In which we check one off: North Cascades National Park

For my birthday Jeff gave me a map of the US with all of the National Parks on it because he knows of my love of travel, my love of the outdoors and most of all, my love of checking things off lists.

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We hit a few of them on our way out here a few years ago (though sadly I didn’t know about the Wind Cave in South Dakota even though we were so close to it! Ahh!), and this weekend we checked another one off – the only one we were missing in Washington State: North Cascades National Park.



It’s only three hours drive north of Seattle now that WA 530 state route is back open after the Oso mudslide. We drove through the devastated area where 43 people died when the side of the mountain came crashing down one morning back in March. The road was early quiet – like driving through a graveyard.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

We left after work on Friday and after fighting Seattle traffic, rain and some bad directions, we made it to the campsite with the last bit of our long Pacific Northwest daylight around 9:15pm, just enough to pick a spot and put up the tent. We had planned to use our air mattress like we had before in Yellowstone, only we hadn’t factored in that we had bought a larger size to replace the old one that died on my trip up to Whistler in January. It did not fit at all. But in the dark and pouring rain, all we could do was deflate it halfway and cram it in as best we could to get out of the wet – it filled up probably half of the tent by volume. We climbed in and managed to balance ourselves somewhat, now much closer to the tent roof and constantly readjusting our lopsided selves on top of the squishy behemoth. The air mattress at this point took on a life of its own; it was the third creature in our three-person, three-season tent. It felt like sleeping in what Jeff described as a half inflated fun house. It’s been years since I’ve slept outside where it rained hard throughout the entire night. I remembered that I do not miss that.

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John Muir in a letter to his sister, 1873

The next morning I managed to light the camp stove in what had let up to a light drizzle and we made coffee in the French press – it was much needed after the soggy, squished night. We then decided to hike up nearby Thunder Creek to the 4th of July Pass (it being close to the holiday and all and one of the only trails the park ranger said wasn’t covered in snow). We made it about 5 miles in the rain before deciding that we had had enough fun. A steep ascent had left us exposed on the side of an open mountain face and Jeff did not have adequate rain gear, so I made the call to turn back. It wasn’t fun rain. It wasn’t just deal with it rain. It was beat at you without tree cover, soak you to the bones rain. I’ve had hypothermia once before, many years ago and I wasn’t willing to repeat it.

Sometimes knowing when to turn back is just as important as knowing when to push on, even when it’s hard. We were close to the Pass and close to the top, but it was just getting too dangerous. It paralleled an experience I had had with a patient just the day before: a sweet kid with a medical condition that I could have easily precipitated into a medical emergency with a little stress of dental treatment. Sure, we could’ve gone ahead with the filling, and maybe nothing would have happened, but the conditions that day were just right for the makings of something more sinister and I had to make the call not to risk it. Same with the hike – we could have made it. Or because of today’s conditions, one of us could have gotten seriously hurt in the storm. The older I get, the easier it is to make the call. I think they call that maturity or something? Anyway, we got a few pictures of the old growth forest and Thunder Creek on the way down:


Very wet Elise


The water is milky blue green - from when the park's many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine power. This "mountain flour" mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way.

The water is milky blue green – from when the park’s many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine powder. This “mountain flour” mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way – it’s surreal.


We ate lunch back at our campsite and spent the rest of the day driving around looking at things. A lot of the trails still aren’t open yet because of snow – crazy to think that even after the official start of summer things are still thawing out here!

The old faithful Jeep - still trucking.

The old faithful Jeep – still trucking after 189,679 miles..




Overlooking Ross or Diablo Lake

It was freezing cold and still raining.

It was freezing cold and still raining.

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake


More clouds moving in – time to get back in the car



Peaks peaking through

Around this time I began to feel very sick from lunch. We had grabbed to-go sandwiches from the grocery store since this was a last minute camping trip and we hadn’t had time to prepare well. Something in mine did not sit properly with me and I was struggling. This, coupled with the prospect of another rainy sleepless night in a deflated fun house of a tent, was too much. I called it again, for the second time in one day. The reason there are no pictures of our very picturesque campsite in Colonial Creek (right by a very blue lake in an old growth forest, really a spectacular spot) is because we packed everything in ten minutes of this decision and headed home.

I was fully reminded and humbled that June is not a summer month here. No matter what the calendar says, July 4th is the official start. This post on reading it highlights a lot of horrible things on our 28 hours trip up north – but it was in fact actually really good to 1) check off a new, and beautiful National Park and 2) get our bearings for when we come back. It’s too close and too pretty not to return. When it stops raining.

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