North Cascades National Park connects several of Washington’s wilderness areas. Its 500,000 acres of land stretch from British Columbia (the park’s northern border) down to Lake Chelan (the park’s southern border). Commonly referred to as The American Alps, the park is famous for its jagged mountain peaks and severe rock faces; it still hosts more than three hundred named glaciers and lakes. And despite being less than 120 miles from SeaTac International Airport, nearly all of the park is designated as wilderness area; it’s one of few parks in the country that doesn’t require any fees or passes to visit.
Though North Cascades National Park is less than a couple hours from my front door, I’ve only been there one time (prior to this trip) in the four years I’ve lived in Seattle. It’s not that I’d never been interested in the North Cascades. But, with Snoqualmie Pass and the “Southern” Cascades less than an hour away from my home, I’ve never really seen the point in spending an extra two hours (one each way) to visit the northern section of the Cascades. It’s the same mountain range, right? I’ve always told myself. Which, in hindsight, is sort of like saying that the Washington coast and the Hawaiian coast are the same. They’re both on the Pacific Ocean, right?
My previous trip to the North Cascades was last November. The range had just received its first major snowfall of the season, coupled with wind gusts clocked at over 100 miles an hour. More than hiking, that day entailed driving an SUV past Road Closed signs, driving over fallen trees, sliding through the snow on old forest roads, and running into conditions that were more than questionable. Ultimately, I was unable to even reach the trailheads for any of the hikes that I hoped to tackle that day. So, my trip this summer was much anticipated. I’d seen the North Cascades before, but I hadn’t been in them, yet.
More Than Miles
When I talk about the origins of my National Parks Project, one of the quintessential inspirations behind the project was to explore the idea of whether you have to go somewhere physically far from where you live to really feel like you got out there, or like you saw something worthwhile. Visiting North Cascades National Park was proof that you don’t need to get on an airplane or drive across state lines to see something amazing. Climbing into the mountains in the North Cascades was truly incredible; I felt like I had teleported into another country after hiking for less than an hour.
Brief as it is, I’m going to leave this one, there. Visiting the North Cascades was about more than just the miles we drove or the miles we hiked – it was about connecting to a place that was in my own backyard; it was about realizing that you don’t have to go to Switzerland to see incredible mountains.