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Day Hiking: North Cascades

Author : Craig Romano
Published : 2008-03-11

If you're interested in taking a day hike or two in North Cascades National Park, a new guidebook is on its way to bookstores. Though it spans much of northwestern Washington state and is not specific to the national park, Day Hiking: North Cascades offers a few opportunities in the park.

Written by Craig Romano, who also authored Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula, this book takes you from the coast to some of the most alluring peaks of the North Cascades. Not long on prose, the book features 125 hikes in a to-the-point fashion that gets you to the trailhead, rates the difficulty of the hike, gives the basics (mileage, elevation gain, and best season), and provides both a rudimentary map of the hike and GPS coordinates.

The on-the-trail narrative for each hike is spare but sufficient to both capsulize your time on the trail and explain why the hike in question is included in the book. Some hikes also include an "Extending Your Trip" suggestion.

Here's a sample of one of the park hikes, Sourdough Mountain:

From the lowly trailhead elevation, waste no time heading for the heavens. In thick timber switchback relentlessly, gaining 3000 feet in the first two miles. As you approach the North Cascades National Park, the grade eases somewhat, but it's still a bear. Thinning forest provides sneak peeks of surrounding peaks, a much needed enticement to push on.

At 4 miles (elev. 5000 ft) Sourdough Creek's cascading waters are a welcome sight, as more than likely your water supply is nearly spent. Hop across the energy-recharging creek and begin reaping the long-anticipated rewards of this hike. Traversing subalpine forest groves and sprawling meadows bursting with wildflowers, finally start enjoying your journey.

In-your-face views of Ruby Mountain, Pyramid Peak, and Colonial Peak and its massive glacier knock what little breath you have left right out of you. Diablo Lake's turquoise waters twinkle 1 mile directly below. One last set of switchbacks is all that's left between you and the lookout.

Reach the broad summit ridge of Sourdough Mountain and dart across lingering snowfields. Behold nearly the entire North Cascades kingdom before you. To the north are Mount Prophet, Hozomeen Mountain, Ross Lake, and the wilds of British Columbia. At nearly 9000 feet, Jack Mountain dominates the eastern horizon. To the south it's Colonial Peak and company, while the Picket Range commands your attention to the west.

The fire lookout was constructed in 1933 and is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register. It's still staffed in the summer. With Old Glory flapping defiantly in the mountain breezes, it is a sentry post bordering America's wild backcountry. Beatnik poet Philip Whalen worked a couple of summers on Sourdough as a lookout back in the 1950s. Talk about the ideal work environment! Linger long and rest up for the knee-jarring descent.

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