more people on the trail than there were. When we first got to the parking area this morning, there was already several cars in the lot. 3 more showed up while we were getting ready. It seems most took the branch trail off to Blue Lake instead of the longer, steeper Dock Butte hike. We met several who intended to hike to the lake, but missed the branch trail. There are no signs to indicate which branch trail leading off into the forest is the correct one. Also, this trailhead is called Blue Lake, with no sign for Dock Butte. We also met a few who hiked up from Blue Lake – but there is no marked trail to do that. The sky wasn’t getting any clearer, so we started our hike back. This direction went much quicker of course, but there were more stops made for details and views. We will be heading back to Winthrop on the eastern side again. The weather is supposed to calm down for the next few days, so we hope to get in another larch hike before we begin to make our way home. Stay tuned!

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