The Hiker Mama

Book Review: The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby

The North Cascades Cover, Photo by Thom Schroeder
The North Cascades Cover, Photo by Thom Schroeder

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to attend one of the book launch gatherings for a new book. The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby takes a unique and fresh look at one of my favorite regions to explore. Several local authors have contributed to this book, tackling the region from several different viewpoints.

After an introduction by Richard Louv, William Dietrich takes us on a virtual hike from valley floor to mountain peak, describing what we would see in lush poetic phrases. Anyone who’s hiked through low-elevation old growth forests knows exactly what he means when he writes: “Slanting sunbeams are green-gold, dust motes like pixie dust, but dryness is an anomaly. The norm is overcast sponge. Plants are a magic trick of sunlight, water, and air and encase water like balloons.” Dietrich describes plants, animals, geology, history, weather – folding in as many facets of the region as he can to help us experience the place viscerally. Of the alpine tarns and lakes he says, “Metlwater streams weave from one white isle to the next like silver bracelets. Chilly ponds reflect the peaks in peat-colored mirrors… Puffy cumulus clouds patrol like Zeppelins. Rocks sparkle.”

One Mossy Detail, Photo by Steven Gnam
One Mossy Detail, Photo by Steven Gnam

One of my favorite passages describes a hiker’s typical response to switchbacks.  “If you haven’t cursed the North Cascades – if your thighs haven’t burned and your shoulders protested and your lungs gasped, if you haven’t peered upward in vain for an end to the enclosing forest, if you haven’t gaped in disbelief at miserly mileage markers, if you haven’t sweated, ached, groaned and gulped, if you haven’t rued the very day you were born … well, you simply haven’t hiked enough switchbacks.”

Dietrich then takes his musings to a more philosophical plane, saying “Switchbacks make you question your very sanity, but they allow you to forget normal irritation.” I’ll let my fellow readers discover the rest of this humorous but thoughtful musing. He finishes his sections with two interesting chapters about human history in the area, including early native peoples and the homesteaders and settlers who came more recently.

The next section of the book was researched and written by Christian Martin, another talented local writer. He has interviewed many of the people who inhabit the North Cascades and who work and play there in different ways. You’ll read about conservationists, artists, climbers, photographers, adventurers, scientists, and writers. I found this section of the book very interesting, as it gave me a different perspective – the human one, which I generally tend to ignore. I found myself wishing I could meet these folks who have contributed to our knowledge and protection of the North Cascades.

Camping Under the Stars, Photo by Andy Porter
Camping Under the Stars, Photo by Andy Porter

Once you’ve read all about the North Cascades, and then met some of the folks who’ve made their marks there, you’ll want to go visit. Craig Romano has put together multiple trips you can take to explore the region. From E.C. Manning Provincial Park in British Columbia, to Mt. Baker, Rainy Pass, the Twisp area, Stehekin, all the way down to the Mountain Loop Highway and lake Wenatchee, Romano gives you plenty of ideas for adventures. He highlights some of the best hiking, skiing, paddling, camping, and mountain biking that the region has to offer. There is so much diversity, it’s hard to know where to start! But I am looking at those lists and dreaming about next year’s hiking season already.

The North Cascades is full of gorgeous photography, as well, by many local photographers. This book is a treat just to flip through, or sit for a longer spell with your cup of coffee and soak in the words.  I guarantee you’ll be inspired and yearn for your own adventures. The book is also meant to be a call to conservation of these precious areas, and to help encourage lawmakers and the general public to care. For our children, I believe it is most important that they learn to love a place, to know what’s out there and how amazing it all is. I believe the impetus for conservation later in life comes from learning to love and respect the natural world. The more we can immerse our kids in true wilderness, the more they will be drawn to those places as adults, and the more they will want to protect it.

The North Cascades was produced by the folks at Braided River, a division of Mountaineers Books. You can purchase the book at the website, You can also find it at Mountaineers Books and at your local bookstore. The price is $29.95.  There are still a few author events happening around the state; check out the event page at to see if there is one near you.






One response to “Book Review: The North Cascades: Finding Beauty and Renewal in the Wild Nearby”

  1. Doreen Avatar

    Oh, yes, the switchbacks, the burn in the legs. the gasping for air….but the descent can be just as bad with squished toes, burn in altogether different sections of the legs, and questions about balance as one slips and slides down loose gravel. Still, the journey is worth it. Thank you for introducing us to this compilation by such creative enthusiasts.

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