July 24, 2010

Boulder Ridge in the rain

Filed under: Geology, Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 6:37 pm

The week before last I spent two days hiking on the east side of Mount Baker with the goal of finding some places where we could hike. The information on the USFS website just didn’t seem very credible so I went to see for myself. In particular they were claiming that there was snow right at Schreiber’s Meadow, the main trailhead in the area, which is at about 3500′ above sea level, while we had been encountering snow only above 4700′ for a couple of weeks.

I left early on Monday, July 12, and planned to go to the Meadow and scout around there, and then do some or all of the Forest Divide, Boulder Ridge, Rainbow Ridge and Park Butte trails over the next two days, based at a camp at the Boulder Creek FS campground. On the previous Friday, the day after a beautiful hike up Goat Mountain in warm, almost too warm, sunny weather, and with the same sort of weather forecast ahead indefinitely, I had made my campground reservation online. About an hour later, the Weather Service began to modify the forecast, and continued doing so throughout the weekend. By Monday it was gloom and drizzle everywhere, but I had already paid for my campsite (and I’m really cheap) so there I was at Schrieber’s Meadow in the rain, with not a single other vehicle parked at the most popular trailhead in the North Cascades.

[Orthographer’s note – I just noticed that I have already spelled the name of that meadow two different ways. It’s a struggle. The name is pronounced like the German word “Schreiber” which means “writer” or “scribe” and is pronounced with an “aye” (as in “Aye, matey!”) but is spelled with an “ie” which has no meaning in German, but would be pronounced as an “ee” (as in “Eek, a snake!”). Usually my rudimentary knowledge of German has helped me in life, but it makes it awfully hard to write “ie” when my mind is saying “aye”.]

The Yellow Aster Complex

Years ago I read in my favorite geology book, “Geology of the North Cascades” by Rowland Tabor and Ralph Taugerud and published by the Mountaineers, of a short off-trail junket to the base of a cliff below Survey Point where there is a rockfall of a complex and very ancient type of local rock called the Yellow Aster Complex, after the place where it was first cataloged near the small lakes at the base of Yellow Aster Butte. Some crystals in the rocks can be dated back over a billion years, into the Pre-Cambrian Era. Igneous rocks were formed then, eroded down into sands and muds, compacted into sedimentary sandstones and shales, then reheated and metamorphosed, perhaps more than once, into something like a gneiss or schist. And over the millennia, it was also cracked and broken, with the cracks being filled in with other sorts of molten rocks. Some books I’ve seen call it a “gneiss” (a coarse-grained metamorphic rock usually derived from granite) but others are non-committal and just call it a “complex” (the geologist’s equivalent of a punt).

The Yellow Aster Complex pops up in a number of places in the area, including the two mentioned above, some spots along the Middle Fork of the Nooksack and near Canyon Creek Road below Church Mountain. But it is often in close proximity with another ancient and even more complex looking mess of a rock called the Bell Pass Melange (another taxonomic punt), so I wanted to get to a spot where I could have it on some authority that the rocks I would find were examples of YAC and not BRM. (We will have the opportunity to see both types in the next week or so on the Yellow Aster Butte trail, if they aren’t all still buried in snow.)

Snow at Schrieber's

Snow at Schrieber's

To get to the rockfall, you go about 2/3 of a mile along the Park Butte trail, then head cross-country toward the cliff and find a ford across Rocky Creek. Almost as soon as I left the trail I was amazed to find patches of snow, corroborating the info on the USFS website! It turns out that there is a lot more snow over there than up along the North Fork of the Nooksack. That makes some sense, since that area is on the leeward slope of Mount Baker for storms that came from the west, and snow does tend to build up on the lee side of a mountain, as it does on the lee side of a fence or a house. The prevailing winds around here in the winter are from the SW, so the Mount Baker Ski Area, which is NE of Baker, normally gets huge amounts of snow despite its modest altitude of 3500′ to 5000′. (I’ve read that more snow falls there than on the top of Baker at 10,800′.) I just saw that the DOT is not even willing to estimate when the road through the ski area to Artist Point will be opened; after almost three weeks of plowing, they are just past halfway up the road.

So that was the major upshot of my trip: there is no point in looking to either Artist Point or the Baker Lake area for trekking opportunities in the next few weeks unless we want to hike with ice axes and crampons. I did manage to do parts of all the hikes I mentioned (except Forest Divide) and I ran into significant snow at 4000 to 4200 feet on all of them.

Boulder Ridge

I will spare you some of the gruesome details, but between the drizzle and nearly falling into rocky Creek (twice), I was wet all over and through for the next two days. Actually it just seemed that way, since down at my campsite at Boulder Creek it only rained a little and just at night.

