North Cascades NP Trip. Sept 2013


I was really planning to go to Glacier NP, to do that famous North Circle trail. This plan was in my head since last Summer. I waited for the April 15th deadline, selected the route, submitted the application for permit … and didn’t get it. They had some reservation system changes and all sorts of other stuff. In the end, perhaps I’ve asked for too many people – 6, which would require 2 camping spots. It looked like there was a lot of interest from people. But when push came to really go there wasn’t much. So I have to find a replacement. Somehow I homed in on this park – North Cascades. Perhaps that was the Douglas Loraine’s book. Then I found these juicy descriptions about this park in Backpacker magazine. That it is wild, that it has more glaciers than Glacier NP. On top of it, it just gets about 100 times fewer visitors than Glacier (1.6m vs 13,759). I’m not sure how they counted those visitors, though, since North Cascades doesn’t have any entrance booth. The problem with North Cascades, at least for me, was that they didn’t allow to book backpacking permits beforehand. This made planning a bit unstable. But the (much more) friendly rangers in the park told me that there won’t be any problems with permits. To cover my behind a bit I planned for several routes, in case the first choice won’t be available.

Saturday, Aug 31, 2013

Get to the SJC. Fly to Seattle. Wait a very long time to get the rental car. Seattle airport is very well-organized in this area – all the rental car companies are in the same location. Just this Fox company was so slow. It took longer to get the car than to fly. In the end we’ve gotten a very small Toyota Yaris (red color). It is rather strange how product design works nowadays in the car companies. This tiny Yaris was the cheapest model. However, I guess Toyota had their manufacturing setup for all cars because they gave us keys with security buttons. But there was no security in the car. It didn’t have power windows, but it did have the BT and MPG calculator.

Stop by the REI to get the fuel cans. However, that wasn’t just an REI, it was the REI store -the flagship monstrosity multifloor store. The store that had its own hiking trails and, allegedly, carried the most products. Then stop at Burger King to get some food and continue.

After Bellingham the road gradually became two lane country highway with not many people. Stopped at some place called Il Caffe Rifugio for some very creamy Acme ice-cream. Then stopped by at the Glacier Public Service Center for the permits and general park information. We were lucky to get the desired permits! I was a bit worried that we were getting there way late, but we managed to pick up the last available permits. We even gotten the desired route – Copper Ridge to Chilliwack river, go up Whatcom pass, then back to the river and finish over the Hannegan pass. We listened to the lecture about not leaving any traces and hanging the food. That was it. Permits were free. The only thing we had to buy was the parking permit – Annual Northwest Forest Pass.


The ‘before’ shot

Getting to the Hannegan trailhead was a bit iffy – the road eventually become one lane gravel with lots of potholes. But our Yaris managed. Just keep it slow and steady. There were quite a bit of cars at the trailhead parking lot already. I was hoping that those were mostly day hikers.

After the token before shot at the trailhead we started hiking. The trail slowly went uphill for about 4 miles. The final campground for the day – Hannegan camp – was quite large, it turned out, with many small places to camp and special place to cook and eat. It was, however, quite dispersed with smaller empty spots here and there, so it didn’t look crowded. We cooked out late dinner and called it a day.

Sunday, Sept 1, 2013

Get up. Brash off all that dew from the tent. Our neighbors in the forest-free flat spot were some female couple with a jittery dog and a father with his daughter, maybe 5 years old or so. Nice, early introduction into backpacking. I was cursing my pad that didn’t work despite all that patching I’ve done. I was wondering if it was worth putting all that effort into it all these years. The first time it got stubbed by tiny cactus needles on Lake Powell. I patched it. Then I reaped a giant hole in Gates of Arctic that had to be fixed in the field. Still it was leaking air. Recently it started leaking from some weird places. I patched one spot, but perhaps not very well. As a result I woke up on the ground. Good thing this park wasn’t that cold at night. At least we had lots of local bounty for breakfast.


Went up to the Hannegan pass and managed to take a wrong trail. Eventually had to go back and restart. Too bad Undo doesn’t work in real life. Then the trail went a bit down across a scree slope with several fat marmots lounging on the hot rocks. The weather was great after all. After the pass the trail was slowly going up through very lush forest with lots of blueberries. It was on a bit precarious slope with a very long way down. The good thing about it was the views. It was sunny with some clouds day providing the perfect view of the glacier capped mountains on the other side of the Chilliwack valley. I tried capturing that beauty, but the photos can only show so much.


