66 – Hannegan Pass

We had a great time trekking through the snow along the Hannigan Pass Road when we attempted this hike back in May (see Hike #48 – Hannigan Pass Road), but having turned around after hiking five or so miles up the road, we were unable to even reach the trailhead then. Now it is summer, and the rivers and streams down here at near sea level are mud filled and practically flowing over their banks due to the snowmelt in our mountains, so we have been regularly checking the USDA Forest Service road and trail conditions for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and watching for updated trip reports on the Washington Trails Association website. The Hannegan Pass trail conditions looked promising – for at least the first three miles, so we headed up the Mount Baker Highway. Our first stop was Graham’s Store in Glacier (for ice cream), and second, the USDA Forest Service Public Service Center for a last minute snow condition update.

Checking snow levels at Ranger Station . . .

Normally our backpacks are stuffed with raingear and plenty of fleece layers, but this was not the case today. This happened to be one of those unplanned, spur of the moment type of hikes that we often do when we have the right combination – a day off from work and sunny skies above. It had been a gloriously sunny day when we grabbed our hiking boots and shut the door at home, but the truth of the matter was, we were totally unprepared for the storm that moved in as we drove from Glacier to the trailhead. With the windshield wipers going as fast as they could, they barely kept up with the heavy downpour, and we shared our doubts about being able to hike in such heavy rain. Had we really driven all that distance only to turn around and head back?

Thunder storms often move fast, and we’ve certainly waited storms out before (see: Hike #32 – Squires Lake Park for example); so, good news, once we reached the trailhead, the storm was beginning to wind down. Rain or shine, we really did want to hike, so we decided we weren’t going to be scared off by a little rain and got creative! That happens to be the frame for one of those folding backpack camp chairs he has over his head, and he pulled out the big golfing umbrella for me. We were ready to hit the trail!

Waiting out a thunder shower at the trailhead

And just like that, as quickly as the storm had moved in, it moved on, so we stowed our make-shift raingear in our packs and checked out the information posted at the trailhead.

Trailhead . . . Hannegan Pass Trail

As we started down the trail, we were met by several groups of thoroughly soaked hikers making their way back to the parking lot as quickly as they could. Later on, we ran into a few guys hurrying back to the trailhead with skiis mounted to their packs. Still soaked, they told being in the middle of a snow field while back-country skiing in the area of Hannegan Pass or Ruth Mountain with lightening striking around them. Wow, that must have been very frightening! A storm such as that one was a good reminder for us to always (always!) carry the 10 essentials.

The sun quickly came out and we passed through meadows about to burst open with wild flowers as we followed the scenic Nooksack Range. With Hannegan Pass and Ruth Mountain almost always straight ahead, this really was a beautifully scenic hike right from the beginning of the trail.

(pic by Kent) . . . along the trail

After awhile, we began to run into a few patches of snow – but nothing too serious.

Along the trail . . .

There were several small streams that flooded the trail.

Along the trail . . .

The Nooksack Range, an absolutely stunning backdrop!

(pic by Kent) . . . along the trail

I spotted these lovely columbines along the trail.

Columbines . . . along the trail

We had been warned about a dangerous snow bridge over a fast moving stream at about three miles into the trail, and once there, agreed that we should not walk out on that snow. The snow completely covered the stream, making it impossible for us to simply wade through.

Along the trail

The only way to continue on was to scramble up and around the unsafe snow bridge. It was a bit scary for me to climb up that steep slope with loose soil and rocks slipping out from under my feet. Reminding me of the steep off-trail scramble we made during our hike to Elbow Lake (see: Hike #62 – Elbow Lake) where I fell and sprained my knee (which, BTW, finally is feeling much closer to normal again), Kent was extremely helpful by offering me a hand each time my footing appeared unstable so I felt safe and did not cause any further injury my knee.

Scrambling off trail to go around unsafe snow over a creek

We did not hike much further after that point as Kent had scouted ahead before we scrambled around the snow and had come back reporting tiger lillies in bloom. We already knew that the snow level would be deep at Hannegan Pass so had not planned on hiking that far. Looking for a good turn-around point, our goal for this hike became those tiger lillies.

Tiger lillies . . . along the trail

We stopped near those lillies and enjoyed a picnic as we looked out in awe at the gorgeous view. I sat in that camp chair Kent had so cleverly worn as a hat during the storm we waited out at the beginning our our hike – and we laughed, we laughed a lot.

Belly laughs . . . along the trail

One thing you should know about stream crossings in the early summer when the snow is still melting from the high country is that stream levels can rise several inches in one short afternoon. Thus, streams that we had easily walked through as we hiked in, were near top-of-the-boot level (one was over boot level!) when we hiked out. As a result, several days later, our boots were finally dry.

Stream crossing . . . higher water levels later in the day

For more information on the Hannegan Pass Trail, go here – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/hannegan-pass. It is a 10.4 mile hike from the trailhead to Hannegan Pass, and back and I would really like to see the outstanding view from the pass. I am sure we’ll go back again – maybe even backpack in and stay for a day or two.

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