Dharma Bum

October 09, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

As I was exploring the North Cascades it soon occurred to me that my trip was turning out surprisingly like "The Dharma Bums".  In the book, the main character eventually makes his way to the North Cascades to spend a few months living / working in a firetower.  The other characters in the book tell him of the jagged high peaks that he will soon see.  I heard the mountains would be jagged and incredible, but I never really believed it.  When I finally arrived in the North Cascades I was just as excited to see these mountains as Ray had been.  These were the mountains I'd been dreaming of!

Cascade PassCascade PassAutumn in the North Cascades, as seen from Cascade Pass

My first trip in North Cascades National Park was Cascade Pass, an isolated mountain pass 23 miles down a rough forestry road.  When I arrived at the trailhead it was cold and grey.  I needed to wait for some nice sunlight to capture the images in my head.  

As I laid in my tent on a dark, rainy night I heard the sound of rocks tumbling down the mountains.  It was very unnerving.  When I woke up, the clouds had covered the mountains and the rocks were still falling!  I pulled out my telephoto lens and captured some video.  Then I spent the rest of the day hanging around camp, waiting for the sun to come out.  

At 4pm the clouds finally parted!  I started the hike up to Cascade Pass, hoping to catch some good light.  The hike to the pass is only 3.7 miles but there are over 30 switchbacks!  I've never climbed up so many in a row.  

While I was wandering around the pass, two deer were hanging around.  This deer below actually snuck up behind me!


Blue Lake

Today I climbed up to Blue Lake, a crystal clear alpine lake nestled in the Cascade mountains.  The water was bright blue/green and ice cold.  I really wanted to include a swimmer in the image.  That meant me....  After working up some courage, I hiked back down to the lake shore and dove in!  The water was painfully cold!  My camera was on a 10 second interval, so I needed to swim for at least 20 seconds. Easier said than done!  Within seconds my body was becoming numb and I was losing mobility.  Despite only swimming 20 feet away from the shore, I barely made it back.  Thankfully the sun was bright and warm.  I was able to warm up within a few minutes.  

Blue LakeBlue LakeA polar plunge in Blue Lake - North Cascades, Washington.

For sunset I drove to Washington Pass Overlook.  Since the sky was still clear I decided to camp out and do some star trails.  As I was on top of mountain there were plenty of massive boulders to lay out on.  I brought my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and got my camera set up. 

For the first time in ages I am finally alone.  I gaze up into the night sky, thousands of stars fill my view.  A barred owl hoots nearby.

Soon this trip will be over.  It has been a short 3 months.  Tonight was one of many magical nights on this trip: from camping in the Great Sand Dunes with the Milky Way brighter than I’ve ever seen, to an eerie night under a full moon in the New Mexico desert.  I’m ready to return home, yet I want to stay on the road.  The backcountry no longer feels foreign, it is home.  I seek to get far away from humanity.  And for once, I have managed to do so on this mountain top.  

White Balance "Ayyyyy yooooooo!!!  Ayyyyy yoooo!"  

At first light I heard chanting echoing through the mountains.  A drum soon joined in the chant.  Then a flute.  As light began to spread across the sky the chanting intensified.  I could hear it echoing for miles down the valley below.  A red band of clouds appeared over the jagged mountains to the east.  Overhead the clouds slowly drifted across the sky.  The moon, a pale silver crescent, had finally risen over the eastern mountains.  I still couldn’t believe how beautiful the weather was.  Late September in the mountains is not known for clear, still nights.  I felt very fortunate. 

As morning continued on, I laid in my sleeping bag atop the rock slab, watching the clouds pass.  At 8:25am I saw a UFO.  At first I thought it was a bird.   It was a small, black, circular object at roughly cloud elevation.   It was moving far too fast against the clouds to be any bird.  It had to be going at least 3-4 times faster than any jet I’ve ever witnessed.  More importantly, there was no sound whatsoever.  Every other plane that had flown overhead had been incredibly loud.   It was traveling due south.  Very odd.  I guess if you stare up at the sky long enough your bound to see something weird.

My time in the Cascades is nearing an end, soon I will be headed south through Washington and into Oregon.  With just over a month left, I still have a lot to see!


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