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Suiattle River Trail

Glacier Peak Wilderness May 13-14, 2000

By Jim Walke

Deep snow still ruled the high country, but I had to get out. Various obligations had kept my pack in the closet for months, but I finally had the time and even a hiking partner. Now, all we needed was a trail. Most of the thousands of options in the Cascades were still socked in under deep snow, but we wanted a taste of summer backpacking. So, escaped the Seattle area early on a beautiful May Saturday morning, heading for Darrington and points beyond.

I expected plenty of company from other winter-mad hikers, especially since we had perfect weather, but our car was only the third at the trailhead and we saw a total of three people and a dog all weekend. Perhaps it was the 20-mile washboard-filled dirt access road…

The exhilaration of being back in the harness floated me along the first couple of miles as the trail wound along the steep flank of the Suiattle, coiling slowly through old growth forest. Flashes of sunlight illuminated the ancient woods, and breaks in the trees provided views of the river as well as the snow-capped peaks beyond. The snow in the high country is obviously melting quickly, and every undulation of the valley wall was a new streambed. The larger, year-round streams were running full, leaping off a sheer face several hundred feet above us before choosing a route down to the river below.


The weather was perfect for backpacking, high 60's with some sun and a bit of a breeze. Not too hot and only a handful of bugs the whole trip. Between the perfect weather, the empty trail and the plethora of waterfalls from which to choose for lunch stops and rest breaks, we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. Happily, it never did.

We hiked in 12.4 miles to meet the PCT where it comes down to cross the river at 3000'. We began to see small patches of snow along the trail, and knew that if we followed the PCT north or south we would meet lurking walls of the white stuff, so we backtracked a bit and set up camp by the roaring Miner's Creek. This waterway is really more of a river at this time of year, and is spanned by a bridge that is a Forest Service work of art. The sound of the water amongst the boulder provided a counterpoint to our fireside conversation far into the night, and finally outlasted us so we headed for bed.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and my hiking partner wanted to head out early and hike a bit solo. We were both sore as hell (first trip in a while, remember) and agreed that splitting up would allow us to concentrate on our own individual hiking without being distracted by assorted creaking and swearing from the other. I had enough trouble creaking and swearing on my own, much less in harmony…

The hike out was just as beautiful, and the solitude and utter silence let me fall into a sort of reverie as I motored. I simply tried to take in everything. I am sure that I failed to grasp it all, but even the tiny chunk that I absorbed remains with me now, and I can close my eyes today and still see the Suiattle and its beautiful valley.

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