Backpacking North Cascades National Park – Back To Where We Started
After an early bedtime at Basin Creek, we had a surprisingly late start to the next day. Jason and I woke up to investigate the pit toilet, which was a little bit of an adventure when I got sap on the back of my legs. Sometimes having short legs is really frustrating. Anyways, when we got back to camp we went back to sleep for a little longer. Once we actually woke up, we did the normal camp chores of filtering water mixed with some putzing around. I headed over to the “kitchen” before everyone else and found our camp neighbors enjoying delicious breakfast burritos complete with rehydrated eggs, hash browns, cheese, and hot sauce. Too bad I’m allergic to the best part of breakfast burritos (eggs and cheese). I had just planned to make myself some cold instant coffee but instead hung out and chatted while eating some Taos Mountain Bars for breakfast.
The couple was from Seattle and were helping their nephew get one of his last boy scout badges but completing a “thru hike” from Cascade Pass trailhead to Chelan Lake. Their nephew’s parents had a house on Chelan Lake where they would hang out before heading back to reality. They were full of good ideas of places for a day hike the following day, longer backpacking trips in the area, and even some ski touring trip ideas. By the time we were done with our breakfast, Jason, Kate, and Wade had dismantled the tents and all that was left for me to do was pack up my stuff. Win-win in my book!
After everyone else ate breakfast, we headed back up the trail towards Cascade Pass (for our third visit of the trip!). On the two mile overgrown section between camp and the creek crossing we encountered two rangers, one of which had given me the permit two days earlier. We chatted about the condition of the trail, which they were improving as they were going, the fact that we ended our trip early instead of continuing on to Trapper Lake, and our little adventure from the previous day. They told us that we’d see a little yellow tent in the campsite we had found since it was the backcountry ranger campsite. Both of them assured us that the current trail had been around for at least the past five years. Who knows how old our GPS maps were then! They also told us to be wary of bears since they like the steep forested switchbacks after the creek crossing. The previous day we saw two bear scat piles, but luckily our ursus americanus friends stayed away. The park service has tried to restore the Grizzly to North Cascades but the introduction efforts were focused further north in the park where there are fewer visitors.
We said goodbye to the rangers and hiked quickly to the creek crossing. Even though it was still pretty early, the cold water felt great on my feet and I even made an extra trip across to enjoy the cold water! We again took another little break on the far side of the creek crossing before tackling the less-overgrown-than-the-day-before switchbacks. I felt pretty good on the switchbacks and felt my legs getting stronger the longer we hiked. Unfortunately everyone else felt the effects of two hard days compounded by the hot, exposed, seemingly never ending switchbacks. We took a break once we finally made it back to the shade and guzzled some water to revive ourselves.
The miles seemed to be passing faster than they had the other two days and we soon found ourselves back at our snow slide on Cascade Pass. Since the day was really warming up, and we knew we only had 3.5 downhill miles left, we took the opportunity to slide in the snow a couple of times. It was a lot more fun without a backpack on (and much easier to go back up to the top). Others saw our fun and copied our downhill sliding methods on their way down the pass. We again took a little break at the top of Cascade Pass before saying farewell for a final time.
The descent down Cascade Pass back to the parking lot was mostly uneventful except for a long snow crossing near the top of the pass. Since uphill traffic has the right away, I usually stop to allow them to continue uphill if the trail isn’t wide enough for two people. When we got to the start of the snow field, there was a large group sitting on rocks on the other side. The trail was definitely not wide enough for two people and the sun-warmed snow made it difficult to move up or downhill to allow uphill hikers to pass. As I reached the mid-point of the snow, with only Jason, Kate and Wade behind me, a family with a small child and one in backpack started on the snow. I yelled to them to please wait until we made it down, which luckily they did even though they didn’t look happy about it. When I reached the other side they asked why they needed to wait and I pointed out that we were nearly across and if they had started there wouldn’t have been anywhere for us to go. I also pointed out that it was unsafe for them to attempt to pass with their children since the snow was slick and there were a lot of rocks directly below us. Once Jason, Kate, and Wade made it across we continued on down the trail, but spent quite a bit of time discussing how idiotic some people are.
The rest of the descent was easy, even if there seemed to be an unnecessary number of switchbacks (I had the same thought on the way up so it wasn’t just my desire to be down that caused that thought). We made it back to the car with plenty of time to return Wade and Kate’s bear canisters to the backcountry office and fill up on burgers in town before returning to camp.
The end of a trip to the wilderness is always bittersweet. Being away from technology, responsibilities, and societal expectations is absolutely wonderful, especially when you combine it with beautiful surroundings. Luckily we still had one full day and night in the wilds of the North Cascades so we were able to enjoy wine and a campfire without thoughts of the real world creeping in.
Strava data can be found here.