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North Cascades

Hiking, North Cascades, Running

Ptarmigan Ridge to the Portals

I am slowly but surely waking up from my marmot-like winter hibernation, so while I’m stretching my paws and getting my hiking mojo reset, I’ll play catch-up with some of my favorite trips from this fall.

The same, but different.

Since we had our furry running coach, Brutus, with us, we picked a trail we knew would be excellent for running, the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on Mount Baker, but due to the heat (omgz way too hot for September – little did we know it would rain the rest of the month) and my getting over a cold, we ended up just hiking most of the day…

Oh yeah

…with lots of breaks to cool off in streams and roll around on snowfields.

Them dogs be bananas

I love this trail. Similar to Paradise and Sunrise on Mount Rainier, Ptarmigan Ridge lets you cheat your way through thousands of feet of forest and drive straight up to the timberline. Alpine views from start to finish!

Last flowers of summer

Last time we were here, we stopped and camped at the turquoise lake, but this time we had our eyes set on the Portals, which you can see in the distance in the photo above. Last time we also didn’t have any views until the last fifteen minutes of the hike, so we were kind of blown away this time.

Inviting trail

Still, I was feeling pretty blah from my cold, so Brutus and I took a very satisfying nap while JK and the Italians explored the Portals.

Snooze Rock

The hike back to the car was breathtaking (the views, not the trail – it’s mostly flat) – Mount Shuksan ahead…

Mmm, Shuksan

…and Mount Baker in the rear view mirror, all taken in while snacking on trailside huckleberries. Hells yeah.

Mount Baker, you are magnificent

Oh, and marmots, marmots all around. All in all, it was an excellent summer for marmot sightings.

It's been a good marmot year

It was hard to leave, so we stopped the car at Heather Meadows to watch the sunset and feed the hounds before driving the long road home to Redmond.

– The Portals | 12 miles | 1600 feet elevation gain –


This was the perfect ending to the best and most fulfilling summer of my life – so far.

Backpacking, Hiking, North Cascades, Top Trips

Sahale, at last!

This is going to be picture-heavy, because holy mackerel, what a place.

All smiles

I’ve wanted to hike to Sahale ever since I saw my friends’ photos from it back when I first started hiking. Unfortunately, it’s just never happened, mainly because it’s in North Cascades National Park, which means no dogs, not even nutrias, allowed.

Doubtful Lake

The crux of this hike is actually getting the permits. Anyone can dayhike to Sahale Glacier, but if you want to camp, you’ll need to secure one of the coveted permits from the ranger station.

This is by far the most popular hike in the park, so people line up in front of the ranger station in the morning like Apple fanboys waiting for the latest iPhone.

Lupine perfume

Our trip came together at the last minute. I caught wind of Janelle and Jessie’s plans, and finagled my way into their group. Then, the day before our hike, I read on Facebook that Tony was on his way up to the North Cascades to try for a permit himself. I called him, begging, and luckily for us, he was happy to not go solo. He scored the last available permits and saved the day!

Janelle hiking up Sahale Arm

The hike itself is just…wow. Even the view from the parking lot is to die for. After hiking up 36 of the least efficient switchbacks mankind has ever seen (you will enjoy them on the way up, but curse them on the way down), it’s non-stop views all the way to camp.

Awesome campsite

Progress will be slow, as you’ll need to take out your camera every three minutes. Be prepared for bugs flying into your mouth, since the views of the massive, neighboring peaks are literally jaw-dropping. Bring a bandanna to wipe the drool off your shirt.


My favorite part of the trip was the early morning. Tony and I shared a campsite, and at 5 AM, we lazily unzipped our rain flies and watched the sunrise from our tents. Aaah.

Glacier Peak and Mount Rainier

Sunrise was followed by a breakfast of bean soup, coffee, and quiet time – just me and mountains as far as the eye could see. Happiness.

Happiness is

…and, shockingly, my breakfast of beans and coffee quickly necessitated a visit to what must surely be the finest toilet in the whole world.

