March 10, 2018

Spring is here! The time when a young woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of ADVENTURE! Time to start more than daydreaming – time to start figuring out daily mileages for possible backpacking trips, gear lists, schedules… My inaugural backpacking trip was three summers ago (far too long), so it’s time to do another. This year I’m looking at North Cascades National Park.

It’s funny to me the differences between Washington’s three national parks. (Washington also has a slew of national historic and recreation areas.) In 2017:

  • Olympic National Park had 3.4 million visitors;
  • Mt. Rainier National Park had 1.4 million visitors; and
  • North Cascades National Park had… 30,326 visitors.

(Thank you to the NPS stats peeps and page for their endlessly engrossing data! https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/ I’m interested to find out what happened from 1990-1991 at NCNP to change the visitor numbers so radically; I am guessing either they decided to start counting the visitors separately for the various parts of the park complex, or just started counting differently, full stop.)

Anyway, I know that there are many different ways to quantify park usage, and that visitor counts has its limitations as a measure. But however you slice it, the Olympics and Mt. Rainier are just a lot more popular than the North Cascades. I have various theories on why that might be – proximity? ease of access? self-fulfilling cycles? weather/seasons? possible activities? witchcraft? – but I’m going to take advantage of it and go explore one of the least-visited parks in the whole national park system, which is still only a few hours from Seattle. If I get the itinerary I hope for, it will also be the closest to Canada I’ve ever been – at one point I’ll be five trail miles from the border. It will also be the third national park I’ve ever visited, after Crater Lake and last summer’s extremely brief visit to the Olympics, but the one which I will have spent the most time in (again assuming I get the itinerary I want).

To prompt your adventure-daydreaming, I urge you to have a look online or on social media for photos of the North Cascades National Park. If you want to know what specifically is luring me in, search for “Copper Ridge trail” and “Whatcom Pass.” And then see if you don’t want to start planning your own backpacking trip immediately, too!

Goat Rocks Wilderness and Iron Creek Campground

My friends and I spent the final weekend of July camping in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, with day hikes in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. Our campground of choice (this is the second year we’ve been there) is the Iron Creek Campground. It’s well-maintained, laid out in such a way that it never seems crowded, even when every campsite is full, and has the added bonus of proximity to the lovely Cispus River, perfect for cooling off after those hikes! In short, highly recommended. Our evenings were spent around a campfire at the “main” site of the three our group had. An innovation this year was a group dinner on Saturday night of campfire nachos, which were great!

On Saturday, I joined the majority of the people in our group in a hike toward Heart Lake/Johnson Peak, up and along a ridge overlooking Packwood Lake and Mt. Rainier. Getting to the trailhead involved some self-doubt, as I was driving the lead car and the directions our thirty-year-old guidebook gave along the twisting snarl of Forest Service roads were sketchy. We had a modern map to help things along, but it was still very much a case of “just as you start to think you should turn around and go back to x turn and take the other choice, you arrive at the trailhead.” We may have cheered.

The guidebook said that the trail runs, “up and down, but mostly up” on the way out, and that was certainly the case. Truthfully, the first few miles of this route aren’t a lot of fun. They aren’t horrible, either – mostly just monotonous. The trail in all its late-summer bushiness would have pleased the Knights Who Say Ni, but miles of dust and leg-whacking shrubs wasn’t the most fun I’ve had on a trail.

Magenta paintbrushes. Oh, and a mountain.
Magenta paintbrushes. Oh, and a mountain.

That being said, the views from about mile 3.5 onwards made up for it. Continue reading