There is nothing quite like bathing in a sub-alpine lake at the end of a long hiking day, I thought to myself as I stood naked and refreshed having just shed layers of dust and sweat.
The sun warmed me, and a cool breeze kissed my skin. Craggy Bowen Peak stood watch to the east, flanked by the ridge line we had just zig zagged, huffed and puffed our way up and over. Alpine larch trees (the northwest’s only deciduous coniferous tree) towered above me, and a tiny pika “meep”-ed from the boulder field plunging down the mountain.
I felt another wave of contentment wash over me as I drew a breath of crisp mountain air deep into my lungs.
For our 11th annual anniversary backpack adventure, we chose North Cascades National Park, a relative newcomer to the national park system, designated only in 1968 after a hard fought battle to protect its rugged landscape. (The park was further protected in 1988 when 93% of it was designated as the Stephen Mather Wilderness.) The iconic, singular peaks of the more southern Cascade Mountains give way to jagged ridgelines and dozens of glaciated peaks here.
Although much of our 35-mile loop hike was in the shade of grand old growth ponderosa pine, douglas fir, larch, sub-alpine fir, western white pine, and Engleman spruce forests, we were treated to breathtaking views that spread across entire watersheds on a daily basis. Gunmetal grey peaks rising from unbroken forest, topped with massive glaciated ice fields. Clear, cold streams tumbling down rock faces or cutting their way through wildflower meadows.
Nowhere else do I feel quite as happy and serene as I do when I am miles from a road or a town. There is something so pleasingly (and perhaps deceptively) simple about a walk in the wild. In the backcountry, there are no “shoulds” and there are very few musts: food, water, warmth, and shelter. That’s about it. There is something about wide open spaces that allows me to open myself to the present moment. By shedding the “shoulds” I am able to embrace whatever is in front of me, right now, without getting bogged down with the chatter that usually fills my brain. And by focussing on the present, I can rest in my heart rather than my head. For me, self-reliance breeds contentment.
We didn’t have any encounters with big wildlife on this trip (although we did get a good look at an American marten that sat in the middle of the trail before darting off into the forest) and we missed the peak of the wildflowers (but with some notable blooms, including the somewhat rare monkshood, one of my favorites).
Yet, I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed because I got to spend another wonderful anniversary with the love of my life where I am my best self, in the wild.