north cascades

Photo of the month: Reflections on Golden Larches and Enchanted Places

Written and Photographed by Joshua Stern, Northwest Photographer

Every autumn there is an amazing transformation that takes place in the North Cascades—the turning of the larches. These beautiful deciduous conifers abandon their summer green for the warm glow of fall. This natural phenomenon is best showcased amongst the granite peaks and alpine lakes of The Enchantments. To protect this fragile environment wilderness permits, which are limited and difficult to obtain, are required for overnight trips. Unfortunately, I was unable to secure a permit during peak season and knew my only option was a one-day thru hike.

I have always been reticent about thru hiking this route knowing the 18-mile grind would keep me out of the core of the Enchantments during the golden hour. Watching the weather I realized there would be a single bluebird day immediately following a snowstorm. Despite my reservations, the thought of golden larches, alpine lakes, and granite peaks dusted in snow was too powerful to be ignored.

All I can say is the Enchantments blew me away. For the majority of the hike I was in complete awe and left at a loss for words. Every turn in the trail brought a new magical paradise. Nothing exemplified this like the view from Leprechaun Lake: a perfect reflection of golden larches and a snowy McClellan Peak painted on the lake’s still surface. To capture this image, I had to balance, crouching precariously, on the slippery rocks at the edge of lake. Even today, I am left with a perfect memory of that moment, framed in my mind.

I spend much of my time in the mountains and when I am not out in the wilderness I am home thinking about where to explore next. I keep heading back into the mountains for the adventure and challenge each new experience brings. I love our public lands and cherish the environment, as they are what fuel me. However, now more than ever, I fear for their preservation. It's up to us to fight for these special places.

Joshua Stern is a New York transplant who fell in love with the wild landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. He spends his time in the mountains climbing alpine rock, skiing backcountry powder, and backpacking while always searching for the perfect image. You can see more of his work and follow his adventures on Instagram @alpinenapping.

Meadows on a Mountain: The August Photo of the Month


Sahale Arm Trail, North Cascades National Park, WA

Written and Photographed by Sam Davis, Northwest Photographer

It was Fourth of July weekend, and not wanting to be surrounded by people blowing things up, my wife and I decided to load up the truck and head for the mountains. We had a better idea in mind for celebrating our independence and it consisted of a trip to Sahale Arm.

Our original plan was to snag a permit at the Marblemount Ranger Station and spend the night at the Sahale Glacier Camp, but unfortunately all of the spots had been claimed so we decided to make it a day trip instead.

Having been in the area before that year on El Dorado, I was excited to get a slightly different perspective from Sahale Arm of the surrounding peaks. After making it through the seemingly endless switchbacks, we were finally rewarded with open views of Johannesburg Mountain.

Continuing on the trail, we saw a few deer making their way through the brush and enjoying the beautiful weather and views. As we approached the Sahale Arm we were treated to breathtaking views of some of my favorite North Cascade Peaks including Eldorado, Forbidden, The Triplets and Mixup.

Having reached a great resting spot with 360 degrees of stunning views, we fueled up and soaked in the sunshine. Our plan was to enjoy the weather and take our time to explore. With the sun setting later in the day, we had enough time to take a nap and snap some pictures as we continued upwards towards Sahale Peak.

When we came across this particular meadow, I couldn’t believe that a place like this exists just a few short hours from the busy city. This spot was stunning to me because of its contrast. Here you are walking through a beautiful and soft meadow filled with wildflowers, while in the distance jagged mountain tops carve out the horizon. I dropped everything, grabbed my camera and hit the shutter button. This was definitely one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever experienced.

We spent the rest of the evening enjoying a warm meal while watching the sky turn majestic colors as the sun began to set. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place and I look forward to returning soon.

Sam Davis grew up in the Pacific Northwest and currently lives in Seattle. He works as an accountant during the week and spends his weekends exploring the Cascades with his wife and dog. See more of his work:

Cup of Coffee: The July Photo of the Month


Hidden Lake Trail, North Cascades National Park, WA

Written and Photographed by Back 40 Outfitters Trail Team Members

The understated photo title, Cup of Coffee, is a play on the powerful and in your face color from the sunset this particular evening on the rooftop of the North Cascades.  My father and I had decided to take a special trip away from the hustle and bustle, visiting the site of my very first backpacking trip 15 years ago: Hidden Lake Trail. The trip served a dual purpose: quality time with my dad and testing out the equipment in our Back 40 Outfitters backpacking kit.

Holding a wealth of treasures at the end of the trail, Hidden Lake rewards all travelers who brave the switchbacking 3,000 foot trek through a gorgeous green avalanche chute. Most visitors enjoy the view from the fire lookout, while overnighters drop over the saddle into the North Cascades National Park glacial cirque that holds the cobalt blue water of the lake. From this vantage point, Hidden Lake resembles an infinitely pool poised to cascade off its eastern-most shoulder.  We prefer a secluded campsite, perched above the lake to the west with the lookout’s rocky spire looming above. Here, a couple steps in any direction give you a 360-degree view of the granite sentinels that surround you. 

After breezing through camp set-up and scrambling to scout the views, we made dinner and found our water source: a trickle of melting snow water on the snowfield below our site. It was interesting to see  how the flow of water changed depending on ambient temperature and sun exposure. Evidence: an overnight chill and absence of sun on the west slope had shrunk our water source to slow drip for breakfast.

Finally, the moment that launched my dad’s outdoor modeling career. After dinner we  heated leftover water for some coffee to warm up before tucking in for the night. As the August sky began to change color, I hustled to capture the scene and my dad unknowingly climbed himself into the frame. Since the trip, we’ve made a few prints of this shot that now decorate our households and workplace, visual evidence of this awesome trip.  The sunset and scenery are truly impressive, but what I love most about this photo is way it captures my dad in his element and reminds me of the impact of his adventuresome spirit on my life.

This photo was captured by Back 40 Outfitters Trail Team member Nate and edited by their staff photographer Eunice Lommen.

Back 40 Outfitters is an outdoor gear rental & events company based in Seattle that specializes in backpacking, car-camping, and concert gear kits. Our service takes all the roadblocks out of camping (we even help brainstorm trip planning) by offering complete equipment packages and a convenient delivery model. They can’t wait to help get you out  on adventures like this one. Find them at and follow their adventures on Instagram @back40outfitters.


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