Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Mt. Baker

Copper Ridge Loop — Day 4

Indian Creek to Egg Lake  — 9/13/17, 12 miles, 4000 feet elevation gain.

It took awhile for daylight to enter my deeply forested Indian Creek campsite. It was 6:30 before I emerged from my tent —  bankers hours for backpackers!  Over breakfast and coffee I considered the day ahead. First up were back to back river fords over Indian Creek and the Chilliwack River. Then a climb of 4000 feet, from the low point ((2225 feet) to the high point (6260 feet) of the entire Copper Ridge loop. Then back down to Egg Lake for the night — 12 miles total.

After breakfast and map study, I began packing up. I didn’t know what to expect with the river fords, as the rangers had said they could be “waist high”.  They also said that route finding “might be required” between the first and second crossings. All these uncertainties created more than a little anxiety as I transformed my sprawling campsite into a self-contained backpack. I left accessible sandals, extra socks, even extra shorts.  And I put my sleeping bag and tent in garbage bags, just in case.

River Fords

Ready to go by 8:15, I noticed that the couple camped just above me appeared packed up as well. I moseyed into their site, calling hello and asking if they knew anything about the river crossings. They didn’t, but we made introductions (Brian and Sarah, from Portland), and agreed we’d take on the unknown together.

It was .7 miles to the first crossing. When we got there, we looked at each other, surprised. The creek was low, and moving ever so gently. Brian decided to take off his boots and do it in socks, and I opted to do the same.  Sarah wore sandals. The first ford was barely knee high and very straightforward.  On the other side, Brian went first, easily spotting the orange tape that marked the location of the second crossing.  I walked the short distance between river banks (over rocks) in my socks. It seemed the easiest option, although a very painful one for my extremely tender feet! The second ford was equally as simple.  Again, barely to the knees. Mid-September and low water levels made these fords easy and painless.  At any other time of year, I can imagine it could be a whole different story!

On the other side, we chatted as we dried our feet and put dry socks and boots back on. Brian’s mom had just had knee replacement, and he was impressed that I was out backpacking ten months post-replacement. “You are an inspiration!” He said. “I am going to tell my mom all about you!”

They were headed to camp at Copper Lake. “That will be quick”, I said. “It’s only 5.7 miles from here.” Brian looked at me quizzically, but said nothing. That’s the number of miles I had in my head to reach the lake.

Copper Ridge Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Mountain

Brian and Sarah, clearly on a mission, shot up the far side of the creek, calling back, “See you up there!” I felt like saying “Not at that speed!” Clearly they were fast hikers, and I figured they’d be at the lake before I even reached the ridge. Plus I was camping at a different lake. I didn’t think I’d see them again, but I was glad they’d been there for the crossings. I stalled for time getting water and a snack, trying to rev myself up for the elevation gain to come.

At 9:45, I was as ready as I’d ever be. I hooked up my audiobook and headphones, wanting distraction from the inevitable challenge of hauling my 50-lb. pack up 4000 feet. After the previous day’s fall, I decided I’d take the ascent one slow, careful step at a time. The trail was steep, switchbacking relentlessly through forest. I could see why most people did the loop the other direction (the way I had previously done it). But hey, if I wasn’t going up the switchbacks, I’d be going down them, and frankly, neither option was a walk in the park! I thought of Dad again, reminding me to “put my nose to the grindstone” when undertaking challenging tasks. This was one of those times.

First views, finally!

Mt. Redoubt in distance

Eventually, the forest thinned, and I had views to further distract me. It felt like I’d been going for hours and making little progress. I was tired and wanted a substantial break, but I also wanted the sense of gaining the ridge before resting.

Boulder crossing, scene of fall #3

Finally, I came to a boulder field, and saw the first two people I’d seen all day since Brian and Sarah. I checked my watch. It was 12:45, I’d been going for 2.5 hours, and I honestly wasn’t sure where in relation to Copper Lake I stood. I asked a question I almost never ask: “Do you know how much farther to Copper Lake?”

“About four miles”, the woman, traversing the boulder field in the opposite direction, responded.

“Four miles!” I was stunned. That would mean I had only travelled 1.7 miles in 2.5 hours! That couldn’t be right. I was so rattled that I took my eyes off the ‘trail’  to look at her in horror, and tripped, again. This time I fell hard and ungracefully on my behind, a sharp rock impaling the right butt cheek. The pain caused a sharp intake of breath.

“No way,” I said. “It can’t be that far!” Her hiking partner piped up. “More like three. At the  most. It’s pretty flat along the ridge, though. And beautiful.”

I thanked him, still exasperated, and continued the short distance to the ridge. I thought about those numbers. 2.7 miles in 2.5 hours. I really was hiking slowly! Whatever — I tried to shake it off.  At the top, I plopped down, gently, for a lunch break. Sitting hurt after that fall. But the views were incredible, puffy white clouds against blue sky blanketing peak after peak.  I spent 30 minutes up there, taking in caloric and supernal nourishment.

Challenger Mt. and Whatcom Peak from Ridge Trail

View from Copper Ridge…

Mineral Mountain, foreground, Shuksan and Ruth Mt. in back

Mineral Mountain, foreground. Background, L to R: Icy Peak, Mt. Hagen, Bacon Peak.

Classic view of Mt. Redoubt

Mt. Lindeman, Right; Middle Peak, left

 

Copper Ridge Trail

Mostly revived, I hefted on my pack and moved along. The ridge trail wandered for however many miles, headed toward Copper Lake. I struggled to keep my eyes on the trail, the draw to unfolding views an incredible pull. I wasn’t sure when (if ever!) I would reach the lake, as apparently I was on the slow hiking boat that day. But unexpectedly soon,  at 2:15, I arrived.

Copper Lake

Looking back on Copper Lake

I filled up on water and took another break, this time only 15 minutes. The day was not over — I still had more switchbacks to gain Copper Mountain,  then a drop back down to Egg Lake.

Copper Lake to Copper Mountain Lookout

The clouds continued to thicken on my short break at the lake. I LOVE sunshine, and will take it anytime. But I was grateful for the cooler temps, as I could put a t-shirt on over my tank top. Carrying a heavy pack in a tank top always causes shoulder chafing, something I struggled with tremendously on my three weeks on the John Muir Trail. The extra layer between strap and skin brought instant relief.

Clouds building over Mineral Mountain

Looking up to Copper Mt. Lookout — finally!

Looking down into the Chilliwack River Valley, 4000 feet down

Copper Mt. foreground, Icy Peak and ridge leading to Shuksan behind…

My course after the lake was more steep switchbacks and more expanding views, including back to the shrinking Copper Lake. Soon I could see the lookout on Copper Mountain, and I knew I was close. I picked up the pace for the final distance, arriving just before 3:30. For that section, the distance I expected to cover in a set amount of time had returned.

Copper Mt. Lookout, actively used and maintained, but locked unless luck brings you there with a ranger present.

From lookout: Foreground, Hannegan Peak, climbed on first day, left. Granite Mt. right. Background: Shuksan, left, Mt. Baker right, in clouds

Looking down Slesse Creek Valley (Mt. Slesse prominent peak in distance), to Fraser River lowlands and North Shore Mountains far in the distance

And the lookout was spectacular! I’d been there twice before. Once, with Rob in 1997. As mentioned, we went the opposite direction, reaching the Lookout on Day Two. We spent the night right there, which I am not clear if you can still do. On that trip, I hauled in my pack a three-pound loaf of home-made zucchini bread and a bottle of red wine, among other things. I am not exaggerating when I say my pack then weighed over 70 pounds! I broke out the bread and wine at the lookout, and Rob was astounded, and grateful. We shared the bounty with two other guys also camped up there.  Definitely a highlight from that first hike.

The other time I was there was with an old boyfriend, Gregg, in the summer of 2014. That was an extremely low snow year, and we hiked up to Silesia Ridge for the night in early June — unheard of in all but the most unusual year. We set up camp in one of two always popular sites, but saw not a soul. After dinner, we hiked up to the lookout, again seeing no one. We stayed almost until sunset, dropping down the 1.5 miles to camp in a show of spectacular colors I won’t ever forget.

Mt. Shuksan from lookout

Southern Pickets! Including Mt. Fury and Phantom Peak

Shuksan and Baker…Baker can’t seem to lose her cloud topper

To my amazement, there was no one at the lookout this year either. I stayed up there for a good half hour, enjoying views in every direction. I kept hoping the cloud topping Mt. Baker would lift, but it persisted. The wind was brisk, and I had to put on more layers. The sun stayed mostly behind clouds, and the cloud formations in the distance made for spectacular viewing. And photos. I took a ton in each direction, trying to remember which peaks were which…

Panorama from Copper Lookout

Copper Lookout to Egg Lake

When I finally decided to leave, I wandered down slope. I found one obvious campsite, surmising that must be the place where Rob and I had camped. I noticed something that could only be a compostable toilet just below, completely out in the open. WOW, I thought that’s a toilet with a view! But also a view for everyone else too. I didn’t remember the toilet from a few years earlier, and figured it must be new. As I dropped down, though, the trail got more and more faint, and I realized I was going the wrong way. The trail down had to be in a different direction.

Toilet with a view!

Windy selfie, Mt. Redoubt on my shoulder

I retraced my steps to the lookout, and, in my short absence, a person had appeared.

“Where did you come from?” I asked. The guy looked at me very strangely, like did I think he dropped from the sky…?

“Uh, Silesia Ridge….” He answered. “Why do you ask?”

I told him about the toilet, and heading down the wrong direction. He said simply “The trail down goes the other way. Just on the other side of the towers. You can’t  miss it.”

OK then, clearly he didn’t know me and my propensity for missing obvious trails! I thanked him, and returned to the tower, and, sure enough, there was an obvious trail down. And another hiker coming up, who was the first guy’s hiking partner. I asked this guy for a photo, and he obliged.

Headed down the correct trail from the lookout

On the correct trail now, all was familiar. I remembered heading down the steep switchbacks with Gregg as the sun got low on that gorgeous June evening. It was pretty now too, although cloudy, and I was tired of hiking and wanted to be at Egg Lake. The day, while grand, felt like it was going on forever.

Once down the switchbacks, the trail headed back up.  Again. I was tired of gaining elevation! I could see the lake basin, but still the trail climbed. Finally, I came to the signed junction for Egg Lake.  Then it was just .3 miles of elevation loss, and I’d be home for the night.

Egg Lake, finally!

Campsite at Egg Lake

Egg Lake Campsite

The first campsite contained a woman and gear.  She explained that were staying in that site, but her husband was off checking out the other two sites, each of the three spaced far from the other. “Hey, honey!” She called to him, “Which site is the best over there?”

He started reporting back from the other side of the lake the specs on the two available sites. I’d call back a question, he’d shout the answer. Realizing how silly this was, he finally said,”Let’s wait until I get closer.” He came back, and gave me the low down on the other options available. We chatted for a good 15 minutes, and I learned that they were from Virginia, here for a ten-day North Cascades backpacking and hiking trip. The distance they’d come to immerse themselves in this beauty made me incredibly thankful that I could attain that so close to my home.

While I enjoyed the chat tremendously, I had to get my pack off.  I thanked them and moved out of their site. I decided on the site farthest away, and with it’s own compostable toilet! But not one that was visible to all the world. It was a great site, high above the lake, with views back towards the lookout tower. And exposed. The wind was brisk, and I changed clothes before setting up camp and getting dinner. I kept thinking about the surreal nature of the day, in terms of how long it took me to cover distance, and I finally pulled out the map while I waited for my backpacker meal to rehydrate.

