Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Maple Pass/Lake Ann

Fourth of July Trip to Heather Pass and Sourdough Mountain

North Cascades Environmental Learning Center as Base Camp

It’s become a habit in recent years to get away hiking over the Fourth of July. Instead of noise and chaos, I heed the call to the mountains.

This year, Doug and I headed out Highway 20 towards Diablo Lake. We had intentions of two day hikes, Heather/Maple Pass loop on Monday, and Sourdough Mountain on Tuesday, July 4. We’d base ourselves out of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, also known as the North Cascades Institute (NCI). NCI is a comprehensive outdoor facility reached over Diablo Damn. Multiple programs take place here, and through BASE CAMP you can just spend the night, enjoy three organic meals, and participate in some activities available to guests. Doug had been there the previous summer and it sounded like a great place to stay between hiking adventures.

Monday’s Hike to Heather Pass

The drive from Bellingham to Diablo is exactly two hours. We rolled in to the NCI at 12:15, checked in, and got the low down on our stay. Everything about the NCI is organized and structured, something which caused a bit of angst for both of us free spirits. We had strict instructions from the desk clerk to return for dinner at 6:00 — even though dinner is buffet style, she said they like to serve everyone at once. With a 40 minute drive each way from Diablo to Heather/Maple Pass trailhead, that gave us a narrow time frame in which to do our hike.

We were up for the challenge! We reached the trailhead (Rainy Pass Picnic Area) and were packed up and on the trail by 1:20. We had four hours to enjoy whatever we could of this lovely area. This loop hike is one of my all-time favorites!  Last year I did a post called “Soul Restoration Day Hikes”  and this loop was one of six I listed. If we made the loop, this would be my 8th trip around and Doug’s 2nd. We knew there would be snow, and that snow and time would be the factors we would face in completing the entire 7.2 mile loop.

We opted for the counter-clockwise route, figuring we could at least reach Heather Pass and then evaluate continuing on to Maple Pass.

Looking down on Lake Ann

The trail started through forest for 1.25 miles before reaching the turn-off to Lake Ann. We encountered a surprisingly large number of people on this stretch,  although the cloudless day and upcoming holiday probably contributed to folks being out and about. Some looked prepared for snow hiking and route finding, and others, not at all. We called out merry hellos as we went, our moods high in this magical place. The switchbacks immediately past the turn-off were full of wildflowers and the trail deceptively easy.

Then just like that, we hit snow.

Last of trail before snow

Doug navigating steep, brushy slope

Looking up to Heather Pass (right) and Maple Pass (left)

We were prepared.  I led, initially following footsteps up a steep but short snowfield. After that, things started to look questionable. We could see footprints high up in the snow, but the question was how to get there. I watched a cross-country skier climbing a steep slope to the pass,  but his route looked too abrupt for foot travelers.  I decided to follow four hikers headed straight up the mountainside to our right, not on snow, but on a steep, rocky, brushy slope. I had a flashback to the Green Mountain hike with Kyle two weeks prior! We followed the quartet for a bit, until it became obvious they had no concrete plan to cut over toward the pass.

Steep snow traverse

We stopped to discuss alternatives and decided to embark on a traverse across a steep, snowy slope and see how it went. We had traction devices and hiking poles.  I kicked steps across and uphill–the slope ended in rocks far below–and Doug followed steadily. We were able to gain Heather Pass this way,  a step at a time, mostly on snow but scrambling up some rocky outcroppings. It was slow going. and in total it had taken us nearly two hours.  But the views were stupendous! Dozens of snowcapped peaks all the way around and off into the distance.  It’s one of those hikes where views appear so constantly, one can scarcely take it all in. We knew the views would continue to unfold on the way up to Maple Pass, a new reward reached with every step.

Top of Heather Pass

Topping out at Heather Pass





We had a snack and discussed continuing on. Through the deep snow it would take at least an hour to reach Maple Pass. We could see two hikers and the one skier headed that way,  so there would be tracks to follow, but we had only two hours left.  There was no way we could make the pass and make it down in time.  Reluctantly, we backtracked, this time following the snow’s contours to find an easier way down, Even so, we had to take great care until we were off the snow and could fire up the afterburners…

Looking out from Heather Pass…


We arrived back at the car at 5:30, just ten minutes behind schedule!

