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Salmon of the North Cascades

By Andy Porter

Backpacking is a passion for me. Getting outdoors, hefting a big pack, climbing and sweating and enjoying solitude are all part of the allure. Then there are the views of stunning mountains, glaciers, forests and rivers. Breathing in the fresh air, feeling the hot sun, or wind and rain all bring one back to the basic roots of it all.

And sometimes you get blessed with wildlife encounters. I have been lucky enough to get close to deer, elk, black bear, marmots, mountain goats and once a wolverine.

But the wildlife encounter that stays in my mind and heart the most has to do with salmon.

In the North Cascades National Park, near the border with Canada there is a confluence of two streams: the Chilliwack River and Indian Creek. Each year in early August these two streams are filled with bright red salmon spawning.

I have made the long hike twice to be a part of their event, and both times have been completely awestruck.

Maybe it’s the remoteness of the place: It’s a long hike up over Hannegan pass and then down deep into the cleft where these streams meet. The surrounding peaks have foreboding names: Mount Terror, Phantom Peak and Mount Challenger and Mount Fury soar nearby, their jagged teeth gnashing the sky above. These glacier draped summits add to the sense of seclusion.

The trail plunges down from the heights of Copper Ridge to the ford of the Chilliwack. My sore aching feet welcome the cold fresh waters…then I hobble across a short section of wet forest and come to Indian Creek.

The creek was full of salmon, bright orange in color, hovering in the crystal clear water. Here Indian Creek is about 10 meters across, its banks enveloped with dark green. The sky is a narrowing strip curving away.

Looking up steam, back towards the North Cascades, the channel is choked with fallen trees. The river bed is here soft silt and there brightly colored stones, adding to the illusion of the salmon practicing a form of levitation.

The view north, towards Canada is equally alluring, the confluence of the two streams creates an opening. The sky is now blue with dark clouds gathering.

I feel like I have been transported to an entirely different point of the globe. Time seems to stand still. There is a fallen tree stretching out in the middle of the stream and I make my way there. A birch provides some support as I try to balance myself and marvel at the majesty of the fish.

This is what wilderness is all about.

Andy Porter is a Washington based photographer capturing the wild beauty of the great outdoors in the Northwest. Learn more