16 Miles On The Pacific NW Trail (PNT) – Training Hike For Chinook Trail Thru-Hike In October

In training for my Chinook Trail thru-hike this October, I’ve been going out on 15+ mile training hikes in the Bellingham area – mostly in the Chuckanut/Blanchard Mountain area. I’ve done short sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT), but in looking at the section between Chuckanut Drive (the Oyster Dome trailhead) and Alger, WA, it looked to be about 16 miles – absolutely perfect. It combines uphills, downhills, several lakes, a bit of road walking, and food and beer at the end. My actual miles on the Chinook Trail will average about 22-25 miles a day, but with a bit more rest, I definitely could have done 20+ miles with this hike.

The day started cool a misty, with occasional rain – to me absolutely perfect hiking conditions. Plus, after a few weeks of no rain at all, the forests here needed the moisture. There was a trail closure that didn’t affect the PNT, but it did require a detour for anyone hoping to reach Oyster Dome. As Oyster Dome isn’t part of the PNT, it wasn’t an issue for me. The weather seemed to keep people off the trails as well – through the entire hike I only saw three small groups of hikers, two trail runners and 1 bicyclist. The biggest uphill climb of the day was the section up to the Skagit Overlook – a good workout, but the legs were still fresh so it really wasn’t too difficult. The next section is a more gradual climb up to Lily and Lizard Lakes – I love this section of Blanchard and the mist and fog made this section quite beautiful, especially with all of the moss on the trees.

A few weeks ago I did the next section, the British Army Trail, going uphill and it was tough! It’s relatively steep, plus it came towards the end of my first thru-hike of the Chuckanuts, so it really wasn’t much fun. This time I was going downhill and had a much better experience. After this section it’s a bit of forest road walking, decent gravel roads that were more of a gradual downhill. The next section was mostly motorcycle trails and short sections of forest road – this is probably the least interesting section of the trail, and with rocks and deep ruts filling parts of this section it would be pretty easy to turn an ankle here, so watch your step!

Following that is close to 2 miles of road walking on Summerland/Nulle Road, which takes you under Interstate 5 over to Squires Lake Park. I’ve done the trails here on the way up to Alger Alp before, and it’s a nice trail with several cliff-side overlooks. It was more uphill though, which at mile 14 of the overall hike wasn’t super-welcome, but it’s fairly gradual so it wasn’t a big deal. The sun was starting to come out by then, so my clothes and pack had a good chance to dry. The trail turns onto forest roads as you continue south, ultimately spilling out onto Alger-Cain Lake Road, right near the town of Alger and the Alger Bar & Grill, which was where I ended the hike with a veggie burger and a beer. Conveniently there is a Park & Ride about 1/4 mile with buses to Burlington and Bellingham.

Overall this was a perfect hike to prepare for the Chinook Trail – I’ll probably do it again, but in the opposite direction for no other reason than to make it a different experience.

Welcome Pass – High Divide Trail Near Mt. Baker – Looking For A Good Workout?

Wow, if you are looking for a way to really test your body this trail is for you! According to Gaia, this was 2.88 miles from trailhead to top and the ascent was 3,136 feet. What that doesn’t tell you is about .88 of the trail is a gradual ascent, so you gain most of that in about 2 miles. Get ready to huff and puff on the way up, and possible blisters and jammed toes on the way down.

Having said that, this is really an amazing hike – the road to the trailhead is short, but there are a few really deep potholes to navigate past (a few are nearly 2 feet deep!). It’s sad that there isn’t funding to get these smoothed out, as it would likely only take 4-5 hours to fix them. Heck, I’m tempted to grab a shovel and do it myself!

The trail starts gradually over the first 2/3 of a mile or so and then the switchbacks start. There is a small stream before the switchbacks – if you are low on water fill up here, as there is little to no water the rest of the way. The switchbacks are steep and unrelenting – they will kick your butt! Pace yourself and take breaks – after a while the views start to open up, you’ll see the valley far below and the anticipation of getting to the top makes the last 1/2 mile go by quick.

Once you get above treeline it’s pretty mind-blowing – you can see everything all at once. Instead of taking the High Divide we took a right at the junction, heading up a steep knoll to the east, which opened up nearly 360 views – Mt Larrabee, Yellow Aster Butte, Goat Mountain, Shuksan and of course Mt Baker. You’d be hard pressed to find a better lunch spot – then again, any of the trails in that area are pretty amazing.

