Ptarmigan Ridge and Chain Lakes Loop
For my third solo backpack trip, and final trip before heading out for the John Muir Trail, I wanted to get in some “serious backpack miles”. I was hoping to find a loop that would give me 14 – 17 miles on each of two days, with one overnight in between. I told myself that’s what I needed, to feel “completely ready”, and to give my legs, feet, and equipment one final test.
But once again, some voice of reason inside me said, “No, Kathie, that’s not what you really need. Take it easy, don’t push so hard…just enjoy the heck out of this last experience before you embark on the big one…” And so I did.
I started at Artist Point, at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway. I did a straightforward trip to Ptarmigan Ridge with a friend on day one, then played on the Sholes Glacier below Mt. Baker for the remainder of the day. I spent the night at a private and hidden campsite on Ptarmigan by myself after my friend hiked out, with Mt. Baker as my guardian. For day two I did a longer route out, incorporating in Chain Lakes Loop. Back at my car, I did a final day hike of Lake Ann and went swimming. The weather was absolutely perfect, and I had more views of Baker, Shuksan, and multitudes of other peaks that I wish I knew the names of but can never recall. I don’t know if it’s possible to get enough of the magic of being so closely intertwined with all those peaks and in that environment, but I was darn close. I immersed myself from 8:30 am Wednesday until 6:30 pm Thursday into pure heaven.
Artist Point to Ptarmigan Ridge and Sholes Glacier
If you have never been to Artist Point, drop everything and go there! You can drive your car to the front row views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan, without having to hike at all. Or you can knock off an easy 1.2 miles on Huntoon Point loop, climb Table Mountain (3 miles steep but worth it), embark on Chain Lakes loop (6 – 8 miles, depending on how you do it), or take off for Ptarmigan Ridge (9 – 12 miles). On a sunny day in summer, anything is possible!
My friend and I hit the trail for Ptarmigan Ridge at 8:30 Wednesday morning. I carried both my backpack and some of his gear, as he does measurements on the Sholes Glacier and was hauling in drills and solar panels and other assorted heavy items. Point being, my pack was good and heavy, so I got to test that out. The vistas on this hike simply never disappoint. Neither words nor photos can do justice to the magnificence, but I will give it my best shot.
The trail DID have some steep snow traverses. Early on, I was tentative and felt uncertain. I had poles, but no crampons. Normally, I don’t feel anxious about snow, but with the weight of the pack, I noticed a tendency to feel off balance. I also noticed that the more we hiked on snow, the
more comfortable I became. Hiking on snow always brings fond memories of being in the mountains, of spring skiing, and multiple positive associations. In no time I was into a rhythm, and stopped worrying about slipping or falling. One step at a time, one snow field at a time.
The 4.5 miles to my designated camp site went quickly. We arrived before noon, and I dumped my backpack and went down to fanny pack for our glacier travel.
The time on the Sholes glacier was fun and informative. My friend measures snow loss and glacier melt by various means. He had been up there merely six days prior, and in that time frame, up to 20 inches of snow had melted off. It was great fun cavorting on the glacier, but sad to think of it’s decline. I enjoyed being there and learning about glacial melt-off, and what it means for the bigger picture. A humbling and awe-inspiring experience.
As we returned from the glacier, we were in for a real treat. A herd of 26 mountain goats were munching their way along the route back to my campsite. I have to say, I have seen many mountain goats in my time…but never a herd of 26, and never so fearless and close. What a great way to cap off a great day!
I kept thinking, it just couldn’t get any better. Back at camp, I set up my tent and made food. Each action witnessed by Mt. Baker, standing guard over me. I stayed up until sunset, as I knew the alpenglow on Mt. Baker and Shuksan would be fantastic. It did not disappoint…
Out Ptarmigan and around Chain Lakes loop
I awoke Thursday morning, well rested and beyond content. I took my time packing up, and was on the trail by 8:30. I planned to incorporate Chain Lakes loop into my return hike, both because I wanted the extra backpack miles and because it’s simply a lovely trail. I have run this trail multiple times in my past when I could still run, and I have also snowshoed it one early June with my son. Positive associations and memories abound, and there was no way to go wrong on this beautiful day. I felt strong and capable, and again totally immersed myself in the experience. Here are some views along the way…
As I hiked the loop, I thought about how I have come to readiness for the upcoming John Muir Trail. I transported myself in my mind to the trail as I went up and over Herman Saddle, and ascended the top. I fluctuated back and forth between full presence in the moment, and visualizing myself on the upcoming trip. I ran into multiple hikers on Chain Lakes loop, some of whom I chatted with and shared my upcoming adventure. All of this helped the trip to take on a new reality.
It hit me that I am ready, and I am there! I have done the preparations and tested the waters along the way. I have put in the miles, revised and refined the gear, and come to a place of acceptance with my physical self, limitations and all. The only way to describe how I felt as I completed this loop, back up to Artist Point, is to say that I felt at great peace. When I first set out on these solo hikes, I was worried and anxious. Now, completing my third and final, I felt confident and certain that I will be OK on the JMT. I am ready.
For more information on these hikes: