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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.

Our other nice hike last week, was along the Chain of Lakes trail starting at Artist Point. There are many superlatives written about Artist Point and I’m sure they are all true. I was there a little past the peak of wildflowers and smoke continued to dim my views. I did finally get to see Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan on this day. And there were lots of wildflowers to enjoy. Luna found snow patches for rolling and cooling her feet.

We started the hike in a clockwise direction going to Mazama and Iceberg Lakes before backtracking. I think on another day I would start at Heather Meadows and do the whole loop in a counter clockwise direction. Near the start of the trail I chatted with a young man carrying a snowboard and boots on his back. He was headed for the snow fields on the flanks of Mt Baker. He said he worked at a Montana ski resort in the winter and he liked to ski every month of the year! A true ski bum if there ever was one! He seemed to be living his dream.

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.

Last week the girls and I hiked to Rock Mountain. The trail starts at Tiffany Springs campground which was full of campers. Unusual to say the least. It’s a long bumpety bump road to Tiffany Springs and few people make the trek up there. The Washington Native Plant Society was having a weekend of plant hunting and quite a group of amateur and professional botanists were out on the trails in search of rare plants. They are pretty good folks to be around – quite willing to answer questions about plants and other natural history topics. One of them did try to tell me I was going to Middle Tiffany Mountain and not Rock Mountain but after looking at my map and asking a friend who is familiar with the area, I’m quite sure I went to Rock Mountain.

The trails goes first to Tiffany Lake, an idyllic mountain lake, home to non-native, but tasty, brook trout. No one was fishing when we went by so the girls enjoyed chasing sticks in the cold water til the mosquitoes and black flies forced me back on the trail. The bugs followed us all the way to Honeymoon Pass and then finally let up when we got into a pleasant breeze. From there a person just follows the view across the rocky slopes to the mountain top. Lots of wildflowers and a few birds were interesting distractions and good excuses to go slow.

The girls and I and Molly and Mary went to Blue Lake last week. It was a perfect day for a spectacular hike. The weather was just right – sunny and not too hot. The flowers were just starting along the trail. There will be many more days of flowers in the North Cascades. We were grateful for a light breeze that kept the bugs away. The water was cold and Molly showed that she was smarter than Sky when she declined to jump in the lake after a few times. There were small chunks of ice floating in the brilliant blue water.

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