That’s when I learned that I’d transposed numbers. What I thought was 5.7 miles to Copper Lake was actually 7.5! No wonder it had taken so long! While still no speed record, at least that helped explain why it felt like I was hiking but getting no where. The steep section was nearly two miles longer than I thought.

Somehow this reassured me that I was still in the game. I didn’t feel terribly old or slow throughout the day, but it did get my attention. Now, I realized it was just a mis-read of the map. I contemplated this while I ate. How a belief about something can hold strong even in the face of contradictory evidence. I know generally how fast I hike, yet by believing the incorrect number, I believed I was way off my normal pace even though I was not.

Evening light from Egg Lake campsite, looking back toward Copper Lookout

Reflectively, I watched the colors of the sky turn their oranges and pinks, staying up until the last bits of light had faded away. The encroaching night air was cold and windy.  Gratefully, I crawled into my tent, satisfied and with a sense of great accomplishment about the day. The mysterious pieces finally all fit together.

Alpenglow on Copper Mountain, end of a great day!

 

 

 

 

Copper Ridge Loop and Whatcom Pass Backpack Trip — Day 1

Copper Ridge Loop, with spur hike to Whatcom Pass, plus day hikes to Tapto and Middle Lakes, and Hannegan Peak.

A broken finger and a weather window combined in perfect harmony to allow me to take five days last week and get away on a solo backpack trip. I broke my right ring finger in a dog accident (bowled over from behind by three dogs!) on August 31. There are many things one can do with a broken finger, but, alas, delivering massage is not one of them.

But backpacking with a splint? No problem.

I had wanted to do the Copper Ridge Loop for years, having only done it once with my ex-husband, back in 1997.  We also did it in September, and it stayed in my memory for it’s high ridges with stunning views, deep river valleys with exciting crossings, pristine alpine lakes and meadows, old growth forest, a spectacular lookout, plenty of mileage, and great day hike potential. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

View from Copper Mountain Lookout

Stats on my trip:

TOTAL DISTANCE  —  About 55 miles.       LOCATION  —  Begins and ends at Hannegan Trailhead (FR road 32).  ELEVATION GAIN —  About 8600 feet.         HIGH POINT —  Copper Mountain Lookout, 6260.     SIDE TRIPS  — Hannegan Peak, Tapto Lakes, Middle Lakes, Egg Lake.      DIFFICULTY  —  Strenuous! But so worth it.   REQUIRED — Backcountry permits to camp (available at the Glacier Service Station), first come first served. Northwest Forest Pass for parking.

A word about permitting:  This is a very popular loop hike, and permits are required. I showed up at the ranger station the day before my planned departure, which is the earliest you can get a permit. The rangers were extremely helpful with trip planning. I wanted to take the loop clockwise, as that is how I’d previously done it, and that seems to be most “recommended”. However, campsites were not available on the dates I wanted to go that direction, so I opted for counter-clockwise. And an extra day — originally I planned for 3 nights, but to do all I wanted looked like it would take 4 nights and 5 days.  I left the ranger station excited and ready for adventure!

I will break this trip into five (hopefully short!) posts. But don’t wait until the last post to consider this for a great fall backpack trip. Fall color and blueberries await!

Day 1 — Hannegan Trailhead to U.S. Cabins (10.2 mile).  Side trip to Hannegan Peak (2.2 miles). Sept. 10, 2017

Trailhead to Hannegan Pass

My permits secured, I drove straight to the trailhead Sunday morning.  It wasn’t as early of a start as planned, but I was on the trail by 10:25. My pack was heavy — much heavier than I wanted. Not only did it contain 5 days of food, but extra clothing galore, as I had been warned of potentially “waist high” river crossings. Plus, while Day 1 was mostly clear, it had rained substantially the previous two days (thankfully, as it cleared away significant forest fire smoke) and rain remained a slight threat in the forecast. I knew I’d be hiking in a river valley for two days, and I am absolutely paranoid about getting wet and cold. I didn’t weigh my pack, but it was on par with last years heaviest on the John Muir Trail — 57 pounds. I struggled to even get it on at the trailhead!

One more note:  This was the first significant backpack trip since knee replacement last November. Though healing has been good, I am a bit knock-kneed as a result of the surgery. I tend to drag that right leg a bit, and I trip much more often than I used to. So I knew I would have to be extra careful with the added weight of the pack.

The first three miles of the trail were uneventful. Ruth Mountain emerged after a couple of miles, and she was spectacular despite the clouds. I have climbed Ruth once, and I loved it. Good memories of that trip and watching her come into view made the tedious going up the pass somewhat easier.

Ruth Mountain from Hannegan Pass Trail

I arrived at Hannegan Pass (four miles) at 12:30. I immediately dumped my pack, fished out a jacket with pockets and stuffed in my lunch. I wanted to climb Hannegan Peak (1.1 miles, 1100 feet elevation) while I could. The day was mostly clear, and this would be my only view opportunity for the day, as I knew I’d be heading into forest for the remainder.

From Hannegan Peak trail…Mt. Sefrit, Nooksack Ridge, and Mt. Baker

Also from Hannegan Peak trail…L to R — Ruth Mt., Jagged Ridge, Mt. Shuksan

I sailed up Hannegan Peak, enjoying the absolute freedom of hiking with no pack after miles of slogging upward with a heavy one. I joined four other people at the top, all basking in the intensely powerful views.  I took pictures in each direction, trying to determine which peaks were which. I settled down and ate my lunch squarely in front of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, Ruth Mt., and the Nooksack Glacier and Tower.

Shuksan from Hannegan Peak

Top of Hannegan Peak, with Baker and Shuksan

It was hard to leave this scene,  but I still had 6.2 miles to go for the day. After 40 minutes, I reluctantly retraced my steps back down to the pass and re-shouldered my heavy pack.

View North to BC peaks and Silesia Creek Valley

Hannegan Pass to U.S. Cabins

The trail drops for a mile, then splits in three directions. To the left is Copper Ridge Trail, the one I would be taking if I had my druthers. To the far right is a trail to Boundary Camp, which, thankfully I was not staying at. Apparently, it’s trashy. Instead, I followed the Chilliwack Trail, loosely following the river.

I didn’t particularly like this section, as both the ground and brush were very wet from recent rain. The trail was mostly cut away, but in some places I had to blindly plow my way through wet brush. At times I couldn’t see the trail at all, a bad scenario for me. I tried my best to move carefully, yet keep up some speed.

Then the inevitable happened. I tripped, tried to save my fall with my right pole, but the ground was too soft. My pole sank uselessly a foot or more into the soft ground, and I landed hard, face first in the wet dirt, pack pinning me down. I was both surprised and embarrassed, though no one else was there. There was no way I could get up except to unhook my pack and ungracefully roll out from under it. I was covered in dirt and frustrated.

Shaking myself off, I continued on. I remembered the very first time I backpacked, at age 7. Then I was carrying a pack too big and heavy for my small size, and I similarly tripped. The pack went over my head, such that I was bent in half, unable to get up until an older sibling helped me. At least then I was agile enough to stay partially upright! With age, I’ve found I fall more spectacularly, as it seems to be easier on the body to not fight it.

After the fall, I slowed down, checking footing with each step. When I came to Copper Creek campground, I saw my first hiker since Hannegan Pass. Named Derek (pronounced Dirk — he was German), I learned he was headed the same direction as me, and on a similar hiking schedule. We’d be at different campsites that night, but would both end up at Whatcom Pass the following night. I was grateful for at least one person hiking my way, as the trail had been so quiet.

The theme of solitude continued when I finally arrived at U.S. Cabins campground, right at 5:00 pm. I had my choice of sites in the sprawl, as no one else was there. I chose the site closed to the Chilliwack river, both for ease of getting water and for the calming sounds of the flowing water.  My site was big enough for 6 at least, and I got to do the Kathie Tupper Sprawl! The evening was stress-free and leisurely, as I spent time writing and reading after dinner. Magnificent colors emerged at sunset, and I crawled into my tent by 7:40, even before complete darkness fell. A great first day, fall and all.

Sunset on unknown peak from campsite, Day 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pre-Wedding Hike

Me and the boys on Dickerman

Mt. Dickerman, round two, with the three stooges!  (9/1/17)

My daughter got married two weeks ago, and what a celebration it was! She and Kevin tied the knot on a sunny Sunday at Marine Park in Bellingham. What timing — it was the day before smoke from more forest fires descended, unfortunately and again. Such a glorious occasion, and the day could not have been more perfect. As were the days leading up to the wedding…

Set up for the hike

The Friday before the wedding, I had the opportunity to hike with my son Kyle (in town from Atlanta with his girlfriend Lauren, both in the wedding), and two of his long-time buddies, Jack and Elijah. This adventure was similar to the one Kyle and I took last time he was in town in June (see Green Mountain trip report). Not so much in terms of epic-ness, but with regard to taking full advantage of a very small window of time to get out into the mountains for some fast hiking and quality relation time. This time with three young bucks, as Kyle had invited along long-time friends Jack and Elijah.

I picked Kyle and Lauren up at the airport very late Thursday, about midnight. We drove to the Lake Goodwin summer home for some quick sleep. In bed by 1:30, I was up at 5:30 Friday morning, energized and ready to start making pies for Shannon’s rehearsal dinner. I had to make five pies that day, with the hike sandwiched in between, in preparation for the weekend of wedding festivities.

I made four pies before we even left the house at 8:30. Two cooked, two in the oven. Lauren, unfortunately, couldn’t hike with us, as she had Shannon’s bachelorette party that late afternoon (Kevin had already had his bachelor party). But fortunately, she COULD and DID take the second round of pies out of the oven for me after we left, while waiting for a ride up to Bellingham. Already by 8:30, then,  I had a huge sense of accomplishment as we drove to meet Jack and Elijah (coming down from Bellingham) at Starbucks to carpool the distance to Mt. Dickerman. I had recently done Mt. Dickerman with Doug, and a previous Trip Report details the hike. I chose Dickerman this day for it’s distance (8.2 miles RT), elevation gain (about 1000 feet a mile), and views from the top. I knew all three young men would love it as much as I had a month earlier.

The Three Mountain Men

Kyle, Jack, and Elijah (and me) go way back. I’ve known Elijah since he and Kyle started playing Cal Ripken baseball back in fourth grade. They played competitive basketball and baseball together all through middle and high school. I’ve known Jack since the summer before high school, when he and Kyle formed a fast friendship that continued all through high school and attendance at the same college. Jack had been on previous hikes with us, including the fogged in Vesper Peak trip of 2015. He had hiked the entire El Camino trail in Spain earlier that summer, and it turned him into a major hiking advocate.  I hadn’t seen Elijah since high school, when he and Kyle played one final summer of baseball. Back then, Elijah wasn’t a hiker type. Always an athlete, he’d been much more of a gym guy.  But I knew from Facebook that he’d turned into a true mountain man since I’d seen him last, long hair and all!

Mountain Man Elijah
From Elijah Christie photo library

After a round of vigorous hugs in the Starbucks parking lot, we piled into my car and were on the way.

