Remote, beautiful, difficult.
Those adjectives only go part-way to describing a rough week of backpacking deep in the North Cascades.
It was also a trip that challenged our spirits. High heat turned the forest into a biting-insect filled oven clouded by dense smoke from nearby fires in Canada and Eastern Washington.
It could have gone very wrong. But our group of five sturdy backpackers stayed positive and made the best of a wild experience along the north edge of the Picket Range at Whatcom Pass.
Over the course of a week, we saw only six other hikers. For three days, we saw nobody, save for a couple of shy black bears.
Our route took us on the “Beaver Loop,” starting on the Little Beaver Trail on the north end of Ross Lake. It took two days of hard hiking to reach the edge of the Pickets, on the shoulder of Whatcom Peak and within reach of legendary Mount Challenger.
Hot weather and smoke-filled skies cooked us, but we persevered. We spent a lovely day on the flank of Whatcom Peak and then camped high above Whatcom Pass at Tapto Lakes, as close as you can find to a perfect, backcountry camping destination.
Then it was an epic-two day push out on the Big Beaver Trail, with a final-day, 18-mile death march to Ross Lake.
What can you say after 60 miles of rugged hiking under such challenging conditions? It was exhausting, but rejuvenating at the same time. We were tested, persevered and experienced something truly wild and wonderful.