Updated: Feb 10, 2019
The area of the North Cascades is one of my favorite areas to be in (even rivaling my love of the Tetons!), and it is gorgeous in the fall. I had been wanting to get back up to the area around Heather and Maple Passes again for a bit, and I finally made it recently. The weather didn't look great, but it also didn't look horrendous, so I wondered what I would find. It was well-worth the trip. (I also found a LOT more color already than I was anticipating! Hello, fall!)
There is a loop hike including Heather Pass and Maple Pass that can be done clockwise or counterclockwise. The hike up the clockwise route is steeper in the beginning, but it's all relative to what you like and how comfortable you are. I initially thought I preferred the more gradual ascent and views of the counterclockwise route, but then when I did the clockwise route for the first time, I was surprised at how torn I was! I loved a lot about the views from this direction, too, and it's nice on one level to gain the ground more quickly.
I was surrounded in vibrant colors and mist most of the way, which was honestly glorious. I loved the mood and the sense of seclusion. As I progressed up to the top of the pass, I could tell it was pretty solidly socked in. I feel like I've seen a lot of disappointment generally from people when this happens, which bothers me a bit on some level at times. I can understand to an extent of course, but I also feel like we take nature as we find it, and I want to be able to appreciate whatever I encounter. Yes, the farther reaching views when the air is clear up here are fantastic, but there's also something to be said for seeing the trees and ridges shrouded in mist with the muted fall colors still poking through. For one of the first days of fall, I thought the mood was exhilarating and fit perfectly.
There were also portions where the mist (which was constantly flying across the ridge - fascinating to watch) cleared so that a shaft of sunlight pierced the cover and soaked parts of the scene below in gold. This happened one time just as I was cresting a ridge over which you could see Ann Lake below. It was wonderful.
One or two switchbacks from the top of the pass, I noticed remnants of icy snow clinging to the grasses, and I began to feel tiny frozen crystals in the air I was breathing. At the pass, a light dusting of snow seemed to swirl through the mist. I found a place to sit (and have a snack ; ) ) across from a looming rock formation that looked sleek and somber in the weather. I spent some time enjoying watching the fog surge by before resuming the journey.
After wandering around the ridge for a bit, I began the descent down to Heather Pass. As I dropped in elevation, the air cleared to reveal even more vibrant colors and some pretty nice views. I loved seeing the jewel-like Ann Lake surrounded by the fall foliage and swirling clouds.