I loved listening to the buzz of conversation as we drove. Jack had just returned two months ago from a year-long stay in Spain. He didn’t just love the El Camino trail, he fell in love with the whole country and made arrangements to go back and teach English abroad for an entire year! Elijah had just returned from a solo trip to Thailand, where he’d hiked and explored the country. All three talked injuries, physical bodies, and recoveries. They bantered back and forth, each coming from a different perspective. Jack, the most soft-spoken of the three, was just getting his bearings back after returning to Bellingham, and was still nursing a long-time groin injury. Elijah, a personal trainer working and power lifting at a gym, offered a different perspective on all kinds of things I never even think about. The conversation about the intricacies of the grab and snatch (at least I think that’s what it’s called…), lasted at least ten minutes! And Kyle, having just finished his first year in his doctorate program for physical therapy, asked questions and offered insights on everyone’s physical well-being. The hour drive flew by.

The hike up

We were on the trail by 10:30. I psyched myself up properly, as I knew these guys would be fast. The starting hiking order was Jack, Elijah, Kyle, then me. Some relief in that, as if I couldn’t keep up, I could trail off. But I was determined to do my best,  and was looking forward to the inevitable physical effort required to do so.

After a fast 15 minutes, Jack called back,  “Pace Ok?”

“It’s great!” I replied, trying not to sound winded. As long as I didn’t talk too much, I could keep up. My only conversational need was to answer direct questions or insert the occasional anecdote as appropriate. Mostly,  I listened, and concentrated on how my body felt as I put one foot in front of the next, alternating feet and poles as I powered myself up. I felt the burn in my quads and loved it.

Kyle turned around periodically to check on me. “Doing OK, Mom?” He’d ask. I’d nod and smile. I was doing great, loving the work out, and being in the presence of that much positive physical energy.

We passed people as we went, though not too many for a sunny Friday. In seemingly no time we broke out of the forested switchbacks. Right at the first meadow, conversation and hiking ground to a halt as Elijah suddenly said “Whoa, dude, there’s a bear!” Jack hadn’t seen the black bear feasting on berries a mere 30 feet in front of us. We all stopped and stared.

Kyle looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Mom, should we be worried?” Suddenly I was the bear expert! I’d seen a few, and  I’m the first to admit that the idea of bear encounters makes me very nervous. But with this guy? He (or she) looked innocent enough, adolescent age, not huge, but certainly no cub. And he was just minding his own business, just feasting on berries.

“I think he’s fine.” I answered, trying to sound confident.  “Let’s just hang for a sec.” We stood and observed, talking in hushed tones, like we were on safari watching lions court.  Soon the hikers we’d passed caught back up, and it was a regular bear watching party. But then we heard people coming down the trail, loud to our quiet,  it was evident they had a dog.

Kyle looked at me again, concern in his eyes. “Don’t you think somebody should warn them, Mom?” I didn’t necessarily want to send my son into the path of a bear, but he seemed up for the task.

“Sure, Kyle, go for it. Just move slowly.”

Once Kyle started walking, the bear lumbered in front of him, across the trail and off to the other side, He was out of sight in a second. But not out of mind. We told the group coming down they’d just missed the bear, and they were relieved. So were we.

Kyle and the bear…photo courtesy Elijah Christie

A bit farther along, Elijah announced “Hey guys, I need to consume calories. Very soon.”

At this point, I was in the lead. “OK, there will be a spot up here.” I answered. The open area I was looking for didn’t come quickly, so we stopped mid-trail for a quick calorie break. “Do you keep track of how many calories you eat every day?” I asked Elijah, as we dropped our packs and food came out.

“Yes. It’s mostly 3600, unless I am training for something specific.”

“Wow. That’s precise!” I answered, impressed. “How do you do that?”

“With an app, of course.” He smiled, chowing down.

Jack, meanwhile, pulled out a huge burrito. “Hey, I bet nobody can top this monstrosity! Beans, rice, cheese, onions, even brussel sprouts! Made it myself.”

“That’s impressive.” I observed. “Too bad it’s not gluten free.”

After a few minutes, Elijah commented, “Just 300 more calories and we can go.”

Calorie consumption break — L to R, Elijan, Kyle, Jack

But just at that moment, all the people we’d re-passed after the bear caught back up. The boys re-shouldered their packs with a haste rarely seen among my-age hikers. They were gone in a flash, leaving me scrambling, as they headed off merrily toward the top, Elijah munching his 300 calorie bar on the fly. I looked at the emerging hikers, shrugged, and pulled myself together as quickly as possible. Now I was behind.

For that final stretch of trail, I scrambled to catch back up. The views were magnificent, and I’d call ahead “Hey, guys, don’t forget to take in the views!” I wanted them to stop and wait for me, as I was going just as fast as I could, but I could never quite catch up. At one point, Kyle, aware of my challenge, glanced back.  “You hanging in there, Mom?”

“Oh yeah”, I panted. These boys were booking it, sensing they were close. And that’s how the last 3/4 of a mile went. The three of them flying, with me a tad behind, behind, breathing hard, trying to close the gap before the summit. A matter of challenge and pride.

And I did. Barely. We all four summited together, coming out to the broad opening with views of Baker, Shuksan, Glacier Peak, dozens more, even Mt. Ranier off in the distance. Glorious sunshine, circumferential views, and only a few people adorned the vast base of the summit.

Top of Dickerman (Photo EC)

At the top

Elijah and Jack stayed on the highest level taking photos, and Kyle and I dropped down then popped back up to almost just as high. We pulled out sandwiches made that morning, and relaxed in the sun, gazing around and watching Jack and Elijah revel in the surroundings.

Sweaty Kyle settling in for lunch.

Soon they came to join us, and pulled out their lunches too. We all compared our stash. The bulk of Jack’s burrito, something densely caloric for Elijah, my mostly spinach sandwich with some turkey, Kyle’s pile of turkey and no spinach. I pointed out my mound of spinach to  Jack.

“Your brussel sprouts ain’t nothing compared to this greenery!” I said, munching happily.

Elijah, the photographer, zoomed right in on my sandwich consumption, and we all talked, ate, laughed. I felt surrounded by goodwill and positivity, and like I could hike with these three anytime.

The spinach sandwich. Photo by EC

Quality time and views with Kyle. Photo by EC

Candid lunch photo. By EC

As we chatted, I learned more about Jack’s job at a brewery, cleaning kegs. He’d just taken it upon his return. I asked him how that could utilize his chemistry degree. For the record, Jack was a 4.0 student through high school and college, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He laughed. “Not sure yet, but maybe brewing my own at some point in the future. For now, it’s a job, I get to sample beer, and it’s low stress.”

L to R — Jack, Elijah, Kyle

I watched Jack and Elijah, room mates since Jack’s return, posing on the top of the highest rock, hamming it up, Kyle eventually joining in too. All three took off their shirts, asking if it was ok to get topless on a summit. “Of course!” I said, taking photos. “Better you guys than me!” The three looked so comfortable, compatible, and cohesive. Like three souls come together again on a mountain top.

The hike down

A plan was hatched for all three to come back to the lake to swim, then Kyle would catch a ride back to Bellingham for dinner with his Dad while I made the final pie. Reluctantly, but with the promise of cool water on the unseasonably warm day, we headed down.

Love this shot with Kyle…he’s really not that much taller! Photo EC

At first, they all flew, and I struggled, again, to keep up. Going down is harder than going up for this aging body, and I really had to focus on my footing.

At one point, Elijah asked me a question about my experiences in the mountains. At first, I answered vaguely, but then, realizing his interest was genuine, more intricately.  That led us into a conversation that lasted for miles, on topics of our mutual passion for fitness and the outdoors, how he got into backpacking, finding our solace in the mountains, meditation, ways to enhance life experience, and a variety of other related topics. Talking to this 25-year old, insightful Elijah proved to be a highlight of the trip. I didn’t realize what a deep thinker he had become, or that we connected on a multitude of levels. The conversation was inspiring, informational, and fun. And it made the miles fly by. Kyle and Jack, perhaps tired of our conversation, moved ahead while Elijah hung back with me.

Eventually, we all regrouped a half mile or so from the trailhead, and continued our fast and furious descent. We made it back to the car in 1.5 hours, not bad for 4+ steep miles.

Finishing one adventure, and on to the next…

Back at the lake, we jumped in the water, ate chips and salsa on the diving board, and discussed our day. We agreed we’d all had a blast, we all liked the bear, and the company as well.  I felt a part of this group, and I knew on some level they admired that I kept up so well. It’s nice to be THAT MOM, the one that can still keep up with a group of 25-year olds.

With some sadness I watched them leave. I launched into my final pie and ate a solo dinner. I knew I’d be surrounded by family over the weekend, and focused on Shannon’s needs for the next two days. I let myself move in that direction. Hiking puts me in a great frame of mind, and I knew I would be centered and ready for all the events in the two days to follow. What a perfect pre-wedding adventure we’d had.

A big thank you to Kyle, Jack, and Elijah for such a great pre-wedding hike!

And a HUGE congratulations to Shannon and Kevin as they embark on the next stage of their life!

 

The happy couple!

 

 

 

 

 

All about FUN at Lake Ann

Lake Ann

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.

Note the hiking attire…sandals, bathing suit top, poles. Love the freedom!

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.

First views of Mt. Baker from Lake Ann trail

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.

View of Shuksan from Lake Ann trail

Perfect stream

Looking down on Baker Lake

View from glacier trail…Lake Ann and Mt. Baker

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.

Kathie and the Russian Beauties!

Take two!

Take 3!

Trying to look glamorous…

Easier without accessories!

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!

Last light on Shuksan, headed back up the Lake Ann trail

Can you see the slight haze? Already, it starts to return…

In retrospect…

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?

Looking ahead…

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!!

Mt. Baker looking good in blue!

First backpack trip of the year, Yellow Astor Butte and day hike to Tomyhoi Peak

Looking down on Yellow Astor ponds and Mt. Shuksan from trail up to Tomyhoi Peak

Yellow Astor Butte and Tomyhoi Peak (8/21 – 8/22)

The past three summers have involved multiple backpack trips, but this was the first for the summer of 2017.

I went with my friend Doug, and it was his first backpack trip in 40 years! We chose Yellow Astor Butte for it’s ease of access, short distance, and familiarity. Both of us had day hiked it a dozen times, and I had previously backpacked there with my kids, so I had a good idea of where to camp. Plus, climbing nearby Tomyhoi Peak was on the agenda for day two.

Doug and his new pack — no more external frame for him!

Stats on Yellow Astor Butte

LOCATION  —  Off the Mt. Baker Highway, 542, 46 miles east of Bellingham. Take Twin Lakes Road (FR 3065), just past Shuksan Maintenance Facility.  It’s 4.5 miles to the trailhead.    DISTANCE —  7.5 miles, give or take.      ELEVATION GAIN —  2677 feet (to the top of the Butte)   REQUIRED — NW Forest Pass. NO PERMITS REQUIRED TO CAMP — but get there early, it’s a popular spot!

The Hike in

Typically for us, we didn’t get an early start. After accomplishing all the details of packing up,  we finally hit the trail early afternoon. With such a short distance to hike, we weren’t worried. The day was gorgeous,  the trail straightforward and, as always, spectacular. Yellow Astor Butte is a favorite of mine, as views unfold magically and continually once you leave a short forested section, and it’s guaranteed that your jaw will drop seeing Shuksan and Baker in all their glory.  I’ve done many hikes this year featuring those two mountains, but it never gets old!

