The Cascade Range of Washington

About the Cascade Range

The Cascades are a mountain range extending roughly from south of Lassen Peak in California to the Fraser River in Canada. The Cascades are most famous for their high precipitation and dizzyingly tall composite cone volcanoes.

The Washington Cascades are a diverse range. You go from dry pine forests and sagebrush in the east to rainforests and glaciers in the west. Low hills in the south to peaks ascending to dizzying heights in the north. These mountains were formed by the most part from the subduction zone of the North American plate with the Juan de Fuca plate. In addition to uplifting, the subduction zone produces huge stratovolcanoes, such as 14,410' Mount Rainier.

The South Cascades

In southern Washington, you have rather low mountains interupted by high volcanoes such as 12,000 foot Mt. Adams and Mount St. Helens. Mount Adams is the Cascade's 3rd highest peak. It is a very bulky and beautiful mountain. Unlike most Cascade volcanoes, it can be summited with just an ice axe and crampons. Mt. St. Helens of course is the formerly symetrical peak that blew it's top off in 1980. It lost 1,000 feet off it's top and now has an elevation of 8363'. Anyway, the relief for 30 or so miles north of the river is basically a 3,000 foot plateau interspersed with 4,000 mountains and cinder cones.

Farthur north, the mountains get higher and the plateau height often becomes lower. One of the best areas in the South Cascades are the remnants of a 16,000' volcano called the Goat Rocks, which are glaciated and reach over 8,000 feet at Mt. Curtis Gilbert. Another wonderful area is the high peaks of Nelson Ridge, culminating the 7700' Mt. Aix. Farthur north, you reach the Chinook Pass and Mt. Rainier area. Here, the mountains get noticably higher and more jagged, reaching to just under 7,000'. However, they are still not glaciated, with the exception of the Tatoosh range just south of Rainier. Due to extraordinarily high precipitation, the Tatooshes have about 2 dozen glaciers. Of course, Rainier (14,411') has huge amounts of glaciation, with over 30 square miles of ice supplying 5 rivers.

Central Cascades including the Stuart Range

North of the I-90 corridor is when the Cascades really get high. The Alpine Lakes area is a swath of high peaks between Snowqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass. The western parts of the area have the most precipitation, and therefore the highest glaciation. But these peaks top out at below 8,000 feet. Some of the more major peaks here are Mt. Daniel and Overcoat Peak.

The eastern Alpine Lakes, known as the Stuart Range, has some interesting geology, with uncanny similarity to the Yosemite area in California. This area, like Yosemite, was formed by a huge granite batholith. The Stuart Range batholith is actually the largest granite batholith in the country. This produced craggy granite peaks just like the Sierras around Yosemite. Also, due to the Stuarts being on the East side of the crest, this area has low rainfall just like the Yosemite area, producing the craggy, unglaciated look of the High Sierra. There are actually many species in the Alpine Lakes area that are found nowhere else save the Sierra.

The Stuart Range is a spectacular area. The highest point is Mt. Stuart, topping out at over 9400'. Stuart is a climber's paradise: Several glaciers, 5.10 rock, huge cliffs, and all hewn of solid granite. Other notable peaks are Dragontail and Prusik Peak.

Another famous area here is the Enchantments. The Enchantments is a wonderful alpine valley area ranging from 7000'-7500' flanked by sheer craggy granite peaks with some icy tarns and a few glaciers thrown in for good measure. Huge slabs of sparkly granite contrast nicely with colorful alpine flowers, deep blue lakes, and white snow. The eastern part of the Stuart Range, including Little Annapurna and Dragontail Peak, actually forms the south rim of this valley.

The North Cascades

The North Cascades are without a doubt the most breathtaking scenery in the contingious U.S. These are huge mountains by any measure: 9,000 foot giants that start out at 800 feet. The vertical relief exceeds that of the Sierras and Rockies. Due to high precipitation, the Stevens Pass-Canadian border sector of the Cascades contains over 500 glaciers, more glacial mass than the other 47 states combined. Much of this area is protected by the North Cascades National Park.

There are multitudes of beautiful mountains here: Mount Shuksun, the most photographed mountain in the world, the maniacally sharp points and steep blocky glaciers of such peaks as Mount Terror and Fury in the north and south Pickets, or the huge expanses of glacier on the Ptarmigan Traverse.

There are 2 major volcanoes in the North Cascades: The symetrical 10,539' Glacier Peak, Washinton's only wilderness volcano, and the heavily glaciated 10,778' Mount Baker.

To the east of the main North Cascades is the Pasyten. This is as desolate as it gets. Huge expanses. You can hike for weeks without seeing another soul. Here you have grizzlies, moose, and wolves. (Some of which have made inroads into North Cascades Nat'l Park) This is a dry area of pine forests, alpine meadows, deep valleys, and craggy peaks unlike any other mountainous area.

North of the border, you have such nice areas as Manning Provincial Park. The range eventually drops off into the Frasier River Valley. Although the Coast Range of Canada (starting off N. of the Frasier) is really a continuation of the Cascades, as it has similar geology.

Information on the Cascades

Cascade Alpine Guide
Fred Becky

100 Best Hikes in Washington
Ira Spring

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