August 16, 2019 1 Comment
A Northwest Washington-based photographer, Jefferson relocated to the Pacific Northwest from the mean streets of Bismarck, ND, in 2001. He picked up his first camera and never looked back. We follow him on a three day hike up Mount Forgotten in the North Cascades of Washington, armed with the 25L Uhuru Hiking Pack and joined by friend and fellow photographer Jay Oakes.
Text by Jefferson Morriss | @jeffersonvisuals
My dreary and heavy-laden eyes sprang to life when the clock hit 8:30 am. I had just gotten off work. Brimming with excitement, I sped home and took care of last-minute things with the family and then awaited my friend Jay’s arrival. We heaved our large packs into the back of my Subaru. Rocks kicked up and we were away. We would have two nights and three days in the North Cascades.
We pulled into a spacious parking lot along the Mountain Loop Highway. Grey chunks of gravel covered the lot and contrasted with the deep greens of the trees surrounding it. A few cars speckled the otherwise featureless trailhead this Friday morning.
What was an otherwise flat trail at the beginning, gently climbed up a rocky path through a lush valley for several miles. Seemingly endless tiered waterfalls littered the edges of the mountains and fell into the valley, disappearing out of sight. Moss-covered boulders rested along various talus slopes of the trail.
The weather acted like a temperamental child as we made our way up the Perry Creek trail to Mount Forgotten Meadows. Immersed in the rain one minute and bathed in sunlight the next, we weren’t sure what to expect next. The humid air made our skin feel weighed down and our lungs heavy.
At one point while taking a water break, we heard things crashing down near us in the thick vegetation. Was it rocks falling or some creature unbeknownst to us? We paused, listened, and then moved on, not having seen what may have been lurking.
After some steady hiking, we made it to Perry Creek Falls. A small but beautiful waterfall, whose features are largely hidden by the natural landscape. This was a great reprieve before the real slog started. The next two-miles would bring 2,000’ of elevation gain. The water-logged vegetation decided to shed its vast supply of reserves on us as we picked our way through the trail. The weather finally made its mind up by the time we reached the meadows - sunshine. Exhausted and tired, we started to dry off and look for a place to set up camp.
Clouds still lingered in the area, but the first thing I noticed was the very prominent and very intimidating looking Mount Forgotten. Trip reports made it seem very easy to scramble up. I couldn’t tell right now, but I sure hoped so.
Several small little tarns surrounded by soft grass, scattered rock, and a few sparse trees, made up Mount Forgotten Meadows. A boot path just behind the meadows led up to a small rocky overlook that made for some remarkable views of the area.
The sun started to sink below the mountains. Our tents were encompassed in shadow while the sun draped Glacier Peak, Mount Pugh and an endless vista of peaks in a warm alpenglow. A subtle gradient of colors slowly faded into the blue hour and then as if a veil was lifted, the stars were revealed.
After a futile attempt to sleep, I resigned to getting up around 4 a.m. The camp was quiet and Jay was out like a rock in his tent nearby. The faint glow of the sun was still hiding behind the mountains to the east of us. The small shriek of Pikas calling out amidst the rocky crags could be heard, breaking the silence of the camp. The crisp air kept the mosquitos at bay for now and Mount Forgotten was still in shadows.
I scrambled up the boot path to the small rocky overlook above camp. The ridgeline behind us was awash in the blonde morning light. The forest far below was shrouded in fog with only the tips of trees piercing through. Dim parallel ridges drew the eyes to Mount Baker which slowly came into the light some 50 miles to the north.
I called out for Jay below in camp. “Wake up, you’ve gotta see this!” After a few calls, I heard the tent zipper open and a face peeked out. He sauntered up the trail and joined me. The air started to warm up as the sun came over the jagged mountain peaks, casting long shadows into the deep valleys below.
Rather than take up my unwieldy 60-liter bag, I brought along my 25-liter Flowfold Uhuru bag, which is light and perfect for day hikes. The trail to forgotten drops a demoralizing 200’ right at the start into an overgrown trail. We picked our way through bushes and trees that decided to claim their natural right-of-way. We gradually climbed back up and carefully crossed over several scree piles and continued below the peak, in and out of the overgrown trail.
An idyllic meadow space, with a small tarn, scattered trees, and prolific views came into view as we crossed over to the backside of the mountain. The last major obstacle between us and the summit was a rocky gully. We treaded carefully, as we zig-zagged up through the loose gravel and onto a thin trail that leads up to the summit.
Jagged and crumbling rocks made up the summit block. We climbed up to an area that just had enough room for two or three people to sit or stand awkwardly. I busted out my Haribo summit berries (as I call them), took a breather, and admired the North Cascades. It was a good 1000’ of gain in a mile or so up this beast of a mountain and we could feel it.
After a short break, Jay decided he was going to climb over to what appeared to be the true summit (it’s maybe a foot higher). This necessitated dropping down slightly and then making a class 3 or 4 climb up a short but very exposed piece of rock. I watched nervously as he climbed up and awkwardly, but safely, straddled the rock and made it over. I yelled over to Jay to watch out! Sparrows were encircling the summit and dive-bombing all around us for some reason. He managed to safely find and sign the summit register without being picked off by a sparrow.
After powering up with some grub back at camp and a two-hour reprieve, we were on our way to Stillaguamish Peak. Unfortunately, like Mount Forgotten, this required dropping down into the forest again below the ridgeline at the start of our journey. Our boots kicked up dirt that filtered into the sunlight below the canopy. We climbed over downed trees and past boulder fields. The trail opened up into a hillside of wildflowers to our right and the fathomless valley below.
The trail climbed and climbed and then plateaued before dropping down again into a meadow area. Stillaguamish came into view, still a good mile away, and looked like giant shark tooth jutting out of the landscape.
By this time I was exhausted and my reserves were low. Jay, however, seemed like he could go on forever. The jagged peak came closer and closer, and with it renewed confidence each time. The last push sent us up loose rock on criss-crossing paths. It was hard to tell which led to the summit so we decided to just climb up and over a semi-exposed section. Compared to the summit of Mount Forgotten, this was spacious. We stepped onto a small meadow-like area that was roughly 30’ or 40’ long.
The beautiful South Lake sits several hundred feet below the summit. From up here, you could see through the lake and its deep gradient of blues and submerged rocks. Looking around, we could see a haze of yet unclimbed peaks in every direction.
Photo by Jay Oakes | www.waconcept.com
A few guys were laughing and enjoying some celebratory beers when we arrived. We started talking about hiking and pointing out which mountains nearby were fun or nightmares to hike up. After resting up for a while, we bid farewell and found a better path off the summit and descended safely.
The sun started slowly dropping in the sky as we hiked back, and by the time we arrived at the camp, the mountains were starting to come alive in a warm glow. The stars came up; our tent lights went out. We were exhausted but felt accomplished. Tomorrow we’d be home with our families and all the more richer with stories of adventure to tell.
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