 

Baker view trail break!

Still plenty of flowers on the trail…

Camping at one of many Yellow Astor Ponds!

At the junction with the butte, we gazed down at some of the dozen, ponds, or tarns, trying to decide where to head. One in the distance caught my eye, far enough away from close-in campers. Even on a Monday, I knew it would be busy!  We wandered past the closer ponds and campers, and found a spot. I dropped my pack, peered over a rocky outcropping where we’d cook…and saw that there was a couple not far below that. The guy was clearly unhappy that we were going to camp there, even though we couldn’t see them from our selected spot and could give them visual privacy from the rock. Momentarily, we hesitated, as the last thing I want to do in the mountains is piss someone off or have them feel encroached upon. Many times,  I have felt my space invaded, especially on last summer’s solo JMT hike. Doug and I discussed it, and decided to camp there anyway, as it was a good size for our two tents, and enough distance away from the party below.

Looking down on tarns…where to camp?

Where we settled.

After setting up camp, we took a swim in the nearest tarn, cooked dinner, and settled in for the night. The best part of all this was Doug’s supreme enjoyment of the whole experience. Instead of putting words in his mouth, I will share his write-up on our trip:

Doug’s take on the trip…

Kathie and I did a backpacking trip to the tarns at Yellow Aster Butte (4 miles, 2150 vertical feet) on Monday, 8/21, then the hike up Tomyhoi Peak (5.5 miles round trip from our camp and about 2900 vertical feet–nearly all of it coming in just 2.2 miles) and the return to the trailhead (4 miles again and about 400 vertical feet) on Tuesday, 8/22, for a two day total of 13.5 miles and 5450 vertical feet.  

Kathie and I had previously been on a day hike to Yellow Aster Butte on July 24.  It’s a short, straightforward hike that quickly breaks out of the trees, runs through meadows full of wildflowers, crosses a snowfield, and at the end, climbs straight up to spectacular views.  We’d gone late in the day and had the top to ourselves for more than an hour.  This time, instead of climbing we turned left and descended to the tarns, 12 shallow ponds left by melting snow, most of them three to four feet deep, a few deeper.  Another magical place.  From the heights we counted at least three occupied campsites, and as we walked through the rocky, rolling terrain down on the ridge, we found we were racing two other couples also looking for places to camp.  We found the perfect spot, not far from two tarns, sheltering behind few trees and a small mound of rock with a full view of Mt. Shuksan and a partial view of Mt. Baker, where we’d spend most of our time.   

Mt. Baker from our campsite

Our cooking rock with views of Shuksan and Baker

I hadn’t been backpacking in decades, not since I was 24 and hiked in 12.5 miles to the Chinese Wall in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness with my brother Rick and his ex-wife Susan.  I remember my pack had an external aluminum frame I was proud of and it weighed in at just under 50 pounds.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to the campsite the first night and camped in rough terrain just off the trail.  I slept in a small gully under a tarp in a heavy sleeping bag that featured flannel.  Air mattresses were not yet the thing, so I made do with a ground cloth.  I wore a wool shirt and jeans–what else?–and army boots that were shredding my feet.  The second day we got to the campsite and set up, but because my feet were so blistered, I didn’t go on the hike we’d planned using a paper topographical map we’d happily bought at the Power Horn.  6-12 (or was it Off) kept the mosquitos at bay.  We searched for springs where we could fill our steel canteens.  Toward the end of the day, we gathered “squaw wood” to build a fire for warming, make coals for cooking (how could we have lived without tin foil), and after a restless night we plunged into freezing temperatures to build another fire to start the coffee in a steel coffee pot so we could stop shivering.  There was dried food, sure, but only raisins and oatmeal–and in those days, nuts meant peanuts–which may account for my aversion to them all today.  On the third day, we hiked out.  I was hobbling for a week or more on those feet.  That was the last time; is there any wonder?

This time, everything had changed.  It’s true, I’d dropped a grand and Kathie had borrowed a tent to make it so, but I was COMFORTABLE.  I ate well, slept well, made tarn water potable with Sawyer and Platypus filters and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Baker in last light

Mt. Shuksan in last light

For this I have Kathie to thank.  She’s an inveterate backpacker–two summers ago she did all 215 miles of California’s John Muir Trail plus several peaks along the way over 17 days (13 mile days if you don’t count the side trips), but that was with a friend, so last year she did the same thing alone.  Kathie and I love hiking together and have done a dozen high-country day hikes so far this summer.  She was determined to share her joy and take me to the next level.

Which she did.  I loved watching the light ebb and flow over the mountains as night settled in. 

Morning light on Baker and the knob I would climb up and over later that day.

Doug in his COTTON pajamas…he wanted comfort!

Day hike to Tomyhoi Peak — Doug’s report

The hike up Tomyhoi Peak was a real treat:  I’d seen it from the top of Yellow Aster Butte and it didn’t look like much, but boy was I ever wrong!  I knew Tomyhoi was a rectangular block only about a mile and a half south of the border with Canada and its summit required technical climbing skills (way beyond me), but what I didn’t know was it had at least three false summits, was topped by a glacier, and had incredible views from the top, even on a-little-less-than-clear day, which we had.  The trail was up, up, up, sometimes demanded hands to clamber over rock, offered long traverses across scree, and at one point skirted a 200 foot drop-off.  Only five rocky steps to be sure, but exposure enough to shiver my timbers.  The “top” where we stopped above the glacier was exposed as well.  Had we had our minds set on summiting, we would have had to make a 30 meter crossing of the top of the glacier–which didn’t look all that hard–but a slip would send one sliding into the crevasses below and would likely have been fatal. Reports I read afterwards recommended crampons and ice axes, and that was just to get to the technical climb.  No, I was happy just where I was. 

After Tomyhoi, Kathie added probably another two miles and 800 feet to her total as she climbed over a series of knobs on a boot-beaten trail to check out the long-rumored connection between the tarns at Yellow Aster Butte and the end of the High Divide ridge hike at Welcome Pass. She’s a mountain goat at heart with rock climbing in her past, but the going was tedious even for her, a steep scramble much of the way.  I’m glad I opted to cool my heels and make (potable) water.  

Kathie’s Note:

The connection does eventually lead to Welcome Pass. I almost made it, but turned around because of time and fatigue with the rocky path. After Tomyhoi, another 1.5 hours of steep up and down on sometimes very sketchy, nearly non-existent “trail” was more than enough!

Looking up at Tomyhoi Peak, way off in the distance, beginning our day hike.

Doug starting up trail to Tomyhoi Peak

Layers of views on our way up to Tomyhoi. Whatcom Peak and Challenger Peak in the distance

Five layers of views! Fourth out — Copper Ridge, my next backpack trip. Beyond, far right, Mt. Redoubt, left, Mt. Spickard

Not far below summit of Tomyhoi

Canadian Border Peak, left, American Border Peak, right, from near top of Tomyhoi

 

 

Trip Highlights!

There were so many, it’s hard to list. But here are my top four:

  1. Doug’s excitement of his first backpack in 40 years. I love to share the experience of backpacking with another, and what a great customer he was!
  2. The day hike to Tomyhoi Peak. I’d done this twice before, but forgot how challenging and interesting of a hike it was. I loved doing it again with the very enthusiastic Doug!
  3. Our campsite. Despite our crabby neighbors, it was pretty much perfect!
  4. Being out backpacking, finally. I have missed it so much since returning from the JMT last summer. What a great joy to be back into the mountains again for an overnight!

 

My backpacking excitement renewed, I have a three night solo backpack trip planned at the end of this week to Copper Ridge/Whatcom Pass loop. I can hardly wait!  Hopefully, smoke will abate. A tough year for forest fires. 

Enjoy the remaining weeks of summer!

 

Dropping back down the steep trail, Winchester Mountain and Whatcom Peak in distance

Mt. Slesse from Tomyhoi

Seen from my final wander…American Border Peak, left, Mt. Larrabee, right, and down to ponds.

 

 

 

 

 

ALL THE BEST FROM ARTIST POINT — Chain Lakes Loop, Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, and Table Mountain

All in one long day hike!  (8/16/17)

Chain Lakes Loop, Ptarmigan Ridge to Portals, Table Mountain

The plan for early last week had been to backpack into Yellow Astor Butte Wednesday and day hike Tomyhoi peak on Thursday. But plans change — my hiking partner Doug had a serious mouth infection from a root canal and wasn’t able to go, so we postponed our trip.

What’s a gal to do with a completely free day, mid-week, with the promise of sunshine tempting her from any and all responsibilities? GO ON A LONG DAY HIKE, OF COURSE! 

I’ve done this entire three-hike adventure once before, plus variations on the theme a couple other times.  All three hikes start at Artist Point, the end of the Mt. Baker Highway (542). No logging roads necessary for this adventure!

Stats on the Triumvirate

TOTAL MILES  —  Approximately 18.       ELEVATION GAIN  — 3775 feet.      HIGHEST POINT  —  6500.    DIFFICULTY — Hard.  Nothing is overly strenuous, but it’s long. And there was a fair amount of snow on Ptarmigan trail and some on Chain Lakes trail.    PERMIT — Northwest Forest Pass Required

Here’s the breakdown on the individual hikes…

Chain Lakes Loop

DISTANCE — 7 mile loop trail.     ELEVATION GAIN  —  1700 feet.     HIGH POINT  —  5400 feet (Herman Saddle).   DIFFICULTY  — Alltrails rates it Hard; I’d call it Moderate.

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

DISTANCE —  11.2 RT to Portals (very end of the trail); 9 RT if you stop at the campsites.    ELEVATION GAIN —  1880 feet (Portals)  or 1350 feet (campsites).     HIGH POINT —  6500 feet (Portals) or 6100 feet (campsites).    DIFFICULTY — Alltrails rates it Hard.

Table Mountain

DISTANCE —  2.6 RT (if you continue along south rim of the table until trail’s obvious end).       ELEVATION GAIN —  725 feet.       HIGH POINT  —  5700 feet.    DIFFICULTY — Moderate; short but steep and quite exposed.

Getting to the Trailhead

I set off relatively early for this long day hike, leaving my Sudden Valley home at 7:20. I had to stop for fuel and a NW Forest Pass, as I still hadn’t purchased one for the year.  After securing the pass at the Glacier Ranger Station, I noticed time was slipping away.  I enthusiastically passed a few folks on a couple long straightaways headed east from Glacier. Happily, I momentarily had the highway to myself!

Until I hit road work, just after the turn-off to Hannegan Pass. It was pavement work requiring a pilot car. I was first in line to stop…and the cars I’d passed all came up behind me. I felt chagrinned in my haste, and sat with tempered impatience for the ten minutes required until it was our turn. Lesson learned — hurry up and wait.

It was 9:10 when I arrived at the Artist Point parking lot (elevation 5100 feet). I counted 13 other cars in the lot when I arrived — not bad for a sunny, mid-August morning. I organized as quickly as possible, taking mandatory photos of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan from the parking lot (you know you are in for great hiking views when the lot itself sports these views!) I was on the trail by 9:30.

