Backpacking in the North Cascades

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of July 24-30, 1997
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Backpacking in the North Cascades

Backpacking in the North Cascades
Question: Two of us want to backpack in the Pacific Northwest on a four- to seven-day trip in early- to mid-September. We've done a lot of packing in the Rockies and the East, but never in the Northwest. We're thinking of the North Cascades or Olympics, but I'm sure there are other options in a national forest, or BLM land. We enjoy striking views, accessible mountain tops, some high-altitude lake fishing, and getting away from people. We're not especially fond of rain, but can deal. Figuring the odds are relatively small in September, though possible, it's not a problem. You aren't related to Doug Gregory, originally of Fairbanks, Alaska, are you?

George Feinberg
Winchester, MA
[email protected]

Northwest backcountry offers
endless hiking opportunities

Adventure Adviser: Washington is one of those states where you can literally drive in any direction and find a little-used forest service road leading to miles of alpine splendor or ribbons of deserted shoreline. And 684,000-acre North Cascades National Park is the American version of the Alps with 318 glaciers, 248 lakes, old-growth forests, and the emerald waters of the Skagit River.

The best part is that 90 percent of its visitors see it through tinted glass on the North Cascades Highway, the main artery that bisects the park. With only 19,000 backcountry visitors per year, you'll have more than a few jaw-dropping vistas to yourself.

A particularly inspiring backcountry trek is the five-day, 46-mile round-trip to 6,102-foot Desolation Peak. Start at milepost 138 on the North Cascades Highway, where you'll find the 16-mile East Bank trailhead. You'll have an easy to moderate climb through old-growth forests up to Ross Lake. You can camp at Lighting Camp at the base of Desolation Trail before you start your 4,500-foot trudge up Desolation Peak. When you get to the top you'll crest a bald nob with 2,000-foot cliffs and icy glacial expanses in the distance. For more information and to pick up a wilderness permit, call the Wilderness Information Office (800-873-4590) in Marblemount, 5 miles west of the park boundary.

If you're in for a few days of beach camping, try Shi-Shi Beach at the north end of Olympic National Park. From the Ozette Ranger Station in the middle of the park, hike 13 miles north along the Cape Alava Trail. It seems like a long way until you realize that you have the otters, eagles, whales, and endless beach to yourself. Call the Ozette Ranger Station (206-963-2725) for more details.

By the way, I'm no relation to Doug Gregory — unless he's a famous grizzly bear-fighting mountain man from the wilds of Alaska. If so, then he's my brother.

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