Can you live a full life without seeing an alpine larch? It’s hard to say—but not for larch fans.
In the coming days, Washington will be enveloped in larch mania. Magazines will boast about the best hiking trails and larch beverages (“You can really taste the larch”), Instagram will be filled with larch selfies claiming life-changing experiences, and a mass exodus toward golden-larch nirvana will leave the city streets barren. Or something like that.
Larches just seem to have an effect on people. We all remember that Rutger Hauer monologue in Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. I’ve seen a larch in Washington.”
So why all the fuss? Because, you know, they’re pretty.
Alpine larches are distinct among the pointy trees (conifers) in that they’re not evergreen; instead, their needles act like leaves and turn golden yellow for a few weeks in October before falling to the ground in defeat. You can read all about it in my upcoming children’s book: The Larch Needle That Wanted to be a Leaf. So larch seekers from far and wide trek up the Cascades, past the “Larches This Way” signs, to take their token selfie with the patient trees, like one would with the guards in front of Buckingham Palace. Many hikers utter “Neat” or “Cool” upon seeing a larch for the first time, then later on Instagram write something like, “You don’t understand beauty until you’ve seen an alpine larch up close.”
If you’d like to be one of these people, the fillet of the larch neighborhood is The Enchantments in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, a little south of Leavenworth. If you want to backpack into the area, chances are you’re already shit out of luck, as it operates on a strict permit system with a Willy Wonka-type lottery.
You can also see alpine larches on the Maple Pass Loop at North Cascades National Park. You can see larches at Carne Mountain. The Blue Lake Trail—it has larches. So does Lake Ingalls. Nordstrom doesn’t have larches, but the Sherman Peak Loop should. If hiking’s not your thing, I operate a Larch Fun Center, featuring larch peep booths ($5 for 30 seconds), as well as a green screen where we can simulate larch selfies.
To be honest, I first heard about alpine larches only a couple of weeks ago from a friend, and have been pretending that I’ve known about them for years. When I Googled the words “Larch Washington,” the first result was the Larch Corrections Center, a minimum-security prison a few hours south in Yacolt. It’s a good thing there were other results, or this article would have been all about that prison.
For those rebels looking to avoid all the larch hoopla like it’s pumpkin spice, certain measures must be taken: Spend all of autumn off social media, as Facebook and Instagram will be littered with inspirational larch shots from friends who know how to express themselves only through hiking; never step off pavement; and avoid looking at trees altogether, lest one of them be a larch who somehow made it down the mountains.
Finally, if you encounter a rogue amber larch needle in your home, shield your eyes and call pest control. Alpine-larch season is a hard storm to ride out, but you may be stronger for it (or not, I don’t know).
It’s probably best, however, to join the thousands of hikers who take part in what is colloquially known as the “Larch March” every autumn, and let the glow of their golden beauty flow through you. What are you going to do instead, look at yet another regular ole evergreen?
That’s preposterous. It’s larch or nothing.