Monday, February 13th, 2017
X-C Skiing from the Glacier Creek Sno-Park in Mount Baker Wilderness
Todd Elsworth

From my own personal Basecamp Bellingham, I get on to Sunset Drive and follow it east until it turns into State Road 542 (Mt. Baker Highway). This is the road that leads to the winter playground surrounding Mount Baker. We chose to turn off on Forest Service Road 39 and head for the Glacier Creek Sno-Park, just past the town of Glacier, WA. On the map below, there’s an icon of a cross-country skier denoting the trailhead in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. This is also a primary location for snow mobile riders and they are also the group that tends to the trails. Thank you to the Washington State Snowmobile Association for your work.

We didn’t have a destination in mind for our outing. Our intent was to explore the trails and had our sites set on Salmon Ridge for the day, but the roads were closed due to the abundance of fallen trees that had forced the closure of the highway. So we took what we could get and headed for Glacier Creek.

For reference, here’s a super cool resource to see what roads are open. While it says the road is NOT CLEARED-CLOSED, that’s in reference to vehicles! As far as those of us who enjoy travelling on the snow- It’s OPEN SEASON!

These are the Forest Service Roads and Trails along the Mount Baker Highway. You can toggle back and forth between the trails and roads to get info on their condition.

In addition to exploring, we were also out to try out the new ski pulks (sleds) that we had made out of simple kids sleds and attached a couple pieces of PVC. We had done our homework and crafted our own rigging systems. Time to put them to the test! We loaded them with small bags to at least give a little weight to tow. Here’s my buddy, Ben, towing his homemade ski pulk!

We were both anxious to be testing out our new gear. This was an exciting moment for us to see the potential that the future holds in store for us to be able to explore deeper into the snow-covered wild and bring the creature comforts of home. Yes, we’re talking snow camping!!

The road from Glacier Creek Sno-Park is not a flat surface. It ascends, with some sections even a bit steep- guaranteeing a good time on the way back down! As the road climbs up, the creek drops down. Occasionally, there are bridges to look straight down and the freezing water rushing below.

Being able to venture back into the white wilderness is a fortune that we have especially felt the benefits of this year- with such an amazing amount of snow this season!! The formations that were being created with the forces of nature, were worth taking the time to slow down (not that we were going that fast, by any means) to look at the snow with special interest- trying to figure out how these shapes are formed. Below is a bridge crossing with the edge of the rail being a canvas for Mother Nature to create her beauty on!

We really didn’t have a destination in mind, so when we got this far, it was a good time to check in on our intent. We chose to keep climbing and getting ourselves deeper in.

Skier caution and etiquette: This is a SNOWMOBILE trail and it’s also just the general rules of the road. If it’s bigger than you, get out of the way!! When we would hear the sounds coming upon us, we would move to the side, also making sure our new investments in our ski pulks were out of the way as well. Yes, we said our new vocabulary word- ski pulk – a lot that day.

All the people out had the same goal for the day- get out and have some fun playing in the snow. Recognizing that we’re out to share in this fun, everybody that we came across was nice and also communicated how many more there were in their party behind them. Ben’s signal of two fingers served as an olive branch extension of peace (dude) and a count of how many in our party!

Some of the snowmobilers were headed up into the high country to experience the thrills of the ride. Others, strap on their boards and skis and go get some untracked lines in a DIY cat ski approach with their own personal sleds. Cool to see the variety out on the trail- especially for a Super Bowl Sunday! Yes, the snow was that good. The trio below was getting all it could and the woman out front was still letting the forces of gravity do their thing! We cheered as they flew past.

After we took a break for lunch and made our way back DOWN, we came across a large landslide that had occurred while we were up the trail. As we stood off to the side, we heard a BIG snap! We didn’t question what was happening and both bolted away- hearts racing. Fortunately, we weren’t skewered by falling timber, but the threat was there. So much snow!!

We explored the site and stood in awe of the forces and latent potential energy surrounding us. Enough talk! Let’s ski…

Our ski pulks withstood their trial runs and will have some more modifications before we head out “for real” with more complete loads.

Enjoy a snowbound adventure from the Glacier Creek Sno Park!

Do-It-Yourself Ski Pulks!!

If you’d like to build your own ski pulk here’s some resources that we used to guide us:

Build a Gear Sled the Dirtbagger Way

Building a Backcountry Pulk – The Laughing Dog

The Science of Pulkology — Gear Sleds and CiloGear Packs

If you’d like to just buy one from SkiPulk.com and trust the work of Ed Bouffard, a former instructor with the National Outdoor Leadership School who runs Eds Wilderness Systems LLC out of his home in St. Cloud, Minn. Go for it.

For more outdoor adventure ideas, see the full list of Todd’s articles.

 

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About the Author:

As the Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse and co-founder of Kulshan Quest Adventure Race, Todd promotes outdoor recreation and brings people together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. He enjoys biking, hiking, paddling, skiing and will try anything twice. Get connected at RecreationNorthwest.org.