North Cascades: Backpacking a True Rare Gem
August // North Cascades National Park, Washington
Eager to explore. Searching for a trail that would yield an immense sense of adventure. We researched and researched. We finally did it. We found just that. The North Cascades was our destination. Pack the backpacks and lets hit the road. Remoteness awaits us.
My buddies, Evan and Brian, were helping me scheme plans to climb a mountain and pursue a trail that has seen very little traffic. We didn’t want to see “Insta-Famous” locations or those backpacking destinations littered with “adventurers”. Excuse my embarrassing sense of hiking egotism. Its a culture we all know too well with the increasing presence of first time explorers looking to recreate photos they’ve seen online. Yay 21st century and social media. Anyway, back to the planning. We spent hours and hours on Google Earth. A favorite tool of mine to waste countless hours scheming potential outings to scale peaks and explore areas I will probably never see in my life. Our objective: Find a remote lake. Why? Well, alpine lakes are just freaking awesome. They provide clean sources of water for multi-day treks, offer alpine fishing, and usually are set within proximity of beautiful mountains and nearby areas to further explore. Second objective: Have a climbable mountain within range.
We found it. A massive alpine lake tucked away deep in the North Cascades. An alpine lake so large that it was hard not to investigate further while scrolling around Google Earth. Evan was down. Brian was ultra-down. So why haven’t I seen trail blogs or reports littered across the web about it? Well… a brush covered “trail” with an 8 mile approach to the lake with elevation gain that would make even true climbers wince and think twice awaited us… that’s why.
I’ll spare you the beginning details of our trek. All that you should know is: a bee stung me in the throat 0.3 miles into the bushwhack, Brian was stoked, and Evan & I slugged up near 74% incline for 5 miles within hot forested sections. See above for our first view. As for many Washington hikes, the approach typically includes miles and miles within forest. For me, this has always been a double edge sword. Forested approaches shield you from the intense summer sun, but they negate views from you for almost the entirety of the way. Bummer. However, I couldn’t imagine pursuing this trail without tree coverage because the incline was near insanity. Let me scale it down for you so the word insanity describes this trail well. Pack your multi-night backpack… 55 to 60 pounds if you like to eat good and pack for comfort. Mentally prepare yourself for at least 8 miles of variable terrain with almost unidentifiable trail. As we hit the trail, those 8 miles were almost consistently uphill averaging above 50% grade. A true calve destroyer.
Fast forward to our first glimpse of the lake or shall I say lakes. We had seen one person during our entire ascent on a weekend in AUGUST (aka the busiest month of summer hiking in Washington). A true moment of bewilderment, serenity, and remoteness. Worth it? Hell yes.
To be continued…