Tupper's 2 Cents

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Tag: Yellow Astor Butte

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The 177-mile Bike Week

It wasn’t a planned event. But by Sunday afternoon, I’d put in 177 road-bike miles over the course of three rides, possibly a record for me. I know some of you die-hard bikers may shrug and say “Ah, that’s nothing!” But for me, more of a hiker than a biker, it was significant.

How the Week of Biking came to be

It started with The Challenge of Vesper Peak, a post you can read in case you missed it. Vesper’s aftermath put me into a bit of a physical and emotional funk, and I bailed on my first planned backpack trip of the year. It would have been last week, it would have been four days, and it would have been alone. But I simply was not feeling it, and with zero motivation to plan and organize myself, I did not go.

That left me with four unexpected days off last week, Monday – Thursday. I can fill that easily, even when my mind-set is heavy, and I didn’t waste any time.

Monday I hiked Yellow Astor Butte with Doug. That was, as always,  a fantastic hike, one of my favorites. If you haven’t done it, do so! The hike helped to lift my spirits, as it was an easy 7 miles of outstanding beauty and unfolding views of Shuksan and Baker… just what the doctor ordered! Though my ankle hurt with every step, the magnificence of the hike more than compensated for that. Here’s a few inspirational photos from that hike and link to WTA’s information on Yellow Astor.

Mt. Baker from top of Yellow Astor Butte

Shuksan from Yellow Astor

Tuesday I saw a few clients, did errands, and picked a last batch of fantastic Whatcom County raspberries.

Wednesday, I had a good chunk of time, and took my first ride for the week:

Wednesday’s Ride — Lake Whatcom Boulevard to Birch Bay (64 miles)

I love riding to Birch Bay!  In a post last year, Soul Restoration Bike Rides,  I described the ride. It feeds my soul on a deep level, the lonesome county roads that lead to and from, the strip of Birch Bay itself, the miles and miles of riding that allow my  thoughts to roam and my head to clear.  From my house in Sudden Valley, it’s at least 60 miles, depending on which roads I take.

I always drive my bike down the .8 miles of steep hills from my house, as it’s physically impossible to ride back up. But where to park and start is always a challenge. I had been parking in the Valley View shopping center, the only real business strip in Sudden Valley. Though it says “Customer Parking Only”, I figured I AM a customer, sometimes, at the bank and small store. So to park and ride for the day seemed reasonable enough to me. But apparently not to management. On this Wednesday morning, someone came out as I was getting organized to ride and asked,  “Are you planning to leave your car here for the day?” I responded, “Yes, for awhile while I go ride.” He replied,  “Management has asked me to tell you that you can’t do that. It’s for customers only, while they shop.” He shushed my protests of being a customer, saying “I am just reporting what management says. You will have to park elsewhere. There is a Park and Ride through Gate 1. You can park there.”

Instead of fighting, I gave him a look, a shrug, and loaded my bike back into the car, drove the short distance to Gate 1, and repeated the process of getting ready.  I was finally on the bike by 11:10.

Being on the bike provided a welcome break for my sore feet and particularly painful right ankle. As always there was traffic to negotiate getting out of Bellingham, but once on county roads, I fully embraced the ride. The most remarkable thing on this day’s ride was wind. I had it to my back most of the way to Birch Bay, which caused the illusion of flying! I didn’t quite feel like Lance Armstrong, but I did feel strong and powerful.

Riding in northern Whatcom County at this time of year means passing abundant fields of berries, corn, and other mystery crops. My usual route takes me to Red River Road, on the Lummi Indian Reservation. Corn fields here a month ago were mere starts — now they meant business! Always, I have loved Red River Road, as it connects to other county roads that eventually lead to Birch Bay. I won’t detail my route here, but I do have strong preferences of how I come and go from Birch Bay, which I am happy to share if anyone is interested 🙂

Mystery crop…does anyone know what this is?

Cornfields on Red River Road

I came into Birch Bay from the southern most entrance, off of Pt. Whitehorn Road. Just an FYI — there is a park, Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, that is off the same road, opposite direction of Birch Bay, and well worth a visit if you want a short and scenic hike that overlooks and takes you down to water.

Once into Birch Bay State Park, I stopped at the first restrooms and took a break at the picnic tables that overlook the water.  The air was surprisingly calm here, with little wind. I enjoyed the most fantastic sandwich ever eaten on a bike, I am certain. I had put almond butter on two slices of well-toasted gluten free bread, and a huge pile of fresh raspberries in between. I had doubled wrapped it in foil, and put it in a quart size ziplock freezer bag. Still, despite my best efforts, it had leaked through a bit to my bike shirt pocket, where I had meticulously stored it. But I enjoyed every single bite to the fullest overlooking the water, and it was completely worth the bit of clean up required. Such heaven!

