HIKE 24 - My Favorite Hike of 2019
Date: Saturday, September 21, 2019
Location: North Cascades National Park
Distance: 7.45 miles
Trails: Cascade Pass
Miles from Home: 2,158
Weather: Cloudy, foggy, cool
My favorite band was playing in Seattle, a mere six weeks after I was in the area for my first trail race, so I looked for cheap flights and made another trip to the Northwest happen. Because I was going to be in town all weekend, I needed to figure out some stuff to do. My concert was in the Ballard Neighborhood, on the north side of Seattle, so I figured why not drive another two to three hours to visit a piece of public lands I’ve had on my list forever.
I researched trails and viewpoints and all of the normal trip stuff, but my friend suggested I go hike to Cascade Pass. The trail was seemingly popular and didn't require an all-day climb, so I was definitely on board. Through further research, I read that people loved it for the views. Actually, most trails in the area promised great views when the weather cooperated.
I got in on a late, and delayed, flight to SeaTac and made my way up to where I was staying in Ballard. It was nearly 1 am when I finally settled in and laid in bed. I set my alarm for 4:45 am and quickly passed out. I woke up, slowly dragged my but out the door, walked the couple blocks to my rental, and promptly hit the road. With my snacks in hand and a quick stop for coffee, I made my way up I-5 ready for adventure. The light started to creep in as I was heading east on State Route 530. Google Maps routed me this way, and I’m glad for it because I found a brewery to stop by on my way home.
Getting to the Trailhead
The sun was coming up of the distant mountains, the fog was thick, but there was a bit of morning glory every now and then. I made it to the North Cascades Highway, and followed it to Marblemount before veering off to Cascade River Road. My friend didn’t mention much about the drive to the trailhead, so I didn’t know what to expect. It was a long and winding road through the forest and around the mountains. It was about an hour trek down this road that just got bumpier and more curvy, but it was gorgeous. Nothing, for me anyway, beats driving through a forest and along a river with foggy mountains in the background.
Eventually, I made it to the trailhead parking area. It was a big area, and was nearly full with visitors. The fog was so thick, I could only see through the parking lot and nothing much beyond any car. I could make out some trees, but it was a wall of white. I checked out the map and posted information, and debated going back and finding a different trail. A little bummed, I hiked anyway. I started the trail, and without any grand views, fell in love with the trail. The fog consumed me, and it was beautiful. The whole 1,700 feet up was foggy. Giant, lush trees in the fog. It was magical, mysterious, eerie, and had me positively high on life. I quickly got over the fact that I wasn’t going to have any “traditional” views of the mountains, and soaked in the foggy trees and what slivers I did see when clouds parted. As I climbed, and it was quite a climb for this flat-lander, some of the fog thinned out. I started to see rock faces and snow.
What Goes Up, Must Come Down
At the pass, it was windy and foggy. I didn’t see much of anything beyond the white clouds. I turned around, after a quick snack, and headed back. As I made my way down, the clouds started to thin out and the mountains became more prominent. I was getting completely different views at every turn, from glaciers to mountains to finally seeing just how far up and on the edge I was. There were significantly more people going up now, and I enjoyed smiling and chatting with them on my way down. At one point I was between two sets of people going up when we all heard a loud crack. We stopped, looked out through the thinning clouds but didn’t see anything. The one couple said it was a glacier cracking, but it must have been on the opposite side of the hill, because we saw nothing. It was such a neat sound and experience, regardless if it lacked a visual representation.
Going down was obviously faster than going up, and I even ran on some of the straight paths to keep it flowing. I’d say 95% of the people I encountered were super friendly and wanted to talk about the conditions ahead for them. I love being able to share what I saw and experienced and connect with people on the trail. By the time I made it to the car, the parking lot was a completely different place. It was surrounded by mountains instead of clouds and it felt so much smaller. My drive back to the main road was different too. I caught views through the valley and saw some fall color popping against the rock faces.
This trail is probably my favorite of any trail I’ve hiked. It had everything I wanted and it left me wanting more. These are the combination of emotions I'm looking for in a hike and the reason I keep going out for more. Leave me a comment with somewhere like this for you!