Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Six Weeks in the Mountains: Part VI (Mt. Baker, Washington)

(To enlarge a photo, just click on it; click "back" to get back.  To watch a video again, click on the counterclockwise arrow in the lower-left corner.)

September 25:  We stopped for a night in Bellingham, Washington, for groceries, laundry, and battery-charging; we also bought a "humane mousetrap," because the mouse that we acquired back in the Canadian Icefields (which we thought had left us) had reappeared during the night.  (The trap consists of a pivoting square tube and a trapdoor; the mouse goes into the tube to eat the bait, and the tube tilts, shutting the trapdoor.)  

We found a great campsite in Douglas Fir Campground in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  The campground was very conveniently located and quiet; our campsite was near (but not on) the Nooksack River, and it was shady and green: 

Sadly, after many years of faithful service, and over a thousand miles of hiking, Felice's original pair of hiking boots (which have appeared in many iconic "boot shots") finally decided to delaminate – these are the times that try men's soles, and women's, too. Fortunately, we travel with several pairs of boots:

That night, we set the mousetrap in our cabinet, baited with Ramen noodles (our pet mouse's favorite food).  Although we found the trap sprung the next morning, surprise!  The mouse was not inside.

September 26:  We drove up to Artist's Point, between Mt. Shuksan and Mt.  Baker.  (According to the national forest website, it's called "Artist Point," but I think it should be "Artist’s Point," or perhaps even "Artists’ Point.")  The last time we were here, in late June and early July of 2007, there was 10 feet of snow on the ground, and it was still snowing.  But this time, we hit warm "Indian Summer" weather.  Unfortunately, there was some smoke drifting over from fires in central Washington.  The views of Mt. Baker to the west were pretty hazy; the views of Mt. Shuksan to the east were somewhat better:

But even though the views were not perfect, the berry picking was excellent.  We found a great patch of mountain blueberries; the leaves had turned bright red:

The berries were sweet, with a very intense flavor.  In this picture, Mt. Baker appears over Felice's purple-stained fingers:

In order to get this shot of Mt. Shuksan from the Ptarmigan Ridge area, I had to lay flat on the ground – the berry bushes are only about 6 inches high:

We picked about a quart of blueberries; we were careful not to eat them all at once, having learned our lesson the hard way many years ago, when we were in the Northwest during blackberry season:

 September 27:  We took the Lake Ann hike, a round trip of about 8 miles with almost 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The trail ends up right across a narrow canyon from the foot of Curtis Glacier --we could hear the thunder of falling ice as we sat on a hillside eating our customary peanut butter sandwiches:

This is a close-up of the toe of the lower part of the glacier, showing the annual layers within the ice:

Unfortunately, when we were at the high point of the trail, Felice tripped and fell onto some sharp rocks.  She took quite a tumble, cutting her leg and bruising her shin.  We grabbed some ice from a nearby snowbank and put it into a small plastic bag, which helped reduce the swelling and control the bleeding.  Another hiker happened by and gave us a large cloth triangular bandage, which Felice wrapped around her leg.  After a short while, she hopped up and bravely declared that she was ready to go -- what a trooper!

Later that afternoon, we caught the reflection of Mt. Shuksan in the aptly-named Picture Lake:

September 28:  Despite Felice's slightly-damaged leg, we took the Heliotrope Ridge hike up the side of Mt. Baker, another strenuous trail of about 6 miles with roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain.  We had been warned that there were some  difficult stream crossings; fortunately, we were able to get across by balancing on the rocks, with the aid of our hiking poles, without getting too wet.  (Other people were splashing right through the glacial meltwater, but they didn't look too happy about it.)
After the last stream crossing, we trudged up a steep hill, only to discover that the "hill" was actually the side of a lateral moraine – the crest of the hill dropped away in a steep cliff, to reveal the Coleman Glacier stretched out below us:

Suddenly energized by the glacier just below our feet, we pushed farther upward, along the edge of the cliff (but not too close to the edge – the lip of the cliff was very crumbly):

 We had never been so close to an active glacier – the ice was full of rocks and dirt, and the crevasses were a deep blue:

We were tempted to walk out onto the ice, but we knew that it would be too dangerous – there are often weak snow bridges over deep crevasses, and it is foolish to wander around on a glacier without ropes and self-rescue equipment.  Even without touching the ice itself, I was still excited to be at the edge of a really active glacier – this was the fulfillment of a long-held wish:

We tramped around at the edge of the glacier for quite a while; the ice chilled the air noticeably, and we could hear rocks tumbling out of the ice cliffs and into the crevasses, rattling and rumbling.  When the wind died down, I thought I could also hear the glacier moving, a very deep pulsating subsonic groan, far below the lowest key on a piano -- but I am not sure.  As we started to head down, a lenticular cloud developed over the mountain, as the moist air blowing in from the Pacific cooled and condensed as it flowed over the icecap:

That evening, we set the mousetrap again.

September 29:  When we woke up, the mousetrap had been sprung, and this time there was a mouse inside -- I could feel him wiggling!  We wrapped the trap in a plastic bag and put it into the car.  We drove up to the Hannegan Pass trailhead, a fairly long drive on a twisty, bumpy gravel road.  There was a picnic table near the trailhead – we took out the trap and unwrapped it.  I couldn't wait to show Felice our adorable mouse.  But when we opened the trap, the mouse didn't look so great – I think he was suffering from carsickness and semi-asphyxiation.  He was bedraggled, rumpled, dazed, and miserable:

We decided that he had so much appeal as a pathetic schlemeil that he needed a name -- Irving?  Melvin? (All suggestions will be greatly appreciated!)  Eventually, he revived; I gently pushed him off the table into the grass, and he ran away.  After the excitement of releasing our mouse, the hike itself was a bit of an anticlimax; it was an 8 mile round trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain, but it was cloudy at the pass (and along much of the way).  However, the vine maples were spectacular:

Late in the afternoon, we drove back up to Artist's Point to pick some more berries in the fog -- we just could not resist those blueberries.  For a few minutes, Mt. Shuksan emerged from the clouds:

September 30:  The morning was flawless: crystal-clear and cool.  So we once again drove up to Artist's Point for a last look around, and we were glad that we did:

We went back to the campsite and packed up and headed down the mountain toward Seattle.  On the way, we found a blackberry bush that still had plenty of delicious fruit:

We stayed in an unremarkable RV park in Bellevue so that we could spend a delightful evening in Seattle with our friends, Caroline and Kate. Caroline had just run a half-marathon that morning, but they still had the energy to stuff us with delicious food.  And they graciously let us use their laundry facilities:

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