At the Crest of the Cascades
Northern Washington's Pasayten Wilderness Area
The Pasayten (pronounced pah-SAY-ten) runs 50 miles along the Canadian border in Washington state. The western end is rugged and verdant, thanks to soggy clouds rolling off Puget Sound. The broad eastern plateaus are drier. The area inspired beat legend Jack Kerouac , who manned a fire lookout there, to write Desolation Angels.
Glaciers carved the
terrain, leaving behind dramatic gorges, rugged ridges, pocket lakes,
alpine plateaus and the only boreal hummocks in the continental U.S. These
conical earth mounds are more common to the tundra and polar latitudes.
Ranchers dominated the area in the 20th century, grazing sheep and cattle in the fragile alpine meadows. In 1906, Germans established the Tungsten Mine, which exported heavy metal alloys. Pasayten ore helped form the guns and bullets that killed Americans and allies in World War I. The U.S. government took over the mine in 1916.
Commercial outfitters began running trips in the 1950s. Tourism ignited when the North Cascades Highway 20 opened in the 1970s. More eco-friendly rules were established two years ago and grazing was finally banned after Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics accused the Okanogan National Forest of gross mismanagement of the Pasayten.
The Pasayten boasts almost 150 peaks over 7,500 feet including several of Americas "50 classic climbs" and at least 160 bodies of water. Jack Mountain is the highest point at 9,066 feet, rocketing up from Ross Lake.
Methow Valley Sport Trails Association offers airport pickups from Seattle, Spokane and Wenatchee and also ferries outdoor enthusiasts into the mountains (P.O. Box 147 Winthrop, WA, 98862; Tel: 509-996-3287; www.mvsta.com).
Wet your whistle
at Three Fingered Jacks, which claims to be the oldest legal saloon
in Washington state (509-996-2411). Or sample the gourmet pizzas and home-made
cinnamon rolls at Grubstake & Co (509-996-2375).
Locals events include the 49ers Days in early May, featuring a wagon train and square dancing (888-463-8469); the North Cascades Old Time Fiddlers Contest and giant insect competition for the kiddies in August (888-463-8469) and the Winthrop Blues Festival in mid-July (www.winthropbluesfestival.com).
Visit the airborne fire fighters at the North Cascade Smokejumper Base (open June-October; East County Road between Twisp & Winthrop). The United States Cavalry School offers a range of frontier experiences: six days as an Army horse soldier for $675, a weekend workshop practising equestrian skills and firing period firearms for $165 or one-day trooper school for $95 (P.O. Box 1171, Twisp, WA, 98856; www.uscavalryschool.org).
Sun Mountain Lodge is the valleys flagship resort, nine miles outside Winthrop. Perched on a high ridge, the lodge pampers guests with a spa, pool, hot tubs and tennis courts. Activities include golf, rafting, horse riding, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, snow shoeing, sleigh rides and ice skating (604 Patterson Lake Road, Winthrop, WA, 98862; Tel: 509-996-2211 and 800-572-0493; www.sunmountainlodge.com; doubles $85-330).
Outward Bound offers 8,14 and 22-day mountaineering courses, which dip into the Wilderness Area. Students learn minimum-impact camping skills, outdoor cooking, basic first-aid, map and compass use, route finding, knot tying, rock climbing and rappelling. Prices range from $1,295 to $2,795 (Tel: 888-837-5205; http://outwardboundwest.com).
Saddle up and head down the trail with Early Winters Outfitting. Horse excursions cover 6-15 miles daily with plenty of time for photography, fishing and hiking. Deluxe pack trips cost $160 per day (HCR 74, Box B6, Mazama, WA, 98833; Tel: 509-996-2659; www.earlywintersoutfitting.com).
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