Birch Bay

After a good 30 minute break, I headed up the Birch Bay strip, watching the families and tourists out enjoying the day. Both the tide and people were out, making for great people watching as I cruised that couple of miles. I turned up at Birch Bay Lynden road, which took me past the Birch Bay Waterslides. There was a sizable crowd of kids and adults enjoying the slides, another worthwhile stop if that is your thing!

Then I was into it. The headwinds and sidewinds. Most of the way back, that was my nemesis. I knew it would happen, as any windy day is bound to be magnified on open county roads. I’d had the wind at my back on the way, and a price had to be paid. But it caught me off guard, and at times I struggled. Two roads in particular, Olson Road and Ferndale Road, headed me straight into the wind. Fortunately, each offers great views of Baker over the open fields, and the distraction of the mountain offered some relief.  I should have stopped to get a picture, but kept on going for fear of losing my momentum. By the end of Ferndale Road, I was wiped out.

The last ten miles went by in a blur. One pedal after the other, back to and through downtown Bellingham this time, not bothering to skirt around. I was tired, and admittedly crawled up the hills on Lakeway, the most direct way back to Lake Whatcom Boulevard. I arrived back at my car just before 5:00, my odometer reading 64 miles. I was relieved to be back, and satisfied with the ride overall.

The week went on. Thursday, Doug and hiked to Thornton Lakes/Trapper Peak. This hike was fantastic, and I WILL do a trip report on it for my next post. Stay tuned for that!

Friday was a work day, and I organized myself to ride to work on Saturday.

Saturday’s ride to and from work (53 miles) — the inspiration hits!

There are three standard rides to and from my work in Fairhaven.  The shortest is about nine miles, directly to town via Lakeway Drive, through downtown, and down to Boulevard Parkway. Next and most common for me is in the opposite direction on Lake Whatcom Boulevard, down to Alger via Alger-Cain Lake road and around Lake Samish, then back Old Samish Way. That is my favorite, but it’s 22 miles and hence requires more time. Third is all the way down to Chuckanut Drive via Colony Road and up and over Bay View, which is 30 miles. I don’t get to do that one too often, but I love it when I do. I plan which way to go based on how much time I have before and after work — one, two, or three hours for each respective ride.

On this Saturday, I chose the middle ground. I was riding along Lake Whatcom Boulevard when it hit me. This was the day of the Tour de Whatcom Bike Ride, which I have done twice. My two times participating represent the only two organized rides I have ever done, and they stick in my mind. Two years ago I did the 100 K, and last year I did the Century Ride. While I was thrilled that I could accomplish 100 miles in a day, it nearly killed my back being on a bike for that long. No more Centuries for me, I’d decided.

As I rode along on this Saturday morning, though, I realized that I would be encountering all of the riders from this year’s Tour as they headed the exact opposite direction I was going. The Tour is a fundraising event, and while I’m not sure how many riders participate, it’s somewhere in the 100’s.  Sure enough, I encountered the first riders just as I hit the road going around Lake Samish. After that, it was a steady stream, all the way around the lake and up the steep hills heading out of Lake Samish. Even on Old Samish Way I saw rider after rider, as the start time is flexible. It was motivational to cross paths with all these folks, and I felt some sadness that I was not among them.

The whole experience inspired me, but especially the last two riders I saw. They were two men, one upright and one lying down completely flat on what appeared to be a cycling stretcher. The one lying down was only using his arms to propel himself, and his vision had to be extremely limited. The other rider, I figured, must be his eyes and guide, as the one couldn’t do it alone. My best guess is the guy was paralyzed from the waist down, and this was his way to ride. WOW! This stuck with me the rest of my ride to work.

During my work day, I kept thinking back to last year’s Tour, and why I didn’t want to repeat a Century. 100 miles at a time took too much of a toll. But I COULD, I realized, still have my own personal challenge of sorts, see how many miles I could get in before weeks end. I already had a plan to ride to Lake Goodwin the next day, a 60 mile ride. If I rode home a bit longer on Saturday’s ride home, I could break 175 miles for the week.

I planned my ride as I massaged my clients.  I wasn’t inspired to go down Chuckanut, but instead decided to head north again. I wanted more mountain views, and those quiet county roads. I also wanted to travel some of the roads I had been on in last year’s Century, as the Tour heads north all the way to Blaine after initially traveling south to Alger. I didn’t want tons of miles, about 30, and thus planned a route in my head that would be about that.

There were two highlights of my ride home. First was seeing the same two guys, the reclined biker and his guide, still out on the route but close to finishing up. Again, this inspired me to no end, and I felt again invigorated by the man’s strength and his companions dedication.

