A Wilderness Area
of just over 530,000 acres
in the North Cascades
. It occupies most of the land between the North Cascades Highway
and the border with Canada
to the east of North Cascades National Park
. The high point is on the top of 8,928 foot Jack Mountain
, the 2,000 foot low point on the edge of the area near Ross Lake
Because the wilderness area straddles the crest of the Cascades, it encompasses considerable variation in climate and ecology. The east side of the area is much drier than the west, due to the rain shadow cast by the mountains. In general, precipitation is considerably lower over the entire area than in the big wildernesses to the west, including the National Park and the Olympic Mountains. The westside forests are dominated by fir, hemlock, and cedar; to the east, you'll find ponderosa pine and larch, and increasing amounts of brown grass.
The west side is also somewhat more rugged, with steep-walled canyons and heavily glaciated peaks. To the east, the topography becomes gentler, with more rounded hills and broad plateaus.
Permanent residents of the wilderness include elk, mountain goat, gray wolf, and moose. There's a substantial lynx population, and grizzly bears frequently make the trip down from Canada.
The wilderness has a very complete trail network. Maintenance levels vary greatly among the trails, however; those that are popular with horse parties are always kept clear of logs, but also tend to be either a dust bowl or a mud pit, depending on the weather. The horse parties tend to stick to the trails running along the creeks, so backpackers looking to get away from them should seek out the more scenic ridgetop trails. When planning a trip, though, keep in mind that these high trails are often much more rugged and even sometimes hard to follow, so travel will be much slower along them. The horse trails can be useful for covering lots of ground to get into the core of the wilderness quickly.
The high trails of the westside are often snowbound until at least mid-July, and heavy snow starts falling again in October. In addition, many consider the eleven-day high elk hunt in late September to be a poor time to visit, due to the increased chances of getting shot dead. If you do visit then, wear bright colors and try to avoid looking or sounding like an elk.
The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the spine of the wilderness on its final run to Canada. If you spend any time along the PCT in mid-September you're bound to meet a few grizzled through hikers sprinting for the finish. The Pacific Northwest Trail also crosses the wilderness on its way from the Continental Divide in Montana to the Pacific Ocean.
Evidence of extensive mining for gold and tungsten is scattered throughout the wilderness, as well as around Harts Pass just outside the wilderness. The Pasayten has also been long popular with backcountry hunters and horsepackers, uses which continue to be important to this day. The area was designated Wilderness by Congress in 1968, in the same act that created the North Cascades National Park Complex.
Facts and figures from: