Mount Baker Trail

Camille Otis of Bellingham, above, steps back from the Mount Baker Trail as she walks in the fog at Artist Point. (Elisa Claassen/for the Tribune)

MOUNT BAKER – I pity the people who live in the flat lands. Miles of wheat might be nice in the central United States, but mountains are simply divine, as are beaches, islands, lakes and the scenery of the Pacific Northwest. 

My happy place growing up changed as we moved: the simple tree house dad made 5-year-old me in Grants Pass, Oregon; the thick woods outside of Sunriver Resort where my dad worked and climbing under things in search of obsidian arrow heads; the rock formation by the hillside house in Bend, Oregon when I was 9; the edge of the Nooksack River when we moved to Whatcom County; running on the trail around Lake Padden in college; the rooms used to create artwork at Roeder Home in my 20s and 30s; and various friends’ homes were extra places to chat and hang out. 

When I discovered the beauty of the mountains. I had given a try at downhill skiing in high school and was a bit taken aback by friends’ stories of the many people who had fallen off of the chairlifts and decided to live on the bunny hill for a bit longer until I was brave enough to jump aboard the lift.

Many in the Northwest favor snowboarding and skiing, but I really love going to Mount Baker region in the summer.

Originally that was the time the early promoters of a now far-gone lodge focused on attracting their early guests: summer.

They could putt-putt golf, canoe, and hike.

Although pictures remain, a newer, more utilitarian lodge is there now, and an outbuilding that survived the fire that took the beautiful lodge so long ago.

Braver folk, including both my mom’s Aunt Jenny many decades ago and TV actress Mandy Moore have summitted the mountain.

Aunt Jenny did so in a dress. Mandy Moore, a newer mother, did so pumping breast milk along the way. 

A confession: I’m not especially fond of the narrow two-lane roadway winding its way to the ski area. While providing unobstructed views, it is a long way down. A really long way. 

The license plates on cars are from more than one state. While pulling up the hillside, a reflective pond provides the perfect mirror for the stunning Mount Shuksan.

It is now supposedly one of the most photographed mountains in the world.

Visitors step out in Sunday church attire and heels to simple take photos and get back in and go back to civilization.

Others have the rain gear and stamina and are set to transverse much further or higher into the outdoors. 

I like to pretend the historic Heather Meadows Visitor Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940 as a ski warming hut resembles a cottage house, was a real house to live in.

It is perched atop the mountain with unrivalled views.

Steps down the hill, past heather and blueberries, is a simple arched stone bridge crossing the stream.

One side of the trail by Bagley Lake is close to the stream, and hence close to the sound of the stream and the blooming yellow and pink and purple wildflowers.

Pictures in the English countryside look a bit the same. 

Above the ski area, the Mount Baker Highway, continues on tight turns to Artist Point.

Those who are willing to slowly climb the cliff to Table Mountain often make little rock towers to assert their bravery. 

It is Sir Edmund Hillary who once said, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

What you need to know about Mount Baker

The Mount Baker Wilderness is 117,900 acres, created as part of the Washington State Wilderness Act of 1984. Mount Baker is an active glacier-covered volcano in the Cascades. While the mountain has a number of trails, some are geared for more advanced hikers and others can be done easily for those with limited walking/hiking abilities.  

Scenery

Presently a number of wildflowers are in bloom. Soon more fall foliage, especially the wild blueberry bushes, will appear with oranges and reds. The trail to Bagley Lake goes down steps and trails to follow  stream with small waterfalls. 

Altitude

Mount Baker is 10,778 feet. The base elevation is 3,500 feet and the peak of the resort is 5,089 feet. Mount Baker is about 10 miles south of the 49th parallel, which is also known as the international border with Canada.

Ease

The Mount Baker Recreational Area has a lot of day hikes. The easiest one is Picture Lake, a paved path, with flowers and ‘wow’ views of Mount Shuksan. The Bagley Lake trail involves climbing a steep path initially down but is much easier as it is almost flat on one side of the creek. It can be done within an hour. Atop Artist Point, it is steep to Table Mountain and is hard for those scared of heights and very narrow on a cliff. Some of these trails that are immediately in Heather Meadows are wide and you can take a wheelchair by picture lake.

Be prepared for weather changes, so layering your clothes is a good idea. Also, have good sturdy shoes.

• Food and restrooms

The wilderness has several vault restrooms near trailheads, but the ski lodge is now open summer as well as winters. The lodge has restrooms, a large display of historic mountain photos, and the Heather Meadows Cafe which offers ice cream, sandwiches, soups, and snacks to eat onsite or to take out for picnics. 

• Directions and conditions

The narrow two-way State Route 542 Mount Baker Highway starts in Bellingham at Interstate 5 and literally ends at milepost 57.26 atop the recreation area looking down on the ski area. The closest town, 23 miles away is Glacier, which has a visitor center.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) website, wsdot.wa.gov, maintains current conditions.

The last portion of the roadway is open for summer hiking usually for several months and closes after the first substantial snowfall usually in late September or early October. 

• Pass Required

A visit to many of the trailheads within the Wilderness and close to Mount Baker require a Northwest Forest pass for summer day use but not in winter.

A $5 day ePass can be purchased with a credit card from a machine outside the Public Service Center for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest outside of Glacier. 

Annual passes are also available online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/mbs/passes-permits/recreation

• Did you know?

The ski area is home to the world’s greatest recorded snowfall in one season, 1,140 inches during the 1998-1999 ski season.

Mount Baker Ski Area has been featured in many ski and snowboard films. “The Call of the Wild,” was filmed there in 1934-35 and premiered at the Mount Baker Theatre.