On Friday morning, I set off North towards the North Cascades National Park. My first destination was the Hidden Lake Peak trail. After a long drive up one of the narrowest dirt roads I’ve been on, I got to the trailhead. The start was at about 3000′ elevation, and the peak was at about 7000′. I started up the 4.5 mile trail shortly after 11AM. The trail started in a dense forest, still very wet from the past two days of rain. After about a mile, the trail turned up onto an open hillside, full of colorful vegetation. Criss-crossing up the trail, the view kept getting better and better. At first I thought I was headed up to the top of the peak that was directly above the hillside, but then the trail cut all the way across the valley to the other side of the mountain. The peak I was going to was much higher, and out of sight.
The terrain turned rocky, the the thick plants from below were replaced with small mountain blueberry bushes covering both sides of the trail. As I got higher, the path got even rockier and I started seeing more and more snow in the shady spots. Very near the top, it was hard to keep to the rocky and snowy path, but there were rock cairns marking the correct way. I finally saw the ridge above me and as I came over the top, I could see the hidden lake below me and the full horizon of the North Cascades in the distance. There was a steep, rocky peak to my right, and I could just barely make out the roof of the lookout on top. I followed the narrow path up the last 300′ over the rocks to the old fire lookout.
At the top the views were of course spectacular, and the clouds swirling around the various peaks made for an extra surreal experience. There was a large cloud that blew in from the East, unfortunately blocking my view that direction from the summit. Just in case the cloud decided to stick around, or create some precipitation, I decided I’d better start heading down. Of course the cloud blew on its way after a short while. I cruised back down to the trailhead and finished the loop at about 4:30PM. I figured it took me about 3 1/2 hours up and just 1 1/2 hours to get down.
I had plenty of time left to drive the rest of the North Cascade Highway through the park, West to East. I stopped at countless overlooks, enjoying the setting sun on all the peaks. As I drove I kept thinking the scenery of the sunset behind me would have been great too, but instead I got all of the yellow/orange sunlit peaks and pink clouds to marvel at. I finished the drive through the park and then a little further South to the town of Winthrop, where I grabbed some food and a bed for the night.
Winthrop was an interesting little town, completely renovated in the 70′s into its “authentic” Western roots. It was cute and entertaining, but certainly a tourist trap. Unless of course the cowboys and pioneers really did play cowboy-themed mini-golf. The next morning I was on my way and enjoyed the different scenery of the rolling hills down along the Columbia River, passing orchard after orchard.
I originally planned to spend some leisurely time checking out Leavenworth, thinking that it’d be a quiet weekend there since the big Octoberfest celebration doesn’t start until next weekend. Well, it turned out that their big Fall festival parade was on Saturday. They were just about the close down the road for the parade, leaving me the choice of heading straight through, or waiting 2 hours and then fighting crowds and traffic to get out again. I kept moving.
I crossed Stevens Pass through the Cascades, to complete the Cascade Loop. I made a few small stops in the Pass, but I was tired enough from the driving and the hike the previous day, that I mainly wanted to get back and collapse. It was a beautiful drive and a trip I could definitely see doing again with a couple more days to see even more.