ADMITTEDLY, WE OCCASIONALLY broke out into some von Trapp Family singing, because how can you not when confronted with the alpine wonders of the North Cascades on a sunny day at the end of August?
Daughter Lillian (who is just about to turn 27) and I took off together for a couple days of pre-Labor Day camping and hiking that was a delightful chance to renew our bonds while enjoying some of the most magnificent mountain scenery anywhere.
I was a little shocked to realize it was Lilly’s first time crossing the North Cascades Highway, testimony to the fact that boats and water-borne vacations have dominated my family’s life in the past couple decades. Now that we live closer to that part of the world, we plan to make up for lost trail time.
We had originally planned to go for a couple nights of backpacking in the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness, southeast of Mount Baker, but the fact that Lilly was getting over a cold and the weather forecast for the area was damp and in the 40s put the kibosh to that plan. So I cooked up a last-minute Plan B, which involved car camping at Klipchuck Campground, in Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest near the west end of the sunny-and-much-warmer Methow Valley.
Wildfires were burning within 20 miles or so to the north and south, but I counted on predicted west winds to keep the area smoke-free, and hoped that the campground’s relative obscurity (it’s a mile off Highway 20) and its first-come, first-served policy would allow us to find a campsite on the Thursday before Labor Day.
Still, I was a little edgy about finding a campsite so we didn’t tarry as we drove across the high mountains that day. But not to worry. We arrived on a sunny afternoon to find only 3 of the 46 campsites occupied. We took our time choosing our favorite! And not a puff of smoke to be seen the three days we were there.
That first night, I let her beat me at a round of Munchkin, one of her favorite fantasy card games (I did at least win the Potion of General Studliness). We played late into the night at the picnic table by lantern-light, before retiring under a sky lit up by the Milky Way.
The, ahem, peak experience was our day hike on Friday. We tackled the challenging but
oh-so-worth-it Maple Pass loop trail, circling pretty emerald-green Lake Ann and soaring to ridgetops offering in-your-face encounters with too many rugged mountaintops to count. It was a little more than 7 miles, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain on tracks often resembling mountain-goat paths. Having camped not far away the previous night, we got a relatively early start when it was mostly just us, the “meep”-ing pikas and a few curious Clark’s nutcrackers.
We sang a hiking song or two, nibbled blue huckleberries near the lake, admired late-season wildflowers and sat on a rocky promontory to munch on multigrain Wasa crackers topped with ripe avocado, roasted-pepper hummus and dijon mustard (the perfect hiking lunch).
At the tiptop, elevation 6,650 feet, we watched discreetly from a distance as a young man obviously asked his happily tearful sweetie to marry him. As they passed us on the trail later we offered congratulations.
At hike’s end, Lil and I trundled back to our campsite to soak our feet and chill some beer cans in nearby Early Winters Creek. (Let the name guide you as to the water temperature. Froze the feet but got the beer nice and cold!)
It was a great trip, and I finally got to break in my new Vasque hiking boots, a parting gift from my friends at The Seattle Times. (Sure footing all the way, and not a blister. Thanks again!) Back on Center Island now for Labor Day. Cheers!