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 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.

Through The Smoke To Camp Kiser / Mt Baker

Last year I took the boys on an overnight hike on the Ptarmigan Ridge trail near Mt Baker, with our goal being Camp Kiser, a climbers camp on the NE side of the mountain. We made it about 4 miles before it got dark, so we found a great place to camp on a ridge above Goat Lake. One of my goals this year was to make it up to Camp Kiser – unfortunately with a busy summer, and school now in session, I did this as a solo overnighter. I had the time set aside, but with the wildfires and subsequent smoke in Washington State, I knew the views would be diminished. Also, I worried about hiking 5 miles each way through the thick smoke.

Starting off from the Artist Point parking lot, I could see that there wouldn’t be much to see beyond a mile or so from the trail. Normally you can see Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan, but both were hidden behind thick orange/brown smoke. Still, what could be seen was still pretty amazing, so I hit the trail with enthusiasm, and wondered if by the end I could actually see Mt Baker. About a quarter of a mile in I paused for a bit of water and found myself somewhat short of breath and started to think of a plan B or even a plan C. I knew I could shorten the hike by camping overnight at the Chain Lakes, or I could just bag it all together and turn around and give it a try another day. I decided to give it a bit longer though, and would make a decision once I reached the junction of the Ptarmigan/Chain Lakes trails.

Thankfully, once I got there everything was fine and the smoke wasn’t bothering me anymore – the temperature was okay (probably mid-70’s or so), so I decided to press on. There were a few other hikers along the way, in both directions – normally there would be dozens more, but the smoke was definitely keeping people away. My plan at that point was to hopefully make it to Camp Kiser, but if it got dark I knew there were a few other options to spend the night. With this area, if you plan to overnight, you need to make it at least a mile past the Ptarmigan/Chain Lakes junction. At that point there is a nice area with a few flat spots to camp – if you are looking for an easy overnighter this area is great, only 2 miles from the parking lot. But I still had a fair amount of daylight left so I pushed forward.

There were a couple of areas that required snow crossings, but with decent boots and poles they were relatively easy, and even a slip and fall wouldn’t (likely) be catastrophic. Before long I made it to the spot I camped at with the boys last summer – there was a lot more snow here than there was last year, but again, crossing it wasn’t bad. I noticed that nearby Goat Lake was still covered with snow and ice. At that point the trail rounds Coleman Pinnacle, with a mile or so left before Camp Kiser. This is probably my favorite part of the trail, with lots of blueberry patches, a couple of decent overnight spots (including one by a large snowfield – great for water or cooling down beverages).

The Camp Kiser area reminded me so much of Iceland – just rocks and fine dust. There are a few decent sites to set up a tent, including a large spot that is so perfectly flat I thought it was actually a concrete pad from a distance. There was a bit of wind so I found a spot off the ridge that was protected a bit. It was fairly dark by now so I set up my tent using my headlamp, then made dinner – a Good To-Go meal, which was the first of three that I have tried that I actually thought was really good (the Thai Curry). The others were so-so – I appreciate the natural ingredients they use, but they just didn’t taste very good. This one was pretty awesome though! Along with a can (yes, a can!) of House Wine it was a somewhat refined backpacking dinner. It was a great, quiet evening – without even a nearby stream to make noise, it was amazing how perfectly quiet it was.

I got a fairly early start the next morning – I woke up around 6:30 and made breakfast and lounged around for a bit, before breaking down camp and heading back around 9. There were a few hikers making their way up, all day hikers. I did have a funny moment though – I rounded a blind corner on the trail and saw a somewhat large, dark, furry creature with it’s back to me blocking the middle of the trail. It startled me, and my first thought was – crap, this is a bear cub! My heart quickened and I started to reach for my can of bear spray, when at that moment the creature turned around and it was just a big, furry dog with a jolly look on it’s face and tongue sticking out. It was off leash and it’s owners were a ways away. So I was startled for a second, but it was friendly so I gave it a pat on the head and made my way forward.

Passing the Ptarmigan/Chain Lakes junction there were lots of hikers, even though the conditions were still just as smoky as the day before. It slowed progress a bit, but I was still able to make it back to the car at a 2+ mile per hour pace. Overall, despite the smoke, it was a fun, and scenic overnighter. I did think about hiking up from Camp Kiser to the Portals, but will save that for a clear day.

Solo Overnighter To Lake Ann / Mt. Shuksan

I was finally able to do a Mt Baker hike that I’ve always wanted to do – the Lake Ann/Mt Shuksan trail. It’s just over 4 miles each way from Artist Point, which you start by losing about 1000 feet of elevation in a mile, then leveling out for 2 miles in a beautiful creek meadow, before finishing with a 1500 foot or so climb in the last mile through boulder fields and a small patch of snow. Found a great camping spot up an obscure trail above Lake Ann, with great views of Mt Baker on one side and Mt Shuksan on the other.

I got a late start, hitting the trail at about 5:30 pm – it was a bit of a race to get to the end, since it’s getting dark around 8pm or so this time of year. I figured I could do 2 miles/hour, which would leave me about 30 minutes of light to set up camp at the end. Thankfully, that’s exactly the way things worked out. I arrived at the ridge above Lake Ann right at 7:30 and had a choice to make. I saw a few tents around the lake (but just a few – this was a Tuesday evening), but I had read reports saying that above the ridge (just north of the lake) there were some great campsites with a view of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan and the lake. There wasn’t much of a trail, but after 50 yards or so I did see a faint path up towards the campsites. I passed one level site and took the second one, which did have a great view. The next morning I explored a bit and found even better sites further up.

After a great night of sleep I woke to a sunny morning with the occasional sound of crashing rock on the steep face of Mt. Shuksan. After coffee and breakfast I packed up and went down to the lake to check out the view from there, and walked a 1/4 mile or so down the climbers trail towards Mt. Shuksan and Curtis Glacier. While the trail does go all the way to the glacier, from reports I’ve seen it’s steep and narrow, with a washed out area towards the end. I didn’t have time to go all the way this time, but hope to give it a shot sometime in the future.

The hike back was pretty uneventful – it was a warm day but my pack was lighter so it wasn’t bad. There were tons of people on the way up though – even though it was a Wednesday, the parking lot was full by the time I got back. Overall this hike did not disappoint, and was maybe slightly more difficult than I thought it would be.

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.