A Hike up for Glacial Views
Hiking the Heliotrope Ridge Trail in the North Cascades.
As an Okie, seeing a glacier was not something I was likely to see without traveling very very far. Even seeing substantial mountains in Oklahoma was not a real possibility. There were the Wichita Mountains down near Lawton but they were just a patch of high piles of granite boulders. All of it surrounded by plains which teeter on the edge of desert. It is beautiful out there. There are buffalo, and the rugged terrain is a welcome site in comparison to the forever rolling highways edged with billboard after billboard.
The Wichita’s are the best place to hike in that part of the country. But they do not compare in majesty to the North Cascades of NW Washington. Some call them the ‘American Alps’.
Recently I moved out of Oklahoma and up to Bellingham, WA. This is only 30 minutes South of the Canadian border. One of the best perks of living here is the easy access to outdoor adventure.
BHam (as the locals call it) is right on the shore of the Salish Sea. The beaches are less sandy and more rocky here, but the views out the San Juan Islands are amazing.
But to the west are the Cascade Mountains. The volcano, Mount Baker, is in view from everywhere. But it is about 40 miles away. As are all of the awesome trails that meander the sides of the volcano and the landscape surrounding it.
The first hike I tried out in the Cascades is Heliotrope Ridge. This hike gets you up close and personal to Mount Baker and a couple of the glaciers anchored to it’s side. Trail is 2.5 miles one way. Almost all up hill. 1800 feet of elevation gain. (according to Dayhiking the North Cascades by Craig Romano)
During this first hike I came across a WTA (Washington Trails Association) volunteer work crew. They are a local organization that helps to maintain the trails. They were out there digging drainage trenches and placing stones and logs to help in the steeper parts. I have great respect for all of volunteers who do this.
I’m not in the best shape, so the first third of the trail is a grueling up hill trudge for me. But after a while you get to a point that you decide you’ve gone too far, and that you might as well just finish. It is then that the trail levels off a bit for quite a while.
There are also a few creek crossings to beware of. The first is an easy stone hop across. The second is not as easy, but there were a couple logs laying over the top. The third isn’t too bad. But the last one is a doozy.
Both times I’ve gone out on this trail I’ve been stopped at this last crossing. The first time I could’ve gone across bare foot and dried off on the other side, but I was already too tired. The second time I came prepared with water proof socks and water shoes to change into. But the weather was substantially warmer, and the glacier above was melting fast enough to make the creek a danger to cross.
Note: Always remember that during the days the temperature will rise causing more glacier melt, which then causes the creeks to rise. Your trip back over the creeks will be more difficult.
So instead I backtracked a bit on the trail and went up the summit route for a view of the glaciers. This route is used by those summiting Mt. Baker and is very steep. But you only have to go up a short distance to get above the tree line and see the Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers.
Most of the hike you are surrounded by large trees. These trees put Oklahoma trees to shame. They tower above seemingly forever. Occasionally the trees clear out giving you vistas of the surrounding Cascade Mountains and the meandering valleys between. While approaching the last creek, Mt Baker makes itself known and stands tall above the meadows that now surround you as you approach the tree line.
I love this hike. It is beautiful from beginning to end, with the rolling glacial creeks, the giant trees, and the grand vistas over the valleys radiating from Mt. Baker. I’m a bit biased towards this hike since it was my first North Cascades hike, but I do highly recommend it if you get the chance.
Here’s a little video I put together of my hike here
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