My favorite spot in the world is the ridge on the north side of Jefferson Park in Oregon, but my favorite hike so far has been around Glacier Peak in Washington. Imagine hiking under a sky blue dome, peering across miles of undulating valleys and ridges, sweeping across vast green meadows of the most exquisite wildflowers, resting in the midst of majestic mountains that draw the soul outward and upward. That is the Glacier Peak Wilderness. That is a little piece of glorious beauty that God has preserved for us.
My goal is to give you a glimpse--a peek--at what your experience in the Glacier Peak Wilderness might be like. (Start planning next summer now!) When you enter the great outside at that place, the sun will be at a different angle, the temperature will be warmer or cooler, the flowers will be in a new stage. When you stand on White Pass, Red Pass, Fire Creek Pass, or the flank of Glacier Peak itself, everything will be slightly different, but you will be in the midst of it. The grand enormity will be yours. The soul-expanding glory will be yours. Until that time, however, here are little peeks into the stirring experience that awaits you. (If you think I am using too many superlatives, after you visit you will agree I am not!)
It’s Monday afternoon, August 15, 2016. The bus from Wenatchee drops us off at Stevens Pass on highway 2 in Washington. “Us” is Abel and I. He is here to finish the gap in his thru hike of the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada last year. (This section was closed due to fire.) It is a clear sunny day, perfect for hiking 108 miles to High Bridge ranger station where we will catch another bus that will shuttle us to Stehekin at the top of Lake Chelan.
Wait a minute! 108 miles?! That’s not a walk in the park. That’s many walks through many parks. That’s a long way! Lots could happen.
There is always a feeling of apprehension before setting on a long hike through the wilderness. Will I make it? Will my knees and feet hold up? Will I get injured? Did I forget anything I might need 50 miles from now? These are all healthy questions, even from an experienced backpacker. That is why I started years ago with much shorter hikes. That is why I always ask God, “Yes or No?” before starting any hike. To launch with experience and His blessing is incredibly comforting and confidence building.
The first question in most people’s minds about a journey like this is safety. Will you get eaten by a bear? Will you get lost? Will you run out of food and starve? What if you break a leg?
The odds of getting harmed by a bear are actually quite low. I would rather walk through a wilderness full of bears, coyotes, and cougars than walk through a random back alley of Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York. There will be approximately 1,000 hikers who will hike over 2,650 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada this year and not a single one will be injured by a bear. Few will even see one. That is over 2.5 million miles of pleasant, injury free hiking.
As for getting lost, I am not setting out into the bush with a machete to forge my own path. I am following a well-maintained and clearly marked (except for a few junctions that will make me look at my map) trail. I am travelling the backpacker’s equivalent of an interstate through the mountains.
Running out of food is exceedingly rare and always due to a lack of basic planning. (But on the PCT express there are many people who willingly help others in need.) I pack about two pounds of food per day because previous experience has taught me that. Besides, the trail abounds with blueberries, huckleberries, and thimbleberries this time of year!
Injuries are possible. Therefore, exit routes are always good to keep in mind. In this part of Washington, that means taking a side trail to the west where the highways are. The east is much longer with fewer trails.
Backpacking injuries usually involve sprained knees, aching feet, twisted ankles. Most of these can be dealt with by hobbling to the next highway crossing on trekking poles. The most extreme injury I heard of was a hiker who already had a problem with his foot, and turned it into a full break by jumping off of large blowdowns. He turned around and went back to the nearby highway.
Like any other activity, proper conditioning and common sense avoid almost all emergencies.
Enough of the preliminaries, let’s look at the hike!
Besides the beginning and ending points, each of the named dots are where I camped. The mileages between them were: 10, 20, 13, 15, 23, 15, 12. The distances varied due to photo opportunities, talking to other hikers, terrain, and trying to get to the next sunset/sunrise view.
If I had to boil down the first day to a single word, it would be “green.” We were surrounded by green grass, green bushes, green trees, green mountainsides. It was refreshing and invigorating, especially for a guy from the dry east side of the mountains in southern Oregon who drove up to Wenatchee on the dry side. After the hot dusty desert it felt so good to breath the humidity of lush green!
Our first rest stop that afternoon was Lake Valhalla. The deep blue of sky and water now became accents to green.
With the permission of their mother, I had to take a picture of these two cute little kids who carried their own packs 5 miles one way. The mother told me that starting at 3 years old (yes, three!) the kids carry their own backpacks on this annual family campout. What a great way to raise kids! Better than growing up in Chicago like I did.
A few more miles of green hiking put us at Lake Janus in time for supper. A wonderful ending to the first day!
The worst weather we encountered on the entire trip was the light mist on Lake Janus on Tuesday morning! It was absolutely gorgeous perfect weather the entire week!
We climbed the ridge above the lake and spent most of the day wandering along at a relaxed pace. Why blaze through God’s country when there is so much to enjoy and photograph? We were like some of the little meandering creeklets we passed.
Later in the morning we began to get openings in the green through which we could peek at Glacier Peak–our towering friend for the rest of the journey.
We hiked past one alpine lake after another. I never cease to tire of mountain lakes. Even though my surroundings are green and lush, there is just something special and inviting about each of these little blue bodies of water. Even though I will walk past many of them in minutes, each one seems to say to me, “You are here. This is a good place to stay. Drink deeply of the life I have to offer.” With friends like these little lakes, I never feel like an unwanted stranger in the wilderness.
After a leisurely lunch and a stop to wade in Pear Lake (right next to Peach Lake, of course), we began the circuitous approach to Cady Creek and Pass. Here we left 3 guys in their 60’s to set up their camp. One of them was named Ed (how could I forget!) and he had hiked through here several times, but this was the first time he actually saw the mountain. Rain and low clouds had always obscured his view.
I mentioned that these guys were in their 60’s because I was noticing a theme on this trip. Most hikers were section hikers and half of the people were in their 60’s or older. The previous day I had met a gentleman who was 74 and finishing his last segment to complete all of Oregon and Washington. Most of the campers at Janus were in their 60’s and tonight the two campers at Lake Sally Ann would be in their 60’s. It is never too late to start backpacking and one can never be too old to enjoy the freedom of good health and inspiring surroundings! (Remember Hulda Crooks?)
Towards evening I decided to break our meandering habit and push for Cady’s Ridge, several miles ahead and about half a mile to the east of the trail. Abel was still recovering from a leg injury so he stopped at Lake Sally Ann (don’t you just love the way that name flows off the tongue like a stream over rocks?!). I hoped to get some time lapse photos of the sunset on the mountain. Along the way I got a picture of this marmot in the fading evening light which turned out better than my sunset pictures.
There were no regular campsites on the ridge, so I improvised and set up my tent on the flat bottom of a small, dry pond. There was no rain and my Therm-a-rest air pad smoothed over the bumps. I slept well!
by Ed Lyons, 10/6/17