Looking for larches, we found an awesome autumn

P1270367.JPGThese golden larches were lonely near the top of Maple Pass last weekend, as most of the iconic deciduous conifers of the North Cascades were barely starting their change of color. Wintry weather this weekend could speed up the process.

IMG_7955WELCOME TO A NEW SEASON. My loyal reader might remember when daughter Lillian and I hiked Maple Pass last year just before Labor Day. This year we repeated the epic day-hike to the top of the North Cascades, this time on the brink of the autumn solstice in a quest to see larch trees turning golden to greet the fall.

We lucked into a gloriously sunny late September day, in a season when snow can often frost this 6,000-foot-plus alpine catwalk.

We didn’t luck into a lot of golden larches. We found a few, but we were a week or two early for eyepopping hillsides of them.

P1270297.JPGMountain huckleberry and other colorful foliage dapple a hillside above jewel-like Lake Ann, as seen from the Maple Pass Trail in the North Cascades.

But we did glory in the colors of burgundy-leafed mountain huckleberry and flame-red wild sumac, all spiced by the freshest air this side of Cape Flattery.

We camped again at delightful Klipchuck Campground, a few miles west of Mazama, and then spent a night in a cabin at Pearrygin Lake State Park, just outside of Winthrop.

P1270493.JPGA ground squirrel looks for a trail-mix handout.

It was Lillian’s first visit to the Methow Valley’s Western-themed Winthrop, where we enjoyed the treats at Rocking Horse Bakery (with its eye-catching logo of a wild bronc playing a Fender Stratocaster), the Chewuch River views and tasty IPAs at Old Schoolhouse Brewery, and the well-done exhibits on gold mining and pioneer life at Shafer Museum. At the artists cooperative, we bought a gift of a ceramic serving plate painted with autumn aspens to take home to Barbara.P1270426.JPGYour humble correspondent atop Maple Pass, elevation 6,650 feet.

While Maple Pass was a jawdropper, attracting us and hundreds of other hikers on the sunny Saturday, Lillian and I found special delight in marking the solstice with a quiet Monday-morning hike under clouds and occasional raindrops to pretty Cedar Falls before we headed back over the pass toward home.

P1270532.JPGLillian at Cedar Falls, celebrating the autumn solstice.

Lusting for larches yourself? The deciduous conifers that poke like birthday candles from atop autumn mountaintops should be turning golden quickly as temperatures atop Maple Pass are forecast to plunge into the 20s by this weekend. But if you’re tempted to make the hike, be warned: Several inches of snow are in the Maple Pass forecast as well, with four inches possible Friday night.

It’s a season of surprises. 1-anchor

P1270411Seen from atop Maple Pass, 10,541-foot Glacier Peak peeks through clouds from 30 miles to the south.

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