Pick-up Dogs How Two Rescue Dogs Save the West from Being Won

November in the North Cascades

November brought a dusting of snow up in the mountains. The first signs of winter began at about mile post marker 40 on the Mt. Baker highway, somewhere around 2200 feet up.

I didn’t bring enough clothing with me. No gloves. I was still wearing my autumn hat and hadn’t brought out the full winter, cover-the-ears wool barretina, a gift from my old friends from the Pyrenees in Catalonia. I had my thermos though. Full of tea. I was headed up a ridiculously steep grade, so even with the sub-freezing temperatures, I knew I’d be sweating all the way up.

We were sitting at the trailhead for Welcome Pass. 46 miles east of Bellingham on the Mt. Baker highway, then a mile or so up a snowy dirt road through second and third growth forest to a parking lot covered in snow, I carefully maneuvered Tommy, the pick-up I haul my dogs around in, to a spot where we could do some staging for a winter hike. Welcome Pass is one of the first hikes listed as ones NOT to do in the classic hikers’ tome, Don’t Waste Your Time in the North Cascades. A 3500 foot elevation gain in less than 2.5 miles, with most of the tough work coming in the last mile is enough to make one write a trail review to turn off anybody pondering this beast of a trail. I’m not a math major but looking at the numbers, it doesn’t take a genius to know that you’ll be walking up some 50 degree grades.

Needless to say, Welcome Pass is one of my favorite hikes in the world precisely because of these absurd angles, which usually turn off all but the most insane hikers. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get winded in the first mile, but I guess I just enjoy the exhilarating feeling of having my lungs open up.

I almost always have the mountain to myself here, which is great for Lupe, so she can run up and down these grades, making me tired just looking at her. My mom calls Lu “The Ghost” and with her darting through the trees you can see why.










But there was another car in the parking lot.

The cold and unpreparedness didn’t faze me. It was just too beautiful. Just in the parking lot for the trailhead, I encountered these big leaf maple leaves. I just love the colors they make and these colors change each day in the fall, these leaves much more November-like than the October leaves I snapped pictures of just a week ago.






There were only a few hours of daylight left and I wasn’t sure if I should charge it up the mountain to make it to the top before sunset or just take it slow and get pictures of the forest along the way. Neither rushing nor pausing for too long, we trudged up the 70 or so switchbacks. (Some hiker counted these, but it doesn’t matter because they all blend into one absurd grade.)



Along the way, ravens were circling the trees, keeping their eyes on Mar and Lu.











We went up through montane douglas fir and high alpine spruce and hemlock. Mushrooms were peaking out of the snow.

Not too far from the top, with blue sky peaking where I knew the ridge, High Divide, to be, 3 hikers came down and told me it was a cold 22 degrees up top and that there were more switchbacks left that I had forgotten about.

We pushed on. Seeing Mt. Shuksan at twilight distracted me.


The dogs were captivated by it.


Lu just sat on her perch looking on it for a rare quiet spell of a few minutes.

Mar enjoyed it, too, but after a few minutes he gave me a look that said, “Dad, this is beautiful, but I’m getting cold.”

An icicle hanging from a tree made me hear winter.





We didn’t make it to the High Divide.I played it on the safe side and didn’t want to walk down steep grades in the dark. I think we could have done it safely though if we hurried.  But that’s the beauty of hiking. We can always come back. It will be different. The light will be different, the conditions different, but we can always come back.

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