In a bit of time we went above the tree line to the Copper ridge proper. Had lunch and started climbing towards, ultimately, the fire lookout, which was the highest point. It would have been fine if there was any water on the way. I thought the fire lookout was close, but the never ending climb was quite strenuous. Add to that all the great sunny weather and it was quite a struggle to reach the summit. It looked that the rangers were living in that fire lookout. They had some gas tank, sleeping bags and cooking equipment in the little house. There was a bit of snow still (!) on one side of the mountain. Great place. I didn’t filter any water there since it was all downhill after that. Plus I managed to procure 1L from some dudes that were going down from the Fire Lookout.

After the summit it was all downhill to the Copper Lake campground. The only problem with that downhill was that it was very steep. Just jumping down the rocks while listening to Pika’s whistles. Shafi managed to go down relatively fast and get a second best camping site with no view of the Lake. But Rita took a very long time. So long that it was too late to take a dip in the lake.

Monday, Sept 2, 2013

In the morning the second best campground turned out to be the best. We were high enough to be above the morning fog rolling through the Chilliwack valley. It was a beautiful site to see. But it also indicated all that moisture in the air. Shafi kept complaining about it. Saying how good it was in the Sierras – so dry that washed clothes would dry almost instantly. In North Cascades that wasn’t happening. Well, get used to it Mr Mountain Man.

After the camp the trail just basically followed the ridge. Beautiful views all around. A bit later it turned right to go down to the river. The way down was through the thick evergreen forest with a very long switchbacks. I mean really long – about a half a mile one way, then half a mile the other way. We just saw a couple of people going up the same trail. In reality the park was relatively empty. Not Alaskan empty, but not crowded either.

The main attraction was the crossing of the Chilliwack river and Indian creek. They were quite shallow, but there was salmon going up to spawn. A couple of things were surprising to me with all that spawn business. First I thought that all salmon would be this large healthy fish. In reality there were many smaller individuals (like very small). Still red and still trying their best to mate. And there were a couple of dead and rotting ones producing quite noxious aroma.

After the cross there was a short hike on the relatively flat forest till the next campground – Indian Creek. It was a ‘in the thick of the forest’ campground. Campfires were allowed, but it was difficult to start due to everything being damp. Still I managed. After dark there was lightning and thunder. Not especially close, but clearly visible. Then the drizzle set in. I guess the good weather was over.

Tuesday, Sept 3, 2013

By morning the rain stopped. There was enough moisture in the air and dew on the leaves to make it feel like it was still raining a bit. It is always a bit nasty to get up and break camp in rain. You sort of get all warm and dry in the tent and now have to get up and put together that wet tent and other equipment. But, I’m the leader of this group and that is what I have to do. In reality it wasn’t that bad. Just the closes were getting smelly from all the never drying sweat.

Shafi ran off to the distance, but we were struggling through the wet bushes. I actually liked that forest.
We weren’t on the rim any more. It was a trail through dense lush evergreen forest. The trail sure could use some maintenance – all that fallen logs sometimes required tricky gymnastics. But other than that it was great. Mostly flat. There was no rain, just dew from some remaining fog. Not too cold or hot.

We reached the first campground – Graybeal  – and decided to call it a day. Rita was already out. The campground was actually great (little did I know at the time). It was on the decreasing shore of the Brush creek. As any other mountain stream it probably flooded every year. Thus it was slowly eroding the shores.We picked the best spot with good fire pit and nice views of the river and surrounding mountains. One can just bring a hammock and enjoy the views.

However, that wasn’t our designated camping site. We were supposed to camp on the once closer to Whatcom pass three miles further up the trail. Still, there was enough time to do some hiking and actually see what was behind that Whatcom pass. Shafi and I did the 3 mile march up the hill. The trail was a bit precarious in places, but lovely nonetheless. The sky cleared out to present the gorgeous views all around.
These North Cascades mountains with all the (smaller) lakes and forests and glaciers were just exceptional. And the clouds added some variety. We spent some time on the pass, took lots of pictures, and went down. Being so high the area around the pass was loaded with blueberries. I’ve spent some time there munching and picked some up for the next breakfast. In reality the Wahtcom campsite wasn’t as good as Graybeal . The views weren’t that good and fires weren’t allowed.

