Day hiking and swimming at 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
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 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 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.
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!
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.
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