It’s been a long time since I’ve posted one of these trip reports! Now that I’ve moved back to Washington, it’s likely I’ll be posting more on adventures in the mountains throughout the summer as the hiking season gets going. I also still plan to write more travel posts from time to time as well.
I was up in Bellingham dog sitting for some friends last weekend, debating whether or not it would be a good day to go out into the mountains weather-wise. It was meant to rain, and while it was sunny where I was, I could see an overcast sky hanging over the North Cascades. I’d been itching to do something around Mount Baker as it’s one of my favorite spots in the state. Someone had recently told me about Heliotrope Ridge, so after a quick search I saw the trail head was only a 70 minute drive away so I decided to go for it.
After making a quick stop at the ranger station in Glacier to pick up a $5 day pass and navigating 8 miles up the narrow and curvy mountain roads, I arrived to a full parking lot at the trail head. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who thought of spending their Saturday afternoon in the mountains. I ended up parking along the road behind a line of cars and started my way up the trail. Luckily, despite the overcast skies driving up the highway, there was a convenient hole of blue sky right over Mount Baker–it was a good choice to go up there after all!
The trail itself, at 2.5 miles one-way, isn’t really all that long. It’s not all that steep either as it gently switchbacks through a quite forest of towering Douglas Fir trees. Aside from dodging the occasional mud puddle and crossing a few stony rivers, this was a pretty easy hike I’d say for the big reward you get at the end.
Towards the end of the trail I came to a fork in the road, one heading toward the proper end of the Heliotrope Ridge trail and the other labeled “climbers trail” that leads up a popular climbing trail to the summit of Mount Baker. I decided to opt for this one first just to see how far up I could go without gear. The path here gets really steep and gains altitude quickly. Within minutes I was above the treeline and was offered stunning views of Mount Baker and the massive Coleman Glacier. I encountered a few climbing groups and skiers making their way either up or down the mountain. I can’t imagine hauling all that heavy ski gear such a distance! I said hello to a few of them and only got blank glances back, so they must have been pretty beat.
After about 20 minutes of climbing I eventually got to the point where the dry ground and snow meet and decided to call it quits there. This was the high point for the day at around 5,400 feet. I hung around a while taking pictures and chatting with a couple who also was curious how far they could go up the climbing route. I decided to go back down and check out the last remaining portion of the Heliotrope Ridge trail as it took you as close to the glacier as you could get. Another 20 minutes and a sketchy river crossing later I was nearly rubbing noses with a huge cascading river of ice. At this point the clouds around the mountain had completely given way and you could see the mountain in its entirety. Every now and then I could even hear the deep rumblings of ice moving somewhere within the mass. Amazing.
The way back down went by rather quickly and I made it home around dinner time. Overall a good day and another testament that hiking in the North Cascades is never a let down!