July 27, 2010

Divine divides

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: , — geezerwriter @ 9:38 pm

This week for my camping and hiking adventure I chose Skyline Divide and the Damfino area – the access roads for both were just reopened so the Forest Service reports were getting rather stale. I left home about noon on Sunday, set up a camp again at Douglas Fir Campground and headed up Dead Horse Creek Road.

Skyline Divide

Baker over Skyline Divide

Baker over Skyline Divide

The road is in middling condition except for the first mile – someone has spread some very coarse new gravel on the road. This is not soft, crumbly crushed limestone that packs down into smooth surface but big, sharp chunks of some very tough rock – very slow going. About 7 miles in there is a fancy new bridge over Dead Horse Creek (the second place where you cross that creek).

The parking are was full to overflowing, but nothing like last week at Heliotrope.



I was only planning to go to point where the trail exits the woods onto the ridge, expecting that there would still be some snow travel, but the trail was entirely clear, except for a few leftover snow puddles. So there I was on the ridge at 4PM, with perfectly clear skies, spectacular views and five more hours of daylight. I could see some good-sized patches of snow along the divide, but nothing that looked dangerous, so I did some figuring and decided that I could hike out toward Mount Baker until about 5:30 and make it back to the car by 7:30 and to camp for dinner at 8:00.

End of the trail

End of the trail

And so it went. I met a good number of hikers, both in the woods and on the ridge, but nothing like the 114 last week. And it was fun meeting them, since they were all grinning from ear to ear! (Did I use “spectacular” already? I need a thesaurus.)

The afternoon light on the mountains was as good as I’d hoped, with the lengthening shadows giving a richness that’s missing at noon.

I ended up  doing almost 8 miles, after intending to do about 5. I was dragging a bit by the time I got back to the car, but no regrets.

As I drove down the long, long 12 miles to the highway, a big bird jumped up from the ground and settled in a tree right along the road. What was left of the sun was right behind him, but I am sure that it was an owl, probably a Barred Owl. This was a first for my life list, as I’d never seen an owl of any kind in the wild before.

When I got back to the tent I decided, for the first time ever, not to put up the rain fly. Often I use it for warmth as much as for rain, but it was such a mild evening that I probably could have just sprawled out on the picnic table.

End of the day

End of the day


After a nice night in the tent I made breakfast and packed up the camp. Last week I left the camp set up and got to the trail a half hour sooner, but then had to rush to get back before check-out time. This time I had a long 15 mile drive to and from the trailhead and planned a nice, leisure stroll up to Excelsior Pass and didn’t want to be watching the clock.

Shuksan from High Divide

Shuksan from High Divide

There are three trails starting at the Damfino trailhead at the end of Canyon Creek Road: Excelsior Pass and Peak, Boundary Way and Canyon Ridge. We could do one of these this Thursday before they close the road again on August 2 for another month. I had chosen Canyon Ridge in my mind since it had been reported as free of snow for several weeks, Boundary Way is really short, and Excelsior is really gorgeous in the fall. Since my cover story for these Expotitions is that I am testing the trails for the Trailblazers group, I really should have done Canyon Ridge. But after my almost 8 miles the evening before, I wanted a easy, pretty hike. You can see a good bit of the Canyon Ridge trail right from the trailhead, so I figured I would have a pretty good idea of the snow conditions without walking the trail. And then, at the trailhead, I happened to run into a pair of Forest Service rangers who happened to be headed up the Canyon Ridge trail and said that they would be filing a report at the ranger station in Glacier by Wednesday. So I was off the hook completely and headed for Excelsior.

There are still some pretty big snow islands along the trail, including one that was large enough to make me pause and hunt for the trail, but not enough to amount to a problem. And as I left the woods and approached the pass and High Divide the snow largely disappeared, so this trail is definitely ready for prime time.

After I’d had a snack at the pass it was still only 11:00, so once again my plans had been too modest. I could hike up to the peak, but that’s just another sunny spot with a marvelous view (ho-hum). I had hiked west along the ridge toward Church Mountain, but I had never hiked along the official High Divide trail, which runs to the east along the divide to Welcome Pass. So I picked an arbitrary time and decided to hike east until noon.

Glacier lilies

Glacier lilies

On such a beautiful day, the High Divide trail is a joy. It rambles up and down, but not very steeply, on or just south of the spine of the ridge, occasionally passing through some trees, but mostly with unimpeded glorious views south across the Nooksack Valley to Mount Baker and all his Friends and Relations.

Just before noon I passed a high point just before a deep notch in the ridge exposed a view to the east and decided to stop for lunch. At this point I realized that I hadn’t brought any real food with me, just a few Clif bars. And that my right ankle was beginning to hurt, due to newish boots. So I sat and enjoyed the view and headed back.

In the end my little stroll had turned into nearly 10 miles with 2500′ of elevation gain. It was a little overdone, given the hike the evening before, but I highly recommend it. It is not nearly as tough as Church Mountain and a lot of our other hikes and most of the time is spent in alpine country with great views. And the flowers are coming out!

Bugs are beginning to be in evidence. On both hikes I was pestered by some large insects that I assumed were deer flies, but I never got a good look. Or they could have been bees, which I did see now and then. On the Skyline trail, one fly managed to take a bite out of my shoulder right through my shirt, but that was the only clear episode of carnivorous behavior.

In Summary

It seems that most trails in the North Fork region are now clear of hazardous snow, and from now on we can probably pick any trail that we can get to.

That was a lie. The road to Artist Point is supposed to open on Friday, but since the DOT has been barely able to clear a narrow track in three weeks of concentrated play with their big Tonka trucks, I’m thinking that those trails may still have more than a bit of snow. Aha! I think I know where I’m going next week! With my ice axe.

Baker from High Divide

Baker from High Divide



  1. I hope you ankle will be okay by Thursday, Al, since that’s only tomorrow. And I vote for Excelsior, but heck, they all look great. I”m not sure about you making another ten miler on Thursday, after almost twenty miles earlier in the week! You are becoming as driven as our friend Mike, it seems. Thanks for the great shots.

    Comment by DJan — July 28, 2010 @ 6:39 am

  2. Hi Al,
    Loved the narrative and the great pictures!

    Comment by Ginny Eaton — July 28, 2010 @ 6:28 pm

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