Monday, August 15th, 2016
Hiking Heliotrope Ridge Trail to Mount Baker’s Glaciers
Todd Elsworth

Just past the town of Glacier, WA is Glacier Creek Road (Forest Service Road 39) that leads to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead and yup, you guessed it- GLACIERS! For the curious and inexperienced in alpine travel, here’s a great spot to get up close (with some effort) to take in a couple of Mount Baker’s many alpine glaciers. For those in the know, this is a popular approach for the 10,781-foot summit.

HeliotropeRidgeRooseveltGlacier

After an 8 mile drive to the trailhead, the well maintained yet challenging trail winds up through the forest crossing Kulshan Creek and the smaller tributaries that flow together into Glacier Creek and eventually the north fork of the Nooksack River emptying into the bay below at Bellingham.

HeliotropeRidgeCreekCrossing

For those experienced alpinists, this is a popular route to summit our backyard volcano. You may choose to branch off to the climber’s route that leads up to basecamp for the Coleman-Deming route up to the top (the approach trail is steep).  I chose to stick to the terra firma and enjoy the snow from a distance at the “Glacier View” at 5,550 ft. Perched on a rocky knoll, I enjoyed my lunch and a book, while watching the weather constantly change around me.

HeliotropeRidgeViewpoint

Above, two hikers and their dog take in the sights of the majestic mountain and the glaciers scouring the landscape. Below, is a zoomed in frame of the same perspective, showing the erratic and grinding force that the glaciers have as they move downslope.

HeliotropeRidgeViewpointzoom

The mountain is a training ground for alpinists from near and far. Zooming in below, you can see three people practicing on the snow in a relatively safe zone. The glaciers are potentially dangerous areas. As a sign on the trail reads, “Open moats (snow melted back from rock) are common on Mt. Baker. Glissading or traveling down the gully directly to the west of the Hogsback ridge on the Coleman climbing route is unsafe. A hole opens seasonally at approximately 5,400 ft. over a snow covered creek and waterfall. The hazard is invisible from above.” Serious stuff folks!

HeliotropeRidgeRooseveltGlacierClimbers

Below is a larger group on their way out, after of day of glacier exploration and education. In the background is Chromatic Moraine of the lower section of Bastille Ridge and the headwaters of Glacier Creek in the upper right of the photo.

HeliotropeRidgeRooseveltGlacierClimbersMoraine

Zooming in on the group, you can see that they are completely prepared with the proper equipment. They were heading back down to Harrison Camp to rest for the evening.

HeliotropeRidgeRooseveltGlacierClimbersMorainezoom

On this day, I chose to be a spectator and left my gear at home. Instead, I brought a chair and a book to read and watch the weather for the day. Rambling around on the edges of the glacier gives varied (and safe) perspectives of the magnificent power and forces in action.

HeliotropeRidgeGlacier2

The seracs (a large irregularity of glacial ice, as a pinnacle found in glacial crevasses and formed by melting or movement of the ice) stack up and make for interesting formations. The constant change of light due to the sun’s position and the irregularity of the mountain clouds casting shadows on the landscape make for quite a show. Just sit back and watch!

HeliotropeRidgeGlacier2zoom

Watch I did. I watched as the thick fog crept over the ridge and threatened my spectacular view of the volcano. I dropped to a lower vantage point to make sure that I could find the trail out.

HeliotropeRidgeWaterfalls

Wildflowers surrounded me as I enjoyed my lunch. The dense fog creeping up in the background made for an eerie setting.

HeliotropeRidgewildflowers

I was not alone. The call of marmots in the distance caught my ears and eyes. Watching them scramble around on the sheer rock faces was impressive. They were calling to one another and finally met up on the knoll.

HeliotropeRidgeMarmots

My Green Trails map of the Mount Baker Wilderness was a key piece of reference, not to mention a necessity when traveling in the backcountry.

HeliotropeMap

I also enjoyed a book on the history of the Nooksack which was recently given to me to help with my local knowledge. Thanks to Debra Paul at the Mt. Baker Ranger District! Quite the place to sit and soak it all in.

ToddBakerSelfie

For details on the Heliotrope Ridge hike: Washington Trails Association website.

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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.