Mt. Baker from Artist Point

Shuksan from Artist Point

Wild Goose trail to Bagley Lakes to Chain Lakes to junction with Ptarmigan Ridge (6 miles)

I started my hike counter-clockwise on the Wild Goose Trail, located at the corner of the parking lot by the restrooms. The signed trail heads steeply back down to the Austin Pass/Heather Meadows parking lot, about a mile of scenic but weirdly positioned “trail” loosely paralleling the road. Shuksan was out in all her splendor, even with a few clouds milling around. Beyond the Heather Meadows parking lot I followed signs to Bagley Lakes trail, and contoured down to and then crossed a cool stone bridge. A left turn after the bridge finally pointed me toward Herman Saddle, my first destination.

To reach the saddle, I had to regain all my lost elevation and then some.  First the trail (now called Chain Lakes trail) traversed along Upper Bagley Lake, and then the switchbacks began.  When I first hiked Chain Lakes Loop, over 20 years ago,  those switchbacks seemed endless. Dozens of years and trips up here later, they really flew by. Plus, the views back to Table Mountain (where I planned to end this long day hike), Shuksan, and the lakes below,  just kept getting better with each step.  I reached the saddle at 10:50 — too early for lunch, but good for an energy bar. And pictures. I could see both Baker and Shuksan, and Baker too sported some clouds — in particular a lenticular cloud right on her top. I am glad I got Baker photos then, as that proved to be the most clearly I would see her until the very end of the day.

Table Mountain from Chain Lakes Trail

Shuksan with cloud cover from Chain Lakes Trail

Looking up to Herman Saddle from Chain Lakes Trail

Baker wearing lenticular cloud, from Herman Saddle

There was snow heading down from Herman Saddle, as expected. Since I’ve done the loop so many times, route finding was not an issue, even when the trail disappeared into snow. Plus, enough other people had done it that footprints clearly marked the path through snow, despite hourly melt-off.  I hadn’t seen a person since the Austin Pass parking lot, something that surprised me. I relished the absence of other hikers, so unusual on this busy day hike. I also fully embraced the warm sun on my skin. I knew I might lose both, my solitude and sun, as the day continued. I wanted to fully embrace all that each had to offer in those moments as I descended to the Chain Lakes.

 

Shuksan and Upper Bagley Lake from Herman Saddle

Baker and Iceberg Lake from Herman Saddle

Views of Iceberg Lake dominated the descent. Then Hayes Lake came into view, and here I spotted my first two hikers, milling around one of several campsites available at this lake. They were hunters, actually, in full camouflage wear and carrying rifles. Yikes! I am always alarmed when I encounter hunters in the wilderness. I don’t know what they were hunting and I didn’t ask. But as I moved past them, I checked my judgment. While I don’t hunt or even fish, I am aware that others do, and as long as in compliance with regulations, it’s up to each individual to decide how to enjoy the outdoors. But I was happy to leave them behind!

 

Hayes Lake

Iceberg Lake and back up to Herman Saddle (left)

Wildflowers on Chain Lakes Loop

After final views of Iceberg Lake, the trail headed back up. Gradually at first, past Mazama Camps and Lakes off to my right, a place I’ve never explored in all my hikes around the loop. In fact I’ve never camped at any of the lakes, always preferring instead to hike or even run the loop.  Although rocky in places, the loop lends itself to great trail running, and I’ve done so several times in my past.

 

Shuksan in all her glory!

But no running on this day, only swift hiking. As I looked up to the snowfields yet to come, I could see other hikers coming down, hiking the loop clockwise. The snow sections looked easily doable, and I eagerly pressed on. I made the “top” in no time, arriving at the junction of Chain Lakes and Ptarmigan Ridge trails at 11:50. To complete the loop it would be 1.2 miles of traverse back to Artist Point and my car; but for me, the fun was just beginning!

I enjoyed a break on a nice flat rock overlooking Baker, Shuksan, the lake basin I’d just come up from, and the trail beyond. Baker was definitely covered in clouds — in fact, if I didn’t know she was there, I’d swear she’d disappeared in the last hour! Shuksan was out in all her glory, though. I snacked, took photos, and anticipated the ridge to come…

Ptarmigan Ridge is one of my favorite places to visit. I go there with great frequency — often, just in my mind. The place holds a depth of significance for me I can’t explain. But, when I am at ease or in contemplative mode, especially while working delivering massage,  I often find myself unexpectedly on the trail! Or at the Portals, sitting gazing at Mt. Baker. No kidding, this trail is magical, unfolding traverse after traverse (five total, if you go as far as you can), each building on the wonder of the previous. 

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail to Portals and back to Artist Point (10 miles)

A short section of trail took me to where I could see Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. I had initially been hesitant about doing Ptarmigan, as the rumor mill and WTA reports had said it was still quite snow covered. But my friend Oliver, who takes measurements on the Sholes Glacier (coming off Mt. Baker, right near the Portals), said he’d been there three times, and that snow was diminishing quickly.  That was good enough for me! But I did bring YakTrax for added traction. Snow lingers on some sections of this trail even in light snow years, and with this being a particularly heavy snow year, I knew it would be prevalent.

Beginning of Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Snow on first section of Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Wildflowers on Ptarmigan

The First Traverse

There were initial switchbacks then two snow traverses right off the bat. Neither were too bad, and soon I was into rocks mostly, with snow mixed in. I crossed a small stream running directly across the trail, then meandered through rock and snow to the next, larger streams. Here a family sat and gazed at the splendor, which included a magnificent display of wildflowers! After this stream crossing, I headed into mixed snow, semi-loose sand, and rocks. It was easy to lose the trail here, but not too hard to spot it ahead. Or footprints, or some combination of both. I worked my way up the steep snow slope, sometimes following footsteps, sometimes forging my own path. I knew I had to top out at the top of the sizable snowfield, and again, having done it so many times before, I had no real concern about which way to go.

At the top, I was rewarded with the more views of Shuksan, who had gone into hiding when the trail down. As I continued along the last section of what I considered the first traverse (it’s not a straight shot, but generally heads in the same direction, southeast) the views opened up dramatically.  I knew it would get better and better, and had to restrain myself from taking too many pictures. Eventually, I gained a hump, where a handful of good campsites were, and the trail turned slightly right, onto the second traverse.

First views of Shuksan from Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

From second traverse, Mt. Blum (left), Mt. Hagen (right)

Bacon Peak (left), Anderson Butte (right) from second traverse

Second Traverse

Views exploded on this section!  Shuksan was the superstar, but all along the skyline, it was peak after peak. Bacon Peak, Mt. Hagen, Mt. Blum, Anderson Butte, and so many more. The presence of clouds made the sky even more dramatic. My cell phone’s camera got heavy usage on this section! The first part of the traverse was on rock, but I could see steep snow slopes to come. I watched hikers going up, slowly, and chose to put YakTrax on just before these sections. I am glad I did, as those two snow fields right before the end of the second traverse were steep, and not one’s I would want to lose my footing on!

A side note about YakTrax: It’s possible, I’ve discovered,  to wear these traction aids on snow and rocks, at least the basic model I have, which doesn’t have spikes. On early alpine hikes this year,  I sometimes kept them on, even on non-snow sections, when I knew or suspected more snow was to come. That is what I did for this hike. I wore the Yaks for the remainder of the hike, all the way to the Portals and back down the very first snowfield of the hike (the one I had initially come up without them). This was both beneficial and a pain. Hiking on rocks with the wiry cage on the bottom of the boot can be dicey on rocks, and I did take one risky fall near the top of the Portals. Forgetting temporarily about the yaks, I stepped on a slab of rock that, not surprisingly,  my Yaks couldn’t find traction on. No biggie, except the trail at the very top is narrow with steep drop-offs! I did not make that mistake again. I did much of Ptarmigan with the Yaks mostly out of caution, but I will admit, also laziness and a desire to keep moving.  I didn’t want to stop to take them off and put them back on with each steep snow crossing, as there were just too many on this hike. So I simply left them on. It wasn’t an ideal solution. But that is what I chose to do, and the option worked well to give me extra confidence on snow. 

Back to the hike. At the top of the second traverse, I came into view of Baker again. She had been hidden from view, but now was back. Sadly, she was still covered in clouds. Quite dramatically, though. The trail ahead went into clouds, and the path behind was in sun. That’s the mountains for you!

Baker still in clouds, visible again at the top of second traverse.

View from top of second traverse.

Mt. Hagen and Goat Lake, end of third traverse.

Third Traverse

The trail turned due west for this .9 mile traverse. I encountered an abundance of wildflowers and quite a few people on this section. The wildflowers were mostly lupines and mountain heather — both out in their prime. The first group of folks I passed were taking photos (like me) of the wildflowers, with far superior camera gear, however. The second group was three hikers from Portland, all from the same hiking group. One of the group members was battling cancer, and the three came up to experience one more round of hiking in the North Cascades.  That definitely made me appreciative of my health, and affirmed my commitment to making the most of each day. I also encountered two of Oliver’s co-workers, sent to do measurements of the Sholes Glacier in his absence. Compared to how few people I’d seen all day, that was a lot of people to see in one short stretch of trail.

 

Shuksan, Third traverse

The section tops out at a junction with Goat Lake, 500 feet below.  I have never been to this lake, and today was not the day. The lake was all but snowed under — still. Just a few bare patches of icy blue were visible beneath abundant snow.

Baker still in clouds, fourth traverse

Fourth Traverse

After Goat Lake junction, the trail turned sharply right, and gained a bit more serious elevation. This section passed Kaiser Camp, a handful of campsites located just a bit down and off the trail. With each step I moved closer to Mt. Baker, still clouded in. The air temperature was noticeably cooler, both with clouds and the proximity to the mountain. I had to put on another layer during this stretch. Even eternally optimistic me could sense the futility in remaining in just my tank top!

View from fourth traverse, Ptarmigan

At the end of this traverse, there were a few trees to navigate through. Then, straight ahead, was the secret, hidden campsite that I have stayed at twice. I won’t give any details, or it won’t be secret anymore! But it’s a stellar one, and the only place I’ve camped on this trail.

Fifth Traverse

I continued on with the last traverse, which would take me right to the base of the Portals. There was a combination of snow, dirt, rocks, and flowers all along this sometimes steep traverse. I got cocky at one point, entering a snowfield, and slipped convincingly. I barely caught myself — free hands clawed into the snow in an attempt at self-arrest before I slipped down the steep slope in earnest. After that, I paid closer attention. While YakTrax helped, the slopes were steep, and I did not want to fall.

Lara Divide from approach to Portals

Looking back on fifth traverse…

Once across the snow, I was into rocks and sand. There were numerous great campsites here, all close to the trail, but with magnificent views of the entire range of mountains from Shuksan to Baker, and the Sholes Glacier off to the right. No water, though, so one would have to count on snow melt or carry extra water to camp here.  As mentioned, this campsite area is what WTA calls the end of the trail, 4.5 miles from Artist Point. I encountered two trail runners here, and they reported that they’d been “all the way to the beyond”, and that no one else was there. Beyond lay the Portals, rock formations that serve as accesses to Mt. Baker climbing routes.  The word “portal” always reminds me of the Harry Potter books…a place one goes to be magically transported to another place.

Ascending the East Portal rock formation to what I consider the end of the trail…

The very first time I went to all the way to what I consider the end of the Ptarmigan Ridge trail was with my daughter, Shannon. It took us three tries to make it all the way, and we felt extremely accomplished! Since then, I’ve been drawn back year after year.  Ascending the East Peak, I remembered all the times I’d done this route, and in the variety of different types of weather. I’ve been to the Portals a handful of times in sunshine, and a few times in clouds and bitter, cold wind. Even though I know this place, so close to Mt. Baker that it really does seem like one is climbing right into her lap, is a stark mountain environment,  I was still surprised at the continual drop in temperature. I WAS prepared, though, with multiple layers of clothes and gloves.