The only hike where I went a respectable distance was on Boulder Ridge, mainly because its trailhead is at a lower elevation of about 2700′. I wanted to do a good job of checking this one out since it is on our schedule for the first week in September. Pat and Ron hiked it last year and reported that it was a great, if somewhat difficult, hike. Ron says it was one of the most beautiful places he’s ever been, which is saying something around here.

We’ll have to take Ron’s word for the beauty, though, since I couldn’t see anything most of the time. The trees were nice, but how beautiful can a tree be? But on the road and at the trailhead, there were big openings in the trees, which I could imagine being filled with some great views of the mountains east of Baker Lake (Blum, Hagen, Bacon, et al.), and I read somewhere online that the trailhead is one of the most beautiful in the area.

Mudhole #1

Mudhole #1

The trail heads immediately into the woods and is quite gentle for the first two miles, rising only about 500′. There were a lot of muddy spots, and I found myself wishing that the trail would get steeper and allow the water to run off. And it did get steeper. About the time I was regretting what I’d wished for it leveled out again and presented some truly epic mudholes that dwarfed the earlier ones, and then came out into a lovely open meadow – I could almost see Maria and the Lonely Goatherd gamboling through.

The Meadow

The Meadow

But it was, in fact, a bog. There was water running everywhere just below the level of the grasses. It turned out to be possible to pick my way across without immersing my boots, but I had to choose carefully.

And just past the bog the character of the trail changed dramatically – a quick right turn sent me straight up the side of the ridge without benefit of switchbacks. It is as steep as anything I’ve ever encountered that is still called a trail – it comes close to being a scramble. There are plenty of trees and other flora to grab for support, so it wasn’t at all scary, except for one big rounded outcrop of old Chilliwack River volcanic rock. It was glistening wet from the drizzle and exposed to a dramatic drop-off to Boulder Creek a long way below, but turned out not to be slippery and to have many small pits and cracks where a boot could get a good purchase. Combined with the wetness, both the very light drizzle in the air and the wet foliage alongside the narrow “trail”, it was a pretty miserable slog, and I was one soggy and dirty dude.

Chilliwack volcanics

Chilliwack volcanics

The Bog (same as The Meadow)

The Bog (same as The Meadow)

But it really didn’t go on for that long. It was only about a half a mile before slope eased up and the trail starts to come out of the trees onto a bit of a ridge. The geology underfoot also changed quite abruptly to modern Mount Baker lava rock, and the mist pulled back just enough to get some foggy glimpses of the head of the valley. I’m pretty sure that the blank whiteness of cloud ahead above the valley was hiding a truly spectacular view of Mount Baker. (After I got home I checked on my computerized topographic maps that it was only 3 miles to the summit. It would be basically the same view that DJan took from Baker Lake Road on our Baker River hike,  but 4 miles closer).

Looking toward Baker?

Looking toward Baker?

From what I read in various climbers’ reports (this is one of the less popular climbing routes to Mount Baker, but even here I ran into two pairs of climbers who, thankfully, had been on the summit the day before when it was sunny) that there is about another mile of trail beyond the point where I ran into deep snow, for a total of almost 4 miles. At that point there is a cliff that requires some technical work to get up onto the ridge for the Baker ascent.

When I got back to the car at almost 8PM I was wet and as dirty as I’ve ever been on a hike, but I still think it would be worth our while to do it. By September it should be pretty well dried out, and it was the wetness that was the worst part of the hike. The steep section is as tough as anything we regularly do (think about the Oyster Dome trail) but it is only a minor part. And there should be a great scenic payoff if we can hit a nice day, which in early September is a pretty good bet.



  1. Geez,
    YOur confusion over the word ‘Schrieber’ vs ‘Schreiber’ is understandable. The official USGS name for the meadow is incorrectly spelled. The meadow was the home of Herman SCHREIBER, who lived there in the early part of the 20th C. He paticipated in the 1912 Mount Baker Marathon. Remains of his cabin were visible as late as 1990, but have finally decayed beyond recognition. In the same way, the topographic names refer to ‘Morovitz’ Creek; this creek is named after ‘Mighty Joe’ MOROVITS, an early prospector up the Baker River who also guided folks to the summit of Baker severaly times.
    D. Tucker (another geezer, sort of)

    Comment by magmatist — August 19, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

    • Geez,
      DT again. Odd, having sent you that post about ol’ Herman SCHREIBER last week, I found what I believe are the remains of one of his building up at the meadows this past week. No way for me to know for sure, of course.

      Comment by magmatist — August 27, 2010 @ 7:59 pm

  2. How did I miss this post? You know I missed it if I haven’t commented here. I agree that we should rethink Boulder Ridge if it’s wet, this just doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun. However, after having missed the wet slog of last week, I’m really ready for anything this Thursday, even rain.

    Comment by DJan — August 30, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

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