Words and photos by Jason Zullo
I can remember once staring at the vast beauty of Glacier Peak from high in the North Cascades, thinking how phenomenal it would be to see it from up close. Fast-forward to the present day. I returned home to Seattle after traveling in Southeast Asia for almost two years. I was dying to get back into the forests of the Pacific Northwest and my longing for an adventure to Glacier Peak had only gotten stronger. After a quick visit with friends and a bit of trip planning, I made a b-line for the town of Darrington. I stopped at the ranger station to purchase an updated map of the area and got the latest forest fire news before making my way to the trailhead at Sulfur Creek Campground.
Suiattle River Trail to Canyon Creek
My boots hit the trail and I was met with brilliant forest colors contrasted by the turquoise blue of the Suiattle River. It felt great to be back in the woods, hiking on one of the nicest trails my feet had ever touched. It wasn’t long before I was humbled by a massive section of downed trees where the trail had been diverted. It reminded me how lucky I was to be there because the Suiattle River area had previously been closed for almost a decade. The closure was due to a number of strong storms that completely washed out all access roads and caused heavy blowdowns.
The trail flowed easily the rest of that day, rising a little and then falling before repeating itself over again. The seven miles rolled by in just a couple hours with the Suiattle river always in my sight. Before I knew it I was already at my campsite, relaxing and enjoying the sounds of Canyon Creek flowing by.
Canyon Creek to Dolly Vista
I awoke the next morning to light streaming through the trees and felt recharged after a night spent sleeping under the stars. Lingering for a while after breakfast, I sipped some peppermint tea and enjoyed the magic of the morning. Once I was all packed up, I splashed my face with the icy waters of Canyon Creek and felt ready for the challenging day that lay ahead. The dappled light played games with the forest floor and my stride widened with each new bend in the trail. I quickly intersected with the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) and took a right, heading south, crossing over the Suiattle River via a large wooden footbridge.
After a few miles, the trees grew into a massive old growth forest that made me feel as if I was hiking in the Redwoods. A mile or two later, switchbacks appeared and began serving up a steady incline. I was certainly working for it at this point and I was hoping that my reward would be an incredible view of Glacier Peak. Eight miles later, I had made it to Dolly Vista but there were only limited views of Glacier Peak, blocked by what looked like a sizable mass of rock.
I set up camp and was in awe of the heavenly views, but couldn’t help feeling a bit defeated without the perfect view of Glacier Peak. Not long after the sun started to set, I met a young hiker by the name of Rabbit (trail name) and he shared a bit of his story. He had been hiking the PCT all summer and was about to finish the entire trail a month early, completing a total of 32 miles that day. Hearing his story immediately got me fired up; I couldn’t sit there any longer and wonder if my dream view was just over the next ridge. I grabbed my camera gear and headed out, guided only by my headlamp. With no trail, I wasn’t sure if the steep ridge would connect to the large rock mass that stood in my way. I navigated my way up and over the first ridge, only to find a massive 200-foot cliff with a single route option. I did my best to drown the thought that I was hiking solo at 1:00 a.m. in a no fall zone. I tackled several more skinny ridges before miraculously ending up on a large rock with the most incredible view of Glacier Peak that I have ever seen. Feeling like I was on another planet, I sat and stared for as many hours as my body would let me before carefully making my way back to camp.
I’m pretty sure I woke up smiling the next morning, still high on the experience from the night before. It was first light, and no matter how exhausted my body was, there were neurons firing in my brain that could not be ignored. I popped out of the tent and strolled down the trail to capture the serenity that was unfolding before me. A small film of smoke from the remaining forest fires lay across the horizon, adding an extra touch of beauty to the sunrise that day. I spent much of the remaining morning picking wild blueberries in the alpine meadows as I made my way back down to Canyon Creek for my last night in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. It was certainly an adventure that I would never forget and a solo journey that I needed to take, marking my return to a place that I love so much. I was finally home in the Pacific Northwest!