North Cascades National Park

Mount Logan, North Cascades National Park

In the last entry we explored the Northern Unit of the North Cascades National Park.

The Southern Unit of the North Cascades National Park is much more accessible than its northern sister. Lake Chelan created a natural route deep into the eastern flank of the North Cascades, a relatively short trek over Cascade Pass crosses into the western zone. This route was used by Native Americans, the village of Stehekin at the north end of Lake Chelan translates to “the way through”.

Once Cascade Pass was considered a possible route for what is now the North Cascades Highway but thankfully now is only reached on foot via a 3.7mile hike.

This is probably the most popular hike in the summer, a day hike to Cascade Pass and maybe up and onto Sahale Arm.  Late July the wildflowers explode and it’s really a Sound of Music experience…

North Cascades National Park info on trails and permits.

Sahale Glacier Camp is my favorite camp site on Washington. I have stayed the night maybe 15 times.

The North Cascades National Park turns 50 this year! In October, 1968 the park was officially established. Lauren Danner has recently written a wonderful book “Crown Jewel Wilderness: Creating North Cascades National Park” that chronicles the efforts of many to protect the North Cascades.

From Cascade Pass the trail continues east, dropping through Pelton Basin, and then down the Doubtful Creek drainage. The trail bisects the creek in a wonderful spot on the way down…

Before you reach Basin Creek there is a spur trail heading around the shoulder of Sahale Peak and up to Horseshoe Basin. This is NOT a trail to pass up. It’s a short way up into the basin, a wide semicircle of granite teeth sit in a bed of ice, glistening. Impossibly green swards of meadow slash below and bright blue gleams above… you get the idea.

The upper basin is the home of the Black Warrior Mine. A going concern as recently as the 1950’s, the opening to the mine is carved into the headwall of the valley, several rooms are accessible, littered with the detritus of past inhabitants. A road once led from the mine entrance to Cottonwood Camp, and Stehekin, but little by little nature has won back. As recently as 2003 there was a tour bus that ran a daily route from Stehekin to Cottonwood Camp, barely 11 miles from Cascade Pass!

The American Alps Legacy Project is a coalition working to protect more than 237,000 acres of pristine wild country, from Baker Lake to Washington Pass. Their proposal is to expand the North Cascades National Park. You can learn more here.

In the next post we’ll visit Stehekin, Park Creek Pass and the North Fork of Bridge Creek.

Fine Art and Canvas Prints of these and more images here.

Information about North Cascades Photo Tours here.  

Buckner Mountain from Park Creek Trail


These are just a few of the many spectacular hikes in the park. Your opportunities for adventure are endless.

I am planning trips to both Whatcom Pass and Park Creek Pass this summer, to celebrate the 50th Birthday of the Park.

Hope to see you out on the trail.



Sahale Camp Photomerge

Photomegre is one of the multitude of Photoshop Tools. It is a system of merging 2 or more images into a panorama.
Here are two original jpeg images from Sahale Glacier Camp. I took these with the thought in mind to later merge them. using a tripod I captured one image and carefully swung the camera on the tripod and lined up the second one. It wasn’t any fancy movement, I made note in my mind of where the frame’s edge was and pointed the camera in the approximate place to take up where the first image left off, planning for some overlap. I was using a 24 mm lens. I set my image quality when capturing the images so that I would have both a RAW file and a jpeg of the shots.
IMG_1468 em

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Once back home I opened both of the raw files together in Photoshop CS6 and synchronized them so that what ever changes I made to one were duplicated on the other. I worked to lighten the foreground and darken the sky. Using the sliders for highlights, shadows, exposure, clarity, whites and contrast I played around until I liked the result.

I also used the brush tool on the foreground to bring out more details on the rocks.

I saved the images as jpeg files. Here they are. sa 3em
sa 3_1em

Once this was done and images saved I went to Photomerge, selected the two modified images and let Photoshop work its magic. Untitled_Panorama 1201 em

Opening the panorama as a jpeg image I filled in the corners using the clone stamp tool and tweaked the levels settings a bit, and Viola! Here is the final image.

Sahale Glacier Camp, North Cascades National Park

I have printed the image as a 40″ x 15″ canvas print and it is very stunning.

