This weekend we hiked up to Excelsior Pass then followed a non-official route/boot track west along the ridge toward Church Mountain. This area is north of Mt Baker in the North Cascade mountain range of northwest Washington state. It is on the Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It's about 1.3 hour drive east from Bellingham, Washington. This small sliver of the North Cascades does not have massive craggy peaks like North Cascades proper. Though, big craggy peaks are close by. The area around Church Mtn has rolling subalpine terrain which is like the high country of southern Washington and Oregon Cascades.
Excelsior Pass trail is crowded. Right after we arrived about 7 carloads of a Canadian senior citizen hiking club pulled in, on top of the 6+ cars already there. No solitude here. It was quite different from when I was last here in August '06 but that was on a weekday. There were a lot of parents with little kids and grandma and other normal people.
Excelsior Pass is a rolling, meadow area of heather and groves of subalpine fir. Most people head up the knob to the west or further on to Welcome Pass. To avoid crowds we followed the non-official, boot-built path east toward Church Mtn which passes over several knobs.
There were views in most directions. It was amazing to see all the way south to Glacier Peak and to the mountains north of Vancouver, British Columbia. And of course closer peaks like Tomyhoi and American Border.
We followed the ridge in the photo above then dropped down into the hole at the bottom of the slope (in the photo below) north of Pk 5595.
My goal was to set up a remote base camp off-trail then explore further from there. However, the terrain was rougher and bushier off-trail than anticipated, clouds were moving in (I didn't want to bushwhack out in the rain) and the mosquitoes and black flies were bad from the adjacent subalpine swamp.
After filling up water bottles we decided to bail on camping here.
We bushwhacked back up to the gap east of Pk 5595 and walked back out on the ridge. It cleared up and the sun was more to our backs allowing for better pics of the scenery.
The clouds cleared off and bit and the sun came out for a pleasant evening. Crazy J and Big D thought it was a bit toasty and used lingering snowpatches to cool off.
We thought we'd camp at Canyon Lake but there were still a lot of people at Excelsior Pass. I wanted to fish early next morning so we wussed out on the backcountry camping. One way or the other, I'd use the new ENO Doublenest, new bugnet rig and new tarp. So, we hiked back out to trailhead, passing even more people (!) and drove down the Canyon Creek Road (FR 31) and car-camped at an old logging landing on lower Kidney Creek Rd.
Notice the two forest types in the above photo. The lower is planted, second growth and the higher is virgin old growth forest. There's been almost no logging on federal National Forests in western Washington and western Oregon since 1990 since the big spotted owl injunction. Black-tailed deer, ruffed grouse populations (popular game species that increase with clearcut logging) are in drastic decline as second growth forests grow up and close in. But, spotted owl populations are plummeting too even though old growth logging has pretty much been stopped. Barred owls from the east have moved in, particularly in the last 10 years, pushing out spotted owls from habitat. We saw a barred owl on the side of the road on the drive in. I'll leave it at that. Anyway...
We car-camped at an old (1980s) logging landing. I pitched the new Equinox 8’ x 10’ sil-nylon tarp from Campmor between 2 slender red alder trees. They seemed sturdy enough. For a ridgeline I used Kelty Triptease cord which I love but at $15 for 50 feet is too expensive! The night before I sprayed the ENO Doublenest and the Epco Sleepscreen 1 with Permethrin bought at the Bellingham REI. I just eyeball the sag. I'm biased against a sag-setting ridgeline since I almost decapitate myself when I climb into a HH Backpacker A-sym with its ridgeline.
I rigged the Epco Sleepscreen over my head with the Kelty cord for a bug net. It worked OK at my head and above. But below was a different story. The bugnet's stock strap was annoying. The lower end kept sliding up next to my chin. The breeze pushed it up as well. If I could fasten the lower end of the Epco Sleepscreen 1 bugnet to the hammock and remove the strap it'd probably be OK although not 100% bug proof due to gaps.
I took the stock carabiners off the ENO Doublenest and replaced them with Spectra climbing rope to save a few ounces. It was the same kind of rope JustJeff recommends on his DIY hammock webpage. It felt secure and worked just fine. I tied the Spectra cord to stock HH treehuggers.
Mosquitoes were out at evening but went to bed at night so I don't know how the rigged bugnet would work in really buggy conditions.
During the night, a cold front with showers moved in. The tarp handled light showers and breezes well, a lot better than the stock HH Backpacker A-sym tarp would. Crazy J had a bout of smelly flatulence so my wife kicked him out the car where he then slept under the tarp and stayed dry. Big D has elderly insanity and spent most of the night on guard duty under the tarp too but watching for unknown invaders. Both slept under me during the wee hours of the morning.
I did not get cold but it only dropped down to 45 degrees at the lowest. Clouds held in atmospheric warmth and I was in a North Face 30 degree rated down sleeping bag that I can tuck around me to close off drafts. I don't like quilts for this reason.
I used a 3/4 lenght Cascade Designs Z-Rest for a pad which normally I don't like since it bunches up in a hammock and coverage is poor. But it is light and packs well. Big Agnes has my REM Air Core pad for repair via warranty.
When I got in the hammock, the young, slender red alder trees bent, increasing the sag of the tarp's ridgeline and hammock. When the wind blew, the tarp flapped and woke me up once or twice. The bendy red alder trees also increased the hammock's sag but that was not a problem. Once I was situated and found the sweet spot, it was one of the most comfortable nights ever camping since 1985, the real beginning of my camping career. It was hard to get up out of bed.
In the morning I fly fished for about 2 hours and caught one 5" rainbow trout. I'm not a good fly fisher and most western Washington rivers are not good resident trout habitat and don't provide good fishing unless they're stocked (which is rarely if ever in the interest of preserving native salmon & steelhead). Western Washington rivers get blown out by snowmelt runoff; they're just cold water and bare rock. Or as a longtime Forest Service fish biologist told me, "the poor year round conditions drive anadromy". What he meant was that mountain creeks are a good place to be a baby fish and spawn but not a good place to grow long and fat, unlike more inland trout waters. But the lakes can be a different story