Black Peak

Corteo Peak

Stay at the Learning Center

Dinner at NIC was fantastic! The all-you-can-eat buffer offered salmon, side dishes of quinoa, mac and cheese and roasted cauliflower, and a fantastic salad bar. I was in heaven! Any place that offers unlimited salad rates high with me. Everything was organic and locally sourced, and we could taste that plus the careful preparation that went into the meal. Doug and I sat outside on the deck, overlooking Diablo Lake. Almost everyone else sat inside — why, we were not sure. But our corner table was as good as any intimate restaurant experience I have had, and we lingered after dinner with tea and enjoyed the breeze coming off the lake. An ideal dining experience, and well worth cutting our hike a bit short to enjoy it in full. After dinner we stopped by the story telling and campfire, and wandered some of the trails on the campus.

The overnight accommodations at NIC were all bunk rooms for four in various lodges, all named after native trees.  There was a complex reservation system for singles to groups of four, the options being a private room or a hostel set up. At the hostel rate, there might be four to a room, with no guarantee of being in the same room as your partner. Doug and I had opted for the “couple” rate, which meant we would be in the same room and without anyone else, but still in bunks. All the lodges have community showers and bathrooms, and a living room area. There were families in our lodge (Fir), but it was quiet and I slept extremely well.

Breakfast on Tuesday was just as grand as Monday’s dinner! Roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs, pancakes, chicken sausage, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, dry cereal, and the usual coffee and tea. Again, all organic, and all extremely fresh and good. We chose our same outdoor table, and planned the day ahead. We both felt ready enough for Sourdough, a steep and challenging hike a mere ten minute drive away. Doug had done it the previous year in conjunction with his stay at NIC, and I had done it three times previous. We both knew it was no cake walk, so we fueled up well at breakfast in preparation.

Before we left the dining room, we took time to make lunch. NIC sets out food during breakfast for guests to put together a take-along lunch. I asked for and received gluten-free bread for my sandwich, adding chunky hummus, roasted turkey, peppers, and lettuce. All organic, of course. There was also fruit, snap peas, and cookies to take along. One of the staff even gave me a gluten-free cookie from her stash in the freezer following my bread request. We piled our food into paper lunch sacks, profusely thanked the staff, and returned to the room to pack up and move on with our day.

Tuesday’s Hike to Sourdough Mountain

The stats on Sourdough:  Elevation, 5985 feet. Distance one way, 5.2 miles. Elevation gain, 4870 feet.

Basically, that’s a thousand feet a mile for five miles. Even though we both knew and expected the difficulty, the reality hit hard once we hit the trail. In the first two miles of switchbacks, we gained 3000 feet. That’s steep, and all the mental preparation in the world didn’t alleviate the difficulty in pulling it off. The day was warm, I was sweating in my shorts and tank top, and Doug even  more so in his lightweight hiking pants and long-sleeved shirt. We didn’t communicate much for the first several miles, each lost to our own strategies of how to get through the steepness to achieve the rewards that we knew lay ahead.

After the first initial hump, the grade eased, and views started popping out to honor our efforts. Just before four miles, we reached snow. Someone had built a snowman, who stood as if to greet weary hikers who had made it that far. There were only two people that we knew of up ahead, and we wondered who had built it. It couldn’t have been there long, and certainly it wouldn’t last long in the sun. We enjoyed Mr. Snowman’s company while we put on traction devices and had a snack.

Hanging with Mr. Snowman

First views from Sourdough trail of Colonial Peak

At four miles we crossed the creek at Sourdough Camp. Some hikers camp here when it’s snow-free, an option to turn the long day hike into an overnight.

We lost our snow, mostly, on the other side of the creek. We were back into switchbacks, through glorious, open wildflower meadows, with views popping out in each direction. The expanding array of multiple snow-covered peaks, the lesser grade of climb, and the promise of the top just ahead made the next mile relatively easy. Once we topped out at the final switchback, the views really exploded! Here we finally encountered our only significant snow of the day. But the grade was gradual as we traversed the snow-covered meadow to the lookout tower and top of the mountain.

Welcome rest on Sourdough trail

Wildflowers galore!

A few facts about the lookout on Sourdough: 1. It’s one of the earliest lookouts in the North Cascades, built in 1933, and restored in 1998.  2. It’s historically significant if you are a fan of poetry.  Two poets (Gary Snyder and Philip Whalen) worked at the lookout in the 1950’s. Both claim to have “found their muse” on the top of Sourdough. What a place to sit, write, and contemplate!  3. The lookout is unfortunately locked and wrapped with a huge belt, so you can’t get in. Perhaps to prevent vandalism, but unfortunate as it would be fantastic to stay the night in the lookout after the push to get there.

Locked lookout

Top of the mountain!

