October 7, 2012

Cougar Divide

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades, Weather — Tags: , — geezerwriter @ 2:37 pm

Last Thursday one carload of hikers was treated to the sight of a cougar ambling across the highway near Maple Falls. Not to be outdone, five of us headed east on Saturday to explore Cougar Divide.

I had recently added it to our fall schedule – it had always been on of my favorites but I hadn’t been up there in years, partly because of the 12-13 miles of often very rough and occasionally precarious driving on Wells Creek Road and partly because of a perennial dense infestation of mosquitoes at the trailhead. On the one hand I’d heard reports that some folks from Glacier have been working to keep the road open. And there was hope that the extremely dry summer and some recent frosty nights would have knocked the mosquito problem down. So off we went.

As I mentioned, this was one of my favorite hikes. Several years ago, when the road was washed out by Wells Creek, I hiked 7 miles up the road and 3 miles out the trail and spent a magnificent cloudless and moonless night in the shadow of Hadley Peak and Chowder Ridge. But several trips had been marred by rainy weather and those mosquitoes and that kind of stuff can stick in your mind.

From Wells Creek Road

From Wells Creek Road

However, it didn’t take long to remember why I loved this hike. We were still 5 or 6 miles from the trailhead when this sight forced us to stop and take some pictures.

The gang

The whole crew (Steve, Jonelle, Fred & Terry) on the road

The trail is anything but boring. It was dropped from the Forest Service’s official hike list more than ten years ago and has not been maintained in any organized way since. It is only 3 miles long with 1000′ of net elevation gain but there are lots of ups and down, some of them steep and scrambly; it passes through dense forest and open meadows; and there are lots of fallen trees to climb over, under and around. But overall, it is a pretty moderate hike.

It starts with a moderately steep uphill, mostly in open meadows, for about half a mile until it pops up onto a rock outcropping that I’m calling the Beauty Spot.

Panorama from the Beauty Spot

Panorama from the Beauty Spot – from Shuksan past the Portal and Baker to Skyline Divide

This place has yielded several of my all-time favorite pictures ever. Baker looks different from every direction, but I think this shows it at its best. And I could have continued this panorama the full 360 degrees to Church Mountain, High Divide, Tomyhoi and the Border Peaks, and around to Mount Redoubt and Ruth Mountain. But I probably would have gotten dizzy and fallen on my face, so I’ll settle for now on one more picture, taken from about 100 yards on up the trail:

More from the Beauty spot

More from the Beauty spot

BTW you can enlarge any picture (please!) by clicking on it.

The lighting on this perfectly clear day just got better my the hour, Here’s a view on our way back in one of the meadows – the flowers are mostly gone and it is ready for the new snow that will be coming all too soon.

Meadow waiting for new snow

Meadow waiting for the new snow

Here’s one of the steep, but not scrambly, places:

A steep spot on the trail

A steep spot on the trail

And finally, I can’t resist one more picture, taken as we climbed back up onto the Beauty Spot.

Back at the Beauty Spot

Back at the Beauty Spot

Oops! I almost forgot to mention that the road is, in fact, in considerably better condition than the last time I was here. It is still 12 miles long and has a number of very bumpy sections, but there are no serious ground clearance issues and the exposed, scary spots have been much improved. And the views!

And best of all, not a single mosquito and hardly any bugs of any kind.


I made the mistake this morning of looking at the long range weather forecasts. Bearing in mind the very questionable value of any forecast that looks ahead more than 12 hours, here is a picture of the Accuweather forecast for the rest of the month:

So the whole high country hiking season could possibly slam shut at the end of this week. But we can hope.

Ptarmigan Ridge and the Portal

Filed under: Geology, Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 1:23 pm

We had ten hikers for our trip to Ptarmigan Ridge this year. (You can see more about this and all of our hikes on DJan’s blog.) Some people wanted to extend the hike further than usual by going on to the “Portals” and others did not want to stay out so late, so we split up the cars and riders accordingly. Actually we all made it a bit further out than in the past, arriving at this nice little lunch spot under Coleman Pinnacle with a grand view of the rest of our route out onto Mount Baker. You can just see the “Portals” in the distance way over on the right edge of this picture.

Lunch time

Lunch time

OK, it’s time to show you a better picture of the “Portals” and get rid of those quotation marks. A quick dictionary check yields:

Portal: a doorway, gate, or other entrance, esp. a large and elaborate one.

There is actually only one portal here – a large gap in a dark lava rock ridge that is a waypoint on a once popular climbing route for Mount Baker. The left and right “door jambs” of this portal apparently acquired the names “East Portal” and “West Portal” over time, and the whole melange came to be called the “Portals”. My grammatical pickiness just can’t abide this sort of nonsense so I’m going to call it The Portal. I’ll give in and accept the conventional names for the its two sides (which I have to admit sound better than “East-” and “West Door Jamb”) but I just can’t stand that misbegotten plural.

Baker & the Portal

Baker & the Portal

The route to East Portal goes off the right side of that picture, curves around and re-emerges on the ridge line that passes behind Mike at the cuff of his left sleeve and proceeds along the edge of the snow up to a point directly below the “P” of “East Portal” and then hooks to the right. It looks like there is a lot of snow to cross but not so – 3 or 4 patches that were nearly level and not icy.

Right behind Mike’s left hand you can see a sharp change in the color of the rocks: slightly greenish medium gray rocks of the Chilliwack formation underneath darker reddish-black, and much more recent, lava rock. (The picture below shows where we crossed this dramatic unconformity about an hour later.) It is my understanding that this darker rock is a lava flow from Mount Baker and this is a graphic demonstration of the fact that Baker is just a big, beautiful carbuncle perched on the surface of the much more ancient “basement rocks” that comprise the North Cascades.

Where Baker begins

Where Baker begins

The rest of the pictures were taken after we reached East Portal. This shows Baker with West Portal on the right.

Baker from East Portal

Looking past West Portal to Baker from East Portal

Looking down into the Portal

Looking down into the Portal

Avalanche Gorge & Rainbow Ridge

Looking southeast across Avalanche Gorge to Rainbow Ridge

End of the trail

Admiring the views of Mount Blum and the Pickets

And finally, Steve showing off his mountain climb skills (and a measurable amount of sheer lunacy) on East Portal.

Showing off

Showing off

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