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My friend Cindy came to visit from Grant County and she really likes to hike the Maple Pass trail so on Monday, that’s what we did. Us and over 100 other hikers. The place has become overrun with visitors. The restrooms were strewn with trash from the weekend. It was pretty appalling. I heard that someone else estimated 500 hikers on a weekend day. Egads. While this place is over-the-top beautiful, I may take it off of my list of places to hike. Cindy agreed and said she is ready to explore new trails next time.

This hike at this time of the year is nearly irresistible. How can you NOT do this? Just the drive to the trailhead is enough to make you stop and pay attention.

This hike had just about everything – stunning fall colors, lingering wildflowers, grand vistas, perfect weather, wildlife sightings. Oh my.

We got out early and made the long and arduous drive to the Freezeout trailhead in order to hike up to 8000 plus foot Tiffany Mountain. The road is rocky but passable for most cars. It just takes a while. And I took even longer because I kept stopping to look at and photograph the fall colors. Some of the aspens were a vivid orange red instead of yellow. The dogs were getting anxious since I wasn’t letting them out. At the trailhead, while I was fiddling with my gear and before the dogs were out of the car, I heard a strange bellowing sound. It was something I’d never heard before. Bigfoot? I didn’t hear any thrashing around in the brush and wasn’t sure what to make of it but I had an idea of what it was.

The dogs wore their orange vests because it is hunting season for bear and grouse and also archery deer season. I had hardly seen anyone along the way but I figured it was better to be safe. The car said it was 45 degrees in the sun and on the shaded trail I found frost. There were some migrating raptors, mostly accipitors that I identified – Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. There were lots of Clark’s Nutcrackers gathering seeds and making raucous calls. Chickadees and kinglets and bluebirds and juncos too. I saw a pika in the rocks near the mountain top.

The larches were vivid. The golden needles against the blue sky takes my breath away. The views that unfolded as I walked above the treeline were also breathtaking. I could see the North Cascades all the way to Mount Baker. Farther south, there was Glacier Peak. And I could see the continuing smoke from the Crescent Mountain wildfire. It will burn til the snow falls.

When we were returning to the trailhead, I heard some thrashing through the brush ahead and to the right. And then a cow moose crossed the trail not 100 feet ahead of us and she was followed by a bull moose! So that was the sound I heard earlier. The bull moose was bugling! It all happened pretty fast so no photos. There are moose in various places around this region but you just don’t see them very often.

Summer has come to an abrupt end. The good news is that wildfires no longer threaten people and their homes and soon the smoke will be gone from the valley.

Last week Mary and I and our pack of dogs headed for Harts Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. We had a good hike to Grasshopper Pass, going past many PCT thru hikers who were anxious to keep walking. If everything went well for them, they’d be in Canada, 35 miles away, the next day. A few flowers were still blooming and we heard marmots and pikas and we ate a few huckleberries along the way. We had a little sunshine, some breezes, a little misty rain and ever-changing light. It was really lovely.

But it was stunningly beautiful. Easy Pass. It’s another great hike right off of highway 20 through the North Cascades. It starts out in a green, moist forest, something we don’t get to experience very often. That is because it is west of the Cascade Crest where there is more precipitation and it’s not as hot. Much of the trail goes in and out of the forest giving some respite from the sunshine. We had a fair amount of off and on cloud cover in addition to somewhat hazy skies as a result of wildfires. At a certain point the trail really gets to work – sending you up and over seemingly never ending talus slopes. Ok, I’m not in very good shape and the steepness was pretty hard on me, both going up and going down. Even Luna and Sky were pretty tired. But the views were worth it. And there were creeks most of the way so the dogs had plenty of chances to cool themselves.

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