We stayed on top for an hour, enjoying our lunch and basking in the spectacular setting. Equally as stunning as Heather Pass, this time the views stretched all the way to the Pickets in Canada.  So many peaks, that words could no way do justice for this non-poet.  Pictures will have to suffice. Although the effort to get there was extreme, it was so very worth it.

Seen from Sourdough Mountain…

Mt. Hozomeen (left), Desolation Peak (right)

Davis Peak

McMillan Spire and the Pickets

Colonial Peak and Diablo Lake far below

Great place to do yoga!


What goes up must come down, and the way down Sourdough was in many ways harder than going up. The pounding on knees and feet was brutal and relentless. But we did what we had to do, a step at a time, each trying to keep our own and each other’s spirits up.

Finally, we arrived back at the car at 6:30, 8.5 hours after we’d left it. Exhausted, we opted for a dinner in Marblemount to break up the drive back to Bellingham.

Final thoughts…

It’s still early for many hikes in the area, but things are opening up quickly. By the time this post goes up (a week after it’s happening), Maple Pass will likely have an established route around it, although snow will still be present. The snow level is hovering around 5500 – 6000 feet, so if you plan to go on any hike that takes you to this level, check the WTA trip reports before you go. People post here regularly, and you can almost always find an update. Keep in mind, though, that every hiker has a different perspective on a hike, and one person’s easy adventure may be quite difficult for another. And vice versa!  Here is the link to WTA’s information on Heather/Maple Pass hike.

On the whole, our stay at NCI was more than satisfactory.  Generally, I don’t like tight structure when I am mountain mode, but I was impressed with how the “rules” helped everything to go so smoothly.  I would highly recommend NCI as a great place to stay for an upgrade to camping or backpacking. Here is the link to their general website for comprehensive information on all their programs: North Cascades Environmental Learning Center

And finally, a few words on Sourdough: In all my trips up the mountain, twice now in July, once in August, and once in September, I have never seen many people. My theory? It seems too steep and long for most people to get excited about as a day hike. But the rewards are so worth it! If you are willing to pay a price early, you will be rewarded. Pick a nice day though — in my opinion, the pain would not be worth it without the views. But if peace and solitude and extreme reward sound good to you, go for it! Here’s the WTA link to Sourdough Mountain.













Two Day Hikes to the “other” Lake Ann…

Day hiking and swimming at Lake Ann

Lake Ann

Lake Ann

I had the opportunity to hike to Lake Ann, the one near Mt. Baker,  two times in four days last week. The first was on a whim on a day off early in the week, when warm weather coaxed me to the 8.2 mile round trip hike that takes off from the Mt. Baker highway. The second was following my last and final backpack trip before the John Muir Trail, when I returned early enough to my car to get in a follow-up day hike. On that day, I simply was not ready to call it and go home, and the Lake Ann trailhead is merely minutes from Artist Point, where my backpack trip ended. I hatched the plan of swimming in Lake Ann as the perfect culmination to an already perfect day!

Both trips were simply divine. I call this hike the “other” Lake Ann, as I am extremely fond of the Lake Ann/Maple Pass loop trail off of highway 20. Having never actually been to THAT Lake Ann, but hiked above it on the Maple Pass loop, perhaps this Mt. Baker Lake Ann will become my favorite. I certainly enjoyed both trips immensely.

Description of the trail

Meadow meander

Meadow meander

One interesting thing about this hike is that it loses elevation to start. You immediately drop down about 900 feet, which is great going in but can be a surprise at the end when you have to regain that elevation to reach your car. But drop you do, down to a beautiful meadow with Mt. Shuksan as your backdrop. The meadow basin is the headwaters of the Swift Creek, which you will encounter and cross a bit later in the hike.

The middle section of the trail is mostly flat, as you wander through the meadow and into the forest for a bit before breaking out at Swift Creek. It’s almost mindless wandering, except that views and the promise of more beckon you on. This hike literally has it all…meadow, forest, mountains, rocks, boulders, creeks, snow, elevation gain and loss…and finally a lake. But none of it lasts for long…so if some part of that doesn’t turn your crank, it will be soon replaced by something else!

After crossing Swift Creek, the trail opens up again and you are treated to hindsight

Looking back at Mt. Baker

Looking back at Mt. Baker

views of Mt. Baker as you head up into the lake basin.  It was great to look back and see the Ptarmigan Ridge route and trail…where I had been earlier in the day on the second of my Lake Ann excursions. It always strikes me when hiking, how far away something looks, when you have placed feet there only a short relative time ago. It makes me feel both small and powerful…to think that my own two feet can carry me so far when I just put one in front of the other!

