The Methow

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I headed out with Luke to the Methow Valley for the weekend. Luke’s stepdad Steve built a cabin on a tall hill outside Winthrop by hand in the 1970s. It’s the sort of thing we should all aspire to.

We stayed at the cabin two nights and I soaked in my first visit to this extraordinary place. The Methow is a narrow finger of shrub steppe — and of private land — sandwiched by the dry eastern subranges of the North Cascades. To the west, the Chelan-Sawtooth cuts against the horizon, promising gneiss and larches and clear skies when rain lashes Pugetopolis. To the north, the mountain fastness of the Pasayten, with its high plateau, bears, tundra, big sky, and numerous 8000′ peaks. To the east, the last gasp of the Cascades as they merge into the Okanagon highlands, a bridge of forest to the Selkirks and the Rockies. Amidst it all, ranchers, good nordic skiers, hippies, and vacation homes. The local papers debate wolf management in a non-abstract way.

On Saturday, I ran hard and long on hilly forest service roads, the sort of effort you can only put out in training twice a season or so without consequence but live for nonetheless. We then headed across the Chewuch to help out at Rainshadow’s classic Sun Mountain 50m / 50k. Four years into my participation in the sport, I’m ashamed to admit it was my first time volunteering. It certainly won’t be my last.

On Sunday, in an odd inversion of normality, the typically-dry Methow seemed to be the only wet part of the state, with a long night of rain and thunder prompting flash flood warnings and swollen rivers. On the way back over Highway 20 (another first for me, inexplicably, as the road transcends superlatives in its unrelenting drama), we pulled off to head as high up Crater Mountain (8128′) as conditions and time would let us. That turned out to be about 5300′, a 3600′ climb from the highway, but still nearly 3000′ short of the summit. There’s plenty of snow left in the subalpine shade.

I’m back in the city, now, but when I close my eyes I can still see purple skies, green sage and fields of bitterroot glowing against the growing dark.

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Looking west to the Chelan-Sawtooth.

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The ubiquitous arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata; Asteraceae)

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Home for the weekend.

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The north end of the valley and distant ramparts of the Pasayten.

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An unidentified paintbrush (Castilleja sp., Scrophulariaceae). ~1000m asl on the slopes of Crater Mountain. Any ideas?

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