An Institute ode to summer

The transition from spring to summer has been a long awaited and hopeful one to those of us living in the Pacific Northwest this year.
This past week, our hopes have finally been fulfilled as the summer sun no longer conceals itself from behind overcast skies and the snow so prevalent upon the high peaks surrounding North Cascades Institute‘s Environmental Learning Center melts away to reveal the rocks of this rugged landscape. One of the best ways to take in and experience the summer in the North Cascades and Skagit Valley is to go hiking, to see places you have not seen before!
As a way to welcome the season of summer in the North Cascades and Skagit Valley, several staff, graduate students, and board members of North Cascades Institute hope to inspire you to enjoy this beautiful onset of summer weather by sharing their favorite hikes in the region of the Skagit Valley and North Cascades.
Ptarmigan Ridge Traverse – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
A favorite trail, after 40 years and perhaps 400 hikes! An impossible task! Nonetheless, one favorite takes me out the east face of Table Mountain from Artist Point, then onto Ptarmigan Ridge. The trail winds along the ridge, slowly rising as it traverses the east slope of Coleman Pinnacle, then winds around to Lasciocarpa Ridge and ends at The Portals. Pass through The Portals and step onto a Mount Baker glacier. The scenery on this hike—when it is not cloaked in fog and cloud—is simply amazing! On the way out, Mt. Shuksan looms over the left shoulder and Mt. Baker soars upward straight ahead. Marmots whistle and pikas squeak. Pink and yellow monkeyflowers nod over the trickles and seeps, and groves of lupine wave in the mountain breeze. If you know where to look, mountain goats are nearly guaranteed, resting in small groups in the meadows (or on snowfields on hot summer days), the nannies and kids in small herds, the billies solitary on shaded ledges in unlikely places often high on the rock walls and ridges. A winter trip out this trail is also possible, with skis the best way to go and always with an avalanche transponder. The winter scenery is fantastic, but the risks are a bit greater. Lots of people make it part way out this trail in late summer and fall. The section along the east face of Table Mountain is perhaps the most heavily traveled trail in the entire North Cascades, but most do not go beyond the fork to Chain Lakes. If you don’t want to share this remarkable place, go in winter, but do go!

~John Miles, North Cascades Institute Board Member

Hidden Lakes Peak Trail – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

My personal favorite hike after living here for only one year has to be the time I went up to Hidden Lakes Peak. It was a spontaneous adventure after the graduate students of Cohort 9 spent the morning up the Railroad Grade Trail on Mt. Baker. We quickly made our way up Highway 20 to the Cascade River Road, east of Marblemount. Packing our gear en route, we eventually found the turnoff and came to the Hidden Lakes Trailhead. We had to make quick time before the sun went down. The fairly intense up-hill climb made us remember how much we had already hiked earlier that day. It was well worth the sweat though. We made it to our campsite just in time to watch an unbelievable sunset. The next morning we spent some time lounging in the sun next to the lookout. On our way down, we had much more time to do some glissading on the higher snowfields and some wildflower identification in one of the most beautiful Cascade valleys I have seen yet.

~Justin McWethy, Cohort 9 Graduate Student

(Title) A view of the Pickett Range from Trapper’s Peak , one of many North Cascades hikes (Above) A view from our campsite looking west with Mt. Baker on the right
The lookout on top of Hidden Lakes Peak

Lookout Mountain – Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Jagged mountainous ridges roaring up from the Skagit Valley below are your reward for venturing on my favorite hike so far in this region—up Lookout Mountain. The trailhead for this breathtaking climb of over 4,500 feet lies seven miles up the Cascade River Road from Marblemount. For those wishing an early morning start and a shorter drive, a turnoff for Marble Creek—a national forest car campground—lies a mile further up the road. This trail wastes no time flirting with elevation gain as switchbacks start right from the trailhead. Rest assured, however, that the views from the top will relieve you of whatever breath you have left from the climb. These views may well inspire you to further pursue several other mountainous lookout climbs visible from Lookout Mountain’s lofty summit. Please take note that a Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking at the trailhead as it is in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

~Corey White, Cohort 9 Graduate Student

Big Beaver Trail – Ross Lake Recreation Area
A hike to the Big Beaver campsite in early spring provides amazing views of Ross Lake before the lake level rises again in the summer. Starting at the Ross Dam trailhead, a quick hike downhill opens up onto the 540 foot tall Ross Dam with spectacular views of Pyramid and Colonial Peaks over the emerald green Diablo Lake. With a little elevation gain and loss during the hike, the six-mile trail crosses picturesque creeks emptying into Ross Lake, which reflects the towering Jack Mountain. Upon reaching the backpacking and boat campsites, the Big Beaver Trail follows the Big Beaver Creek through old growth forest. Among stumps—remnants of the forest before the dam—a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore showcases the still snow-covered peaks of Ruby, Sourdough, Jack and Hozomeen. Especially for beginner backpackers, this hike provides memorable views and solitude in the early spring.

~Brandi Stewart, Cohort 9 Graduate Student

View of Sourdough Mountain and Big Beaver Creek emptying into Ross Lake from campsite
View of Jack and Little Jack Mountains from campsite

Devils Dome Loop – North Cascades National Park
My favorite hike would be the Devils Dome Loop. Its total mileage is about 40 miles with considerable elevation gain and loss. Gerry Cook, a long time employee of North Cascades National Park, told me this was one of his favorite hikes in the North Cascades and I knew I had to go. This strenuous hike lies within the North Cascades National Park and the adjacent Pasayten Wilderness. In essence, the trail circumnavigates Jack Mountain. Much of the trail is in the alpine, affording amazing mountain vistas—look west into the heart of the Pickett Range, north to Hozomeen, view the contrast of the dry east side to the wet west side, all the while marvelling at each side of Jack Mountain. The beauty of this trail has a cost—sections of the trail are tough to follow, steep, rocky, and water is scarce along certain sections, so come prepared.

~Jenny Rae, Cohort 8 Graduate Student

A perfect portrait of the North Cascades as viewed from the high ridge lines of the Loop
Views of Jack Mountain can be seen from all sides

Park Creek Pass & Easy Pass Traverse – North Cascades National Park
Starting at High Bridge on the Stehekin River, proceed up valley to Park Creek, then over Park Creek Pass and down Thunder Creek to Junction Camp, then up Fisher Creek to Easy Pass and out to the highway. The distance in total is a little over 40 miles, with a total elevation gain of 10,000 feet over the 40 miles. Usually I do it in an afternoon, tow long days, and a morning.

~David Bonn, North Cascades Institute Board Member

Views from Park Creek Pass
Views from the traverse to Easy Pass

Blue Lake Trail – Okanogan National Forest
At Blue Lake, here are great mountain views and a beautiful little lake that are easily accessible from this 4.4 mile roundtrip hike with a mere 1,050 foot elevation gain. Enjoy views of Whistler and Cutthroat peaks, Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires. In the fall, the larches are incredible.

~Laura Busby, Program Director

Blue Lake with magnificent larches glowing in the autumn light
Views of (from L to R) Liberty Bell, Concord Tower, Lexington Tower and North Early Winters Spires

These are just a few of many amazing hikes in the North Cascades and Skagit Valley. What are your favorite hikes in this region? Please share with us at Chattermarks by posting in the comments section below.

Photos courtesy of David Bonn, Laura Busby, Kelsi Franzen, Justin McWethy, Jenny Rae and Brandi Stewart.

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