After a wonderful evening of presenting Sage Spirit to an enthusiastic Braided River – Mountaineers 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.