Monday, August 29th, 2016
Fun in the Sun and Snow on Ptarmigan Ridge at Mount Baker
Todd Elsworth

Fortunately, we live in Bellingham, WA. A place where you can begin your journey at the end of the road (Mt. Baker Highway, aka- East 542) and access Mount Baker’s wilderness playground. We wanted to play in the snow, in July. We set our sights on Ptarmigan Ridge. The trailhead is from the parking lot at Artist Point, evidenced by a sign identifying part of it as the Chain Lakes Trail.

PtarmiganRidgetrailhead

The “We”, was my 8 yr old daughter and myself. Violet (yes, the one wearing purple) was the driver to go play in the snow. I may have actually encouraged this behavior in some sort of immature “reverse psychology” approach, for my budding #Outdoorist.

After navigating the start of the snow covered trail, we found our feet under us as we headed out towards “Mountain Baker”- as Violet still refers to our Great White Watcher as seen in the photo above.

As we traversed the trail, a kind woman offered to take our photo with Mt. Shuksan in the background. Thank you for capturing the moment for us!

PtarmiganRidgeShuksan

You will notice in the aforementioned photos that our hats and glasses cover our faces and almost make our eyes disappear into darkness. This is intentional and to make note of- if you are heading to the summer snow. Simply put- we don’t want to burn our faces or go blind. BTW, yes, I am wearing shorts!! Moving ON…

As we came to the cutoff for the fork in the road to the Chain Lakes, we looked out at the ridge that would be our destination. You may be able to trace the trail as it leads up to the snowfields from the lower left. After the trail disappears into the snowfields, you are on your own.

PtarmiganRidge

Please remember that we went on this hike, intentionally to play in the steep snowfields. We came equipped and experienced. Well, Violet was about to learn the experience that we call “Bootskiing”.

See related Table Mountain story for the adult only version of this experience.  Oh, speaking of there’s Table Mountain right there (photo below) that you’ll look back on as you make your way towards “Mountain Baker”.

PtarmiganRidgeTableMtn

It’s another world up there, a lunar landscape, with the icy complement of the sun cupped snowfields. I jumped ahead, to put it all in perspective and capture the grandeur of the place. Violet, as the dot with the pink hat stands out in the middle of the snowfield below. The gentle slope made for a safe solo traverse of the snowfield by my little cherub- her pink hat relatively visible plunking along the bootpack.

PtarmiganRidgeSnowfield

As she came up over the crest, the wind whipped up the mountain valley, casting her hair across her face to provide even more protection from the glaring sun. What a glorious day it was with the contrasting colors of the clear blue skies and the columns of tree covered basalt. Table Mountain plateaus behind Violet as she approaches me, resting at our lunch stop.

PtarmiganRidgeTable

After scarfing down some sammys, rehydrating and getting Skittled up, we headed for our summit of Ptarmigan Ridge. Upon arrival, we could look to the south and soak in the beauty of the jagged peaks in North Cascades National Park. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we are looking at Mount Blum (7,680′) and Bacon Peak (7061′) in the distance.

PtarmiganRidgeSouthview

From the saddle on Ptarmigan Ridge, if you look to the west, you get up close and personal with “Komo Kulshan”, a native name for the mountain. Kulshan has been used by many local businesses and organizations including established favorites Kulshan Cycles and Kulshan Brewery!

PtarmiganRidgeBakerview

We’ve went up, so we could go down. This is what we call “earning your turns”! We had been practicing the art and form of “bootskiing” as we traversed the gentler slopes and feeling that we had our feet underneath us (after a couple of fun spills) were ready to head downslope. Traversing high to catch as much downhill as we could. With Kulshan in the background, Violet lets out a yelp before shredding the small mogul-like sun cups.

PtarmiganRidgeUltraViolet

Up. Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. We’d seek out the steeps and pick the most aggressive lines to maximize our speed. The surface conditions were soupy- a thick layer of corn snow that made it a lot safer than this may look. We waited long enough into the day that the surface wasn’t a sheet of ice. Our feet would break through the forgiving peaks as we slid up and down into the miniature valleys.

PtarmiganRidgeSkibooting

As one of the most photographed mountains in the world, I take every opportunity to stop and breathe in the grandeur of Mount Shuksan and eat more Skittles.

PtarmiganRidgeShuksanview

For more information check out the Ptarmigan Ridge Hike – Washington Trails Association.

Other hikes near Heather Meadows or Artist Point:

Rewarding Hikes Abound at Heather Meadows Visitor Center

Table Mountain – The Icing on the Cake

Public Service Centers

Glacier Public Service Center

Heather Meadows Visitor Center

For more great outdoors ideas, see the full list of Todd’s articles.

 

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About the Author:

As the co-Executive Director of Recreation Northwest and the founder of the Bellingham Traverse, 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.