In our opinion, September is the best month for hiking. It's often sunny, usually bug-free and not as busy, especially mid-week when the kids are back in school. From our White Rock deck, Mount Baker juts up like a frosted pinnacle and prompts us to dust off our packs, poles and boots. Although not the highest Cascade peak, it’s definitely the iciest. No doubt, that’s why the Lummi Indians coined it Koma Kulshan, meaning, “The Great White Watcher.”
In our earlier years, we’d tried a few of Baker's more challenging routes; the steep switchbacks of Church Mountain, the craggy ascent up Goat Trail, and the heart-thumping heights of Heliotrope Ridge. During every thigh-burning ascent, we were privy to eye-popping rewards –from flower-clad meadows to panoramic views.
Now, years later, my quads aren’t quite as peppy about doing the pitch. Thank heavens Ptarmigan Ridge offers us the best of both worlds –awesome vistas without as much grunt work. But even though there’s a little less elevation gain, this hike isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It can be sketchy in parts and depending on the annual snowfall, may be still draped in some of the slippery white stuff.
A National Forest pass is mandatory to park anywhere in the Mount Baker recreation area and after leaving the Glacier Public Service Center we travel eastward and upward, 1,676 meters (5,500 ft) to Artist Point. This is where our SUV gets a well-deserved break and our legs take over.
Access to the trailhead is in the parking lot’s northwest corner and on this sunny Sunday morning, it’s not hard to find. “It seems like Grand Central,” Brent, says, as we follow the crowd, “But it’ll thin out once we get going.” My hubby has hoofed enough popular hills in the past to know, and as soon as we head away from this bustling hub, the strand of nomads fan out over Mother Nature’s wonderland like ants at a picnic.
Our pencil-thin pathway traverses the base of Table Mountain and though the steady incline isn’t strenuous, my eyes are fixated on the route ahead. Primarily, this is so I can safely maneuver the roots and rocks underfoot. Secondly, it helps steady my vertigo on this trail that hovers high above Swift Creek and Rainbow Valley. But every so often, I just have to take a moment and look around. And this isn’t a tactic to slow my raging pulse. Beyond the talus slope and yawning gorge is a vista that even Heidi would drool over. Majestic Mt. Shuksan dominates the backdrop of this picture postcard setting. I’m awestruck by its magnitude and mesmerized by its beauty. But just ahead there’s a lot more visual overload in store, and if I want to see it, I have to keep on trekking!
At the 3km mark, we come to a junction, where the Chain Lakes Trail divides. Many hikers take this low road that descends 152 meters (500 ft) to a few lakes, then elevates to Herman’s Saddle at 244 meters (800 ft) where the snow cone of Baker beautifies the backdrop.
As if spellbound, like mice of the pied piper, we head for the high road, a route that eventually leads to the base of this icy apex. Along the way our trail is flanked by a riot of wildflowers: flaming paintbrush, Partridge Foot and alpine Spirea. Mountain Monkey plants provide a cushy groundcover and edible-ready blueberries are perfect for snacking on –especially by the namesake ptarmigan birds who populate the area.
We elevate to higher ground, gingerly cross snowy patches and steer clear of gaping cracks and crevices. And with each step we get closer to that alluring landmark. We pass the 1,768 meter (5800 ft) mark and a mile further come to the base of the Coleman Pinnacle. But there’s no need to scale this steep-pitched summit. We’ve got what we’ve come here for. And while setting up our picnic at Camp Kiser, we can’t take our eyes off of it. It seems to be within our reach and is more captivating than ever. There, in all its full-blown beauty is the glistening gem, the crown jewel, the snowy mountain that we can see from our deck in White Rock –beautiful and breath-taking Baker.
IF YOU GO:
PHOTOS by Jane & Brent Cassie
#1 Our pathway traverses the base of Table Mountain
#2 Mt Shuksan backdrop on trail
#3 Brent overlooks a ridge
#4 So many scenic peaks
#5 Up close and personal with BakerTravel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.TravelWritersTales.com
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