Last week we noticed a perfect fall weather window in the North Cascades of Washington state. It is a place we want to explore more and the impending end of Samantha’s maternity leave was enough to instigate the four hour trip north with very little notice or planning.
The Methow valley and its namesake river drains the 1,890 square mile watershed of the Eastern North Cascades. HWY 20 begins in the valley and crosses the spectacular and remote northern portion of the Cascade Mountains and is considered to be one of the most scenic ‘highways’ ever laid in the United States. A few towns are situated near its Eastern terminus at 10 mile intervals; their economies slowly evolving from agriculture to outdoor oriented tourism as people like us discover, fall in love with and return to the beautiful valley at the entrance to the North Cascades. This would be our third visit in as many years.
We chose to stay at a particularly unique ‘hut’ situated near Mazama. Not only was this well designed modern-minimalist hut beautiful, but it allowed us to set up a temporary base camp at the foot of the mountains we came to explore.
We made a pit stop in the particularly charming town of Winthrop who’s old west appearance is more fabricated than many will admit (similarly to Leavenworth, WA and their Bavarian design standard requirements) yet still gives off an enjoyably authentic vibe for the time being.
This small rural town vibe (especially on weekdays) makes it hard to not strike up a conversation with a nearby stranger and we spent the second half of dinner at the ‘Old School House Brewery next to the Chewuch river talking to a couple from Seattle with a baby one third of Aubrin’s age. Moments like that remind us how small Aubrin use to be, and contrarily how much she has already grown.
The sun fell behind the ridge line as we drove 8 or 9 minutes to the hut, passing mostly rural farm land tucked into the increasingly tight valley. Upon arrival the unassuming approach to the hut only heightened the pleasure of entry. Its roof floats on a continuous, unbroken clerestory window. One wall and only one wall provides view, not through a punctured opening in it, but by removing the wall all together. Void of the superfluous and in sync with its surroundings we had everything we needed and nothing that we didn’t.
I set to work building a fire while Aubrin took the opportunity to stretch out on the platform bed after the long drive from Yakima. It was an enchanting evening under the stars. Aubrin slept silently while the fire crackled and popped, painting a soft glow on our faces. The stars circled imperceptibly ‘slow’ overhead.
We were thankful for clear skies and appreciative of cool fall weather but we were not prepared for what the second night would deliver. As the fire faded, a glow appeared on the Northern horizon where the huts view is oriented. Akin to the light pollution of a city in the distance it could have been easily dismissed, but I wasn’t aware of any town between us and the Canadian boarder and the glow was not present the previous evening.
A chill of excitement rushed over my body and I grabbed the camera and tripod. As I set up in a hurried manner the glow intensified, gained a green color topped by purple tones and columns of light began to shoot skyward. We were witnessing the northern lights for the first time in our lives. The light shifted and pulsed at a rapid frequency; characteristics lost in my amateur decision to shoot longer exposures (as I am used to for stars) that smoothed out the movements into an even glow.
Unlike the two previous incredible experiences of the year (the birth of Aubrin and a total solar eclipse) this one was not completely expected, the result of being in the right place at the right time.
Come morning we set our sights on the most ambitious hike to date with Aubrin but our start was pleasurably delayed after picking up two hitch-hikers.
We have a fond spot in our hearts and pure admiration for those deciding to spend six months of their lives hiking from the Mexican boarder to the Canadian boarder and it was clear that these two were PCT ‘hiker trash’ (a self applied nickname). Those taking on this intimidating journey often rely on the kindness of strangers to get into town and pick up the food caches that they have sent to specific locations along the trail. We were the perfect candidates to pick them up because the start of our hike was at Rainy Pass where the PCT crosses highway 20 before the last three day stretch of trail to the Canadian Boarder. A stretch that can be notoriously cold, wet and snowy as weary through-hikers come to the end of their journey in September and October.
Lucky for them however, Dawn and Danny were enjoying the same beautiful weather window that brought us North and we enjoyed an outdoor breakfast near a glassy pond while living vicariously through their trail tales. They had met a few hundred miles into the 2650 trek and remained by each others side for all but a few days of it; the product of miscommunication that left them hiking at a feverish pace in an attempt to reconnect. They had the expected tales of discomfort, in-climate weather and interesting social dynamics on the increasingly popular trail but what I found most unique was that Danny was hiking the trail with epilepsy; a condition that does not allow him to drive an automobile but has been able to keep at bay thanks to the medical application of Marijuana. What an incredible way to experience the entire West coast, by following its high points, on foot, for six months…no automobile needed.
Before long we said our goodbyes at the trail head and parted ways.
Being parents to an infant on trail isn’t harder, it just requires a little more patience and a little more foresight; and the joy that you receive in return is immeasurable. At the end of the day they are going to eat and poop regardless of where you are, so it might as well be somewhere beautiful!
Aubrin may not retain these memories of PNW travel during her early years but when we watch her eyes follow the movements of a bird in a still forest, or slowly crane her neck inquisitively toward the forest canopy, or become mesmerized by the dancing light and shadow on the translucent tent walls, or turn towards the sounds of crashing waves during her first experience at the edge of the ocean I am assured that continuing to share these beautiful and stimulating environments is the best thing we can continue to do for all three of us.
Unrelated to this trip but on the topic of exploring with Aubrin it is about time we catch you up on some of our PNW excursions since getting back from our cross country trip! Below you will find a smattering of photos and videos from a summer spent attending concerts in vineyards, delivering our accidental rooster to a farm sanctuary, exploring back country lakes in Oregon, catching sunrise hot air balloon launches, getting views from the Tatoosh range, living in a tent in the forest next to the Pacific ocean, hiking portions of the Pacific Crest Trail and a bunch of other micro adventures that have kept us busy and full of laughter!