There was another campfire with a great view of the mountains. Too bad salmon didn’t come up that high to Brush creek. Perhaps I could even cook it.

Wednesday, Sept 4, 2013

At night some sort of rodents were rampaging through the camp. They knocked over the stove I put under the tent fly. It was a bit scary. You are lying down on the ground level – the level of those dudes – and you can hear them running around and chewing. It was that loud. In the morning the damage was substantial. They even chewed the water bucket. Other than that they chewed gaters, poles, rope, even dirty socks. Not sure what their problem was.

We crossed the river twice. The first time was a simple wooden bridge. The second was that basket with the rope. NOCA_2013_333Rita wanted to just cross by foot – the river was very shallow. But the basket was difficult to pass. I guess a bit earlier the Chilliwack river wouldn’t be passable at all and this basket crossing would have been the only option. This time of the year, with most of the snow melted, it was more like a joy ride, at least for me.

There was a very nice forest to hike through on the last stretch. Very green with lots of mushrooms. Some really strange ones I’ve never seen before. Technically, same type of mushrooms can be totally different in different forests, let alone in different countries. I base all my fungal knowledge on East European forests, which may be completely different from Pacific North-West. But I based my selection on several criteria: (1) the mushroom should look recognizable, (2) it shouldn’t be bitter, (3) if there worms in it, it is a good sign.  There were enough reliable fresh candidates to make the selection easy.

The trail was fairly deserted too. This day we just met just one group of people lumbering up to the Tapto lake. We just took it easy. There were just a couple of flat mils to go till Copper Creek campground. The next one after that required quite a bit of push and 2000 ft elevation gain. There was no need to rush it. I picked a couple of mushrooms to cook for dinner. It was the last day so fuel wasn’t the issue.

The campground was nice, in the forest. It was located on these flat terrace steps on the slope. It was a fairly large campground, located on both sides of the river. I wonder if it ever gets full. Again there was a campfire. NOCA_2013_376Rita was burning that beautiful mushrooms I picked on the fire, then eating whatever left from them. It was one way to do it. The best would be to fry with potatoes, but that wasn’t available. There were still some to boil and eat with the dinner. Even Shafi tried one (1) little piece of mushroom. Boiled boletes become this mushy mass. Not the best way to cook them, but I didn’t have any more supplies.

Thursday, Sept 5, 2013

Last day. There was no rain during the night though the distant lightning was visible. Mice were active again, but I didn’t find significant damage this time.

Shafi got left behind allegedly due to his insane walking speed. We still had to cover about 2000 ft of the elevation gain. It was actually not so bad. Just kept a steady pace. The weather was a bit cloudy and the views obstructed almost right to the Hannegan pass. But it was a lovely forest. There was just a bit of light rain in the process. There was enough time to enjoy the trail. We finally met that Speedy Gonzales at the last junction. Had to wait for him. However, it gave us time to load on that wealth of blueberries around there. Got a couple of photos and continued further. NOCA_2013_415The last 4 miles were a bit difficult. It was most likely mental than physical. I knew there was the end there, I just couldn’t wait to get to it. The fauna gradually changed from more mountainous to lower planes. I just met two groups going the other way. They were a bit late. I guess they waited for the rain to subside, wussies. There was a group of senior hikers. One dude was carrying bear spray! Not sure for what purpose.

Stopped by on the way in the same old Glacier Public Service center. Tried to return the two half-used fuel cans we had. They took Shafi’s, but didn’t take mine. I wanted to get a t-shirt but they didn’t have a good one. We stopped again at Il Caffe Rifugio. Now for some lunch and information. I really wanted to try the rhubarb ice-cream, but they didn’t have it. The cafe also had some information on the shuttles from Bellingham to Seattle. It turned out there was a shuttle going almost every hour from that tiny Bellingham airport. It was rather cute. Perhaps we should have flown into it instead of Seattle.

After that we had to figure out where to go in BC. We had a place booked, but for the next day. There was some argument about it. I wanted to drive around the countryside, but Rita wanted to stay in Vancouver. So we drove around in rush hour traffic and periodic rain. We didn’t have a good map. For some reason I thought the phones will work in Canada. But, a couple of miles North of the border they completely refused to get a connection. We had some low resolution maps with not enough details. So I just picked a place that looked interesting – Harrison Hot Springs – and went there.

