GeezerHiker

July 12, 2010

Heliotrope Ridge

Filed under: Geology, Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 1:35 pm

On Sunday, July 18, I drove out to Douglas Fir Forest Service campground near Glacier, set up my camp at 2:00 in the afternoon and headed right out to hike. My plan to explore the Skyline Divide trail for snow conditions was thwarted when I turned onto Dead Horse Creek Road (FS #37) and was greeted by an orange sign announcing the closure of the road at mile 7.1, a good 5 miles short of the trailhead. So I switched to Plan B and headed on up Glacier Creek Road (FS #39) to Heliotrope Ridge, which I had been planning to do the next morning. I would then have all evening to decide where, if anywhere, to go the next day.

Uphill from the outhouse

Uphill from the outhouse

The road is in good shape, but I went slowly, figuring that I would be going against any traffic on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, on the way to one of the most popular day hikes in the area and the start of the most popular climbing route to Mount Baker. I didn’t meet many cars on the road, but well before I could see the parking lot, there were parked cars packed along the side of the road. The first place I found to park was at the upper end of the parking area, right next to the outhouse, and the chain of parked cars continued on up the hill and out of sight around the next curve.

New bridge over Grouse Creek

New bridge over Grouse Creek

It was hard to believe that there was room for people from all those cars to fit on the trail, and even before crossing the brand new bridge across Grouse Creek (remember the flattened log with a steel cable handrail?) I began to meet people, both climbers with great huge packs and day hikers in tennies and their dogs. I decided to count them: in a little over an hour, I met 123 critturs of the human and canine persuasions, for a total of 264 feet/paws tromping on the trail. [Assuming that all individuals had the usual number of legs, how many were people and how many were dogs? Show your work.] Most hikers were coming down, but early in the hike I was passed by a couple of teenaged boys with skimpy packs and a black dog.

The trail is in great shape, despite the usual downed tree or two, and there was no snow at all until almost 5000′ elevation – a bit surprising since the trail is sheltered from the sun on the north side of the ridge. On the other hand, this is the windward side of Baker, which normally gets less snow. Just last week on the opposite side of the mountain on Boulder Ridge there was substantial snow cover at 4000′.

And the creek crossings are good, too. The Kulshan Creek ford, the first one that looks scary (but never stops us), has a lot of water, but many well-placed stepping stones. The big Heliotrope Creek crossing, the only one that has turned us back in recent years, has a big, sturdy snow bridge just above the trail. But I had found a nice spot to cross before I saw the trail “trodden black” across the snow bridge.

First look at Baker

First look at Baker

As I reached Heliotrope Creek, I met a family group of 4 who had just passed me, but had turned around after deciding not to cross the creek. The father (I presume) asked me to watch out for the two boys with the black dog, as they had become separated. (Well separated, indeed, as the boys had passed me an hour earlier.) They were guessing that the boys had turned off on the climbing route, about a quarter mile back, and were going to go back and try that route. None of us were expecting me to see them, since there wasn’t much trail left in the direction I was going, and they had passed me a long time ago.

Up the Coleman Glacier to Baker

Up the Coleman Glacier to Baker

I got over to the the moraine overlooking Coleman Glacier and headed up toward Baker. We have been doing this hike in the late fall in recent years and have only made it up to the point where the tree-covered moraine runs into a ridge of solid volcanic rock that (I believe) is called the Hogback. On this day I got quite a bit further up, since it was essentially free of snow.

I was looking up at the high point of the rocky ridge that I had chosen as my destination when I saw the black dog, and then the two boys. Oops. I hoped that they were not going any further and that I could catch up to them, but I was right at the base of a steep rocky hill which would slow me down. And then I saw the older boy seeming to move further on. So I waved and just bellowed as loud as I could, and managed to get the younger’s attention. They came back down to meet me and I filled them in on the situation, told them to go back to the climbing route junction and made them promise that at least one of them would stay there until they found their family. Good deed for today? – check!

Threatening clouds?

Threatening clouds?

The views were absolutely splendid, better than usual because of the time of day. It was after 5:00PM, and shadows were beginning to deepen on the glaciers but the sun was still bright. To the south and west some puffy cumulus clouds were trying to grow into thunderheads and scare every one off the mountain, but they weren’t very convincing. Besides, almost everyone was already gone.

My dinner spot on the Hogback

My dinner spot on the Hogback

I spent about a half hour having dinner there on the Hogback and taking many, many pictures. The trip down was uneventful and not nearly as busy – I only saw 5 more people.

So the Senior Trailblazers have a hike for this Thursday, after all. The lovely weather is supposed to continue indefinitely and I look forward to a fine outing, perhaps even as great as last week’s trip to the top of Church Mountain. But that’s asking a lot.

Baker over the Hogback

Baker over the Hogback


Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: