At the trailhead Below the parking area
Cascade Pass lies at the east end of Cascade River Rd. 23 miles outside of Marblemount, Wa. A fairly large parking area marks the end of the curvy, steep in places mostly gravel road road and the beginning of the
Cascade Pass trail which rises 1,800' in 3.7 miles on easy switchbacks. The pass itself is amazing, with Mix-Up, the Triplets and Johannesburg Mtn. rising steeply on the south, opposite, a steep path departs
north towards Doubtful Lake overlook onto Sahale Arm and continuing 28 miles eastward is the trail leading to Stehekin. Few can deny the views from this pass and the last few miles of road up to it rival, if not surpass those of nearby highway 20.
I had done this trip for the first time three days earlier to kind of 'wrap up' the summer hiking season, it was a beautiful October Sunday and just as my favorite hiking books predicted-it was packed, like fifty
cars in the lot packed. So on that trip, when I saw my first up-close bear sighting on a solo hike it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated my first 'all by myself-holy shit a bear' experience would go down.
By the time I was on Sahale Arm I could see a group of people from probably every stretch of the upper trail and in retrospect I believe that might have been what boosted my confidence, long overview short
the first bear I saw was obviously a Black bear.
View east from the pass Beginning of Sahale Arm
I arrived at the trailhead at 11:30am to find zero cars in the parking lot, another beautiful late October day-I felt lucky to have the pass to myself. I hurried up the switchbacks, every now and then I could hear
snow and rock tumbling down Johannesburg quickening my pace in an attept to see it. Reaching the pass at 12:30pm I was feeling pretty good about myself, I pondered what to do next. Should I stay at the pass and
soak in the views, maybe go to Stehekin? No, I wasn't feeling lazy or crazy so I decided to brave Sahale Arm. Armed with a tiny bear bell attached to an eight foot long bamboo pole, I cautiously ascended the switchbacks to the Doubtful Lake overlook. "Doubtful I'll visit that lake" I said aloud partly because of the toll it would take on someones knees and mostly to make as much noise as I could.
While passing the overlook at 1:00pm, still no bear and I was doing great-I was definately making alot of noise, but just as I round one of the corners on the upper reaches of Sahale Arm there it was, an honest 100 yards away, I start ringing the bell. It took a moment for the bear to actually look my way but when it did I can honestly say that I experienced a little intimidation, definitely more than my encounter the previous Sunday.
"Well, Thats probably good enough for me" explaining that this was as far as a would go. It was late, I didn't have crampons to proceed onto Sahale Glacier, I was hungry, the list just started to go on at that moment. And so, after snapping off as many pictures of this guy as my 3.2 megapixel Olympus could crank out I decided to find a spot as downwind from the bear as possible for me to eat some food and remember why I thought it would be clever to bring chipotle cranberry chedder cheese and smoked salmon for lunch.
Looking towards Stehekin Sahale Mountain
There I sat, looking over my shoulder every five seconds, snapping pictures and trying not to choke as I scarfed my food before I packed up.
The Pass itself The Pass and 'Patio'
Realizing I didn't own snowshoes I treated this as the last sub-alpine hike of 2010 and slowly made my way back down Sahale Arm. Looking west towards Hidden Lake Peaks I could see a weather system coming in, and probably the one to bring the first snow of the season as well. It felt great to have such a popular place all to myself as I stopped at the pass and relaxed for a while before descending the switchbacks. Finally reaching the car around 4:00pm I started up my truck and quickly surveyed my photos for the day, looking at the bear I noticed his face dished in from his brow to his nose and he had a hump on his back. I know Black Bears can range from brown to cinnamon but could it be that I saw one of "maybe 25 in the North Cascades" as stated in one of my hiking books?
I would feel pretty lucky if so.