Last weekend I had the pleasure of going for a hike up Sauk Mountain with my sister and her husband.
Sauk Mountain is in Skagit County off Highway 20, about 10 miles past the town of Concrete. So far, the names don’t do it justice. “Sauk”, “Skagit”, and “Concrete” really bother me – they are kind of terse and ugly names. Instead, I should be writing that “Wildflower Mountain” is in “Song Bird County” off Highway 20, about 10 miles past the town of “Tiger Lily”. That is more like it.
Since the dirt road up to the trailhead is 8 miles long, we decided to take my sister’s 1988 Subaru station wagon, rather than her husband’s brand new Subaru or my BMW. This car has been in our family since 1988, so I’ve ridden in this thing for 22 years of my life! Subarus are essential to mountain country and seem to go just about anywhere in the deep snow. And they keep running FOREVVVVER. They simply WILL NOT DIE. No matter how battered they are, they always seem to resurrect, like some possessed car from the dead, ready to take you even higher and deeper into the mountains. This is not to say that they are perfect cars, however. This one has had an issue for some time now which causes the car, in the middle of driving at ANY SPEED, to come to a screeching halt. Yes, even on the highway. It is a f***ing death trap. (Knock on wood). So my sister doesn’t drive it anymore, because they’ll likely move to Denmark soon.
The car did great on the way to the Sauk Mountain turnoff, about an hour from Bellingham. But as it started up the steep dirt road, it died. No warning, it just stopped running. There’s no “pumping the gas” option to keep it going, because that makes it immediately stop ever harder. Great, we were stuck on a narrow mountain road with a bunch of yuppies flying up and down it in their new Subarus. Assholes. And I can tell you with complete certainty that they were all city dwellers too. How do I know? Because they don’t understand what the ditch and side of the mountain are for – driving on! They would stop, get out, and assess the situation. “I don’t think there is room to get by” Not only is there room to get by, there is room for 3 cars, THREE CARS, to pull up side by side on this road. The “ditch” was completely flat and wide in most places and the side of the mountain gradually eased up on the side of the ditch. Haven’t any of these people ever had to pass someone by driving on the side of the mountain? Needless to say, they also found comfort in sadly advising us that we “couldn’t turn around here”. YES YOU CAN, you idiots. You simply back the car up the side of the mountain (obviously in a place that is not steep), and then turn back down the trail. That is what the FOUR WHEEL DRIVE is for on your Subarus!!!
My sister, Anna, advised us that when the car stops like this, it just needs about 5 minutes to rest and collect itself. Like my dad, after walking ten feet. After a few minutes, the car was fine and we were on our way again! Until a half-mile up the road, when it came to a sudden halt again. It hurt to stop that quickly without warning, but it was also kind of funny. I knew we were really screwed, but I couldn’t stop laughing. We pressed on and it happened again. And again. And again. And again. I am not kidding. We broke down 9 TIMES. It took longer to get to the trailhead than it took to climb the mountain itself!
The Sauk Mountain trail is embedded along a very steep hillside. Last time my sister and her hubby did the hike, he had to stop about half way up because it was so scary. The path is also very thin, so it’s not an ideal place to hike with a baby or small kids. The trail overlooks the Cascade Mountains, the Skagit River, and Mount Baker. And in the far distance you can ever see the San Juan Islands if there isn’t too much haze from the summer heat.
As soon as we wrapped around the back side of the mountain, which faces the Cascades on the eastern horizon, the trail met up with plumes of snow that were still melting away. We had been hiking for nearly 2 hours and eagerly soaked our feet in the snow and rubbed ice on our necks to cool down. Some kids even brought a yoga matt with them to slide down the snow on (this part wasn’t as steep or dangerous as the front side).
Another 10 minutes and we wrapped back around the mountain to the front side and were at the top! Or so we thought. After a few minutes, we noticed people were pressing on through the snow, up into some craggily rocks. Good grief – are you kidding me? I was spent. I was wearing Teva sandals and wasn’t about to go hike through the slippery slush up to something that looked like it belonged in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Plus I wanted to eat lunch. So my brother-in-law Sasha (Oleksandr, but dubbed Sasha by Ukrainian tradition) and I stayed there, while my sister hiked all the way up. Once she got through the snow, the trail widened and became nicer than expected. It took her up to stand in a round section of rockery where she could see ever further than before – all the way to Mount Rainer.
The hike down only took an hour. And the car did fine all the way down the dirt road to the highway. Somewhere along the way we decided that a Jalepeno’s Big Mama margarita was in order, so we had dinner there and then ice cream at Mallard’s. As a result, I can’t stop thinking about their Super Chocolate (a dark Belgium chocolate) ice cream – it is perhaps the best chocolate ice cream I’ve ever had. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.