75 – Heliotrope Ridge

Do you like glaciers? Adventure? Wildflowers? Mountain views? Creek crossings? Forests? Marmots? If so, this is definitely the hike for you!

Fireweed . . . Coleman Glacier and Mount Baker

On our way to see the Coleman Glacier, right from the start the Heliotrope Ridge Trail held a sense of adventure when we were detoured around the bridge over Grouse Creek not far from the trailhead. The first of the many creeks we would eventually cross along the way, this was the only creek said to have a “real” bridge. With that bridge in the process of being re-built, we followed flags marking our way down stream from the fenced off construction site and crossed on a “temporary” bridge. While that temporary bridge looked rather like a log jam, nearly every step felt solid, and it was surprisingly more stable than it appeared.

Make-shift bridge over creek

Once on the other side of this creek, the trail led us through the wild and scenic Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Through the forest . . .

Then on past a refreshingly misty waterfalls.

Waterfalls . . . along the trail

Not far from the site of the old Mount Baker Club’s Kulshan Cabin, the next creek we crossed was Kulshan. With the aid of trekking poles, a hand from Kent, and plenty of logs and rocks on which to hop, I was successful at keeping my boots dry.

(pic by Kent) Stream crossing . . . along the trail

Soon enough our destination, the Coleman Glacier, came into view from along the trail.

Coleman Glacier . . . from the trail

As the trail cut around a side slope, we were surrounded by fields of beautiful wildflowers.

Wild flowers . . . along the trail

Then we approached Heliotrope Creek, the most difficult of the creek crossings along this popular Heliotrope Ridge Trail, and were met by a family of fellow hikers. Not a swimmer, and rather afraid of dangerous creek crossings (really, more like most bodies of water!), I forced my thoughts on the fact that if those kids could make it, so could I.

Trailmates . . .

This was one of those creek crossings pretty much guaranteed to get your boots wet. Not wanting to have to slog around in heavy, soaked boots for the remainder of the hike, I came prepared – with water sandles. The creek was flowing fast, icy cold, and in places up to my knees. With my sandles on, Kent gave me a reassuring hand, and I made it safely to the other side.

(pic by Kent) . . . crossing Heliotrope Creek

Proud of Kent as I watched him offer a hand to another hiker as she gave pause before working her way across that swift current, remarkably, even though somewhat intimidating – and definitely icy cold, everyone seemed so happy and invigorated by the experience.

Kent offers assistance to trailmates crossing Heliotrope Creek

Once on the other side of Heliotrope Creek, in no time we had reached our destination and were climbing along a ridge on a more primitive trail right along the edge the Coleman Glacier. With Mount Baker just above, it was absolutely beautiful!

Coleman Glacier . . .

Listening to the whistles of marmots as they played on the rocks and watching climbers as they practiced maneuvering around on the giant pillars of ice below us, we sat on huge bolders at the edge of the glacier and ate our lunch. Live entertainment at its best!

Climbers practicing on the glacier

Then it was time to turn around, and make the hike back down to the trailhead.

(pic by Kent) . . . along the trail

For more information on this hike, including driving directions and recent trip reports, go here – http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/heliotrope-ridge. The hike, in and out, is approximately 5.5 miles in length and gains approximately 1,400′ in elevation. Be prepared for creek crossings, and most importantly, enjoy!

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74 – Chain Lakes Loop

We were not sure which trail we would hike as we drove to Mount Baker, but we thought maybe it would be the Chain Lakes Loop Trail – if the cloud cover persisted. Maybe, though, a different trail – if it was clear. Still cloudy as we drove through the little town of Glacier, so Chain Lakes it was. Parking at Artist Point, we began at the Chain Lakes/Ptarmigan Ridge trailhead. We followed the Chain Lakes trail around several alpine lakes and on up to Herman’s Saddle, then down to the Bagley Lakes Loop Trail. Once at the Bagley Lakes, we would hike out to Heather Meadows, and then complete our loop by working our way back up to Artist Point.