There’s only a small bit of snow left on the trail as you encounter the lake, but Lake Ann itself is still partly snow covered. On my second day here, I knew this from my first. Which meant the lake would be cold for

Lake Ann from the saddle

Lake Ann from the saddle

swimming, but that’s part of the fun and challenge, to go in anyway.

As you approach the lake from the saddle, the views of Shuksan are magnificent. The lower Curtiss glacier sprawls out before you, the access route to the popular Fisher Chimney route up the mountain. There is a trail that branches away from Lake Ann and towards Shuksan, the beginning of said climb, but also worth a meander to get up close and personal with the glacier. On day one, I did this, took the trail as far as I could before it got too challenging to follow. On day two, I was mission-oriented to get in the water, and by-passed the diversion towards Shuksan.

Shuksan and Curtiss Glacier

Shuksan and Curtiss Glacier

The swimming hole

I have been swimming in Lake Ann a handful of times before. I know it’s cold and there are bugs galore, but it calls to me. Let me say one thing about swimming in mountain lakes…there is simply nothing better when the conditions are right. The “right” conditions for me are:  a warm enough day that I won’t freeze when I get out and dry off, privacy if one hopes to go in unclothed, an access that isn’t too murky, and a suitable place to sit and dry off and enjoy the view before heading out. Lake Ann on my second time there had it all!

The swimming hole

The swimming hole

I approached said swimming area, and there were others there. I won’t go into all the details…suffice it to say that three others and myself went into the lake, all inspired by each other’s willingness to go for it, and had a great time doing so. It was a fun, shared experience with some other die-hards, following a day of being alone and mostly in my head about my upcoming trip. To shed it all and just go for it was fun and rewarding, and I felt incredibly refreshed and invigorated after my dunk.

Hiking back to the car after my swim, it really struck me that  I won’t be back to the Mt. Baker area for awhile. I said a sad and final goodbye to some of my favorite mountains, at least until September when I return from the JMT.  My next week will involve final trip preparations, and I won’t have time for more mountain excursions. It’s always hard to say goodbye. But doing so allows me to turn my focus in full for what is to come. In less than a week I leave for California and the JMT…in just over a week, I will be on the trail and beginning that adventure. What a trip it’s been and a joy to have had so much fun preparing for that which lies ahead.


For more Information about Lake Ann trail 


The Other “Soul Restoration” Day Hikes…

Kathie’s Top Five Soul Restoration Hikes

The previous post explored the idea of “soul restoration” day hikes and described one, Lake Ann/Maple Pass Loop. As I thought about other hikes that fit the criteria, four more came to mind. I will share those here, and I hope that you will share yours as well. You don’t have to share why, as the reasons are often incredibly personal and private and should sometimes stay that way!

Lake Ann/Maple Pass loop...blast from the past.

Lake Ann/Maple Pass loop…blast from the past.

  1. Lake Ann/Maple Pass.  Off of Highway 20, North Cascades, described in previous post.
  2. Yellow Astor Butte.  This hike, off the Mt. Baker Highway, is beyond gorgeous with it’s unfolding views of Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Baker, and multitudes of other peaks. It has it all…wildflowers (including the Yellow Astor, for which it is named…which is really a daisy :-), inviting ponds, and the potential of a further excursion to climb Tomyhoi Peak. I absolutely love this place, and have been there a dozen or more times over the years.
  3. Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.  This hike is also off the Mt. Baker Highway, and takes off from Artist Point, at the very end of the road. I cannot say enough about this trail. It is all open, meanders gradually up and along a ridge, and can be followed to where one is literally standing right in front of Mt. Baker in all it’s glaciated magnificence! It’s simply stupendous. When my thoughts randomly go to the
    Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

    Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

    mountains, this area is where they most often go.

  4. “Lily Dome”, aka North Butte.  Much closer to home in Bellingham, this is the alternative to super popular Oyster Dome. This “lesser dome” is right above Lily Lake, hence my pet name for it. It’s a hidden gem that is still mostly undiscovered. Just a stones throw from Oyster Dome, the views out to the San Juan Islands are comparable to Oyster Dome, but there are hardly ever any other
    "Lily Dome"

    “Lily Dome”


  5. The Ridge Trail, on Galbraith Mountain.  The background on this requires a little explanation. Galbraith Mountain, right in Bellingham, is a mountain bikers haven. I have been going up on Galbraith since 1994, when I lived at the end of an access road leading up to the trails. I regularly hiked to what I call the “stretching tree”, on the top of the Ridge Trail.  The stretching tree is a place of contemplation, where you can sit, and see Bellingham Bay in one direction and Mt. Baker in the other. I have been to this tree more times than I can count, and many a time when I HAD to get clear on some major decision or let go of some incredibly persistent stressor in my life. I have come to view it as the place of letting go…and while my life is much less “stressful” now, I have incredibly positive associations of getting straightened out at the tree.

