Cascade Pass – an All-or-Nothing Hike

The hike to Cascade Pass, located in North Cascades National Park, has been repeatedly called one of the best day hikes in the state of Washington. I found this out while planning my excursion to the area. While its combination of elevation gain (roughly 1700’) and length (about 7.5 miles) was a bit more than I typically preferred, I couldn’t resist the descriptions of the trail that promised spectacular views in return for the effort required. Even if I turned back before reaching the pass, I thought, it could be a nice hike. Often, the surrounding views or experience of walking in nature can make a hike worthwhile even if the full hike isn’t completed. I also planned to take my time on the trail, stopping frequently to drink water and enjoy the views.

As soon as I reached the parking lot at the trailhead, I was amazed at the surrounding beauty and excited for the hike to come. However, I soon found that the views from the first 3 miles or so of the trail were not significantly different than those from the parking lot, despite the additional effort. In fact, the mountains were less visible as I trekked through the woods.

Even if the views had been fantastic on this section of the trail, I would not have lingered long to enjoy them. Flies constantly surrounded me and seemed to multiply if I even stopped for a quick drink of water. I quickly learned that this trail was not one for meandering pleasantly along the path. In fact, this is not a trail I would recommend for people who don’t plan on completing the hike to the top.

 I hiked along switchback after switchback, stopping only when necessary. All in all, it was not a pleasant hike up those 1700 feet. Nonetheless, when I reached the clearing at the top, the surrounding landscape quickly alleviated my fears that the destination would not live up to my expectations.

As the views reward me for my efforts, the flies finally began to disappear as I left the woods and entered clearing along the mountain. After the miserable walk up, I seemed to be in another world entirely. Wildflowers along the trail and snow-topped mountains across the valley showed me why these mountains are sometimes called the “North American Alps”.

Thanks to the newfound scenery and improved conditions, my attitude also turned around completely. Instead of questioning my reasons for embarking on this trail, I had discovered my motivation. Instead of rushing the hike to get to the end, I was ready to slow down and enjoy my surroundings. At the same time, though, I was also eager to continue and see more.

After leaving the woods, I felt that I had seen enough to make that first part of the hike worthwhile. I felt like I could now finally turn back and be satisfied with the reward that I had gotten for my effort. But I no longer wanted to turn back. I had come this far, and there was more to see just a little farther ahead. After miles with nearly no payoff for my work, I was suddenly getting to see amazing amounts of scenery for just small amounts of additional hiking. 

About a quarter mile from my initial goal, I ran into one last obstacle. Though it was near the end of July, snow still covered two sections of the trail. I have always been a little unstable on frozen surfaces, whether I’m walking, skating, driving or skiing on them. One wrong step would send me sliding down into the valley, and that did not look like a fun hike back up.

I was satisfied with what I had seen so far, but was too stubborn to come this far and not complete the full hike. So I slowly made my way across the snowy path.

Along the way, I found myself wondering how much better the views could really be from just a quarter mile ahead. Would that slight difference in angle really make that much of a difference? What I didn’t realize was that reaching the pass would allow me to see the other side of the mountains and give me an entirely different view altogether.  Here I rested and prepared for the hike back.

The hike through the woods down the mountain was about as monotonous and fly-filled as the hike up. Now, however, I had the peace of mind of knowing that the hike was undoubtedly worth it.

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