North Cascades – Turf and Surf

Sahale Arm, Sahale Glacier
Sahale Cloudscape : Prints Available

After a long night of heavy rain battering our Sahale Glacier camp, a brief sun break pierces layers of clouds and ridgelines from Sahale Arm. The tarn in the foreground is catching runoff from the glacier above. Our stormy experience was an anomoly this season, a parched summer of little rain and fire.

After a wonderful evening of presenting Sage Spirit to an enthusiastic Braided RiverMountaineers audience, we set out for the North Cascades, winding up our trip on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands off Washington’s northwest coast. More than half of the glaciers in the Lower 48 are in the North Cascades and North Cascades glaciers are retreating subjects of intense study. The Cascades aren’t as tall as the Rockies, but the vertical uplift from the Pacific Ocean is dizzying – Mount Baker rises over 10,000 feet and accumulates a deep snowpack from Pacific flows in winter (except last winter, when it barely snowed at all). And you feel all of that vertical in your legs. The trek to Sahale Glacier camp was a 4,000 foot ascent from deep Douglas fir/western cedar forest to the land of rock and ice. Unfortunately, we saw little of the Sahale area, as a pretty rough storm pinned us in our tent for 18 hours or so. Happy to see the earth quenched for the first time this parched summer, we descended and sought solitude in the Mount Baker Wilderness, then the San Juan Islands just off the coast. There’s so much here! Want to read a great book about the North Cascades? Check out The North Cascades – Finding Beauty and Renewal In The Wild Nearby by Braided River. The images that follow are but a quick glimpse, just enough to whet our appetite for a more in depth study.


Our view from Sahale Glacier camp, one of the finest views of any camp in the land…but not this day.


Marla descending Sahale Arm, a long, beautiful alpine ridge that extends from Sahale Mountain.


Dusky grouse along the Sahale Arm trail. Dusky’s used to be called blue grouse or pine grouse, and were recently renamed. They’re the only species of the North American grouse family with a stable population.


Camp on Excelsior Peak with a commanding view of Mount Baker. (10,781′) Mount Baker Wilderness, WA.


Klymat – don’t buy these pads! The holes are intentional and the pitch for a super lightweight, packable to the size of a soda can air mattress is persuasive. The problem is when the part that isn’t holes gets a hole and you sleep on the rocks. We’re going back to our Big Agnes mattresses.


Baker Forest and glacier. From our high camp, we could just study our surroundings without going anywhere. Here, forest abruptly meets the rugged alpine landscape of rock and ice at the base of Mount Baker. (10,781′)


Mount McClure (6,587′) and Canadian border peaks at sunset. We were sandwiched between Baker and this scene on the High Divide.


Baker sunset. Mount Baker (10,781′) catches the very last warm light of the sun setting in the Pacific.


Shuksan Sunrise Brushstrokes. Low clouds in the Nooksack Valley look like brushstrokes of white as first light grazes Shuksan’s northeast face. Mount Shuksan (9,131′) is one of the most iconic peaks of the North Cascades and viewable from many perspectives.


“Wifey” If you point the camera over your shoulder, it’s not a selfie, it’s a wifey. We went for a 3 hour sea kayak in Doe Bay on Orcas Island with Shearwater Kayak Tours, an awesome change of pace.


Zack, our kayak guide for the day has led trips here for 8 years and was both kayak guide and naturalist, a wealth of information.


Doe Bay Kayaking. Heading back to land, our kayak is pointed directly towards Mount Baker. Doe Bay, San Juan Islands, Washington


Mount Baker and North Cascades Range from Mount Constitution summit (2,409′). Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Washington. Shipbuilder and former Seattle Mayor Robert Moran donated the land for Moran State Park in 1911 – which is so remarkable in today’s developed world. Viewing Baker’s rise over the sea from this vantage point is staggering, such an impressive mountain over a sea of jagged, wild peaks. It was all Marla’s idea to go up to Constitution for sunrise and such a fitting way to wrap up our expedition. Later that morning, a pod of four Orca whales cruised past our beach in East Bay, an inspiring sendoff.

15 thoughts on “North Cascades – Turf and Surf

  1. Deeeeelightful trip with you! Great job capturing all aspects of it, dry and wet! We will go back to Sahale Glacier at some point for the amazing view……

  2. Great! Love the images. Glad things went well for you at the Mountaineers and Braided River. The six years I spent in Washington were wonderful, but I soured on the Mountaineers when they opposed getting grizzlies back into the Cascades. You might want to check out the Ptarmigan Traverse some time. Not for the faint of heart.

    1. Thanks Bob, and I’ll be looking up the Ptarmigan Traverse – I bet it’s gnarly. I’m also intrigued about grizzly bears in the N. Cascades; one was photographed a few years ago.

  3. Awesome! Glad your presentation went well and that you also got out in the wilds. I’m dying to get back to the Cascades, especially after seeing these! The first shot is sweeeet!

  4. Beautiful images as always, looks like you had a nice adventure, truly enjoyed Dave’s presentation, and it was so good to see you both. Take care!

  5. It’s gorgeous and I like to see all the beauty of your travels and backpacking.
    This was especially good for me to see you enjoying the beauty and getting great pictures and also not working so hard and playing a little in your kayaks and being tourists.
    Luv, Effie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.