A final note:  A soul restoration hike is to be distinguished from a “soul desperation” hike. The latter category involves those places where I go, sometimes with some urgency and desperation, because I need an environmental “fix”. I would put Lake Padden into this category…often, it has restorative value, but equally as often, it is a place I go to get ready for a work day, or to transition after one, or because I don’t have time to go anywhere else.  There is sometimes more of a desperate or needy quality to these walks around Padden. A loop around Padden is my drug of choice. It is hands down the hike I have done most often, literally hundreds of times since I have lived in Bellingham. And I do love it, but it doesn’t quite make the grade for a restoration hike…at least not each and every time. That would be a tall order!

What hikes bring your soul to restoration?

If something comes to mind, please share via email or in the comments section. I would love to hear from you!

For more information on listed hikes…

Lake Ann/Maple Pass loop

Yellow Astor Butte

Ptarmigan Ridge

North Butte via Blanchard Mountain 

Ridge Trail, Galbraith Mountain

Lake Padden








“Soul Restoration” Day Hike

What is a “soul restoration” hike?

There are certain hikes that put me into a calm and pleasant head space, each and every time I go there. I coined the term “soul restoration” hike for these places, as I will seek them out again and again to reach that near- nirvana. In order for a hike to meet my criteria as a soul restoration hike, it must have all of several attributes:

  1. I have done the hike at least five times, to test the waters, and see if it “accomplishes” the same thing for me each time. Of course it’s not a matter of accomplishment, it’s just something that happens. 
  2. I have variable and overwhelming positive associations with both the trail and the destination.
  3. I anticipate and have confidence in the state of mind that will come as a result of getting there and being there.
  4. Experience dictates that the effects of such “soul restoration” hikes will last…for hours, days, weeks to come.
  5. There is a natural beauty and peace that goes beyond that which the eye can see.  It’s a calming and meditative type of place where only good thoughts and feelings are allowed to enter. I am truly in my element there.

One of these hikes is oh so very close to where I finished my first solo backpack trip last week. That hike took me out of Easy Pass Trailhead, off of Highway 20 in the North Cascades. Just ten minutes east is the trailhead for Rainy Pass Day Use Area,  home to Maple Pass/Lake Ann loop trail. That hike is one of my soul restoration day hikes, and I am drawn there like a magnet each time I am in close physical proximity. Two other times I have done the 7.5 mile loop after a backpack trip, and the thought to do so again formulated  early on the last backpack trip. My decision was all but confirmed when I ran into two female hikers on my way down Easy Pass, who said they had done Maple Pass/Lake Ann the previous day. They reported that the trail had a fair amount of snow, but was “so very beautiful”.

“Don’t I know it!”, I thought, and knew I would go there.

Lake Ann/Maple Pass day hike

I have been on this hike the two times previously following backpack trips, a handful of times by myself, and once with my kids when they were quite young. ALL these trips have intensely positive associations and great memories, and the scenery is simply unbeatable. Since the day I set out was mostly clear, I knew I would be in for a real treat! I was looking forward to getting completely squared away in the head,  heart, and soul.  Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I came out of my solo backpack trip feeling any major unrest…but I was drawn to the ease and predictability of the loop hike. It’s me in my happiest place…one step after the next, up the pass, along the pass, and back down again. Simplicity and Presence prevail.

All I can say is that the hike delivered as promised. Here are some scenes from my time there…I trust that readers will go if desired and formulate their own experiences and memories.  🙂

Scenes from Maple Pass/Lake Ann

Looking UP at Maple Pass and DOWN to Lake Ann

Looking UP at Maple Pass and DOWN to Lake Ann

So many peaks in the background...

So many peaks in the background…

An old guy took this picture...the lighting is a little off, but he was nice enough to take the pic!

An old guy took this picture…the lighting is a little off, but he was nice enough to take the pic!

Heading up the last part of the pass...all snow, all fun!

Heading up the last part of the pass…all snow, all fun!

At the very top...a 7.5 months pregnant woman took this photo. A woman after my own heart!

At the very top…a 7.5 months pregnant woman took this photo. A woman after my own heart!



Coming down the pass, view of Rainy Lake

Coming down the pass, view of Rainy Lake















Hi Kathie!


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