Aug 152011

We met Bob and Julie while camping in Yellowstone – they gave our car a jump early one morning.  We chatted a bit and after telling them about our trip, they extended an invitation to stay at their place in Coeur d’Alene if we passed through on our way West.  At the time we didn’t have definite plans to stop there, but after seven days of backpacking in Glacier a hot shower and home cooked meal sounded pretty good.  Despite the last minute phone call, Bob and Julie welcomed us without hesitation to their home for the night.  Avid participants on, they happened to be hosting a couple from Poland and were already planning a feast.  They invited us to join in on the fun and we happily obliged.  It turns out that Katie and Peter from Poland are similarly traveling around the world for a year.  They were just wrapping up three months in the US,  will head to South America and from there fly to Southeast Asia to wrap up their travels.  It was great getting to talk with another couple on a very similar adventure.  At Bob and Julie’s, we explored backyard caves with their two girls Madison and Lily, took turns shooting a bow and arrow at a makeshift hay bale target, and of course indulged in good food and conversation over dinner.  Thanks again Bob and Julie!

From Coeur d’Alene we booked it north, driving through much of the state of Washington in one day.  We stopped in Winthrop, a small town 200 miles northeast of Seattle, known for its American Old West design of all the buildings in town.  We were happy to take a break from driving to walk around this unique town for a couple hours.  We didn’t stay long, however, as our sights were set on the North Cascades National Park, just west of Winthrop.

Before starting this trip, I had never heard of the North Cascades.  The park is considered the most remote in the lower 48 and also boasts the most glaciers outside Alaska; there are more than 300 (though, sadly, they are quickly retreating).  The North Cascades highway separates the park into North and South units and is the only paved road providing access, making the park popular with backcountry users.  If you only drive through the park, there’s a good chance you will be disappointed with what you see.  Three massive dams on the Skagit River dominate the landscape and a huge transmission line cuts through the old growth forest like an unwelcome scar, transmitting power all the way to Seattle.  To appreciate the beauty of the park, you really have to hit the trail.

Early the next morning we did just that.  We began our hike to the bottom of Sahale glacier around 8 am.  The trail started off in a thick forest of massive Douglas fir, red cedars and ponderosa pines.  I loved this part of the trail because it reminded me of hiking through the forests of the east.  After a few miles we emerged from the forest and began a climb up large boulders over a mountain pass.  From the pass, we hiked along a ridge until we reached another steep climb up to the base of the glacier.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous (I would say it rivaled Glacier) and we were immediately glad we gave this park a second chance.  We had 360 degree views of hundreds of fantastically carved, snow capped peaks and, to top it off, it was such a perfectly clear day we could see Mt. Rainier nearly 200 miles away.