North Cascades' Castle Pass Trail

(Photo: Ross Lake, North Cascades National Park)
Leaves and branches closed in on all sides. I fought off the feeling of claustrophobia and forced myself through them, collecting red scratches along the way. Last night’s rain fell from the leaves soaking me. I caught up to Red who stood on a four foot thick trunk of a fallen pine tree in the remote dense forest.

(Photo: Castle Pass Trail ahead, somewhere)
“I think this is where the switchbacks should start, but I don’t see trail,” he said.

What was once Castle Pass Trail, a path that years ago would have lead us from Ross Lake to the Pacific Crest Trail, about three miles from the northern terminus, was now reclaimed by the forest. Mudslides had taken out some sections. Pine trees taller than me grew in the middle of the trail and constantly climbing over and under fallen trees reduced our normal speed of three miles per hour to one.

The switchbacks Red referred to were over three miles long with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. We hoped the trail would be more visible at higher elevations, but this looked like the end of the line.

(Photo: Cascades)
Red stepped off the pine to continue searching for trail. The ground collapsed. It swallowed his right leg up to his waist. Years of forest debris had collected on the massive pine's branches creating a false floor all around it.

“Sh*t! You alright?” I asked.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I think so.” He unbuckled his backpack and slid out of it, so he could get back to his feet.

“I think we’re going to have to go back.” I said. Even if we get around this, we still have fifteen miles to go and our slow progress meant we'd run out of food before the next resupply. “I say we cut our losses and find a new route.”

(Photo: "Oh hold on, let me get a selfie of your selfie.")
Even though it was clearly the right choice deciding to turn around was tough. Time is different out here. Turning back isn't like missing your exit on an Interstate and getting annoyed for having to backtrack for ten minutes. This decision cost us two days. Our seven day food supply would now have to last nine.

"Look at the map," I said. "Is there another route to the PCT we could take?"

Red pulled out the map. "Yeah," he said with a sigh. "Devil's Ridge."