Sahale Camp Panoramas

Sahale Glacier Camp sits at the base of Sahale glacier atop 3 piles of rubble each crowned with a ring of stone. The views are breathtaking: a 180 degree sweeping view of the North Cascades, a sea of peaks stretching out to the horizon.
Sahale Glacier Campsahale camp sunset Panorama
I have visited many times and tried to capture the feel of the view. Here are several panoramas, some from sunrise, and several from sunset, each comprised of two or more images merged.
Morning at Sahale Glacier Camp 1 emAndyPorter_sahalesunset_LandscapeSahale CampSahale Glacier Camp, North Cascades National Park Panorama Sahale sunrise_Panorama1emMorning at Sahale Glacier Camp 2 em
Sahale 2010Panorama2emMorning at Sahale Camp with visitor

Wildflowers of Washington

My three favorite places to experience wildflower explosions are:
1. The Pasayten Wilderness. Here you’ll hike through acres of nothing but wildflowers, as far as you can see. And I don’t mean clumps of flowers here and there, but solid unending hillsides and ridgetops. Pasayten Wildflowers on the PCT em

Pasayten Wilderness Wildflowers on the PCT em

Wildflowers in the Pasayten Wilderness em

andyporter_Wildflowers at Jim Pass on the PCT,  Pasayten WildernessFlowers on Lakeview Ridge

2. Goat Rocks Wilderness. The south side of the Goat Rocks, along the PCT near Snowgrass Flats has some of the brightest, most colorful, died and gone to flower heaven displays. gr 2 em

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Wildflowers, Goat Rocks Wilderness emsw 8em

3. Sahale Arm, North Cascades National Park. Here the backdrop for the flowers is absolutely magnificent, the jagged peaks surrounding Cascade Pass juxtaposing with the flowers for a truly breathtaking effect. View from Sahale Arm Trail,  North Cascades National Park Sah WF 1m1emSah WF 3emSahale trail with flowers

Sahale Glacier Camp, North Cascades National Park

It had been almost 10 years since I had done any serious backpacking. Life has a way of distracting you from what’s important…but now, with my priorities straight, I was packed and ready to hit the trail…if only my friends would show up!

After living overseas for 7 years I moved back to the states and wound up, through a twist of fate, living in New Jersey. There I slowly renewed my love of hiking, the only problem was, where to go? The Delaware Water Gap became my go-to destination in the Garden State, but it didn’t fit my idea of either mountains or wilderness.

Planning a trip back to Washington I found my old, dusty copy of “Hiking the North Cascades” that I had packed away and looked for what sounded like a great, relatively short hike. Part of the trail description read: “…the trail reaches a series of camping spots at the toe of Sahale Glacier, each one atop its own mound of ruble and protected against the winds by a stonework ring. This is the loftiest developed camp in North Cascades National Park and looks out across a sea of jagged peaks. Vistas like these are usually reserved for mountaineers, following demanding and dangerous ascents.”

It sure sounded great! I called Darin, my closest friend, (who had never been backpacking) and read him the text, told him he should come. He said he could probably borrow equipment from his sister and it was set! My wife and I flew out to Seattle and made it to Tim’s place in Sedro-Woolley.

Finally around noon they rolled in, smiling and ready to hit the trail. Well, mostly ready. We piled all the stuff in the pick up and headed up Highway 20, east, towards Marblemount. Stopping for last minute supplies and then for our permit we flew as fast as we could in Tim’s old dilapidated Toyota along the Cascade River Road.

I still have an image blazed in my memory of barreling along the dirt road over a small bridge where I was headed straight for a squirrel in the middle of the road. He was hanging onto an acorn of mammoth proportions, obviously the find of a lifetime. He didn’t budge lest he loose his prize. I swerved madly around him, my friends swearing at me loudly from the back of the truck…

It was almost 3pm when we arrived at the trailhead and hurriedly got started. I knew we would probably wind up hiking in darkness, but what to do? Darin and his girlfriend, Nichol, were game and we hurried through the dense forest up the 30-something switchbacks to Cascade Pass. The weather was perfect, a few puffy clouds adding texture to the azure sky.Cascade Pass

As we sat for a break and late lunch I read out loud the trail description, making special note of the steepness of the trail. Trying to emphasize that we still had a long way to go (mostly up!) I urged that we get going.

My two friends had no idea what any of the details portended, “2,300 feet elevation gain in 1.6 miles” meant nothing to them. My wife, Svetlana, an experienced mountaineer understood what would come next. She got her pack on and helped urge us all on.