Chain Lakes trailhead . . .

The beginning of the trail took us past step-like columns of basalt that had been formed by ancient volcanic activity as we hiked around the base of Table Mountain, a dramatic andesite plateau, and on into a cloud of fog.

Along the trail . . .

The wildflowers were at their prime, and I thought the moisture from that fog made these lupines look as if they had been coated with sugar.

Lupines . . . water droplets from fog

Noticing a cold-looking blue color in the ice at the edge of a lake from up on a ridge, the trail dropped down to the shore of Mazama, the first in the series of alpine lakes our trail would pass.

Mazama Lake . . .

Stepping from stone to stone as we crossed a gentle flowing stream, we continued on to the next lake.

On to the next lake . . . stream crossing

Gaining in elevation, at times the trail was a large field of snow.

(pic by Kent) . . . trekking through snow field

Before long, we reached Iceberg Lake. Aptly named, with Table Mountain on the right, note the color of some of those icebergs.

(pic by Kent) . . . at Iceberg Lake – Table Mountain backdrop

Next up was Hayes Lake. Lovely!

Hayes Lake . . .

Continuing along the trail, we climbed up and around to gain a great view of the other end of Iceberg Lake – and yet a different angle of Table Mountain.

Looking back to Iceberg Lake . . .

Continuing to gain in elevationin, we trekked over more fields of snow until we reached Herman’s Saddle.

(pic by Kent) . . . approaching Herman’s Saddle, Mount Shuksan backdrop

Here we are, on Herman’s Saddle with Mount Shuksan coming out of the clouds just behind us, and a tiny Upper Bagley Lake barely visible deep in the valley below.

Mount Shuksan . . . from Herman’s Saddle

It was beautifully scenic as we followed the Chain Lakes Trail on down until we had joined the Bagley Lakes Loop Trail.

Along the trail . . . below Herman’s Saddle

There are two Bagley Lakes, an upper and lower, and as it sounds, the Bagley Lakes Loop Trail goes around both lakes. Here is Kent, on the bridge that crosses Upper Bagley Lake.

Bridge over Upper Bagley Lake . . .

In places, the trail was barely melted out. We encountered this collapsed snow bridge, and were able to easily work our way through the clumps of snow without any danger.

Collapsed snow bridge . . . near Upper Bagley Lake

Still other snow bridges along the trail looked as if they were about to collapse. Always offering me a hand when it was my turn to cross, Kent, an experienced hiker and climber, checked the condition of these potentially dangerous areas first to make sure they were safe before we continued.

Snow bridge . . . along Upper Bagley Lake

Although we did this hike in reverse order from what is described on this Washington Trails Association trail description, for more information and directions to the Chain Lakes Trail, go here –http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/chain-lakes-3. The hike is a long – and steep – climb when approached from Upper Bagley Lake, so by completing this hike in the opposite direction, not only did it feel a little easier, we also enjoyed an almost constant view of Mount Shuksan and Upper Bagley Lake on our hike down from Herman’s Saddle. Very beautiful!

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73 – Ridge Above Chowder Basin (Day 3 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip)

Beginning the day with a spectacular sunrise, this would be our last morning in the Chowder Basin. After breakfast, we would be breaking camp and hiking back to Skyline Divide, then on down to the trailhead.

Sunrise . . . from camp

Entertained each day by the many resident marmots, as we broke camp, they seemed curious about us. Reminding me of miniature bears, this little guy posed for me part way down the hill just behind our tent.

Marmot . . . in the fireweed

Once packed up, we took the trail out of Chowder Basin.

(pic by Kent) . . . Hiking out of Chowder Basin

Having planned one more day hike before making the trek back down to our car, once we had hiked out of the basin, we stashed our heavy backpacks in a small thicket of trees, grabbed our day packs and took off on a side trail that we hoped would lead us up and along the ridge high above Chowder Basin.