It took more than an hour to get to the aforementioned Harrison Hot Springs. It wasn’t a bad drive. The beautiful British Columbia in the area was all green and lovely. The road traveled in a valley skirted by mountains with clouds on them. It was already dark when we gotten to Harrison. There were a couple of B&B on the way, but I didn’t want to push to stay there. Perhaps there would be a real hot spring. Not sure why I thought that.

Harrison Hot Springs turned out to be a lake resort town – huge lake, mountains, hotels. It just lacked the hot spring itself. Allegedly it was located somewhere in the mountains. The hot water was piped into one local public swimming pool and the Harrison Hot Springs resort. We looked around, tried a couple fo places, and picked up the last available room in the resort.

Friday, Sept 6, 2013

Go up kind of late, lazily. The hotel for all its fancy wasn’t that good (maybe that’s why it was cheaper) – you can hear neighbors sleeping, the bathtub clogged up, and that fancy game controller for TV wasn’t working. The only good thing about it was the pool with, allegedly, water from the nearby hot spring.

During the day the Harrison Hot Springs looked a bit like Pucon, out of all places. There was a large (actually huge) lake, mountains with forest. Perhaps we just got up to early, or perhaps the season has already ended, but there weren’t many people in the town. We had breakfast in some local diner and went back to the place. Rita wanted to use their pool while it was possible.

British Columbia really had their  act together in terms of supporting tourists. Harrison Hot Springs had a small Welcome center where it was possible to get all the info about activities in the area. We picked up some maps and list of interesting places to visit. There whole region all the way to Vancouver was divided into sections. Local businesses paid some money to create these visitor maps with, mostly touristy, places to visit that of course included said businesses.

The first stop was the local cheese farm – The Farm House Natural Cheeses. They had some tasty cheeses. We couldn’t really buy any of them because they won’t survive the transport. But we did get a bottle of fresh goat milk. Then we stopped at the local hazelnut place to get a bug of nuts. Regular ones, nothing fancy.

After a bit of driving we stopped at Kilby Provincial Park.
Kilby Historic Site
The park was formed on the site of an old store that was run by the Kilby family. There was a store, small restaurant, petting zoo in a way – a whole bunch of farm animals to entertain kids. They had a wheelbarrow with apples to feed the cow, goats, and such. Those were the Gravenstein apples from the local trees. These apples were much tastier than that sour stuff we had at the so-called Gravenstein Apple Fair. And they were feeding them to livestock!

We spent quite a bit of time in this park. Walked around the house, which was also a hotel, a post office, and a store at the time. Its location was right at the railroad station, at the time, which allowed Kilby family to provide all those services. It was just a simple retail. Plus the federal government paid them to run the post office.

Based on the recommendation from the lady in the welcome center we visited this winery – Kermode Wild Berry Wines. It looked like some factory farm barn – gravel road, none of that fancy adobe tasting rooms with gift shops. There was one dude who let us try a couple of wines. We just bought two bottles of wild blueberry wine. I was hoping that it would be possible to order some online, but their website is rather sparse.

That was all. A bit further West the Vancouver metro started. Same one floor suburban spread. We stopped at one advertised meat store, but there was nothing interesting for passing by tourists (they probably had good meat if you planned to cook it). I also wanted to visit a winery, regular one, but it was located too far and the traffic became quite bad. Interestingly, the streets in that area ob BC are numbered from the US border going North.

It was a bit of a challenge to find the reserved B&B, especially without a detailed map and not talking navigator. I had to stop and get a good map of the area. The booked place turned out to be just a room, with facilities, in some couple’s apartment. There was no breakfast either. Well, they provided some tools and cereal. Good thing we brought that tasty goat milk. However, the are was nice – not exactly the main luxury downtown Vancouver, but not too remote either. Still, it looked like a city (not like Sunnyvale). There were plenty of places to eat. The local Chinese food was a bit strange – a lot of Southern China influence and local variations. It didn’t taste exactly the same as in Bay Area.

Saturday, Sept 7, 2013

Good thing our hosts provided WiFi. I looked up some local bakeries to get some tasty pastry to go along with that milk. However, both of them were closed for the weekend. Still I found something. For today’s entertainment I found a couple of walking tours provided by the TourGuys. The city walking tour started at reasonable 11AM within reasonable walking distance of our place.


