Sky Gardens

A walk among the flowers

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The road is obscure. It is little-traveled, but by and large is not in bad shape. Along the upper reaches the sides were lined with alpine wildflowers—columbine, lupine, tiger lily, paintbrush, phlox. Glacial ice gleamed blue-green across the plunging valley, its bottom clad in dark conifers. Somewhere down there, invisible from this elevation, a cold, clear creek rushed through the trees.

When the rain stopped, we packed our backpacks and headed up a sort-of-trail that exists on no map, climbing up through the wet woods. The way was rough and tumble; steep and slippery—progress was slow.

As we ascended, we encountered snow patches that grew larger and larger, eventually finding ourselves on a steeply pitched snow slope. The clouds descended and visibility dropped to 50 feet. We deployed ice axes and kicked steps up the steep snow. One last grunt and we were on top of the south-facing ridge; a paradise of greenery and flowers, the vivid colors stunning after the snow field whiteout.

We pitched our tents, being careful to avoid the delicate wildflowers that carpeted the lonely ridge top. Mists swirled around us, erasing the landscape except for occasional glimpses of remarkable peaks and a chiaroscuro of rock and snow. A stand of gnarled trees shielded us from the wind.

As evening approached, shafts of luminous sunshine danced on the peaks, highlighting first one spire then another like an impressionist animation. Far below, islands of trees emerged from the mist and then disappeared like phantoms. For a moment, we could see the distant cone of Mt. Rainier shining in the last light of the sun.

After dinner, we leaned back and listened to the Zen monk-like rhythms of a chanting grouse, watching darkness swallow the mountains.

When I emerged from the tent at first light, visibility was again nil. Unzipping the tent vestibule, I startled our resident bird, who gave me the full grouse treatment—neck pouches inflated, tail feathers fanned wide.

Daypacks loaded, we headed north up the ridge along a narrow spine, traversing rocks, snow and heather. The clouds began to lift as the ridge top opened up, revealing technicolor gardens. In my many years of enjoying wildflower blooms in the North Cascades I had never seen flowers like this. In places, a dozen varieties were amassed in great bouquets, a kaleidoscope of day-glow colors. In other spots vast fields of lupines created purple carpets.

Bedazzled, we each went off in different directions, gingerly exploring the trail-less gardens. The clouds parted and our great volcano was revealed, close at hand and glittering with blue ice. At the far end of the ridge I found a comfortable rock and sat for a while, delicate white blossoms at my feet on the brink of an abyss above a scrimshaw of snow cornice and sculpted glacial ice.

In late afternoon, the clouds again billowed in, and we made our way back toward camp, feeling our way along the ridge crest. After dinner, we were treated to one last spectacle as the clouds dropped below us, flowing like rivers through the dark valleys. The Salish Sea gleamed in the distance.

Darkness finally fell on the ridge and I savored that beloved combination of exhaustion and euphoria, filled with the satisfaction of a day fully lived. Stars appeared, the wind died and the silence was like music.

SVCR Live Music
More Outdoors...
Water Week
A resource worth celebrating

When rain fell late last week, and again over the weekend, it was the first time in almost three months that Whatcom County had any “wetting rain”—rainfall that was widespread over an extended period of time.

And although the soggy Saturday likely threw monkey wrenches into outdoor…

more »
An end-of-summer spectacular

Under the list of “things you’ll need and maybe want” on Sh’Bang’s website are a flashlight or headlamp, rain gear, warm clothes and layers, camping gear, a refillable water container, things to share, some of your own food, earplugs, musical instruments, costumes, water toys and mermaid…

more »
River Time
A fish tale

It wasn’t until we’d driven a few miles along a single-lane Forest Service route off of Mt. Baker’s Highway’s Glacier Creek Road that I thought to ask my fellow day-tripper what our final destination was.

“I’m looking for a spot to park near the water,” he replied. “I believe we’re in…

more »
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Dog Day Afternoon

3:30pm|South Whatcom Library

All-Paces Run

6:00pm|Fairhaven Runners

Try Something New

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Back to School Night

6:30pm|Lynden Library

Books on Tap

7:00pm|North Fork Brewery

Skagit Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Bayview Civic Hall

Comedy Open Mic


Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

MBT Janis Joplin
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Peaceful Poetry Workshop and Contest

4:30pm|Village Books

Women's Rock Climbing Basics


Exploring Vegan Flavors

6:30pm|Whatcom Humane Society

Creekside Open Mic

6:30pm|South Whatcom Library

Autumn Soups for the Body and Soul

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Seattle Quartet

7:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Village Books Trove
Eat Local Month

10:00am|Whatcom County

Lynden Farmers Market

12:00pm|Front Street

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Together for Peace


Stream Tour

6:00pm|Whatcom Creek

Trash Talk

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Balkan Folk Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Chuckanut Radio Hour with Nancy Pearl

7:00pm|Village Books

Travel Talk

7:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

The Addams Family Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Authentic Illusionist Jay Ownehouse

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove 2020 Solutions Sept 2017 Village Books BOB_2017 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 MBT Janis Joplin