Baker swirled in clouds, portals

Perfect campsite!

Even with the heavy cloud cover, the views behind were just fantastic. The lighting was spectacular and the peaks behind me were still mostly clear, with mystical cloud formations creating a feast for the eyes. I am sure a real photographer would have had a hey day! Near the top of the peak, I noticed the coolest campsite ever. Again, it was right next to the trail, but with Shuksan in the backyard and Baker in front, it offered up quite the scenic spot for a night. Some day, I vowed I’d go there to camp.

A warning here:  The “trail” up East Peak (or East Portal) is easy to lose, and it happens to me at some point most every time I am here. Familiarity has made me comfortable with this, knowing that the trail is vague, as I know how it all comes together on the top. But for a first timer, be aware that “social trails”, paths that go off in a multitude of directions and sometimes just end, make it hard to follow the trail. It’s doable, though,  if you stay with what appears to be the most obvious trail, and if you can see something resembling trail ahead. And eventually, there is simply no more trail to be had, and one ends up at the very end of this fantastic overlook, right down to a knife-edge below. Sholes Glacier is to the right, Mt. Baker sprawled right in front, and that entire range of beauty all the way back to Shuksan. 360 degree views, broken only by Baker’s huge presence.

Shuksan from portals

Knife edge, looking down from East Portal

Glacial snow and ice on Mt. Baker

Portal Selfie — cold and windy!

I arrived at the end at 2:30 pm. Carefully, I plopped down on the very last rock. With drop-offs on three of four sides, I made sure to keep all my belongings close. I ate my lunch amid the swirl of clouds and listened to the wind, the marmot calls, and streams running far below. Being that close to something as unrelenting as Mt. Baker, with glacial rock and snow staring me down, made me feel huge in accomplishment and small by comparison.  I sat like that for thirty minutes, taking it all in, letting mother nature hold me firmly in her grasp.

Back to Artist Point

Trail headed back down from portals

View headed down from portals — magnificent!

Tiny wildflowers in rocky, barren section on Ptarmigan

Semi-reluctantly, I headed down. I still had Table Mountain to climb to complete the triumvirate. The way down was like a whole new trail, in terms of views. Late afternoon lighting made everything even more striking, and the visual feast just wouldn’t end. Not a soul did I encounter, all the way back to the junction with Chain Lakes loop. Solitude, beauty, mystery, magic. Everything I came for just kept happening with abundance! And to top it off, when I crested out from Ptarmigan, Baker was back! In all her glory, clouds mostly gone.

Shuksan view, headed back down from Goat Lake

Baker Lake from Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan Ridge trail headed back up to Chain Lakes trail

 

Baker out again! End of Ptarmigan ridge trail

 

Last section of trail headed to Artist Point

 

I reached the parking lot at 5:00. There was a couple at the corner of the lot, and they immediately pummeled me with questions. It’s like they were waiting for a person who looked like they knew something about the trails. Turned out, they were a retired couple from San Francisco, hiking near Baker as part of a long road trip. At first, I felt impatient with their questions, as I wanted to embark on Table and finish off the day. But I LOVE talking trail, and couldn’t help but become completely engaged with them as they questioned me about the best hikes in the area — both for their car (a Prius, which has a lower clearance than my Subaru) and their desire not to get into too challenging of snow. We chatted for at least 15 minutes, and I suggested they climb Table at that point, as the day was getting short.

They went back to their car for poles and provisions, and I set off on my final hike of the day.

Table Mountain (2 miles)

I’ve only done this short hike perhaps five times. The first time was with my kids when they were quite young, maybe 6 and 8. In retrospect that was quite an adventure for them I’m sure! The trail has incredibly steep drop-off’s in its short ascent, and on the top too.  If you look at Table Mountain, there are two parts. The first, what I call Table Rock, is a mere 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot. Many people only go this far, and call that Table Mountain. The drop-off’s here are extreme, but so are the views!

Looking down from Table Rock to Bagley Lakes and entire lower trail system

View down from Table Rock…

If you continue on, however, a nice meandering trail goes along the south rim of the “table” for another mile or so. I like to take this trail, as it moves one away from all the  people on the Rock.

Baker from Table Mountain

Top of Table Mountain, from my spot of solitude

Looking at Table Rock on Table Mountain

To end my long day, I took the longer trail for a ways into an open area — views all around, snow, and quiet and solitude. I needed and wanted to sit in silence as a culmination of this fantastic day before calling it done. I dropped by the Rock before I went down, and all the hikers I could see from my earlier high perch were now gone. I had my alone moments there, too, before I descended the steep but mercifully short switchbacks.

Parting Shot…

Just before the parking lot, also coming down, I ran into the SF couple again. They introduced themselves as Art and Nancy, and we picked up our conversation again. They had only gone as far as Table Rock, but commented that they saw me communing with nature up farther on the Table. We continued chatting, back at our cars. I asked them to take a parting picture, and did the same for them. They were such a sweet couple, and I loved engaging with them!  I think we could have talked for hours. I felt at times like they wanted to adopt me! But they had a campsite to return to, and I had a 1.5 hour drive home. Eventually, we parted ways. And I was reminded again of the balance I am always seeking — solitude vs. the keen desire to engage with others. This day had a good amount of both.

I left the parking lot at 7:30, with just six other cars still remaining. As I drove the winding roads back down the Mt. Baker Highway, my heart was full to capacity. There is a part of me that longs to be in that environment, always. I know I can’t dwell there, my other life also calls. But to be immersed in the presence of giants for an entire day, and to traipse the miles and trails through flowers, snow, rocks, harshness and sunshine, brought joy and peace to my sometimes restless being.

End of a long and great day…

 

 

The mountains keep calling, and I will go back! 

The Splendor of Skyline Divide!

Skyline Divide Trail

Skyline Divide Trail (August 7, 2017)

It’s quite possible that there are not enough superlatives to describe Skyline Divide Trail. With only two initial miles of forested switchbacks to hike before gaining the ridge, the path beyond cruises for mile after mile.  It’s about four more miles to Chowder Ridge, making for a possible 12-mile round trip hike. But any distance beyond the ridge is well worth it! The divide itself is a northward extension of Mt. Baker, such that each step moves you closer and closer to the mountain, and eventually it feels as if you are sitting (or standing) right in it’s lap!  Wildflowers and mountain views line the entire way.

Stats on Skyline Divide

LOCATION — Off the Mt. Baker Highway (SR-542), 34+ miles east of Bellingham.  Look for Glacier Creek Road,  just 0.8 miles past Glacier Ranger Station. Follow signs to Skyline Divide. It’s 12.9 miles of reasonable logging road to the trailhead.    DISTANCE — Variable. WTA calls it 9 miles RT, but you can make it 12 if you go all the way to Chowder Ridge.     ELEVATION GAIN — 2500 feet or more, depending on how far you go.     HIGH POINT — 6563 feet, give or take.   DIFFICULTY — Moderate

Why Skyline Divide?

This is one of my favorite day hikes off the Mt. Baker Highway, and somehow I had not been there since 2012! I HAD hiked into the area via Cougar Divide, twice, since 2012. Cougar Divide is an unmaintained trail that loosely parallels Skyline Divide, and the two divides come together at Chowder Ridge. Some folks swear by Cougar’s much less popular way in. The drawbacks of Cougar are that the road is awful and the unmaintained trail is somewhat sketchy. Both are doable, but not nearly as straightforward as Skyline. Here is a link to basic information on Cougar Divide, if you want to avoid the crowds at Skyline…

Doug and I had been talking about Skyline since we started our alpine hiking adventures back in late June. However, a tree had fallen last winter and lodged itself deeply into the road at an awkward angle, blocking access. Extraction of the tree required some serious innovation on the part of Forest Service employees, and that did not happen until a couple of weeks ago. With the logging road open and an open afternoon, Doug and I set out for Skyline last Monday.

It’s worth noting that we were taking a gamble with the ongoing prevalence of forest fire smoke. We didn’t know to what degree smoke would be an issue. Skyline is SUCH a view trail, and we knew there was a chance it would be all socked in (like my recent trip to Pugh). It’s a long drive up there (about 1 hour 45 minutes from Bellingham) to a view trail with no views. Doug had been there the previous week, after the smoke came in, and said that at least Mt. Baker made an appearance. We decided to chance it.

The Hike!

Skyline Divide is so popular that it boosts a parking lot to hold 30 cars. There is room for that many again by the side of the road. I have been there when I had to park far down the road as the lot was full to overflowing. On this Monday afternoon, however, the place was nearly deserted. There were only a few cars when we arrived just after 1:30 pm, in our typical late-start mode.  Maybe it was the late hour, or that it was a weekday, or maybe the smoke, or perhaps the threat of bugs — for whatever reason, we had the place nearly to ourselves.

Gaining the Ridge

We left the parking lot at 1:47, and began the switchbacks. The elevation up to the ridge was a moderate 1500 feet in two miles. Trailside views opened up early, with a plethora of wildflowers blanketing the switchbacks just over a mile in. It was great to have that distraction, as the black flies were out in force! I kept thinking back to the most recent WTA trip reports, written from hikers on the two days prior:

From Sunday, 8/6:  “Believe me, do not go here unless you have a head net and repellent! And even with such help, the pests will still be a problem for you. You literally cannot stop walking or they will eat you alive!”

From Saturday, 8/5:  “Bugs were as bad as everyone says they are. Maybe worse. I cannot overstate how bad the bugs were. It’s no joke! Wear long sleeves and keep moving until you reach the ridge. You’ll get some relief up there, but bugs were a constant nuisance.” 

Initially, these reports made me laugh. People can be so dramatic! Admittedly the bugs were bad, but not THAT bad. Doug wore long sleeves and pants like he always does, so he fared all right. I kept my hankie handy for waving them away. But our best strategy was to just keep moving. We did,  so much so that, sadly, I didn’t take any photos of the early fields of wildflowers. Thank goodness there were more were to come!

We gained the ridge in an hour. Then it was into the views!

First (smoky) views of Baker

Cruising the Divide

I had forgotten how magical this place was. Immediately after gaining the ridge, Mt. Baker was right there. There was a haze of smoke, but we could still see her majesty. The mountains were visible between Baker and Shuksan (called the Lasiocarpa Ridge), but Mt. Shuksan was much more shrouded in smoke and clouds. But at least we had views. We proceeded forward enthusiastically, glad for a slight reprieve from the bugs as well as the unfolding skyline.  We agreed we’d to stop for “lunch” at 5:15, and turn around by 6:00. With the days sadly getting shorter, and a logging road to get back down, we wanted to leave ample daylight for our return. That still left us with over two hours to wander.

Shuksan, barely visible far left through clouds and haze

The magic of Skyline Divide unfolded knoll after knoll. Six of them total creating a classic ridge walk, as each knoll brought on a new set of views.  Wandering here reminded both Doug and me of the trail beyond Welcome Pass, views expanding with every step.  It was the Sound of Music phenomenon again…only this time, the trail went on and on, and didn’t end far too soon, always a drawback above Welcome Pass.

