The first ski day is always hard on the body. Generally you try to make it into the afternoon before the screaming pain in your thighs finally does you in. This is only amplified as you get older so I thought I would reflect on how my 62-year-old body with 2 artificial hips handled this awesome first day of skiing here at Mt. Baker Ski Area which is really on Mt. Shuksan. The most critical requirement for skiing at my age is believing that I can. Then I think it is critical to insure that you choose a day with optimal conditions. So when the snow began piling up on the North Cascades I started watching for that perfect ski day. Bang, Tuesday had no important meetings, it was supposed to be sunny and only 20 degrees on the mountain. The fact that there was not any wind was a pure bonus. So you commit and then float some suggestions to your friends that you plan on doing this. However, you have to balance skiing with someone who might hold you back with the advantage of someone who knows the mountain. I was totally prepared to ski it alone, but if you do that it is likely that your actual skiing experience will suffer. Luckily I scored a ski companion (one of my employees) who was also a local ski instructor which translated into the ultimate ski experience.
It is about an hour and half drive from Bellingham to the Mt. Baker Ski area and we arrived near opening which gained us an excellent parking spot and confirmation that skiing on a Tuesday was not going to be crowded. I have skied most of my life but I have never been a die-hard skier. Yes, I lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, but even then I only skied when conditions were perfect, maybe 5-6 times a year. That is partly because I devoted equal time to cross-country skiing. Skiing for me is not about a commitment to the craft but instead about the glorious experience of gliding on snow while observing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Dealing with cold and fatigue is just part of the price for the chance to experience yet another epic day in God’s glorious kingdom.
How about that view, wow, you come off the lift and take this in before every run. This was so cool because I had a tour guide who could tell the names of all those mountains and help me understand where I have been hiking through my many outings up here at the Mt Baker Wilderness earlier this Fall.
I want to call attention to the photo on the right showing Mt Herman and the saddle over to Table Mountain, location of my first hikes in this area. Now, back to the skiing. Conditions were perfect and I did feel comfortable cruising along on blue runs. I did try to hit some bumps and powder, but age does create limitations. I have mentioned that I have 2 artificial hips which are wonderful, however, the muscles around those hips have never been as strong probably due to being filleted open for the surgery. Combine weaker muscles with the reality that you do not want to crash and dislocate one of those hips and I wisely avoided straying to far from the safe cruising runs. Overall, I was very pleased with my body on this first day out. My transition to hiking and backpacking and raising a dog with incredible amount of energy has prepared me well for this ski day. I really felt great and was able to push myself almost to closing. The beer in the lodge at the end of the day was perfect as well.
Life got busy in the last few months and backpacking trips have paid the price. My commitment as the Interim CIO for Western Washington University is a priority but weekends were still options. However, I gladly give up weekends for visits from friends and family. Weather has deteriorated so spending a night in a rainy cloud isn’t justified. And then there is my now 11 month old puppy, Brook, who needs daily exercise which helps justify some nice day hikes.
But even Brook sabotaged a weekend backpacking trip when she came down with Kennel Cough. So this post is a compilation of life without backpacking over the last few months.
We hiked up to Raptor Ridge in the Chuckanut Mountain trail system. I would have loved to have seen the view on a clear day but the exercise was good although these more local urban trails tend to bring out people who are not so friendly to dogs. Unfortunately Brook needs to evaluate every human and if you don’t acknowledge her or at least smile she will confront, not attack, and this does cause a few unhappy people to express their disapproval.
Oh well, these are learning opportunities for Brook and she has made incredible progress breaking down her herding instincts to be a very friendly and charming dog.
I have been able to play some golf although sometimes in the rain. My weekly Tuesday evening tee time has moved from 5:30 to 4:30. And there are golf courses with good drainage around here so I expect I will get some golf in throughout the winter. I did take off a day from work to enjoy a beautiful sunny autumn day to hike to Lake Ann under the shadow of Mt Shuksan. This is a great hike 8 mile hike down then up. The lake is nice but the view below Mt Shuksan and the view of Mt. Baker in the distance is breathtaking.
Getting away for real hikes with vertical does keep my body in good spirits, however, daily exercise typically consists of walking Brook morning noon and evening,
typically up to our neighborhood Broadway Park where an occasional sunrise says good morning or plenty of dog friends help Brook burn off that puppy energy during the evening walk.
I also got to attend a conference for the State of Washington IT professionals at Chelan, WA. I have never been to Lake Chelan and I discovered it is a beautiful as you could imagine. Unfortunately it is somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but that drive to nowhere is a major treat. I drove over via highway 20 skirting the North Cascades National Park and then over Rainy and Washington Pass. The drive over in a heavy rain was a bit precarious, however, I was rewarded with scenic vistas of what they refer to as the American Alps on my return trip.
I was all set to backpack to Yellow Aster Butte until Brook came down with Kennel Cough on a friday and I dealt with her coughing up a lot of phlegm all night long.
However, Brook recovered quickly and we headed off to do the 7 mile Yellow Aster Butte trail on Sunday after watching my Broncos win.
Unfortunately I did not hit the trail until 3 pm but I did get most of the trail in before having to turn around to get back to the car by dark.
Brook had no problem with the hike after a quick recovery from her cold. The trail is known for the autumn colors provided by various ground cover. Brook highlights it a bit with her pose. I also was able to get in another day hike up to Ptarmigan Ridge to take in more glorious views of Mt Shuksan. Late season blueberries were a bonus.
