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Dave and Jan's travels, day 50:
North Cascades National Park

8th July
So, we left Seattle, and headed for the North Cascades National Park. We eventually spent five days in the park, which is both beautiful and remote enough to be a long way from crowded. 

The highlight of our visit was our first back country camping expedition. Armed with tent, stove, a wealth of dehydrated meals and various apparently essential paraphenalia, we strode off on a three-day expedition.

One particular piece of paraphenalia is the "bear proof container". Apparently bears have been known to smell toothpaste or food at half a mile, stroll over to the campsite, and shred a rucksack or two. So, you either (i) dangle the rucksack from a tree out of reach 15 feet up and 5 feet from the trunk or (ii) rent a black plastic cylinder with nothing protruding for a bear to grip. The cylinder is incidentally rodent-proof (unlike the dangling rucksack) so we went with that. It's a great aid to slimming, as it's not that big for three days' food.

Off we trotted, heavy backpacks waving. The trail is not intended for the day hiker, which is a polite way of saying that "maintenance" is not taken that seriously. In particular, a number of perilous river crossings left Jan with the odd wet foot (or should we say feet, ankles, calves, knees).

During one particular crossing, Jan paused half way across. As she contemplated her next move,  David, who'd already crossed, decided to be helpful for once and turned to head up the path in search of an extra rock. On turning there was a mule deer (about five feet high with huge mule-like ears) sauntering down the path towards him.  This thing wasn't remotely concerned, it carried on and eventually stopped at a range of about 10 feet, clearly heading for its favourite drinking spot, currently occupied by Jan. After thinking for a bit it found an alternative route down the riverside and popped off to drink, but not before I'd had time to contemplate a couple of very shiny pointy hooves. Apparently, as seen from the river, it was very sweet really.  Just like Bambi!

After brilliant sunshine for our hike up (and parts of it were very up indeed), and a few more wildlife encounters involving garter snakes (which we now know are not poisonous), we completed our ten mile hike and set up camp. A rather tasty seafood chowder followed (yes, more dehydrated delights) and we retired to bed.

About five we were awoken by pouring rain! We finally emerged at 9am into a completely different landscape, or rather non-landscape - we appeared to be inside a cloud and a particularly wet one at that. Were there really mountains out there? Everything takes twice as long to do in this weather, due to the desperate and eventually futile effort to keep everything dry and clean in the process. However, after a few hours breakfasting and reading, we decided to go for a walk anyway.

And actually it was still pretty nice. There are rather a lot of mosquitos in the North Cascades and rain doesn't put them off at all, but the glimpses of land through the trees, coupled with the eerie quiet and some beautiful wildflowers, made it all quite memorable. The light through the trees is spectacular, making all the greens seem almost luminous.  Everything appears so luscious and succulent.  Are there really that many shades of green? An ideal spot to film Lord of the Rings, in fact. 

And then it was sunny for the walk out the next day. It really is a beautiful area, with ancient forests of firs and cedars, fallen giant trees clad in funghi and lichen, and dainty little wildflowers and ferns below. Most of the lakes you see are a beautiful green inspired by glacial silt, and flow at a great pace down steep slopes. In fact, some of the largest lakes have been created by man-made hydro-electric power dams. And then of course there are the snow capped peaks and glaciers, but for our regular readers' sakes, we will forebear to discuss them again.

Other highlights from the North Cascades include

  • a visit to "Cascade Pass". This is around 5,000 feet, and gave our car its first unpaved road outing. There was apparently an unusually severe winter this year, and this means that there's still a lot of snow around, so we were treated to warm weather, bright sun and snow at the top. Amidst the snow we were also treated to the less enervating spectacle of two nude sunbathers!

  • the drive along Highway 20 which is quite spectacular, tracing its way along the riverside. Late the last evening we were heading out on the highway when a black bear suddenly broke cover and ran across the road about fifty yards in front! Obviously we responded immediately with knowledgable discussion about the lack of a hump and the remarkably small molars which separate it from its brown cousin. As we went past the spot there it was, squatting in the bushes keeping an eye on us. Sadly it ran off when we stopped (I blame the Joan Armatrading tape myself).



   (click thumbnails for a larger picture)

View over the Ross Lake...

... and the dam that makes the lake

Ghostly trees at the Junction campsite

Sunnier days at Junction campsite

Alfresco facilities

Close encounters of the deer kind