While the reward was worth the steep hike up, I may put off a return trip – you can get a similar view with the Yellow Aster Butte trail, and it’s definitely a more “pleasant” hike. Still, I’m glad to have finally done the Welcome Pass trail, and doing it with good friends and trail beers at the top, it made for quite a day!

First Go At Chuckanut / Blanchard North-South Thru Hike

The last two years I have made it my goal to hike every trail in the Chuckanuts – everything from the most popular trails, such as Oyster Dome, Pine/Cedar Lakes, and Fragrance Lake, to some obscure trails that I just stumbled upon using the Gaia app, such as the Secret Trail or the Fiona Ridge Trail.

As I have hiked through the Chuckanuts, and joined several work parties, the thought grew that perhaps there was a way to hike the whole area, north to south (or vice versa). There are several great east/west trails, and lots of trail through the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, but nothing really in between in the Oyster Creek area.

There are some older maps showing a “Lost Lizard Trail”, which would connect the Lost Lake area in the Chuckanuts to Lizard Lake on Blanchard Mountain, making a north-south trail hike possible. However, I haven’t been able to find it, and through online research it seems like no one else has either. Best I can guess, it was a proposed route at some point that was never completed (non-existent “Lost Lizard Trail” below):

So i discovered with the Gaia app/website you could easily create a route using existing trails, roads, and even mountain biking and motorcycle trails. It took some work, but I was finally able to come up with a route that started in the Fairhaven district of Bellingham, and allowed you to hike about 14 miles in a southerly direction through the Chuckanuts, connect with Blanchard Mountain, and then finish on Chuckanut Drive at the base of the Oyster Dome trail.

I proposed this route to a few friends who seemed into doing it – 14 miles is a great day hike, but between work and family commitments, conflicting schedules, etc, it hasn’t worked out for all of us to get together to do it. So having a free day, dry, and temps in the low 60’s I decided to just go for it. I decided to drive to the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Fairhaven, starting at sea level, and working my way south from there.

The trail starts out pretty mellow, following Padden Creek initially as you make your way past the Fairhaven Historic District on the way to Fairhaven Park. You have to leave the trail for a few hundred yards, walking past the tennis courts, restroom and parking lot before getting back on trail at the Chuckanut Community Forest (or as locals refer to it, the Hundred Acre Woods). There are quite a few options for ways to get through this section, but with a goal of connecting with the Interurban Trail, I decided to take the Main Vain and Swamp Trails.

The Interurban Trail then connects with Arroyo Park and the Lost Lake Trail – in working on this thru trail, I had to decide between using the lower Lost Lake Trail, or the higher, rougher Ridge Trail. Since this was my first time, and not knowing what the middle section of the trail was going to be like, I decided to go with the easier Lost Lake Trail. In doing it this way, it isn’t a ridge hike, but it is a great north-south route.

One of the things I liked about this route was that it followed the east side of Lost Lake, which is one of the better sections of trail in the Chuckanuts, but for some reason they don’t show it on the trail maps. There must have been a decision at some point to de-emphasize that trail, and it seems to have happened at the same time they stopped permitting camping at Lost Lake. In any case, there is a large rock in the mid-section of the lake that made for a great lunch spot (enjoyed a can of Bitburger there as well).

I was excited for the next section – it was the middle connecting the Chuckanuts with Blanchard Mountain – no man’s land! After reaching the south end of Lost Lake, you hit a Y in the trail – going to the right takes you back towards multiple trails in the Chuckanuts, but going left takes you out of the area and into what I thought would be primarily logging roads. It wasn’t a great start, as the trail was quite overgrown – I had to use my trekking poles to push my way through. However, for trails that supposedly aren’t used that often, it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected.

Eventually the trail did merge with logging roads, crossing the upper section of Oyster Creek, past a pond called Easy Reach Pond (where you can’t really see any water – it seems to just be an overgrown swamp), and into a network of motorcycle / mountain biking trails. There was only one clear cut section, and it was rather small – for some reason I expected more clear cuts in this area.

