We’ve made it onto the ferry early, needing a seat with table so that the boys, Max and Dawson, can get their algebra homework done. A 4-hour ride on the Lady of the Lake II will get us into Chelan just before days end, and we’ll start the drive back over the North Cascades Highway, west to home.
I have been invited to spend the weekend here teaching photographic workshops. I get room and board for the weekend for me and my crew. 32 years ago, in what seemed like another lifetime I caught a greyhound to Chelan, hiked up and over Park Creek Pass and upon reaching the North Cascades Hwy at Colonial Creek, hitchhiked back home. I relive this tip briefly as I board the boat, time traveling as I sit.
My last 2 trips to Stehekin were hike-in affairs, once crossing Cascade Pass and hiking down past Cottonwood Camp along the now abandoned upper Stehekin Road, and more recently time hiking south on the PCT from Highway 20, to High Bridge.
Although hiking is by far my preferred mode of transport, the Lady of the Lake is pleasant, a small town community feel abounds as a theme from when we get on the boat. Seating aboard the lady is Open and you’re free to roam about, taking in the views of the newly snow frosted summits popping up above the lake. Orange larches form a necklace just below the snowfields of the peaks. Not for the first time today I wish I was up, hiking there along the Chelan Summit, among the larches and brown meadows.
The sky is interspersed with clouds and sky as we make our way north, stopping to pick up a few more people here, dropping off a handful of backpackers there. One last stop, in Holden Village, sees a lot of people and goods on and off the boat.
Arriving at Stehekin Landing the fall weather was warm and pleasant, and there was quite a festive group awaiting us at the dock. The permanent population of the village is about 100 souls, but during the season the numbers swell with lodge staff. This is the last big weekend in Stehekin for the season. Mid October sees the weather change, wetter and colder skies are ahead. I talk to several of the seasonal staff, asking where they will head off too next week, one is headed to Key West, another to Taos, New Mexico, to work the winter season at a ski resort, and another has plans that will take her to New Zealand.
Part of the reason for the swell of visitors this weekend is the list of cool events including the annual October Apple Harvest and the Buckner Music Festival.
The orchard is located about 10 miles north of town, along the river road. We arrive Saturday afternoon among a throng of busy apple pickers, slicers and mashers, all working in unison to press as much cider as they can. A camp stove sits nearby, a bottomless pot warming the cider beckons.
The look and feel of the farm is magnificent. The people living here have a marvelously genuine and friendly demeanor and one can’t help imagine life, living here in the valley. Yeah, I think I would like this.
There is a band striking up the music, a pot luck lunch and a bonfire. Besides drinking my share of warm cider I interest myself capturing images of all the old farm equipment scattered about. The boys are happy to be here, but soon are urging me to head out, they have a hankerin’ to visit the Stehekin Pastry Company as soon as humanly possible. We make our way back to the river road and hitchhike back to town.
You can’t drive a car to Stehekin. The ferry, float plan or afoot are the three ways to arrive. Any cars that are here were brought by ferry and generally stay here. The couple who pick up us 3 scruffy hitchhikers are from Chelan and have a cabin here, which the call home most all summer. This is there last weekend as well. Out on a drive looking for bears they have not seen any today.
We joyfully get out and head into the Pastry Company, luxuriating in the smells. Now hard choices are before us. Which delicious treat to choose? Mountain bars, Almond-Apple pastry, sinful brownies and much more entice us. Several of each sounds good, along with a triple mocha and 2 hot chocolates.
The red National Park Bus arrives and we catch a ride back to the landing along with a dozen or so people fresh off the boat who have just returned from a trip to Rainbow Falls. We are welcomed aboard with our snacks and hot drinks.
Things are nice and easy here in the North Cascades National Park!
The food at the lodge is awesome; we all order the Steak and Frittes, seeing how much we can eat before buttons start flying. The take home containers are full!
Friday night brings the Stehekin Valley Music Festival, we arrive at a new looking log cabin in the dark and there about 35 people crammed in, listening with rapturous intent to the different musicians. I am outside, circumnavigating the house, looking for the nice shot of the Milky Way above.
I am here to teach several courses one on composition and another on night sky imaging. My night sky class is scheduled for tomorrow night, but I am pretty sure we will not be seeing stars then, there is a storm forecast for Saturday. So I ask some two people outside in the dark for a nearby spot to go for a nice view of the lake and sky, they drop me off at the trailhead and point me on the trail. As I hike up the hill I am surprised to see I am walking through a camp site full of weekend revelers. Once my imaging is complete and I am on the way back I am accosted with questions of what sort of firewood I am toting. I explain that it’s a tripod and before I know it I am invited under a canopy tent for some scotch. My 4 new ‘ladies night out friends’ share stories and lots of laughter before I make my way back to the lodge and the boys.
The incessant rain on Saturday did little to dampen our spirits, we discovered a Rec Room for Lodge guests, replete with satellite TV, games, puzzles and a pool table. This is a welcome relief, because my aura of coolness faded a bit when we arrived and discovered that there would be no internet connection.
This morning I am up before sunrise, out to see what the sky may bring. Fall is a wonder of rich colors. I walk through empty Purple Creek Campground and north along the road. Another great meal and a short hike later we are ready to get on the boat.
Good-bye, North Cascades, you’ll see me again soon.