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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Slowing down in Stehekin: Going remote doesn’t have to mean roughing it

By Elizabeth Sharpe For The Spokesman-Review

Nestled within the North Cascades at the north end of Lake Chelan is the Stehekin Valley, where outdoor enthusiasts like me and my husband have come to unwind. Disconnecting is mandatory; no cell service is available, and intranet is limited. But there’s no shortage of other comforts around.

It’s late May when we climb aboard the Lady Express, the boat that carries us from Field’s Point Landing on Lake Chelan, and it’s a breathtaking two and a half hours of mountain vistas, many still capped in snow. Then when we step off the boat at the Stehekin Landing, we find a rugged green Chevy Tahoe that comes with the lodging we’ve secured for our four-day stay. The Tahoe’s back door is already open, waiting for our ample luggage, and the ignition key is in a basket on the center console.

The directions to the Stehekin Cedar Cabin are easy, as there’s only a single 13-mile road to navigate. But we’re not in any hurry. So instead of turning left at the Garden, we stop and meet its owner, Karl Gaskill, who’s out watering the seedlings that he started harvesting in June. At the farm stand he’s got plenty of honey from his beehives, herbal salves and the creamiest garlic dill goat cheese I’ve ever tasted.

We’ve come with our own stock of food and supplies because there’s a full kitchen at the cabin, and the General Store at the Lodge near the dock has only basics like milk, eggs and some canned goods and provisions. Like most, we’re still drawn to the variety (and quality) of what’s available at the Stehekin Pastry Company. For lunch, I savor a flaky croissant stuffed with Swiss cheese, mushroom and pesto, and even though I’m full, I spoon through a bowl of clam chowder.

Afterwards we visit the one-room, log-built Stehekin School, which was used from 1921-1988 until it was replaced by a new school nearby. Only 85 people live in Stehekin year-round.

The next day, we check out the 312-foot drop of Rainbow Falls and hike about 6.4 miles from Rainbow Loop to Rainbow Creek and back. Climbing about 1,000 feet from the valley floor is challenge enough, although we’re easily distracted by Lake Chelan, the meandering Stehekin River, and the historic Buckner Orchard below. In May the white and pale-yellow Pacific Dogwoods are in bloom, as are the purple lupine, white trillium and red Indian paintbrush. We’re forewarned by the darkening clouds that the weather will change, so when the rain begins, we’re back inside the Stehekin Pastry Company enjoying a late afternoon Americano and coffee cake.

On the third day, we explore beyond High Bridge and hike the Agnes Gorge Trail, an easy five-mile round-trip with very little elevation gain and rich rewards. Along the way we get peek-a-boo mountain views and at the end, a deep gorge and a dramatic waterfall shadowed by Agnes Mountain. Before we head back, we scramble down to Agnes Creek to dip our feet and pick through river rocks and pebbles.

On the trail, we only run into three people hiking together; the previous day, we saw only one couple. And later when we take the moderately steep (600 feet climb), one mile jaunt to Howard Lake, we don’t see another soul.

Back at our cabin that night, we savor a bottle of wine in front of the wood fireplace. I take a bath and then burrow deep within the down comforter of the queen-sized bed. I don’t set an alarm. I don’t even look at the time. Because with all this, it’s easy to slow down.