We experienced a peaceful, sunny afternoon at a nice RV park on Whidbey Island. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough phone reception to make any calls. The campground had WiFi, sometimes fast, sometimes slow. The next morning, we drove away, expecting a short hop to Concrete and into North Cascades National Park. Some short hop that turned into!
We stopped in Burlington for grocery shopping (Dave got his chocolate birthday cake a day late) and enough connectivity to upload our blogs. The Garmin was acting sluggish, announcing turns after, rather than before, the turn. Even the visual indicators were not working on a timely basis. I wanted to stop at a Ranger Station to get hiking and camping info. We sailed past the convenience store where the ranger station was supposed to be. The iPhone showed a map of where the station was located but we couldn’t find those streets fast enough on the Garmin to know how far we were from where we needed to be. You can’t make quick turns with a 26-foot vehicle towing another vehicle.
The Garmin then told us to return west for 4 miles, the way we had come. That didn’t make any sense. Finally, we decided to just head for the mountains and skip the Forest Service office. Of course it showed up about a quarter mile east of where the Garmin located it. Our old Garmin used to do the same thing. Disconcerting and disheartening. But we got the information we needed, ate lunch and headed east again.
The only campground open near Mount Baker was the Howard Miller Steelhead RV Park. It’s a nice one, right by a river, with hookups and good WiFi. The camp host is an old dude who started telling us WWII stories. It’s so amazing to hear what those guys experienced.
Dock Butte Trail
Since Friday was going to be sunny, our goal was to see Mount Baker. The ranger had told us that the Dock Butte Trail had good fall foliage color and that good views of Mount Baker were to be had. The downside: a 1400 foot rise in 1.5 miles. Another downside: my 17-85 Canon lens kept spitting out an error and didn’t work most of the time. I’d have to share a lens with Dave. Another downside: the Garmin isn’t working well and we’d have to go on several forest service roads to reach the trailhead. Electronics don’t seem to like the northern U.S.
We took off. I was trying to triangulate between directions to the trailhead, the Washington atlas and the Garmin. The Garmin eventually calculated a list of correct directions but the visual and vocal directions weren’t keeping up if one turn came within a quarter-mile of the next turn. I misunderstood one sign and we went off-track for a mile or so until another sign told me that we were on the wrong road. It was mostly heavy forest with several little cascades with milky, silt-filled streams.
We found the trailhead and took off. The trail headed uphill with no delay, but the incline wasn’t severe. It was a rocky, rooty, muddy trail and our hiking poles were invaluable. Mount Baker would show up here and there through the trees, but no unobstructed view occurred at first.
After a half mile or so, we broke from the trees into open ground and the foliage suddenly was red, orange and gold. There were meadows with neon green grass and mosses. Mount Baker was shrouded in fog but the top was clearly visible. It’s over 10,000 feet high, the big boy in the neighborhood. Wow, what a scene!
We stopped for lunch in a stunning meadow and then moved on to the final leg of the ascent. A girl passed us and it turned out she lived near Alamo Square in San Francisco. Small world. There was a butte looming ahead of us. Were we going to climb that thing?
Yes, we were. We switchbacked through a fantastic meadow that plunged down a long steep way. We scrambled up some slippery rocks where a fall might send us into the abyss. And suddenly, we had a 360-degree view of the world.
After wearing out our cameras, we headed down. Now the sun was at an angle to set the meadow on fire. What a fantastic trail. I am so happy we spoke with the ranger and got to go on this hike.
Old Sauk Trail
It was supposed to rain on Friday so we decided to make it a drive day. We headed south and then east into the Cascades on a Scenic Byway. It was showering on and off and overcast made for dim light. We pulled off into a parking area and discovered it was a trailhead for the Old Sauk Trail, which ran by the Sauk River. We immediately were in another rain forest environment, dim and luxuriant. We could hear the river but there was a lot of brush between us and the water. I was playing with my unreliable lens and found that it worked okay at any focal length from 25-85. So that made me feel a little better. I can use this lens for the rest of the trip, I think.
We went further on the Scenic Byway and found another entrance point for the Old Sauk Trail. We walked along for a while but I wasn’t finding anything that interesting and my hands were cold, so Dave went on and I returned to the car to read Volume 5 of Stephan King’s Dark Tower Series. I don’t read much horror but this series isn’t all torture, blood and guts. The characters are compelling. The sprinkle that occurred as I headed back to car turned into a 15-minute shower. Dave got back not too wet because of the heavy tree cover in the forest.
From there we drove to Newhalem, the central section of North Cascades National Park. The only campground open in the entire park is the 21-site Goodell Campground and we wanted to check it out. As we expected, it was heavily wooded with little light. Not good for solar panels. We checked in with the rangers and found a few hikes we might like. Not too surprisingly, hikes tend to fall into the less-than-a-mile type or the more-than-six-miles type. In the middle of mountains, the short, flat trails usually follow rivers or lakes and the rest go up mountains.
The weather was still dim and cloudy but we checked out Ladder Creek Falls behind the dam and power plant.
The falls: okay but not good for photography. However, the small garden had red maples so we focused on them. I discovered little crescent shapes dangling like ornaments off the branches. Cute!
Once again, we made back to the car just as it began to rain.
The next morning, we woke to a heavy fog. My inclination was to nestle back under the covers. Instead, we got up and went out at 7:30 to explore the Skagit River Trail that runs out from our campground. Within 10 minutes, my feet were soaking wet. But I got caught up in dead flowers and bare trees.
A grassy path opened up and I followed it, losing Dave in the process. Then, glowing in the fog, a fairy tree. It’s slender limbs were covered with pale green moss. I fell in love with it.
By the time I got tired of that tree, the fog was breaking up and the trees on the slopes were appearing. More magic!
Sauk Mountain Hike
“Wow!” is all I can say. We went on the most unbelievable hike of the trip. Yes, it rose 1,046 feet in 1.4 miles. Yes, there were 30 switchbacks. It was stupendously steep, but not that hard, really.
Getting there was a short 13 miles from our campground. But……7 of those miles were an unpaved, curvy one lane road. When we got towards the top and saw our trail, I started to laugh. It looked impossible.
After deciding I had to relieve myself next to the car, I found an A-line chalet outhouse, the first I had ever seen. We amused ourselves with that for a few pix, then finally moved onto the trail. It was spectacular. Not for those who have height issues. You have to lean over to look down or look up. There were many people on the trail and they provided perspective as to how much above or below us they were.
I was counting the switchbacks. Numbers 13 and 17 went all the way into the shade of the trees at the east end of the trail. All the rest was in the sun. Lots of people had dogs, many on leash but some not. One woman kept calling her dog that was chasing birds a couple switchbacks downwards. The dog ran in the wrong direction a few times before he realized his owner was above him. A good argument for keeping your dog on leash. One man carried his young daughter on his shoulders. That made me nervous.
We continued up until switchback #26. That part of the trail kept going around the edge of the slope until we were facing another valley! Amazing! We stopped for lunch and suddenly heard a buzzing noise. In the distance was a electric-powered parasail with a guy riding in a seat hanging below. He came very close before he went over the ridge and disappeared.
We made another turn and got to what I thought was the high point of our hike but it was not.
We had some more hiking before we got to the high point. And Wow! Another 360-degree view. Mount Baker popped out although it had cloud cover. We spent some time alone up there, then began the descent. It went pretty quickly and we weren’t too exhausted when we got back to the car. What an experience!