There are some wonderful outdoor privies in Washington (I recommend Hidden Lake Peaks, Headlight Basin, and various crappers in the Enchantments), but this is the ultimate loo with a view.

Loo with a view

Perched on my, uhm, throne, I could see mountain goats wandering around way down along Sahale Arm, but in camp, we had to make do with these marmots.

Mukmuk looking for marmot cousins

A marmot to see us off

Eventually it was time to pack up and head back down. Sniff sniff. I will be back.

Me and the Arm

This place is worth the permit hassle for sure.

Jessie in the meadow

Halfway down Sahale Arm, we were greeted by the goat herd, adorable kid included. So cute! So fluffy! (Please don’t gore us, mama!)

Found 'em!

A gaggle of goats

Mama and kid

Then, past Cascade Pass, Tony discovered that he can talk to pikas – this guy popped out every time Tony meeped at him.


36 buggy and seemingly interminable switchbacks later, we were back at the trailhead, swigging delicious Vitamin Waters from Janelle’s cooler. That girl knows how to plan ahead.

Huge thanks to the crew for realizing this dream I’ve had for six years – and for being very entertaining hiking partners (even though Wishing and Hoping was stuck in my head for days).

Back to Cascade Pass we go

– Sahale Glacier Camp | 13 miles | 4100 feet elevation gain –

Life, North Cascades

Sean McCabe

JK and I stumbled across these prints in a gallery in Winthrop last month, and I decided to buy them as a birthday present for myself. They took me right back to one of my favorite hikes.

Heather Pass © Sean McCabe Studio Heather Pass, our version

(Heather Pass © Sean McCabe Studio | Carlos and Ingunn below Heather Pass)

We were saddened to hear that the artist, local climber and art teacher Sean McCabe, passed away in 2009, leaving behind his wife and two daughters.

A view from the top, our version A View From the Top © Sean McCabe Studio

(Looking down from Black Peak | View from the Top © Sean McCabe Studio)

His gallery is full of beautiful artwork from the Cascades, so take a peek if you’re a local mountain lover.

I’m going to hang these canvas prints in our living room, a reminder of our past and future adventures when the weather is dark and dreary, and a nudge to live life fully while we can.

Hiking, North Cascades, Running

Sun Mountain 25K…

…aka Coulda Woulda Shoulda. Our trail race debuts were supposed to be Yakima Skyline 25K (murderous hills) for JK and Sun Mountain 25K (low elevation gain, rolling hills) for me, but we found ourselves in Maui the weekend of the Yakima race (the horror!), and then I didn’t do anything resembling training in preparation for Sun Mountain. My mind has been elsewhere this spring, and my runs on the Powerline Trail have turned into ambling walks.

Ugly walk to the trailhead

Consequently I found myself hiking up Patterson Mountain while JK raced instead of running out there with him. JK hadn’t done much in the way of training either, so he estimated that it would take him 3.5 hours to finish – we agreed that I would be back from my hike after three hours to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.

Patterson Lake

This gave me enough time to hike part of the Patterson Lake trail (to get a paparazzi shot of JK running), then hike up Patterson and enjoy a leisurely lunch with Wellie on the summit.

JK's first race

The weather was a bit gloomy (Sun Mountain my ass!), so I focused my attention on the ground – I’ve never seen so many spring wildflowers in one place!

Shooting stars Lots of Lewisia

After munching on an avocado sandwich (me) and a jerky stick (Wellie), we hiked back to the race headquarters and made it right on time…

Patterson Mountain trail

– Patterson Mountain(++) | 8 miles | 1400 feet elevation gain –

Hot trail, cool dog

…except JK had finished 20 minutes earlier! He totally underestimated himself and finished in a very respectable 2 hours and 39 minutes. Whoop whoop whoop! He didn’t even seem tired, which I find absolutely disgusting.

Maybe next year, when I have finally gotten my act together and am shuffling along on the 25K course, he should try the 50K. We could and we should, right?

Copyright Matt Hagen

(Luckily Matt Hagen was at the finish line to capture what I missed.)

– Sun Mountain 25K | 15ish miles | 2000 feet elevation gain –