The next section of trail, up to the junction with the trail to Doubtful Lake, is steep and rocky. We strung out along the trail, each of us struggling to keep up. Finally arriving at the trail junction we stood gaping at Sahale Peak.

A few hikers passed us, headed back to the pass and I stepped aside to ask how much further was Sahale Glacier Camp. They pointed up (way up!) at the peak and the three small mounds just below its summit, and said “There, on top of those mounds of rock is the camp…” At first I was sure they were joking. I had been hoping that the climb from the pass to the trail junction had taken us at least halfway, but it was clear that we had a very long way to go.

Darin and Nichol, both obviously ready to stop hiking and start camping, joined me then and asked, what did they say? I told them it was still further to go.

Hiking on Sahale Arm is always pure joy. Green tundra, wildflowers;

Lupine on Sahale Arm

Lupine on Sahale Arm

lupine, bistort, paintbrush, heather and many more add color. And the views: Cascade Peak, The Triplets, Magic Mountain, Pelton Peak and Glory Mountain. Nothing beats ridge hiking in the North Cascades. The splendid scenery provided much needed distraction to our suffering as we plodded along.

The trail climbed the lower Arm, passing the old mine and started on a straight line up the mountain. Svetlana and I reached the point where a creek runs along side of the trail, just before the last steep pitch up to the camp. Darkness was not far off. My friends arrived, both looking exhausted, and I finally let them in on the deal: the camp is atop those mounds, just head straight up!

That last section of trail is pretty brutal. We strung out along the way, Svetlana in the lead, followed by me, then Darin and Nichol.

As I crested the top I looked back and could see those two struggling in the twilight to find the trail, slowly trudging along…As most of the camp sites were full, Svetlana and I started scouting east along the camp ridge looking to see if there was one vacant spot left…finally finding one I got busy setting up the tent and getting the stove going while Svetlana went back to look for our friends.
Morning at Sahale Glacier Camp
They finally arrived loudly cursing me, smiling, tired, cold, hungry and relieved. They later told me that the only reason that they didn’t turn back was that I had the car keys and the only reason they didn’t kill me as soon as they arrived in camp was because they were too exhausted. A hot meal and warm tent soon improved their spirits, along with the views and we were all soon having a great time and I was (mostly) forgiven.

Waking up first I made it out of the tent with camera in hand to see where things were. The view was unsurpassed. To the west I could see Puget Sound glinting in the sun. South I could make out the massive hulk of Mount Rainier, 150 miles away. Exploring the camp I made my way to the official camp toilet, perched on a narrow ridge with a view not be beat!

The days plan was simple: do nothing! We lazed around camp, recuperating. In the early afternoon we moved camp back to the top of the ridge, just where the trail crests the top, to the well established spots with rings of stone stacked for protection from the wind. From higher up on the slopes of Sahale peak these camping spots looked like little turrets, guard posts for the castle keep.

At lunch time we got together and emptied our packs to see what food there was and what to eat. We’re all pulling out the regular stuff, nuts and protein bars, except Darin. He opens his pack and pulls out a bag full of apples. I look over and say, “Hey, any more fruit in there?” he goes on to unload 8 pears, 4 oranges, an entire bunch of bananas and several huge cans of beef stew. By this time I am doubled over with laughter. “So, THAT”S why you were so dead yesterday, you had more than 30 pounds of fruit in the pack!”. He smiled and pulled out his last prize: a medium sized honeydew melon!!!

We had a good time making fun of him…and eating all the fruit.

Now that I live nearby I make a trip to Sahale every year. Each time is different. It’s always thrilling to reach the pass and get started hiking along Sahale Arm. One year I was almost swept away by a huge avalanche of mud and snow after a freak thunder storm. On three trips I’ve been visited at camp by several mountain goats, happy to pose for pictures.

Four years after that first trip I went back up to Sahale camp with Darin. Between these visits we had logged hundreds of miles on trails through out the North Cascades and the Pasayten Wilderness. Darin stopped packing fresh fruit in his pack but I never let him live down the 30+ pounds of fruit from that first trip.

We set up camp, had dinner and as I started to set up my tripod for pictures Darin mentioned he’d brought along a surprise. I was turned away for a moment, and when I looked up Darin was there with a wide grin and a whole watermelon.

I can’t recall having more fun eating watermelon…