This section was all pretty mellow – not too much in the way of hills, just easy hiking. However, that changes as you approach the base of Blanchard Mountain. I knew there would be some uphill hiking involved – after all I was at about 800 feet and I knew Lizard Lake is at about 2000 feet. The last section of logging road was a pretty gentle uphill, but then it met up with the British Army Trail – a trail that I’ve been looking forward to checking out. I’m not sure how it got the name, but it didn’t take long for me to decide it was because of how steep the trail was – it would be good training for any army! It’s a great trail though – it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s likely because there really isn’t a proper trailhead at either end of the trail.

Eventually you get to the shores of Lizard Lake, probably my favorite lake in the Chuckanut/Blanchard area – it’s not the largest lake, but it is really nice and has probably the best campsite in the area. I haven’t reached the lake from this direction before, but I liked how it came close to the shoreline.

At this point I had reached the base of the Lily-Lizard Connector Trail, the last uphill of the route, so I took a breather and drank half a liter of water and refueled with a Snickers. However, I don’t think I was dreading this uphill as much as the final downhill section – 2000 feet of descent on the Oyster Dome Trail….

Well, this final section took much longer than I had hoped – distance-wise it was only a few miles, so it should have only taken an hour. However, after the previous 13 miles, my pace slowed down quite a bit as I descended. However, it was awesome to finally reach Chuckanut Drive, just shy of 9 hours after I started (this time included a 30 minute lunch break, and a couple of other 15 minute stops along the way).

Oh, if you are paying close attention you may have noticed that the Gaia GPS app said this would be a 14 mile through hike – in the end, it somehow ended up being 18! There was the extra bit at the beginning, from the Alaska Ferry Terminal to Fairhaven Park, but that likely is just shy of a mile. So somehow the actual hike was about 3 miles longer than I expected. It was fine, but I’m still not sure how or why the app was so off.

I am happy to have finally completed this route, and as sore as I am a couple of days later, I’m already planning to do it again, possibly this coming week. I am going to go in the opposite direction, starting with the steep uphill Oyster Dome climb, but I may veer off and take the Pacific Northwest Trail up to Lily Lake instead. Knowing my knees, I’m thinking it may be better to do it as an uphill climb and get it out of the way first, and then have the gradual downhill from the Lost Lake area to Fairhaven to look forward to. I am also thinking of doing the Ridge Trail from Lost Lake to Arroyo. These changes add a few miles, but I think after doing it I’ll be able to combine the two to come up with the definitive Chuckanut/Blanchard thru hike route.

I really can’t recommend this route enough – you really get to take in everything the area has to offer – great views, lakes, moderate uphills and downhills, and it also works year round (other than occasional winter snows). I’m not 100% sure how access works in the middle section, as parts of it are not DNR or state park land (maps just say it’s “Private Land”), but I didn’t see any signs saying you couldn’t hike through, and didn’t see any logging trucks or equipment. In fact, I didn’t see a single person from Arroyo Park until Oyster Dome Trail – probably because it was a Thursday, but I was surprised not to see anyone in the Lost Lake or Lily/Lizard Lake sections.

If you have any questions about this hike, you can send me an email at records@dblcrown.com. I would be more than happy to send GPX / KML file of the route to you as well.






WTA Trail Work At Larrabee State Park & Shiny New Hard Hat

Another great day of trail work, this time at Larrabee State Park – now that I’ve done 5 trail parties I’ve earned a shiny new WTA hard hat. Going with the trail name “REVERB” they put that on one side of the hat and my real name on the other. Everyone joked that I should rub it in dirt and rocks, but when I actually went to do it they said no, keep it shiny!

We took our tools across Chuckanut Drive to the work site – today we were working on a re-route, so we were making new trail just below a steep bank with Chuckanut right above us. In among ferns, branches, blackberry vines and undergrowth, there was a ton of trash – mostly glass bottles. We cleaned as we made trail, filling up 5 or 6 buckets in the end. It was kinda interesting, as we dug deeper we started to find all sorts of glassware from long ago, likely from the 40’s through 70’s, and we compared our finds as the day progressed. In the end we got a lot accomplished, and the rain that was in the forecast thankfully held off until we were back at the toolshed enjoying our post-work snacks and beverages.