Skyline trail and hazy Baker view

Doug coming up second knoll

The Skyline Divide trail provided options. At knolls two and three, we could choose to go up and over, by staying left, or skirt around, by staying right. Because of time and our desire to go as far as we could, we chose in each instance to go right and stay low. Going high would be a great option if time was no factor. We noticed that the trails up and over always come back down, and what struck me about that was that it’s one way to manage the numbers of people that travel here. Each party could go their own way, literally, for a lunch break or excursion, and commune with the mountains in their own way. On average, over 5000 pairs of boots travel this trail a year…it’s great that the sprawl is so extensive as to allow for the feeling of solitude even when it’s crowded.

At knoll four (3.5 miles from the trailhead and at 6000 feet elevation), there was a very obvious trail going left. We both knew from experience to go right, up a less-obvious and scrappy rock trail, but I have made the mistake of following the seemingly more beaten path to the left.  That trail heads down to campsites near Deadhorse Creek (I am not sure nor do I want to consider where the name comes from…). Deadhorse Creek is in between Skyline and Cougar Divides. It would be a great camping spot to set up and star-gaze if one was backpacking here.

Break among the flowers

Fields of Lupines

Happy hiker!

Between the fifth and sixth knoll, we encountered major flowers! Blankets of lupines turned one hillside blue, fireweed turned another one purple.  Mt. Baker peaked out just a tad further on, creating picture perfection.  It was spectacular! We could tell that the smoke was dissipating a bit as we went, as the Baker views kept getting better and better. To our left, Shuksan stayed in clouds and haze, and we had basically no views off to our right, just that smoky haze. But Baker herself kept beckoning us onward!

Baker blooming out of the flowers!

Doug coming up 6th knoll

The top of the sixth knoll (4.5 miles from TH, 6563 feet) is what WTA calls the end of the trail. However, the trail goes on, and we still had over 30 minutes left to go, so Doug and I went on for another half mile or more. It’s hard to say how far we went — probably five miles total. We stopped at 5:15 as planned, and where we stopped was perfect. We ate our late lunch with Baker as the best lunch date ever, and reveled in the fact that we had only seen three other people all day, and one of those in the parking lot. What magnificence, what rewards, and all gained so easily.

Baker, Chowder Ridge, Mt. Hadley far left

Doug at lunch break

Life is good!

Multiple thoughts came to mind as we sat. I remembered going up Chowder Ridge in 2012, with a significant cut on my hand incurred the previous day from a dishes/broken glass incident. I had to hike the long way to and up the ridge with my hand in the air. That was just after becoming a massage therapist, and I thought for sure my career as such was doomed even before it started! Now, five years later, I was happily ensconced in my career as a massage therapist, and so much water had passed under the proverbial bridge. It was one of those weird deja vu’s for me. I was totally present to 2012’s hike and 2017’s hike at the same time. Oh, to have several more hours in the day, so Doug and I could continue on. But that was not to be, and I was able to simultaneously long for more and be satisfied with what was as we sat and basked in sunshine and glory.

And another thing that came to mind is just how many hikes in the area end in a front row seat to Mt. Baker. Doug and I came up with six others besides Skyline Divide: Ptarmigan Ridge, Chain Lakes Loop, Table Mountain, Heliotrope Ridge, Park Butte, and Railroad Grade. Each offers a slightly different up close and personal view.  So many hikes have Baker views, but these put you squarely in front of Baker at trail’s end. I had a sudden inspiration to do each of these hikes before season’s end, and do a blog post on that. Stay tuned!

Favorite flower of the trip…looks like some type of white Indian Paintbrush.

Same flower and daisies of course!

At 5:47 we turned around, and made it back to the car in two hours, at 7:47. Plenty of daylight left for the road. Our hiking times for the estimated five miles each way were 3.5 hours up, with plenty of stops for pics and breaks, and 2 hours down. We never felt rushed, despite the late start, and were both supremely satisfied with the day.

Know if you go…

Every hiker within a 90 mile radius should do Skyline Divide! I know, saying that increases foot traffic to an already heavily trafficked area. But it’s that magical. This was my 6th time here, Doug’s 8th. It never gets old, and I still can’t believe it had been five years since I’d been there. New magic comes each time my feet hit the path.

But be aware that summer weekends are busy, and if you can swing a weekday, do so. Flowers right now are at their prime, as are the bugs. But both come and go quickly, and conditions change. It’s been six days since our hike, and rain thankfully has arrived to clear out the smoky air. And maybe the bugs. After the rain could be a great time to go explore Skyline Divide. Take a lunch, take your time, and go as far as you like. Few trails in our area offer so much spectacular scenery less than two miles from the trailhead.

Here’s the link to WTA’s info on Skyline Divide

Next up:  Backpack trip to Yellow Astor Butte and Day Hike of Tomyhoi Peak

 

 

Smoky Mt. Pugh!

Mt. Pugh (also know as ‘Da Klagwats) — August 3, 2017

Yep, Mt. Pugh is pronounced just like it sounds — PUGH!  I initially had some resistance to climbing this peak because I didn’t like the name! It’s also a challenging one, gaining 1000 feet a mile for 5.5 miles, with a fair amount of exposed scrambling at the end.  I’ve done it twice now, and each time the rewards have been more than worth the effort. Even in the pervasive forest fire smoke, which is how I did it last week. Smoke caused the mountain to live up to it’s name, and it certainly obscured the stellar views at the top. But I knew all of that would be the case, and still, I was inspired to go do Pugh. And I am extremely glad I did.

Stats on Mt. Pugh

LOCATION — off the Mountain Loop highway, 12.5 miles from Darrington.  A signed forest road (FR 2095) leads to this obscure trailhead. There is no parking lot, just pull-outs for several cars, 1.5 miles after the turn-off.    NO Forest Pass required.     DISTANCE — 11 miles RT.    ELEVATION GAIN — 5300 feet.   HIGH POINT — 7201 feet.     DIFFICULTY LEVEL   —  “Very Hard” (according to alltrails).

Why Mt. Pugh?

The first time I did Mt. Pugh was in the immediate aftermath of 2015 forest fires that also permeated Northwest Washington’s air for a couple of weeks. That time, I hiked Pugh right after the smoke had cleared, and my partner Gregg and I were treated to fantastic views all around, as well as clear air, for the first time in weeks. What a joy!! We worked hard to get there, but soaked in every minute of our victory as we sat surrounded by an abundance of peaks — magnificent’s like Glacier Peak,  Mt. Baker, and Shuksan all staring us down, Mt. Ranier and the Olympics farther in the distance, and Monte Cristo, Three Fingers, White Chuck and Sloan Peak right in front of us. Oh, to have pictures of that hike now…

(This is what I would love to see — Baker left, Sloan Peak middle, Shuksan right. This photo from Beaudaddy85’s Image Gallery)

When I chose to return last Thursday, I had to carry the memories of those views in my mind. I knew the smoke from Canadian fires was dense, and I didn’t expect views. What I did expect was a challenging hike, with plenty of time in my head. I often problem solve on hikes, and I embarked on Pugh in part for that purpose. Also, I needed a Vesper Redemption Hike, since my last peak challenge on sometimes iffy trail didn’t go so well. Alone on my mission, I wanted the workout and contemplative headspace I knew Pugh would deliver — and I wanted to feel confident doing it.

The Hike Up

Part of my challenge of Vesper was time, and I didn’t want a repeat here. On the eve of both hikes I had an evening writing class, and with Vesper, I missed it despite my best efforts. With Pugh, I left the Lake Goodwin summer home at 8:00 am sharp, so as to allow enough time to hike and return to the lake by 6:00 for my online class.  I really wanted time to enjoy this hike without the intense pressure of time I so often set myself up for.

I was on the trail by 9:30. Immediately and relentlessly, I was switchbacking in forest. The trail gained 1300 feet in the first 1.5 miles, opening up briefly at Lake Metan. There was camping to the right at this lake junction, but the Pugh trail continued left, marching up even steeper switchbacks under forest canopy for a couple more miles.

At 3-plus miles and 4900 feet, the trail opened up again and for good into a boulder field. Here, I encountered two young women with a dog — and an abundance of bugs! The women had been to the top, and confirmed that there were no views. But one proclaimed, “The cardiovascular work out alone was totally worth it!” A hiker after my own heart. Those women proved to be the only two people I saw on the trail all day.

First smoky views

Leaving the boulders (and some of the bugs) behind, the trail began the steep climb to Stujack Pass. This section was dusty switchbacks, with plenty of loose rock and larger rock steps to negotiate.  Not my favorite, but very manageable. The trail did have some erosion, and I took extra care to make sure my footing held. As I progressed, I could see behind me only the merest outline of Sloan Peak and Three Fingers. But views down the Sauk River Valley weren’t too smoky. And the trail ahead wound it’s way up a  slope full of wildflowers! THAT was my reward on this hike, I decided, since mountain views were all hazed in.  I took an abundance of pictures, fully enjoying the accompaniment of the wildflower blanket that embraced the trail.

Field of flowers ahead…

Headed up Stujack Pass

I reached Stujack pass, at 5750 feet, easily enough. According to trail reports, many hikers opt to stop here. I can see why — views would be great on a clear day, and the trail definitely increases in difficulty after this point. Stopping here wasn’t in the plans for me, though. I officially entered the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and continued on with my summit quest.

The Summit Quest!

From Stujack to summit was 1500 feet in just over a mile. Trip reports and WTA’s site made this part sound rather intimidating. There was talk of a “knife edge” portion of the trail, with exposure and scrambling required.  I remembered it from two years ago as not being that bad, and I wondered if my memory was simply dulled by the years. As I meticulously and carefully worked my way up, those sections did exist, and yes, there was some exposure and a fair bit of non-technical scrambling, but for whatever reason, none of it presented a challenge for me. I am inherently comfortable on rock, as I used to rock climb, and I never felt uncertain of which way to go or questioned my safety. It WAS a bit strange having the place all to myself, but it was also exhilarating! My only sadness was the lack of views. The hazy peak outlines gave a surreal quality to the surroundings, and I had to make do with views closer in. At one point, I could see down both the White Chuck River Valley and the Sauk River Valley, one on each side of the mountain as I climbed steadily up.

White Chuck River Valley

Socked in Sauk River Valley

Layers of haze…

After a couple of false summits, eventually I topped out. It was just before 1 pm, my total time from car to summit just under 3.5 hours. With all my photo breaks, that wasn’t too bad.  I sat on the top, gazing around at the hazy smoke, and ate a hearty lunch. Even though I could see little, I felt warmly encompassed by the presence of the mountains. And I loved being up there alone. It reminded me of my John Muir solo backpack last summer — working hard, gaining a peak or pass, and relishing in the victory. Sometimes it’s great to do that with others, and sometimes, solitude is what I crave most. Alone on the summit of Pugh, smoke and all, was just where I wanted to be.

Summit view…there are mountains out there somewhere…

Small tent site right on top of Pugh!

The Way Back

Always time conscious, I headed back down at 1:30. I knew caution was necessary heading down the craggy upper section, and I didn’t want to feel rushed. I DID lose the trail — twice — going down. I could tell others had done the same thing. I’d follow evidence of foot prints for a short bit, until, clearly, I was into rocks that were too abrupt to descend safely. Then I would backtrack to the obvious “trail”, and see that the way down was in a different direction. I never went down farther than I could get back up, but it was interesting nonetheless that I did this twice. I felt silly in my transgressions, and glad that no one was watching!