Stashing our backpacks . . . ready for one more day hike

On our way up to the top of that ridge, we lost the trail in a snow field. But really, who needs a trail anyway? Scrambling off trail and on up to the top of the ridge, we found the trail once again.

Scrambling up to the ridge above . . .

We had a wonderful view from up on that ridge – Skyline Divide, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker. We could see many of the places where we had recently hiked – Chowder Ridge, Chowder Basin, Cougar Divide, Grouse Ridge. It seemed that we could see for miles and miles and miles.

(pic by Kent) . . . Along the ridge trail

After that, we followed the Chowder Basin Ridge trail back to the trail leading to Skyline Divide.

Along the trail . . .

Back at Skyline Divide, it was time for us to make the hike back to the trailhead – and the car. A bit dusty from having sat in a gravel parking lot along a bumpy logging road for several days, but always a welcomed sight after a long hike. To read about Day One of this backpacking trip, go here – Day 1 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip, and Day Two, here – Day 2 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip.

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72 – Exploring Chowder Basin (Day 2 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip)

With our camp perched on a knoll above Chowder Basin, what a splendid place it was to sit and sip our coffee as the morning clouds cleared to reveal Mount Baker.

Mount Baker . . . morning light

After our hike over Skyline Divide and into Chowder Basin the day before (see Hike #71 – Skyline Divide to Chowder Basin (Day 1 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip), we rewarded ourselves with a morning of reading and relaxing, and enjoying our camp.

Reading and relaxing at camp

Then we made plans for an afternoon of hiking. Grabbing our daypacks, off we set to do some exploring.

Along the trail . . . Chowder Basin

We decided to hike to – there. Well, at least as close as we could get to there.

Let’s hike to . . . there

Of course, there were fields of snow to cross. Really no more than a boot path, we lost the trail in a snow field so did some scrambling up and down hills of crumbly rocks until we once again identified the trail.

Snow fields . . . on way to Chowder Ridge

There were streams to ford too. All easy to cross though, and we managed to hike all afternoon without even getting our boots soaked. Believe me, that’s not always the case!

Along the trail . . .

We hiked through fields of wildflowers.

Wild flowers along the trail

Here we are, in a field of wild flowers along the trail through Chowder Basin.

Along the trail . . .

After purifying water from a stream to re-fill our canteens, we thought that would make a great place to stop for our picnic.

Purifying water . . .

That was about when we realized that we had forgotten to stuff that lunch into our daypacks when we left camp. Oops! No problem though, Kent just turned around and made quick work of hiking back to our camp – and in no time had returned with our lunch.

Boot shot . . .

Later, back at camp, evening sunset was even more stunning than it had been the night before. Casting a pink glow behind all the mountain peaks, this is Mount Shuksan.

Mount Shuksan . . . at sunset

The Skyline Divide Trail is such a popular hike, but by having hiked only a few miles further on – tino the Chowder Basin, we were the only ones there. Such a beautiful area entirely to ourselves – absolutely amazing!

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71 – Skyline Divide to Chowder Basin (Day 1 – Chowder Basin Backpacking Trip)