Making New Trail With The WTA On Lookout Mountain

It was my 5th volunteer work day with the WTA, which means I’ll receive my very own green hard hat! This one was at the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve, near Lake Whatcom, an area I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. It’s a great area to explore, with a short hike to one of the tallest waterfalls I’ve seen in the greater Bellingham area. We had a good group of about 15 volunteers, with the goal of creating a new switchback to replace a section of trail deemed too steep, and filled with roots in anticipation of greater foot traffic in the coming years. There is a plan to add lots of new trail to Lookout Mountain, and at the end of the work party we had the opportunity to view the network of trail that is planned for the area. Needless to say, there will be LOTS of volunteer opportunities in the area this summer!

The area where the new trail was going in was moderately steep and well marked with orange flags. My group took the bottom part of the trail, while another group started at the top, the goal being to meet at the switchback. We transplanted ferns, moved duff and worked on creating nice, gradual uphill trail. We lacked rocks – the area was primarily soft dirt, but we made really good progress throughout the day. Our lunch break was up at a nice waterfall, with a wood fenced lookout that made a nice perch for our group of volunteers.

We pushed hard through the afternoon, and by the end of the day we had the trail nearly completed, other than the switchback and some shoring up of the trail with rock or logs to prevent erosion on the downhill side of the trail. Otherwise it was looking really good and I was surprised that making a substantal length of trail go so fast.

To volunteer, please visit the Washington Trails Association website at: www.wta.org



Volunteering With The WTA (Washington Trails Association)

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to get involved with trail work with the WTA (Washington Trails Association), a resource that I’ve used in researching new trails to hike and overnight adventures. Last year my wife and I made a big effort to hike every single trail in the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, and I think we made it 95% of the way there, so it was only natural to get started with trail work in this area. It doesn’t hurt that it’s literally across the street from where we live.

So far I have volunteered four times – twice on Blanchard Mountain (Alternate Incline Trail) and twice in Arroyo Park. We’ve built up turnpikes, turned mud bogs into comfortable trail that will last for years, built rock walls, and more. Mostly it’s been digging up rock, moving rock, rolling rock, etc. So much rock work that I have literally had dreams about rock! I’ve learned the difference between a McLeod and a Pulaski, helped set up a zipline to move dirt and rock from a pit up to the trail, and gained knowledge about water drainage. It’s been great excercise, lots of fun and I’ve met a bunch of great people. I’m looking forward to doing more, perhaps even some overnighters before the year is over. If you’d like to help fund this great organization please visit their “Join WTA” page.

First Snow Of Fall On Yellow Aster Butte


With reports of snow in the mountains, as summer transitions into fall, there was one hike that had eluded me the past few years that I wanted to complete – Yellow Aster Butte. While I really wanted to make it an overnighter, time and circumstances didn’t allow that, so with a half a day free I decided to go for it, hoping that there wasn’t too much snow up there.

As I headed up the Mt Baker highway I began to see a light dusting of snow in the peaks above – although it was hard to judge if it would be enough snow to impact the hike, I was optimistic and would make a call once I reached the trailhead. I grabbed some trail snacks in Glacier, then continued up the highway to the Twin Lakes turnoff. Now this road had beat me earlier this summer – I took my boys up for a planned overnighter up near High Pass/Mt Larrabee, but my car stalled a couple of times on the way up, and we ended up having to turn around (plan B was an overnighter near the Chain Lakes). I theorized that the problem was the heat, altitude and thick smoke from the summer forest fires. With two of these three not a factor (the altitude of the road obviously never changes…), I decided to give it another shot. Sure enough, there were no issues whatsoever, and I made it to the trailhead, thankfully clear of snow.

The temperature was actually perfect, probably low-to-mid 50’s as I made my way up the initial switchbacks of the trail. The trail then entered the forest, steadily going uphill towards the junction of the Yellow Aster Butte/Tomyhoi Lake trails. There were a couple of campsites in the area, both nice, but knowing what it was like further up towards the butte and the tarns below it, I knew that my future overnighter would be up there.

Snow covered the trees and lush blueberry bushes at this point, and while it was beautiful, the sound from the snow coming down from tree branches, or even falling the short distance from the blueberry bushes to the ground, made me think there were critters large and small all around me. However, I became used to the sporadic noises and moved forward, knowing it was nothing to be concerned about.