Once off the rocks, and back down Stujack, I breathed a sigh of relief. While I never felt at risk descending upper portions of the trail, it was great to be back to the straightforward switchbacks. Hitting an easy downhill stride here,  I found myself reflecting on WHY this hike was so much less stressful for me than Vesper Peak, which completely drained me. Part of it was that the difficult parts of Pugh were broken up with straightforward trail. Vesper never eased up, moving swiftly from rocks and roots, to overgrown trail, to scree and boulders, and, finally snow.  Pugh had vast moments — including the 3.5 miles of forest switchbacks — that allowed for mindless hiking, one foot in front of the other. I like that in a trail. I cruised down, reaching the car at 3:45, more than an hour faster than I went up.

Sloan Peak started showing up a bit more on my way down.

Headed back down the trail of flowers.

Highlights

I realize most people would not voluntarily embark on a view hike in dense forest fire smoke. But it ended up being just what I needed and wanted:  A long, but doable day hike with significant elevation gain, solitude, and plenty of wildflowers.

And the smoke added mystery and brought on much reflection, as I thought back to my first John Muir Trail trip in August, 2015. That 220-mile backpack trip was nearly cut short by smoke from California’s huge Rogue Fire, raging nearby and closing some passes just off the JMT.  But my hiking partner Gregg and I chose to press on, despite strong recommendations from rangers to evacuate the trail, and the fact that most thru-hikers chose to do just that.  Our decision to stay on, despite pervasive smoke, meant that we had the trail nearly to ourselves at times, and we were able to finish our mission. Completing that trip was a huge milestone for me, as I’d never backpacked three weeks in a row. That trip gave me confidence to take on a solo trip of the JMT in the summer of 2016, an even bigger accomplishment. The solo trip became the basis of my current memoir project — which is what all the current writing classes are about. All those connections filtering out from the smoke!

For me, then, the whole Pugh experience was grand. Everything worked out perfectly. Including the fact that I was back at the lake in plenty of time for my 6:00 class!

Know if you go…

This hike is hard. And it does have exposure. Each hiker can and should read trip reports, and make an initial assessment of their comfort with this. But under normal circumstances, efforts are rewarded with spectacular views at Stujack Pass, so even to get that far is well worth the effort. Beyond that point, a hiker can go as far as he or she feels safe, and turn around at any point if it feels like too much. And to make the summit on a clear day is simply sublime, a fact I can testify to from 2015’s hike. All the caution, exertion, and sweat required to get there is completely worth it!

Added bonus:  when I went a week ago, wildflowers were at their peak.  And the bugs were out, but not too bad.

Prepare for flowers!

Final thoughts…

So far this year, I have done four major peaks with trails off the Mountain Loop highway. Here are links to trip reports for the first three in case you missed them: Green Mountain, Vesper Peak, and Mt. Dickerman. There are other peaks in the area of course, (including easily accessible and climbable Mt. Pilchuck, which I have done several times before), but it felt good completing the Big Four.  It’s hard to rank them, as each has their merits. Vesper was unquestionably the most challenging, for all the reasons I’ve stated; Green was snow-filled and calls for a repeat later this season; Dickerman was just fantastic, and Pugh, while smoky, offered contemplation and perfection in it’s own way. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to climb all these magical mountains, so easily accessible from Lake Goodwin. Even if you travel a bit farther, each is worth a visit in it’s own right!

Climb on!

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome Pass in all it’s Glory!

Perfect Monday Hike — Welcome Pass 

Sometimes things work out just as they should.

A week ago Thursday, Doug and I intended to hike Welcome Pass to High Divide Trail off the Mt. Baker Highway. Our plan was to go as far as we could, taking the snow into account. Then stuff happened:

 1.  My Subaru Forester was in the shop, so we drove Doug’s Honda Civic.  The Welcome Pass trailhead is only 1.5 miles off the Mt. Baker Highway, but the gravel road is narrow, and when we met a Forest Service pickup coming out, we had to back down to a “wide” place.  The ranger motioned we should roll the window down, and she told us there were a couple of large “divots” in the road which Doug’s car might not be able to negotiate.  We parked on the highway.   

2.  When I went to choose which of two pairs of shoes I would wear for the hike, to my dismay I realized I had NO insoles of any sort in either pair. It’s one of the hazards of having too many shoes and not enough insoles–and riding in a car that isn’t mine.  The error was fatal: I can’t hike in naked shoes.

3.  We’d been hesitant about the cloudy weather. Neither of us wanted to make the intense effort of climbing Welcome Pass without promise of the spectacular panorama at the top.

Disappointed but realistic, we opted to go back to Bellingham and hike Pine and Cedar Lakes for a steep workout close to home. There was some sadness involved, as we’d been so looking forward to another hike into high country, but there’d be another day.

HIKE TO WELCOME PASS

Our next opportunity arrived!  Monday was blue clear through, I had shoes with insoles, and my car was in commission.  All systems were go!

Shuksan from Welcome Pass

Here are the stats on Welcome Pass:

Distance to Pass2.5 miles     Elevation gain3000 feet     Options at the top — GO WEST (left) on the High Divide trail, an absolutely spectacular ridge that joins up with Excelsior Trail.  Or GO EAST (right) towards Yellow Astor Butte, climbing straight up a truly spectacular ridge and wandering a mile or so on a less-used trail through wildflower meadows. 

Mt. Baker from Welcome Pass

Both Doug and I had done Welcome Pass several times before in each direction. It’s a quick way to some of the most spectacular views in the North Cascades–Baker, Shuksan, and dozens of other peaks (Doug could name 12) up into Canada. So many prominences in one big 360° spiral. The only thing I don’t like about the trail is the section of steep switchbacks — 66 total and 2500 feet of elevation gain in just 1.5 miles.  No, I haven’t been so masochistic as to count the switchbacks, but some do.  Going up is a great cardio challenge.  Going down is a killer on the knees.  

We were prepared for all that. Our plan was to gain the pass and go east, as we had heard that High Divide still held snow. After many hikes in the white stuff, we were ready for one in the green. 

Hitting the trail…

Navigating the logging road in my Subaru was easy enough, although it would have been tough in Doug’s car. We arrived at the trailhead just after noon, and saw just two other cars in the parking lot. 

The first mile was an easy warm up, half-lulling us into complacency for what was to come. But we knew exactly where the trail took a turn for the steep, and I told Doug I would hike ahead to get a good cardio workout. The first several times I did this trail, I did it alone, partly for the workout. This time I wanted both the workout and companionship, so we agreed that I would hike for a half hour then turn around and rejoin Doug. 

It was a great 30 minutes! I worked as hard as I could, not breaking for the entire time. My lungs and legs worked in perfect harmony, my body finding a rhythm that took me up switchback after switchback. I was sweating and breathing hard, and I loved it. I wasn’t quite to the top of the 1.5 miles at thirty minutes, but close. Feeling great, I dumped my day pack and went down to find Doug. He was coming up steadily, also sweating and working hard. We hiked back to my pack and then I continued up alone at my rapid fire pace. I encountered one gal on the way down, and that would be it for the day. Otherwise we had the place to ourselves. Very soon, I reached the pass, applied sunscreen, and swatted an abundance of mosquitos and flies while waiting for Doug.  It was less than relaxing, although the views (and knowing what was to come) helped.

Top of pass, headed into flowers!

INTO THE SOUND OF MUSIC!

There is no other way to describe how going upward from the pass felt. Immediately, we had a very steep hillside to climb—up another 500 feet–but its blanket of flowers and the views Baker and Shuksan were intoxicating. Once up, the steepness lessened and views just kept expanding. I have never been up there when I did not feel like Julie Andrews. Both Doug and I have a particular love for this ridgetop, which disappoints rarely and never in weather as glorious as this.  But to share such a place for the first time was unbelievably special. 

Break in front of Shuksan

HIking up from the pass

Baker in all it’s glory!

We strolled up the boot-beaten trail as far as it went — a mile or so—and stopped for lunch on a rocky crest, magnificence in every direction. To the west, the High Divide trail still had snowfields on its northern slopes, confirming our choice. We stayed at our perch for hours, taking in our surroundings, basking in the sun, outside of time.    

 

 

All too often I hike on a tight schedule that drives me to move quickly from one thing to the next, but on this one there was nowhere else to go and no reason to hurry. We were already there.  I relaxed in the luxury of complete contentment. 

Lunch spot!

Lunch lounging

Soon enough, though, the reality of lengthening shadows, those 66 switchbacks, congregating clouds, and smoke rising up a valley from the fires in Canada, finally brought us down to earth.  Just before heading back, we reconnoitered a route toward Yellow Astor Butte that Doug had heard of and encountered no significant obstacles—an adventure for another day!

Must we go back down?

BACK TO THE CAR AND BACK TO TOWN

We descended briskly but carefully. Having done the similar but much longer steepness of Sourdough Mountain earlier in the month, we knew speed was not of the essence.  My strategy is never to think of the end of a hike, but to concentrate on one step at a time. My knees cried out, Doug’s legs got shaky, and we both slipped a few times, but not much more than an hour passed before we were down to the last easy mile.

One final look back up into the flowers…

On the way up the Forest Service road, we’d seen a gray Toyota van parked about a mile in and didn’t think too much about it.  Now we were surprised to see a young guy hovering around, and so we stopped to ask if he needed help. He was nice enough, somewhat confused but grateful. He’d been there for two days, hitched out the day before to buy a universal lug wrench that didn’t really fit, which he’d then bent trying to budge the machine-tightened lug nuts.  Doug gave it a try, and it was as the man said.   We offered him a ride into town to call a tow truck—my cell phone had no coverage—but he declined, saying it was already 5:30 and by the time the truck could get to his van, it would be 7:00, and rates would be higher.  No, he’d deal with it in the morning.  Besides he had provisions and had rigged a cover for the window that wouldn’t shut, so the mosquitos wouldn’t be as bad as they were the night before.  There was nothing to do but offer him food and water, which he was glad to have.

As we left, we wondered what was up.  The fellow wasn’t a hiker; he called the trail “a path.” Something was off.  Doug left a message at the ranger station the next morning, figuring they might be able to help, if only to supply a metric lug wrench.  All I can say is I would not have stopped if I were alone, which is yet another reason to be thankful for such a great hiking partner!  

IF YOU GO…

Overall, this hike was a ten out of ten!  It has so much going for it. It’s close to town for Bellinghamsters, and the trailhead is accessible via a short gravel road to all but low clearance sedans.  The trail is short and steep, and makes for a great workout. The views are as good as they get in all directions. 

Wildflowers galore above Welcome Pass trail

Suggestion: If you have time and plan ahead, you can hike up Welcome Pass, cross all the way west over High Divide, and come down the Excelsior Pass trail. In the past, I have left my road bike at the Excelsior trailhead (on the Mt. Baker Highway), parked my car at the highway pullout across from the Welcome Pass turnoff, done the hike, and ridden my bike back to the car. THAT was a fantastic way to see it all! The distance is about 12 miles or so, plus the 1.5 miles on the Welcome Pass road from the trailhead to the highway.

A GLORIOUS DAY, A FANTASTIC HIKING PARTNER, AND A RELAXED PACE — IT JUST DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THAT! 

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 

 

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