Stepping Out

"My father doesn't understand why I carry a camera into the mountains. The best camera is your memory, he loves to say. Problem is, my memory is always taking pictures of the wrong stuff. And my memory's flash is broken. Most of the prints come back with credits for free developing.In any case, I carry a camera. My father is right, in that a camera does a rather poor job of capturing the breadth of beauty one encounters in the wilderness, unless the person operating the contraption is much more skilled than I. What I've resigned myself to is trying for shots of hiking partners enjoying themselves in an outdoor setting.I was looking through some of these pictures just the other day. One that stood out was a shot of a hiking partner, Dan Haigh, with my younger brother, Pete and my father snowshoeing up a logging road in the Finney Creek area. The background was beautiful. I drove on the same road about 15 months later, to a trailhead that began where we topped out on the earlier snowshoe trip. When I hiked this area in the summer, I couldn't help but notice the scars of extensive logging. The slopes were covered with stubble. Snow-covered mountains like Glacier Peak, Mount Baker and Whitehorse seemed distant. Yet, in winter, with a fresh coat of snow, these hills had regained their natural beauty, and the higher, dramatic peaks seemed more like a continuation, rather than a contrast.A conscious decision was made to concentrate logging in this area, says USFS Ranger Eli Warren, from the Baker Ranger District Office in Sedro-Woolley. That kept most of the cutting out of the prime recreation spots.Cross-country skiers and snowshoers should be flocking to places like this; instead, an outing into this region is likely to be a lonely experience. We didn't see another person all day, once on the Forest Service road off Concrete/Sauk Valley Road. Many people aren't aware of this region, while others have been shooed away.Authors Craig and Kathy Copeland, in their guidebook Don't Waste Your Time in the North Cascades, refer to the view from Mt. Higgins, the lone entry from this portion of the North Cascades, as looking out over an Armageddon landscape. They suggest you bring wasteful friends on this hike, to shock them into becoming conservationists. Warren explains that nearby Forest Service holdings weren't as heavily logged during the last few decades. The Forest Service was told to stop building roads, he says. Meanwhile, the harvest was expected to be the same or more. Areas like Finney Creek, which were a little less rugged and already had roads, were sacrificed.Of course, even when completely covered with trees, the scenery here never offered the dramatic backdrop one can find, say, closer to Baker. But it is easily accessible, parking is free and solitude is almost guaranteed (with emphasis on almost).To get there, take Highway 20 to Concrete. Turn right on Concrete/Sauk Valley Road, just past the gas station (great deep-fried gizzards here, by the way). Cross the Skagit River and almost ten miles after turning off the highway, turn right onto the Finney/Cumberland Road (USFS Road #17). You're on your own from here. One good choice, though, is Road #1720, at 10.6 miles from the last turn.Other access points are from the South Skagit Highway, just beyond the town of Day Creek, near Cumberland Creek, or from Highway 530 (turn left at the Whitehorse Store).Take a camera. You'll want to remember the trip. "

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