North Cascades Trek – 2013


copper ridge 1em Sunset from Copper Ridge

The trek started at the Hannegan Pass trail head. We arrived Friday morning to a full parking lot and sunny skies ready to tackle a hard 5-day loop through the North Cascades. Weather reports for the area called for dicey weather, partly sunny/cloudy with a high percentage of thundershowers. But like most fools I told myself that this forecast did not by some magical, mystical way, apply to me.

Actually the story started 7 years ago when I hiked the Copper Ridge trail forded the Chilliwack River and made acquaintance with a bunch of spawning salmon. The image of all those bright red salmon in the pristine waters, deep in the wilderness just pulled me back, that and the lure of making it to Tapto Lakes, above Whatcom Pass.

The first days hike took us up to Hannegan Pass and then, entering the North Cascades National Park, up to Selesia Camp on Copper Ridge. This is easily on my list of top 3 or 4 camp sites in the park, the views of Mount Shuksan, Ruth Mountain, Whatcom Peak and the Picket Range and many more are just breathtaking.

copper ridge 2em The Picket Range under Storm Clouds

copper ridge 4em Mount Shuksan from Selesia Camp

The night brought lightening and thunder and rain but the morning, to our surprise was clearing. We headed up to the Copper Ridge Lookout, at 6,600 ft the highest point along the trail. The park ranger was there to greet us and we toured the lookout while she pointed out the names of all the peak surrounding us. The trail ascending to the lookout from the north meanders through a bright green meadow in a sinuous s-curve just below the lookout. Years ago I captured a wonderful shot of a hiker climbing out of the abyss…
Approaching Copper Ridge Lookout Out of the abyss, Copper Ridge, North Cascades – 2006

copper ridge 6em Hiker Approaching the Copper Ridge Lookout – 2013

Tanya, the Park Ranger commented that a lone hiker was approaching from Copper Lake and so now another chance was upon me to see about capturing again the silhouette against the backdrop of deep valleys.

Reluctantly departing from the views and company at the lookout we continued our ridge walk, descending to Copper Lake we stopped for lunch and a swim in its azure waters.

Surprisingly the weather held up and as we made the long traverse of the ridge the views were magnificent. Mount Redoubt and Bear Mountain stood out along the way.
copper ridge _Panorama3emm Copper Ridge Panorama

copper ridge 7em Storm clouds over Mount Redoubt

Reaching the end of the ridge we started down the long, seemingly endless series of switch backs towards the ford of the Chilliwack River and Indian Creek. The changes in the flora were dramatic as we descended from a bare forest floor carpeted with pine needles into a real rainforest, lush and green and wet.

The two channels are parallel for a short time here, first crossing the Chilliwack and then a short section of forested river bed we came at last to Indian Creek and behold, the salmon were there, spawning in great numbers. Taking off shoes and socks again we looked for a ideal spot to rest and relax to enjoy the wonder of the place. a gravel bar at the point of confluence between the two streams was a perfect place.

Indian Creek is not a big stream, maybe 80 feet across here as it spreads out along the valley floor and shallow, knee-deep with some nooks where the water is as deep as 3 to 5 feet.
salmon 4em Salmon in the Creek

The salmon were there, just as before. They were not headed anywhere, the group of 70 or so simply treading water, looking happy to finally be back home.

Clambering out along logs and snags I tried to capture shots of the scene. the bright color of the fish is so impressive, they seemed to hover in the sparkling clear waters, the colorful stones looking like the ground far below while the salmon soared through the sky above.

salmon 5em Flying Fish

The place is so remote, the forest envelopes you and it is like having gone back in time. Deep in that valley was like being in a different life, on a different planet.

salmon 3em Indian Creek Salmon

I bounced between standing still in wonder, trying to get some food, wanting to capture images and the strong desire to do something to take care of my aching feet. About 100 feet upstream a large brown/black bear appeared along the shore. we both froze, considering each other. As I started towards the camera a sharp noise frightened him back into the forest, my dreams of imaging the bear snacking on salmon vanished…

Sunset came swiftly. reds and blues and pinks and purples painting the waters with their fantastic hues.
salmon 2em Sunset at Indian Creek

Night brought even harsher weather than the night before. The crashing of thunder now muted by the deepness of our camp in the forest. I was again happily surprised to awaken to clearing skies and spent the next hour or so back in the stream with the salmon. Morning fog made the scene even more ethereal.
salmon1em Morning fog over Indian Creek

It was a struggle to pull away and start the long slog up to Whatcom Pass.

The suspension bridge above Indian Creek sways as you cross, the views up stream were captivating, the water coursing down in the dark green forest.
indian creek bridge em Suspension bridge over Indian Creek

waterfall 2-Recovered em Indian Creek Waterfalls
During the days travel we encountered many people: day-hikers and mountaineers, young and old(er), lost and found.  I advised one and all to make a point to take the time to go visit the salmon.

As we climbed up along Brush Creek the weather got gloomier and as we made it to the final climb at the valley head rain started. Our goal was Tapto Lakes that night, another hard 1,000 feet above the pass, but when we made it to Whatcom Camp the rains were pounding. Cold and wet we hurriedly set up the tent. Dry clothes, warm sleeping bags and hot food tend to improve the spirits quickly.

That night the storms really pounded. The tent was alight with flashes, the thunder and lightening coming simultaneously. Protected somewhat by the trees and the fact that we were a quarter mile down from the pass we lived through it, and awoke to an almost complete white out.
Mt Challenger lost in clouds Mt Challenger lost in clouds

My desire to hike another 1,000 vertical feet evaporated and I headed down the trail, back towards the Chilliwack.

Once back at the junction we’d passed the day before my path turned upstream, headed to Hannegan Pass to complete the loop. Fording the Chilliwack is now a more daunting proposition, the valley steeper and more narrow. Hikers are afforded two choices: to ford the waist-deep waters or to pull yourself across in an aerial cable-car!
Cable Car 2 em Chilliwack Cable Car

That choice was easy1 The cable car is in great shape, holding up to two backpackers (and their gear) the pulley system makes it easy to make the crossing, gliding 100 feet above the river below.

The last nights camp was at the Copper Creek camp, hoping to get a glimpse of meteors above we perched ourselves on the stones with w pie-sliced view of the heavens.
stars 1em Stars along the Chilliwack River

The last days hike up and over Hannegan Pass and back to the car was completed before lunch, the trails edge bordered with a carpet of herbaceous wildflowers.

As always my feelings are mixed at trips end: relief at the prospect of real food, a warm shower, soft bed and time off my throbbing feet but as we jump in the car for the drive back my heart is already longing for the cool, clear waters of the Chilliwack…
copper ridge Panorama1em Copper Ridge Panorama

18 thoughts on “North Cascades Trek – 2013

  1. Love love love love your photos! Even though they are incredible. …they never seem to do these vistas justice. …just gotta be there! Thank you!

  2. took me on a trip to nostalgia and a longing for the backcountry – as a former wilderness ranger for noca np, I am frontcountry anchored this summer due to injuries/illness – but hopefully out and about again by next year! thank you for the images that speak to my heart and soul. we are so fortunate to live here…

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