The Annual Fall Larch March

Every Fall, we have a tradition of going on a “Larch March.” In our beautiful state of Washington, we have a very special tree, known as the Larch, which is an Evergreen tree that happens to turn yellow in the fall and drop its needles for the winter.

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While these occur across the world from Northern Canada to the Himalaya, our particular version of the Larch can be found at the healthy altitude of around 6,000 ft. Essentially, right at the edge of the Alpine. As such, to actually witness this beautiful misfit of the evergreen family, a bit of a mission is usually involved. After all, it's too early to have skis on your feet, and the leisurely temps of summer are gone. 

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It's easy to be excited about exploring the mountains when the sun pours down and you don't even really need to carry a jacket in your backpack, but when the weather begins to turn south, the feeling of truly earning the views you’re experiencing is incredible. Starting a blustery morning at the car wondering "am I crazy to be doing this" but at the same time buzzing with the excitement of forging out into the elements is nothing short of addicting. Every turn of the trail brings new engagement, new reality. It seems like every season Kirsten and I always manage to fit our Larch March into weather windows like these.  

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We made quick work of the first 4 miles of trail, gaining the ridge in typical blustery Northwest weather. We figured that things would get more pleasant once we left the ridge and dropped into the valley, and sure enough the wind died down and we finally emerged into Larch paradise!

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The entire basin we were traipsing through was covered in what should have been Evergreens blanketed with green needles, only the needles were a brilliant yellow. They glowed with an intensity that seemed almost neon.

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We decided at this point to head for the next ridge and maybe find a spot for some lunch. The trail became somewhat hard to follow as it went steeply up a granite ridge, but as we crested over it a beautiful alpine lake emerged in front of us. We decided that it was the perfect time sit down and eat what was one of the most delicious turkey sandwiches we'd ever eaten (*as is every sandwich eaten in the mountains!). There's an intoxicating thing about the beauty of the outdoors and you can feel all your senses heighten, making those sandwhiches extra tasty! As we sat perched above the lake, Mt. Stuart (one of the crown jewels of the Cascades) emerged from behind the clouds across the valley and we took in one of those moments that feels pretty darn close to perfect.  

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On this particular day, from our lunch perch on the granite outcropping, there was an obvious scramble route out of the basin and up the ridge to one of the many un-famous peaks in the Cascades. All I can remember thinking as we ascended the ridge was how wild these yellow evergreen trees were that completely filled the basin. As we got higher and higher I just kept seeing more and more of the basin they filled. They went on forever, but only at this very specific altitude. It was nothing short of surreal. 

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As we emerged out of the valley, the wind returned and my Larch euphoria transitioned into the hyper aware state I've become so familiar with in the mountains. A few sketchy ledge crossings later, and we reached our impromptu summit objective of the day. As is tradition, a summit beer was had, and after dancing and twirling about in the wind we made for the return trip home. 

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I will always remember once talking to Kirsten's grandpa, a legend of German mountaineering, and him saying "On no, you never WALK down, always RUNNING! Why else would we walk to the top of these mountains?!" We're strong believers in this philosophy, and view the trail run down as the best part of the day… After all, it's as close to skiing as you're going to get when there's no snow. Skree fields become the off season equivalent of pow turns, and intense rooted sections of the trail might as well be pillow lines! 

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Two hours driving, a half hour for coffee, three hours headed up, an hour messing around at the top, and an hour an half flying down… put us just in time for a happy hour beer at Dru Bru.. and a bratwurst. That euphoria I was talking about earlier...I think we've found it.

Trail: Lake Ingalls but note that Larches can be found at many sub-alpine regions in the Cascades, including the apline lakes outside Leaven such as the Enchantments region. Happy Larch hunting!

Words and Pictures by @garretvs