The weather was great this day – sunny with some clouds, not too hot or cold. We had to walk across a bridge to Vancouver proper and then to the tour meeting spot. There were many people interested. Enough for two separate tours. The tours were free. The guides just get tips, if people like the tour.

Vancouver, in a way, shares the history of Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. It even looks a bit the same. Well, the huge influx of people with resources from Hong Kong made it look more like Hong Kong (including people and buildings).

The tour was generally good. A bit short though (I really liked that tour we had in Seattle – 8 hours). The guide showed us all the general locational and historical highlights. It was interesting to learn about the bloody history that occurred in Vancouver during the Great Depression. I didn’t realize that Canada, being part of the commonwealth, joined the war with Great Britain much earlier than US. Vancouver also had its share of destroy all development and recent revival of old districts. The Gastown is one example. It used to be horrible slum and now it is all fancy bars and cute shops. Hopefully the same eventually happen to Downtown LA.


Making of a sandwich at Meat & Bread

The tour guide recommended a good place to eat in Gastown called Meat & Bread. Their menu was very short – lamb or pork sandwich, and some soup. As a result, even though the place was crowded it moved really fast. That rectangular bread was still warm and crispy, same as the baked pork. We’ve gotten some soup and some sort of local lemonade. Too bad they didn’t allow cider with their sandwich to be taken outside.

Since it was just barely 1PM we headed for another tour by the same TourGuys. The only one they had was the tour of Granville island. We barely made it to this tour. The Granville island is located under a highway (with walking paths). Getting down to the island was a bit of a pain, even though allegedly there is a way somewhere – you can see the island under the bridge, but you can’t get down. Again, this place have evolved from a filthy bunch of factories to posh shops, restaurants, theaters, and galleries.


Rice in front of a sake shop.

Surprisingly there were still a couple of working factories there. Yes, the Canadians were able to really clean it up – the water in the river was clear, way cleaner than in SF Bay. The tour, the reason we even knew about this place, wasn’t that detailed. The guide said a bit about the history and the current state. A couple of places to eat on the island. About the insanely expensive floating homes anchored in front of the island. They do get a very nice view, but those houses deteriorate very fast. After the tour we visited this interesting artisan sake shop. They even offered sake tasting and, imagine, sake ice-cream. I had to sit there a bit to get the tasty sake process through my system since by that time the lunch sandwich was gone already.

There was very cute water bus to go across the river. Much nicer than walking on a highway. Vancouver has this huge park on the West peninsula – Stanley Park. It had this flat serpentine trail circumnavigating the entire park. It was Saturday and weather was good, so there were quite a number of people, in the close to civilization section. It would be nice to bike this trail, but the one bicycle rental place we found was closing in half an hour. But it was still nice walk. It was a good place to watch sunset since it was facing directly West. There were these freight ships sitting in the harbor for some reason.

After the park late in the evening we took the taxi back to the Granville island since it had one good place to get seafood – Sand Bar Restaurant. Interestingly this fancy restaurant is located right under the highway. Not a generally pretty sight. The place had two floors and in order to entertain the guests on the second floor, and prevent them from staring at the concrete column, they put and old fishing boat there. It was fairly crowded despite late hour. Rita had fresh arctic char and I had salmon.

Sunday, Sept 8, 2013

The last day of the vacation. All we had to do is drive to Seattle and fly out. However, we still found time to visit one last winery in Washington state. There wasn’t much happening on the way before the border. There was just one long line of cars. Allegedly, Canadians go to US to buy stuff because the sales tax is lower. The border guard asked me what we bought in Canada. I said ” a bag of nuts and two bottles of wine”. “Just the essentials”.

On the way we visited the Mount Baker Vineyards. Mostly because I was curious about Washington state wines, but also because we had a coupon. Well, to tell the truth the wines were good, especially the grape juice that they were including in the tasting. But I couldn’t say they were better than wines from Sonoma, just different (or  know nothing about wines).

And that was all. Go back to the airport and fly to the old life. The world didn’t stop waiting for this vacation to be over, just we had this other life experience.


Trail map: North Cascades Copper Ridge Chilliwack River loop

This entry was posted in Leasure, Trip Reports, Wilderness and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to North Cascades NP Trip. Sept 2013

  1. Pingback: Pine Ridge. Ventana Wilderness. April 2014 | Ilya's Life Weblog

  2. Pingback: Canadian Rockies. Sept 2014 | Ilya's Life Weblog

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