Mt. Baker from Noon Road

The second highlight was Noon road, a road I have only ridden once, and that was last year on the Tour. It’s solitude and beautiful views of Baker made it a perfect road to ride. I worked my way over there just to touch base with it. After Noon I had only a short distance on the Mt. Baker Highway, to get to Britton Road, then back to my stomping grounds of Lakeway Drive and Lake Whatcom Boulevard. I arrived back at my car, this time parked up three steep but doable hills at the bottom of Sudden Valley gate 5, just below my house. The total ride home was 31 miles, and my plan for a strong biking week was now taking shape as a reality.

Sunday’s ride to Lake Goodwin

I have ridden to the family summer home just twice before Sunday’s ride. The first time was as a teenager, with my sister Kari. We rode from Seattle, and mid-route we decided that we needed to buy a watermelon at a local fruit stand to bring to the lake. We tried to strap it on the back of Kari’s bike, and of course it fell off! I don’t remember much else about the ride, except that it was incredibly difficult, and we ended up calling my parents for a ride the last 8 miles or so. We were simply pooped out and had lost our motivational watermelon too!

The second time was about 8 years ago, from Bellingham. That time also wore me about, as the ride was 60 miles, which represented my longest ride at that time. I ride a lot more now, and have done at least a dozen rides over 60, so I felt confident about the ride.

Still, I was nervous as I dropped my car and belongings off at my boyfriend Doug’s house Sunday morning. The plan was that he would drive down later with my stuff, so I could travel very light on the bike. I left his house at 9:40 am, a light breeze and sunshine my companions as I headed south.

I rode down Chuckanut Drive, I ride I have done so many times it’s intimately familiar. Then into the small town of Edison and out onto those fabulously flat Skagit County roads. I stayed sufficiently distracted from the rough roads by views of the Chuckanut mountains with Mt. Baker emerging out of the clouds just behind. At times I was riding into the wind, but overall, it was easy going. I slowly worked my way down to Bayview Park, and eventually to Highway 20. All these roads were quite familiar, as I used to ride my bike to Anacortes (a bit farther along Highway 20) when my son played baseball there.

Chuckanut Mountains with Baker behind and blueberry fields

Mystery crop in Skagit

Fortunately, I didn’t have to ride Highway 20 at all on this day, as I came in at the road that leads straight to La Conner. I road into La Conner, and experienced a bit of confusion as to which way to go. I needed to find Best Road, my ticket down south. Stopping at a coffee shop for directions, the shop owner said I had gone the wrong way at the traffic circle. I backtracked, and ended up riding a couple of extra miles, but the advantage was that I stayed on good pavement the entire way. There are a variety of road surfaces in Skagit, and some of the lesser travelled roads are Chip Seal, which I don’t like. Staying on major roads avoided that. I was a happy rider!

Best Road led me to the Rexville Grocery, my mid-way point and planned lunch stop.  I bought coffee and used the restroom, and ate a bar and nuts sitting outside in the sun. The grocery has a great local feel to it, and they cater to a variety of people. It’s out of the way, but has somehow established itself as a landmark of sorts. I relaxed for twenty minutes, but knew I had to get moving.  The first thirty miles of the ride I’d been slow, stopping multiple times to take pictures and getting diverted in La Conner. I was ready to turn it on and get to the lake for a swim!

Break at Rexville Grocery

And I did. Finally, I hit my rhythm on the roads leading down through Conway and eventually into Stanwood. Mostly flat and fast, I was able to keep a good pace. I knew I had hills to ride getting up from Stanwood to the lake, and that stayed on my mind as I flew. But I was invigorated by the fast 20 miles from Rexville to Stanwood, and I was able to carry that into the long climb up Frank Waters Road to Lake Goodwin Road.

I arrived at the lake at 2:35, almost exactly five hours after I started. My sister and some of her family greeted me, and I got to enjoy a great late lunch and a much needed swim. What a ride!

Finally at the lake!

All in all, it was a fantastic week of riding. And hiking. I did miss the backpacking experience, but there will be another time. Certainly I made the most of the week, and enjoyed it fully. Summer is definitely here!

RIDE 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! 

The Other “Soul Restoration” Day Hikes…

Kathie’s Top Five Soul Restoration Hikes

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

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

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

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

    Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

    mountains, this area is where they most often go.

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

    “Lily Dome”

    people.

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

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

What hikes bring your soul to restoration?

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

For more information on listed hikes…

Lake Ann/Maple Pass loop

Yellow Astor Butte

Ptarmigan Ridge

North Butte via Blanchard Mountain 

Ridge Trail, Galbraith Mountain

Lake Padden

HAPPY TRAILS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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