Lake Ann plus side trip to Curtis Glacier (August 27, 2017)
A short work day on a sunny Sunday with no smoke (!) inspired Doug and me to take an afternoon day hike to Lake Ann. I have done this hike a dozen or more times, and it never disappoints. It’s also the rare hike that I have only done in perfect weather, and this time was no exception!
Stats on Lake Ann
LOCATION –– Off Mt. Baker Highway, (542), just before Artist Point. DISTANCE — 8.2 RT, plus 2 miles to base of Curtis Glacier. ELEVATION GAIN — 1900 feet to Lake Ann, 2300 to base of glacier. HIGH POINT — 4900 feet (Lake Ann), 5300 glacier. DIFFICULTY — Moderate REQUIRED — Northwest Forest Pass
The Hike in
We scrambled out of town just as quickly as Doug’s car could drive us. The parking lot was packed when we arrived at 2:00 pm, but, thankfully we found a spot. Many hikers were already heading home. While packing my day pack, I noticed that I had only brought one sock! Major problem, as I couldn’t hike sockless in one hiking shoe, and Doug had no extra socks. There was no way I wasn’t going, though, and my Keen work sandals would have to do. Not exactly trail worthy for these 8-times surgically altered feet and ankles! Aiming for optimism, I told Doug I’d give it my best shot. Luckily I had poles to soften the footfalls.
We hit the trail by 2:10. Lake Ann trail is pleasantly variable in that it drops down for the first mile or so, flattens out, then climbs back up. The afternoon air was hot when we started and the crowds were dense. An enormous number of people were huffing and puffing their way back up as we breezed effortlessly down the first switchbacks. The crowds were a by-product of the perfect day, sunshine, and clear skies. And no smoke. The pattern for the summer had been with each rise in temperature, new fires would spring up and smoke would permeate the atmosphere. It made me giddy that we were hiking Lake Ann in warmth and blue!
Once down the switchbacks we were into the first meadow. Flowers lingered as we crossed rocky (and sometimes dry) stream beds. Views of Shuksan and Shuksan Arm beckoned us along. And more people. Both directions. Families, dogs, and a good representation of jog-bra’d females. I was wearing my bathing suit top and shorts, and I felt less self-conscious with the impressive number of other women doing the same. I loved the carefree nature of the day! We cruised the flat section for a mile or so, past the headwaters of Swift Creek, then began our climb up.
There were three boulder fields to cross on the approach to the Lake Basin, and I knew my feet might be crabby. Perhaps it was the exhilaration, the ease with which everything was coming to play out, but I didn’t really notice the lessened padding on the soles of my sandals. Or the increased discomfort. Views of Mt. Baker provided a great distraction, and we cruised at a great pace, happily passing the multitudes. A time check when we arrived at the Lake Basin said 3:55. We decided we’d climb towards the glacier until 5:00, then turn around. We still wanted to swim in Lake Ann before heading back to the car.
Up to the Curtis Glacier
A clear trail branched left toward the west face of Mt. Shuksan. The route services climbers to the summit via the Fisher Chimney route, with the upper and lower Curtis Glacier visible the entire way. Doug had never been that way, though I had been a couple of times before. We crossed a perfectly situated stream, flowers in full bloom, and Doug was in heaven! His enthusiasm for places he hasn’t been is unparalleled, and made the slightly more challenging- for-my-feet-going more than tolerable. We passed a woman in a black dress coming down the trail, her foreign accent evident. We commented on how strange it was to see someone in a dress (and not a fitness style dress!) coming off a trail that dead-ends at a glacier.
As we climbed, we could again see Mt. Baker, which had been hidden from view at the lake basin. We could also see down to Baker Lake, and the views of Shuksan just kept getting better and better. At right around our turn around time, we noticed a group of seven people just up ahead. They looked to be gathered at an end point, where the trail stops and glacier travel starts. Curious, we continued up to where they were.
The Dresses Party!
