North by Northwest

Hiking and Roaming the Pacific Northwest - August/Sept 2012

Swift Current, Still Lake
First stop on my Pacific Northwest trip was Glacier National Park in Montana - one of my favorite National Parks. I spent two nights at the historic Swift Current Lodge sitting on the shores of Swift Current Lake. There is no better way to start a vacation than sitting on the hotel deck overlooking the lake and sipping a cold Huckleberry Wheat ale.

Where's That Draft Coming From?
Iceberg Lake sits in a deep east-facing canyon where limited sunlight allows ice and snow banks at the back of the lake to last well into summer. As pieces of the snow bank break off, they float about the lake creating a mini version of the Artic Ocean. It is an odd and awesome sight.

Chill'in by the Shore
The towering cliff walls around Iceberg Lake add to the overall dramatic effect. There is a very noticeable drop in temperature as you approach the stony shore. In the early days of the park, some locals created a legend for tourists about a rare fur-covered trout that lives in the lake (the jack-a-lope of the north).

Goose-Eye View
No visit to Glacier National Park is complete without the required picture of tiny Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake - one of Glacier's most iconic images.

Head of the Highline
The well-named Highline Trail starts at Logan Pass at the top of the famous 'Going to the Sun' highway. The Going to the Sun road can be seen cutting along the edge of the valley to the right. The trail (not clearly visible) parallels the road further up the valley and runs to Haystack Butte (the distant nob on the right side of the valley).

It's OK... We're not wearing Boots
Logan's Pass is a popular hang-out for mountain goats. This group was doing some hiker watching near the start of the Highline trail.

Putting the High in Highline
Most of the Highline Trail is really not as scary as it looks, but the first half-mile or so lives up to the name as the trail is carved into the side of sheer cliff.

Awesome Blossom View
Much of the trail to Haystack Butte runs along a steep slope known as the 'Garden Wall' for the numerous small seep springs that support thick patches of shrubs and carpets of wildflowers along the trail.

Sunny Day for a Rain Forest
The west side of the park receives much more rainfall than the east and creates a very different environment of deep forests and dense undergrowth. The popular trail to Avalanche Lake goes through several stretches of rainforest-like jungle.

Good Place not to Slip
At the Avalanche Gorge, water from the lake has carved a deep winding gash in the rocks.

Lazy Hazy Day at Avalanche Lake
By the time I reached the lake, approaching rain clouds had joined the existing haze to create a scene of clammy gray stillness.

Stehekin - End of the Lake and Edge of the World
From Glacier, I headed west through the mining towns of Idaho to the banks of Lake Chelan in Washington. The tiny town of Stehekin ('Steh-hee-kin') is located at the far end of 50-mile-long Lake Chelan ('Sha-Lan') and can only be reached by boat, plane or mountain hiking trails. It is one of the most remote towns in the lower 48 and even today has no telephone service (cell or landline) and few other facilities. The village consists of a small lodge and dining hall, post office, Cascades Park Visitor Center, a bike rental, the 'house that Jack built' (a historic cabin selling local crafts) and the justly famous Stehekin bakery.

Somewhere Under the Rainbow Falls
A few miles up the valley from Stehekin is majestic Rainbow Falls where mid-afternoon sun creates a large rainbow at the base.

A Long Way to Triple-A
Stehekin was settled in the late 1800s by hardy farmers and homesteaders - many of whose descendants still live here. The Buckner family ran this farm and orchard until the 1970s (it is now a historic site).

High Bridge, Blue Water
At the head of the valley, the well-named 'High Bridge' marks the end of Stehekin's one road and the start of the wilderness in North Cascades National Park. The creek is glacier run-off whose sediments create the turquois-blue water.

Mount Rainier Morning
From Lake Chelan, I headed southwest to the always impressive Mount Rainier for several days of hiking with the historic Paradise Lodge as my base camp.

Cold Climb
I took the famous Skyline trail north above the timber line along the route followed by mountain climbers to Camp Muir. For much of the way, the trail overlooks the massive Nisqually Glacier as it carves its way down from the peak. The cold grey landscape and clouds often made it feel like I was hiking through a black-and-white photo.

Green Stream
A south-facing slope and a little stream helped create the surprisingly bright-green pocket of grass and mosses in an otherwise grey and stark environment above the timberline.

Hey Booboo! Which way to the Lodge?
As I was heading back to the lodge below Sluiskin Falls, this small black bear suddenly popped out of the brush on the side of the trail about 30 feet away. We both suddenly stopped and looked at each other. Following good bear protocol, I very slowly backed away while talking in a low voice. He then made a wide semi-circle circuit around me to the left (keeping a wary eye on me the whole time) before disappearing again into the bushes. Seven years ago, I spent two weeks backpacking around Mount Rainer on the Wonderland Trail and never saw a single bear the whole time. I saw two during this short day hike - go figure.

Mountain Falls
Myrtle Falls near the lodge is a popular spot with photographers and hikers.

Salad Bar with a View
The numerous wide meadows of grass and wild flowers around the Paradise Lodge attract numerous deer. I'm sure they like the view too.

Thar She Blew
From Rainier, I headed south to Mount St. Helens. From the Johnston Ridge visitor center (named for a geologist that died in the blast), you can see clearly into the crater where more recent small eruptions and magma flows have rebuilt a small dome in the center (where the steam is rising). This is the side of the mountain that essentially collapsed during the major 1980 eruption. There used to be a valley below, but it was filled in by debris blown out from the mountain (creating the current desolate plain being carved by gulches).

Head in the Clouds
Clouds danced around the top of Mount St. Helens throughout my visit and sometimes mixed with the steam rising from the crater to create some fantastic scenes.

Apes and Meatballs
The Mount St. Helens area has been volcanically active for thousands of years and contains many features from ancient eruptions and lava flows - like this old lava tube cave on the south side. It is known as Apes Cave after the youth outdoor club (known as the Apes) who first explored it in the 1950s. The long cave's most famous feature is the round boulder known as the 'meatball' suspended between the cave walls.

Cannery Sunset
I ended my trip with a visit to Portland and nearby Astoria (perhaps best known as the setting for the movie 'The Goonies'). The Astoria shore is dotted with the remains of the numerous canneries that once thrived there.

Astoria After Dark
Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria was once a bustling fishing and shipping center before falling into decline mid-century. Today it is making a comeback as a popular tourist destination, but the ghosts of its past can be seen in the old warehouses and cannery ruins that line the back streets.

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