An Expedition Into the North Cascades – II

Chapter Two.

August 16, 2015.  I blinked. Dawn had broken and a glorious golden hue was filtering into my tent. Birds were singing their morning songs nearby. Seth was already awake and walking around outside while Christian and I slumbered. I fumbled around for my glasses.  I unzipped the tent fly and was greeted with blinding sunlight. I shoved my feet into my Merrell Moab Ventilator boots and staggered out of the tent, still half-asleep. The fresh mountain air woke me up and I gazed in awe  out at the mountain ridges before us. The previous night  had effectively obscured the view from us and I now looked out over the Chilliwack River Valley blanketed with cotton white clouds and dark blue mountains on the far side. Snowy glaciated peaks looked back at me. I felt so remarkably full of life. I grabbed my camera and began taking photos while Seth explored the area and Christian woke up.

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After we were all awake, we grabbed the food and Jetboil and walked over to Copper Lake. The clouds were lifting up from the valley and were settling in nicely above the still waters. In the eerie, quiet fog, Seth filtered water with a Sawyer Mini-filter and I boiled up a few litres for our breakfasts of oatmeal (Seth and I), mashed potatoes (Christian), and hot chocolate (all of us). As we relaxed, filling up our hungry bellies with warm grub, we could hear the distant clink of other campers waking up and trotting down to the water front to fill their pots for breakfast. The fog slowly began to lift and we spotted  the ranger from the fire lookout making her rounds among the campsites.

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We walked back to our little plot of grass where our camp was set up and began taking the tent down. The rainfly had successfully dried off in the morning sun. Once our bags were packed again, we set them down leaning against a rotten log and looked over the map. Seth worked on revitalizing the grass we slept on by re-straightening them and fluffing out the matted flora. Our goal was to hike about 12 miles which included seven knee-jarring miles of downhill switchbacks, before fording a river and tramping roughly four miles on an old overgrown path through ancient forests.

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We shouldered our packs and tightened the straps, ready for another day of adventure. We set off heading north along the ridge. A tan, athletic French backpacker passed us heading the other way and remarked how incredible the North Cascades are. We told him of our plan to climb in the Chilliwacks and he said he wished he was us. We continued on past a large boulder field where we stretched and re-adjusted our packs. We clambered around on the rocks, soaking in the glorious mountain sunlight, and then trotted onwards. Soon the trail climbed upwards and we huffed and puffed our way up a long slope to a beautiful overlook. Small grasshoppers leapt around on the trailside flora.

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Only a few miles to our north lay the United States-Canadian Border, where a six-metre wide clearcut swathed through the forests in its attempt to follow the 49th Parallel. Below us, we could see the icy blue Chilliwack River. In the distance, Mt. Redoubt, Nodoubt Peak, and Bear Mountain jutted upwards while the Mox Peaks were hidden from sight. We rehydrated and began the steep switchbacks down toward the river.

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Blisters, knee aches, and heavy packs began to take their toll as we descended through the evergreens. Before long, every step hurt. We paused and tried to fix any of the hot spots signifying a soon-to-be blister with Moleskin. We fetched sticks from the ground and used them to help lessen the impact on our knees. A few hours later, we emerged into the warm sunlight reflecting off of the clear, cool waters of the Chilliwack River and pulled off our boots. The waters were icy cold but moving lazily in the summer warmth. Smooth round stones dimpled our soles and spawning sockeye splashed in the clear shallows.

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We paused for a lunch break on a gravel bar and relaxed in the cool warmth as the sun began to cast shadows from the distant peaks high above. I set my pack down and waded out into the river and clambered onto a sun bleached log. Perching there, I watched the sockeye swim around in a deep, clear turquoise pool. They were in pairs, with the bright red males protectively hovering near their browner mate. The females swam sluggishly as they neared their final days while the males aggressively darted after any other fish that dared to intrude their private enclave.

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I munched on my Great Value Cajun Trailmix and stood up to go check on the other guys lounging on the gravel bar. Christian was sitting on his sleeping pad, leaning against his pack and napping after eating peanut butter. Seth was sitting on the rocks, resting and enjoying the view. I walked past them and waded in the shallows toward where the river forked and opened up. I reached into my sweat drenched pocket (or maybe it was just wet from the river) and pulled out my map to get an accurate bearing. To my right was old growth, bear-trodden forest. To my left rose the mountain we had just descended. Somewhere to my north lay Bear Creek Camp, where we were planning on spending the night. I rejoined the other two and asked their opinion. We could walk north along the river’s opaque water until we reached Bear Creek Camp, or we could head into the old growth forest and take the rarely used path to the campsite. We decided to go into the forest.

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We shouldered our packs, tightened the straps, grunted under the weight, and headed in. Christian and I still wore our flip flops, and we were soon sinking into that green, spongy carpet that appears in places rarely seen by humans and even rarer walked upon. The cool, vibrant forest covering filled our nostrils with the scent of a wildness and freedom. Evergreens with their piney scent. Decaying logs crumbling at first touch. Tendrils of moss and splotches of lichen on the occasional boulder. Sap-oozing bark. Huckleberry bushes.

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We walked for about an hour in the peaceful, pre-dusk light as the sun slunk lower behind Copper Ridge, and its fingers stretched through the trees dappling the greenery. Eventually, we encountered our first obstacle. A massive, lightning-struck, old thuja plicata  (common name: western redcedar) had toppled across the path. We couldn’t merely duck under with our packs, nor could we simply climb over – its diameter was too tall and the path opening too small. Seth crawled through first and we slid our packs to him. We continued on, stopping to admire the huge trees. Another lightning-felled tree blocked our path. This time we could scramble over the ancient fallen beast, and the decaying red flesh sprinkled across my sandal shod bare feet. A forest of ancients amid the complete silence.

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We encountered several other trees and either climbed over, crawled under, or hiked around them before reaching our campsite. As expected, no one was there. No one but a bear. We couldn’t see the bear, but we could smell rotting corpses of salmon down by the river, only thirty yards away. We made sure to hang up a good bear bag that night, far from camp. As we worked on filtering water, setting up camp, and exploring the woods directly around our camp, I kept expecting to hear the shout that a bear had been spotted. After all, we were camping where Bear Creek emptied into the Chilliwack River. We had two containers of bear spray, so we weren’t too worried, but we were sure to stay within earshot or radio distance of each other.

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After setting up camp and cooking up dinner, we hung up the rest of our food in our bear bag before heading to the pooper. Since it was an established campsite, there was a wooden toilet about 75 yards from camp. I opened it and the most horrific stench roared out. Christian and I both opted to defecate nearby while Seth braved it and launched brown falcons down the chute. The smell drifted towards us weaklings and I was grateful for the fresh air. After dropping the logs and covering up our catholes, we trekked back to camp with the beam of our headlamps illuminating our path. We prayed we wouldn’t wake up to a bear gnawing on our heads and fell asleep.

Map of our original planned route
Map of our original planned route

Read Chapters 1, 34, 56, and 7!

Adventure awaits!

– JC

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