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.