Most of the time when I head off into the Pacific Northwest backcountry for a hike or a climb, the landscape where my adventure plays out looks like something you’d typically see in photographs in a Sierra Club wall calendar: I trek up snow-covered mountains, or I walk a trail that takes me to pristine lakes, or to viewpoints of dramatic waterfalls.
Occasionally, however, I venture into lands that most of us would not think of as being stereotypically “beautiful.” Last weekend, for example, two friends and I snowshoed in the Cascade Mountains near Blewett Pass in central Washington. Our trip covered about 10 miles and involved the gain and loss of several thousand feet of elevation. We traveled through a forest of amazing and majestic ponderosa pine trees, and we climbed a sweet little peak.
We also passed through an area called “The Burn.”
Last summer was a bad one for wildfires in the timber and grassland areas of Washington, and, at one point, 700 individuals were working to put out 30 wildfires near Blewett Pass. The Burn area my friends and I experienced last weekend was not big -- it was only a tiny portion of the terrain we covered -- but it certainly gave us an up-close look at what is left behind after a fire. There were charred, black, stick-like trees on the snowy slope of a nearby peak, and the scene looked to me like a spare, classical Japanese pen-and-ink painting. At another point I saw burned tree branches lying in the snow, and the shape of the branches and the shadows they cast somehow made me think: "caribou horns!"
The Burn was a stark and serious landscape, but also surprisingly picturesque...maybe not beautiful in the calendar picture sense of the word, but visually inspiring nevertheless.