It got colder as the trail climbed towards the butte, but for me, it was still perfect. Before long I reached the junction where you have a couple of choices, you can go down towards the tarns and campsites, or you can go up a steep, 1/4 mile trail up to the top of the butte (well, technically it’s not the true summit, which is another 1/4 of a mile of semi-treacherous trail beyond). However, given the snow which now covered everything except the trail, going up this stretch would be good enough for me. While steep, this section isn’t a big deal – you just have to go up slow and steadily. It wasn’t long before I had reached the top, taking in the amazing 360 view with Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan off in the distance, partially obscured by clouds. Other peaks that could be seen include Church, Goat, Larrabee, Winchester and many, many more. It was fairly cloudy to the north, east and south, but it was clear and sunny to the west and the views in that direction were quite good. The wind was a factor up here, so most people were only spending 10-15 minutes at the top before descending. I had a few snacks, and pondered whether it’d be worth it (and safe enough) to make it over to the true summit. However, it looked like the path was snowier in that direction, making it an easy decision to save it for another day.

The hike back was pretty uneventful – I had to be back in town fairly early, so I made good time coming back down. It was amazing to see that except for the final stretch to the top of the butte, most of the snow had now melted, exposing all of the trees and blueberry bushes that had “spooked me” on the way up. Overall it was a great hike, about 2 hrs 15 min up and about 1 hr 45 min down. I look forward to making it up again next year, for an overnighter at the tarns or perhaps up the trail on Tomyhoi.

Cedar & Pine Lakes – Surprisingly One Of The Steepest Hikes I’ve Been On

Earlier this spring, with all of the snow in the Cascades, I decided to make it a goal to hike every trail in the Chuckanuts – some like Oyster Dome I’ve been on at least a dozen times, but others I somehow haven’t done at all. The hike to Pine and Cedar Lakes is one I haven’t tried yet, despite driving past the trailhead many times in the past. Well it was a pretty cool hike – a classic Chuckanut route through forests, past streams and a fair amount of elevation gain and loss. The start of the trail starts off steep, or should I say – STEEP. This was one of the steepest sections of trail I’ve ever been on, steeper than any of the Mt. Baker hikes I went on last year, and just as steep as several sections of the Cinque Terre trail were this year. My wife was not happy – level river hikes are more her thing, some elevation gain/loss is okay, but this was just not fun for her. I didn’t even like it much, but I can handle just about anything so I made the best of it.

The scenery was beautiful though, with streams cutting into the mountainside, forming sometimes deep valleys that we would hike along. In fact, the hike was definitely more scenic than the destination – each of the lakes was okay, but not where we wanted to linger long. Muddy shorelines, bugs and a lack of great places to sit meant we only stayed at each lake about 5 minutes or so.

We made our way back to civilization by taking the Hemlock Trail north towards Arroyo Park – we initially planned on hiking all the way into Fairhaven for a pint at Stones Throw Brewery, but we were approaching 8 miles of hiking and getting a little tired. So we decided to make it a loop, hike into Arroyo Park, then walk along Old Samish Road back to our car. Lemme tell you, hiking on pavement after a long hike in the forest is not fun – my legs, knees and ankles started begging for mercy right away. But we made it in the end – overall I’m not sure when or if I’d go back (Lizard Lake is probably my favorite lake in the Chuckanuts), but it was a decent hike, a great workout and some lovely scenery to enjoy along the way. We did make it to Stones Throw in the end, but we drove…

Table Mountain – Last Hike Before Epic Snow Hits The Cascades

I’ve been skiing at Mt. Baker for nearly 30 years, and hiked many times at Artist Point, but never thought to do the short hike up Table Mountain, but I’m so glad I did. I only had a 6 hour window – living in Bellingham the drive is about 90 minutes or so each way, which left about 3 hours to get a hike in on an absolutely gorgeous day. This hike was perfect – about an hour up, an hour back and about an hour to have lunch and take in the views.

The hike to the top is short, somewhat steep, and probably not for those with a fear of ledges or heights. I felt safe, but a slip could make for a scary moment, and I’d never want to do this hike if it was icy or snowy. Mid-summer or early fall is the perfect time though. Once you get to the top it’s relatively flat, with a trail to a nice spot with tarns and a view of Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan. I lost the trail a couple of times, but you are essentially on a rocky tabletop and it’s easy to see where you want to go if you do go off the trail. When that happened though it was pretty simple to find the trail and rejoin it to the end.