I had planned to backpack Ptarmigan Ridge about a month ago but my dog, Brook, chewed off my waist strap on my backpack the day before so we day hiked Chain Lakes and then Table Mtn.
Well last weekend we did Ptarmigan Ridge and I am glad we waited. The weather was acceptable but not perfect which helps you appreciate it all the more. Plus the crowds were not out in force, maybe 4 other campsites in the Camp Kiser area.
The hike itself is pretty well documented, seems like every mile is a milestone where one can justify turning around, but I think going all the way to the Portals makes it truly the Ptarmigan Ridge hike. This hike is about being exposed and above the tree line, especially in the Camp Kiser area. Mt. Baker loves to hide behind the clouds but will show his face occasionally. I was surprised to see single mountain goats in two places and of course a large herd in the valley below.
I camped on the NW side of Camp Kiser by an outcropping overlooking the valley, (48.81546, -121.76105).
The view of Mt Baker to the South and the Bar Stream Valley below with Skyline Divide on the other side was awesome.
Video of Brook and I taking in the View
Brook and I had a perfect evening taking in the view complete with a unique sunset. However, the night brought higher winds and colder temperatures which I think Brook began to question as to why were we there.
The morning was cold but clear with a short glimpse of Mt. Baker. The hike back to Artist Point parking lot was just beautiful.
Overall an extremely enjoyable trip with no bugs, good trail but winter’s chill did say hello by morning light.
A nine month old puppy does get bored and when your backpack is on the floor the waist belt buckle can appear like a puppy chew toy. Dang, I didn’t expect to come home to this. So instead of backpacking last weekend we went on day hikes to the Mt. Baker Wilderness Artist’s Point area which is only 60 miles from home. Saturday we hiked the Chain Lakes Loop with mostly overcast and some fog, but actually good hiking conditions.
Sunday was the perfect clear sunny day so we went back to see what we missed and climbed Table Mountain for the ultimate experience. I found out on the way down that dogs were not allowed and I understand why, but Brook sure did enjoy breaking the law.
The original plan was to backpack through the Chain Lakes area to Ptarmigan Ridge but it was more snowed in then I would have expected, so I’m definitely looking forward to doing Ptarmigan Ridge in the future. The Chain Lakes loop was a nice 7 mile hike.
Iceberg Lake was full of ice cubes, plenty of snow for the pup to play on and enough visibility to make for the motivation to come back the next day.
Back the next day to beautiful clear sunny mountains and OMG it was gorgeous. Luckily I arrived at the Artist’s Point parking lot before the masses totally engulfed the lot.
I headed up Table Mountain (the fortress looking rock in photo above) without doing any research which would have told me that dogs were not allowed.
And that is probably a good rule seeing how the switchback path up the side of the mountain was only a couple of feet wide in many places.
As we climbed to the top the views just seemed to explode for us. Once you climb the table leg the rest of the mountain opens to an expansive table top mostly snow covered. Would have loved to have taken a seat for a relaxing break but the black-flies were waking up. Brook and I hiked all over it taking in the 360 views of the Mt Baker Wilderness. Here are some of those views.
OK, now I need to deal with getting my backpack repaired, will probably use Rainy Pass out of Seattle. Next week I take on the Olympic Coast with friends from Shi Shi to Rialto Beach with my old backpack or maybe a new smaller sized pack.
FYI – I got the backpack repaired at Rainy Pass for $24. But I did go ahead and buy a new ACT Lite 50+10 Deuter Pack that I used on the Olympic Coast trip but wanted for a smaller weekend pack.
Brook and I took in our first North Cascades backpacking trip this last weekend from our new home in Bellingham, WA. I have received a lot of suggestions for my first outing but I ended up choosing a trip that looked like it would be below the snow line and give me a good challenge. The choice was the Scott Paul Trail and I am very pleased with the outcome. I also want to mention that the Forest Service facilities were impressive and the gravel road to the trailhead was actually pretty smooth. I’m definitely looking forward to a season of backpacking in the North Cascades.
I took the advice of one of the trip reports to take on the loop counter-clockwise and I can confirm that is the way to take on the Scott Paul. The 2000 ft climb to 5200 ft is much easier on the western approach. The descent via the eastern side was a more effective route to navigate the more prominent mud patches. The first bridge was temporary aluminum ladder style that worked well for Brook and I.
However, the second wood plank suspension bridge was impossible for my 9 month old pup. This was a bit scary as I could not find an effective location for her to cross at the stream so I ended up carrying her. This was a bit of a risk with the swaying bridge which if it started swinging I could have lost Brook. We went very slow and she was extremely trusting, but I was definitely nervous.
The weather had cooperated and it was time to find a campsite which turned out to be a bit of a challenge.
Above treeline on the slopes below Mt. Baker there were no level pieces of ground. Finally I spotted some patches below trail that might support a tent as well as offer the ultimate view of the Cascade range to the south. I would recommend this campsite option as it was the only place I found at Coordinates 48.72, -121.82. The campsite was fabulous with the ultimate bedroom window.
Brook was loving this but was also a bit intimidated by real wilderness. In fact she did not know what to make of the Marmots whistling.
After a quick nap,
she had to give in to her Aussie instinct to protect her master by sitting in front of the tent panning the terrain around in all directions. She was grateful that I let her sleep in the tent so she could retire from lookout duty. It was a great evening taking in the view and staying just warm enough for a good night sleep.
Mt. Baker’s presence was felt but we never got a great look at it. The morning brought beautiful fog and another difficult stream crossing where I ended up carrying Brook over. All in all it was an extremely successful introduction to the North Cascades.