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Saturday, May 22, 2010

North Fork Cascade River, May 15-16 2010

Well, it's avalanche season, and while winter finally showed up in April, the lower elevations (below 3.5k feet) are totally devoid of snow. I mention this because the paucity of snow dictated that we camp above the parking lot at the end of Cascade River road. We prefer a location lower in the valley because it offers the best view of all avalanche chutes, and the best opportunity to experience "The Big One" first hand.

[In the 20 or so years I've been searching for The Big One, I've had the pleasure of experiencing two such events (April 1995), with May 2008 bringing four large events, though not quite the same magnitude of The Big One. (TBO event would fill an NFL stadium lower bowl in a matter of minutes). Last year saw one weekend totally quiet, and the next packed with some large and many respectable events.]

2010 has been difficult to get out for avalanche hunting--weather and other personal events finally relented last weekend, so Athena and I headed up with our good friend John Edwards, John's son Zach, and Ola Edwards, a charming woman that has followed in the footsteps of (indeed, inspired by) Joe and Margaret Miller, contributing greatly to our understanding and preservation of flora in mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest. The lack of snow and avalanche debris at lower elevations is remarkable--we were able to drive to where we normally camp, and saw no evidence of activity in any of the lower chutes on the N side of the valley--not even at Boston/Midas or Soldier Boy creeks.
The upper elevations have a more "normal" snowpack, and as such, towards the head of the valley shows evidence of much greater activity. The debris described in the below photo is what's left from a TBO event--this is only 60% of the total mass that came off the slabs below Triplets and Cascade Peak.

After a nice lunch, Athena and I carried on to our camp and the Edwards' headed out. While we were there--a total of 30 hours, we didn't see too many events, experiencing about two respectable events per hour for each hour on-site, to include some rousing events during the night. The North Fork Cascade River is a wonderful, powerful, restful place to be--a gathering headwaters worth living and experiencing even without big avalanche events. Waterfalls near and far, high and low provide a backdrop of pleasing sounds, punctuated by the occasional roar and rumble as tons of snow cascade down the mile-high relief of this incredible place.
As it pertains to American Alps Legacy Project, we conducted a bit of informal research. Over the past decade, I've noticed a significant increase in the number of people visiting The Valley in Spring. Whereas I/we used to be alone the entire weekend, now there are plenty of backcountry skiers and folks venturing around on snowshoes, enjoying our National Parks.
I have recently become aware of a vocal minority of downhill/backcountry skiers concerned about American Alps, mistakenly believing Park designation will somehow inhibit their ability to access the backcountry. Based on my real-life experiences over the years, and a weekend of watching DOZENS of backcountry skiers enjoying the upper N Fork Cascade Valley, and visiting with many, I can say with confidence that people come to this place BECAUSE it is a National Park!
But this weekend was really about the wildlife, and in particular, the biggest black bear I've ever seen in the Cascades.

I've watched this bear since it was a cub five-plus years ago, and Athena and I have seen it two of the past three years. Last year we didn't see it, but camped on it's heels (literally camped on his tracks). This year, we camped in the same place, and ended up a day ahead of him. During breakfeast, at about 8:45 Sunday, Yogi walked up to the tent, and would have come in. We could hear his footfalls in the snow coming closer and closer. We were hoping he'd stop in recognition of the tent, but it became apparent when he was just 10 paces off that he was not going to stop. We made our presence known, not wanting a breakfast companion--sorry Yogi, three's a crowd at this Sunday breakfast. Besides, it's a two PERSON tent! Yogi was unhappy, and after running about 20 yards away from us,turned and gave us a Sunday growl...

Needless to say, the opportunity to experience wildlife such as this up close is due to the fact the land is designated as National Park. The only way this bear lives, and lives to become so large is because he lives in a National Park. Ironically, hunters stand to gain from American Alps as well: studies and experience show that National Parks (where hunting is illegal) increases numbers of animals, and thus opportunities for animals to migrate out of protected areas.
Of course, there were other wildlife encounters on this weekend as well...


chrisw said...

Actually I am one of the vocal minority to which you refer and you are as usual misrepresenting our fears.
My concern is the highway20 study area. There are study areas that make sense for park expansion.
The highway 20 study area does not as it would curtail existing recreational activites allowed under USFS governance.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Not sure why Chrisw chose this post to talk about the Hwy20 corridor, it's a long way from Cascade Pass! I wonder which specific activities you're concerned about along the 20 corridor... dog-walking? N3C's big concern is that some future administration can with the stroke of a pen open this pristine (well, other than highway itself) area to logging, which would be a travesty. Can you visualize this corridor looking like Snoqualmie Pass, full of patch cuts? To prevent that from ever being even a remote possibility, I, personally, will take my puppy elsewhere.

eastsider said...

Cascade Pass is hardly "a long way" from Highway 20.
Here are some activities Anonymous is wondering about that would most likely be curtailed at some point with a stroke of the NPS pen if park expansion is allowed:
Commercial recreational use
Taking your puppy for a walk/hike (don't underestimate this public enjoyment)
Permit free camping
Mountain Biking

No one can imagine the Highway 20 corridor looking like I-90 because it is protected as scenic highway corridor and its the crown jewel of the USFS.
Go ahead and take your puppy elsewhere along with your "remote possibility" fear-mongering.

Adria said...

Guess you never went hiking in an old-growth forest and came back a year later and found it clear-cut, converted to moonscape, buzzing with 4-wheelers. Sure, preservation is based on fear - so is anything done to prevent a catastrophe. The USFS is currently behaving itself, generally, but all it will take is a policy-180 under a future tea-party administration and a lot of the unprotected land you and I both enjoy may be under the ax. That's why there's a Wilderness Act, for example, so that more than an administrative decision in the Agriculture Dept. (USFS) would be required to clearcut pristine forest. You don't think that'd ever happen in the American Alps study areas, like the "Scenic Corridor?" Well, then why not protect it permanently and be sure it never happens? Maybe you'll have to give up some playground for the activities you list, but if that's the choice - between protection and unprotected playground, I choose protection, yes, even if that means I have to limit what I do.