North Cascades National Park's varied landscape in northern Washington has everything from rain forests, to flowered meadows to glacier-clad peaks.
By David Jensen
Clinging precariously to the summit of Forbidden Peak—a soaring pyramid of nearly vertical rock sheathed on three sides by shining, crevassed glaciers—my climbing partner and I soak in the sweeping view.
Here at 8,900 feet, surrounded by endless snowy mountains, I vow to climb each one someday. Their evocative names—Magic Mountain; Sinister and Inspiration peaks; mounts Terror, Fury, Formidable, Triumph, Despair—fit this intimidating yet enchanting landscape perfectly.
Despite the breathtaking alpine terrain, North Cascades National Park remains virtually deserted compared with America’s marquee national parks. Why?
Location plays a part. The park’s most famous feature, Mount Shuksan, isn’t its most impressive peak; it’s just the most impressive peak visible from Mount Baker Highway. Countless mountains of equal caliber remain unknown except among hikers and climbers willing to blaze their own trails.
Precipitation matters, too. Heavy snow mantles the higher elevations in radiant white, while rains nourish the dense forest that cloaks the lower slopes, making them impenetrable to the hesitant hiker.
Even on this trip, finishing our descent from Mount Forbidden, we grab for tree roots as we make our way down a steep, slippery trail under a hard rain, winding through a dripping forest of Douglas firs and western hemlocks. Every time I hike this park, I hike in the rain.
Although I don’t love getting wet or navigating puddles on the trail, I embrace the downpour. It’s transformative to see the way 100 inches of annual precipitation, blowing in from the Pacific Ocean, shapes the most remote and rugged region of snowy mountains found anywhere in the Lower 48. It’s why more than 300 glaciers crown North Cascades’ jagged peaks, putting celebrated Glacier National Park utterly to shame.
Photos by David Jensen