When we got to the group, it was instantly evident that something exciting was going on. The five women and two men were abuzz with activity. They welcomed us with much enthusiasm, as if we were the king and queen arriving! The women were donning dresses, and I asked what was up. In accented English, they explained they were a group of Russians, doing some type of photo shoot right there at the base of the glacier. I was impressed and excited about what they were up to, and commented on how cool I thought that was. The two most verbal women asked me to join in, pulling out a red dress that was an extra. I tried to protest, but that was not going to fly. Their enthusiasm, coupled with Doug’s for me to become instant “model”, made refusal impossible. I threw caution to the wind, abandoned my concern about time, and slipped the dress on over my bathing suit top and shorts. The women were thrilled! I felt silly but had a huge smile on my face.
Doug and the two men took photos of the five of us as we somewhat awkwardly posed on the rocks. Another women watched, seemingly not wanting to get in on the action. The whole experience was surreal, the primary gal, Alexandra, handing me a scarf to whip around in an attempt to look glamorous! I told her this was so far from my comfort zone it was ludicrous, but, in part that’s what made the experience so much fun! Who would have thought we’d encounter Russian women in dresses right at the base of the glacier? We learned that the woman we’d seen earlier was part of their group as well, and that there were others with them too spread out around the trail. A couple of them were from Bellingham, but the majority were from Vancouver. We didn’t know why they selected that spot for photos, but it was incredibly fun to participate.
At 5:30, we bid our adieu to the group. We had just enough time to drop back down to Lake Ann and jump in the water for a quick and vigorous dip. There was still a bit of snow around the lake, and the water temperature was not warm! But the air temperature was, and we sat on a rock in the last of the sun before it dropped behind the far side of the lake basin, and ate a very late lunch (or dinner…). It was an entirely fitting setting for such a fabulous day.
The Hike out
We were back to the trail junction to head out at 6:15. Alexandra and crew were just coming down off the glacier. Alexandra and I exchanged contact information, so we could exchange photos later. I loved the still-present energy in the group, especially Alexandra and Elena. We didn’t hike out with them as our pace was a bit faster, but the memories of the photos and the swim and the day kept Doug and me laughing and smiling the entire hike out. By this time, there were fewer people on the trail, although still an impressive number remained. Everyone we encountered was in a celebratory mood.
We flew up the switchbacks, and arrived back at the car at 8:05, right at sunset. There were four more Russian women at the trailhead, and we conversed with them too. We assured them their friends weren’t far behind, and told them stories of the fun time we’d had at the base of the glacier. So much good will, joy, and excitement about being alive and out on the trail. I loved it, and I have to say the entire day made for my most memorable trip to Lake Ann yet!
It’s been two weeks since the hike, and my recollections of the trip have gotten even sweeter with time. I know that’s partly because of what returned soon after, in the form of more smoke. Again. From BC fires, those in Eastern Washington, and perhaps most devastatingly, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge. I won’t repeat news stories, as most have heard by now that the last one was caused by human activity. I don’t need to say how tragic it is, as we have all felt it. Or how far reaching. Up until two days ago, when it finally rained, Bellingham and most of the state was shrouded in smoke from all the fires. The tragedy of this for us hikers and backpackers is one thing, but when you consider all who had to be evacuated and their property at risk or destroyed, it’s another level of catastrophe altogether.
So my memories of Lake Ann’s absolute pleasure are in stark contrast to what’s happened since. I am still not sure how to make sense of all this. Is it selfish to be grateful that the smoke is gone so I can once again breathe clean air? Is it acceptable to happily go out and recreate again, now that the smoke has cleared up here, knowing that those down in the gorge can’t do the same?
Since the smoke has cleared, today I head out again. For five nights and four days, to Copper Ridge loop and Whatcom Pass extension. Solo. I go with appreciation, humility, awe, gratitude, and respect. As I go, I will keep in mind how transient all of this is. One minute a person can be hiking in safety, the next swept up in something risky — or worse. It’s always with a measure of caution that I go out, particularly solo. On my toes (yep, my feet survived Lake Ann!), with meticulous planning, and watching for the unexpected. The wilderness contains the word “wild” for a reason. I honor that immeasurably.
Here is link to WTA’s Lake Ann information.
And, if you want to see where I am headed, Cooper Ridge loop information.
ENJOY BEING OUTSIDE IN THE CLEAR AIR WHILE IT’S HERE!!