With spectacular mountain views and meadows filled with wildflowers, Skyline Divide must be one of the most popular hikes in the North Cascades. Beginning our three-day backpacking trip on a Sunday, even though the parking lot was full to overflowing, we pulled into an empty parking spot very near the trailhead. Thinking that maybe the weekend campers had already started to pack up and leave, we headed up.
Skyline Divide Trailhead
The well-maintained trail makes a steep, straight, two-mile climb up through an old-growth forest.
Along the trail . . .
Our climb changed to welcomed switchbacks as the trail continued up through sunny pocket meadows within the Wilderness Area of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Pocket meadows of wildflowers
Greeted by fields of wildflowers once on Skyline Divide, we removed our heavy backpacks and enjoyed a break before continuing on to find the perfect location to set up camp.
Skyline Divide . . . wildflower meadows along the ridge
The view we enjoyed during that break, miles and miles of sloping fields of wildflowers – and mountains that went on for, well, almost forever.
Wildflowers . . . Skyline Divide
With our heavy backpacks on once again, we continued along the ridge of Skyline Divide. Up and down the trail went, on past fields of lingering snow.
Continuing on to Chowder Basin
The view seemed to get even better and better as we hiked along.
The view from along the trail
Following a trail down from the ridge of Skyline Divide, we crossed several snow fields before finding the perfect knoll above Chowder Basin on which to set up our camp.
Setting up camp
After setting up camp, Kent climbed a tree to secure ropes so later we could hang our food and cookware safely above the reach of any bear that might be in the area.
Hanging food . . . above bear reach
We passed only a few hikers – on their way out – as we hiked in, and once our camp was set up, even though we had just hiked one of the most popular trails in the area, we had left the crowds behind – we had the entire Chowder Basin to ourselves. A wild and vast area with a magnificant view of Mount Baker and Chowder Ridge right from our tent, what a perfect place to be!
Camp . . .
Sipping cups of tea once camp was set up, purifying water in the nearby stream, dining on a backpacker dinner of creamy mashed potatoes stuffed with bacon and cheese, donning bug nets as the evening bug population picked up, taking in the wild view of the valley below and the mountains around, anticipating the constellations and predicted Perseid meteor shower in the night sky – all wonderful memories being made.

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Go here –http://www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/skyline-divide  – for more information on the hike to Skyline Divide.

70 – Cougar Divide

Seeking a view similar to the ever popular Skyline Ridge Trail, but not a crowded weekend trail, we chose the hike to the less frequented Cougar Divide. Met by only one couple rushing back to their vehicle as they swatted swarms of bugs from around their faces, they told us that with only tennis shoes and no bug spray, they were completely unprepared for such a primitive trail – and that they had completely lost it in a snow field barely a quarter of a mile in. Glad to have the entire trail to ourselves, we were prepared for bugs, snow and rough trail conditions, so we laced up our hiking boots, sprayed with insect repellent, grabbed our backpacks and map and began our hike.

Trailhead . . . to Cougar Divide

Sure enough, in no time, we were on fields of snow.

Snow along the trail . . .

With beautiful views along the way, we continued our hike from one snow field to another as the trail climbed through a sub-alpine forest.

Along the trail . . .

Soon we were hiking through an area scattered with rock debris from ancient volcanic erruptions. That’s the ever popular Skyline Divide as a backdrop in this photo. (Do stay tuned as in a week, we make a three-day backpacking trip over the Skyline Divide ridge and set up camp in the Chowder Basin!)

(pic by Kent) Along the trail . . . Skyline Divide in the background

Continuing along the trail, soon the top of Mount Baker comes into view.

(pic by Kent) Along the trail . . .

Reaching a rocky knoll on the top of the ridge of Cougar Divide, we stop for a break. With a 360 degree view from on top of those rocks and clear skies all around, we could see mountain peaks all around us.

On the ridge of Cougar Divide . . .

Some peaks maybe as far away as Canada, others perhaps on the Olympic penninsula. Oh what a spectacular view!

Identifying peaks . . . from the ridge of Cougar Divide

Many wildflowers were in bloom and we identified as many of them as we could. Having packed in a picnic, we dined, then explored the rocks for a while longer. Here we are with Mount Baker and Chowder Ridge as our backdrop.

On the ridge of Cougar Divide . . . Mount Baker backdrop

With the opportunity to hike for miles and miles, the trail follows the ridge along Cougar Divide. To get to the trailhead from Bellingham, go east on the Mount Baker Highway. Just past milepost 40, turn right on Wells Creek Road (#33) and continue past Nooksack Falls to a junction. Make a hard right and follow this for six miles to a bridge. Continue for six more miles to another junction and stay left. Soon you will come to a fork in the road. Take the right fork to the the trailhead.

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