Monday, July 21st, 2014
Table Mountain – The Icing on the Cake
Todd Elsworth

At the end of The Mount Baker Highway (aka, East 542) from Bellingham, our hiking destination was the rewarding Table Mountain Trail. It is accessible from Artist Point in the summer months, and still enjoys some snow-pack when the road first opens in July – perfect for Hootin’ & Hollerin’ on a clear day.

Official descriptions say: “The dramatic andesite plateau of Table Mountain is one of the first mountains you see entering the Heather Meadows area. The hike starts at picturesque Artist Point, and after a short but steep traverse up the southeast face of Table Mountain, you emerge onto the plateau of the mountaintop. On a clear day take in fantastic views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan and other magnificent peaks in the North Cascades.” – UDSA Forest Service/Mount Baker Wilderness.

TableMountainINFOCenter

Since weather conditions vary, it is best to BE Prepared. We checked the forecast before we left home and stopped at points along the way to gather as much information as we could before entering the wilderness. We stopped at the Visitors Center in Glacier to talk with people in the parking lot and with the hosts inside about the status of the conditions “up there” to get a real-time update. It’s also just plain fun to talk to people- especially if they know stuff.

Our next stop was the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. First, we read the interpretive signs in the parking lot.  Freedom of the Hills was the title for this instructive piece that so many people seem to miss. It read “…This is a landscape of icy peaks and dark valleys, penetrated by only a few rough trails. When traveling into this mountainous realm prepare for risk and challenge. Trails are often steep and hard to follow…Few signs guide the way…Help keep the Wilderness primeval.” Mt. Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest sign at Heather Meadows. This tone confirmed the gravity of undertaking ahead.

My hiking partner, Al, especially wanted to check in to the center. His friend, Dean, is volunteering with the Forest Service for the summer. After quick introductions, we got to the task of gathering more data to answer our most pressing question- “Do we need our ice axes?”  We learned that we would be able to leave them in the car and that a boot pack trail would lead us to the switchbacks to the plateau of Table Mountain. Dean’s reminder to “Bring your poles though,” was sage advice.

ArtistPointMountBaker

After we checked in with the Park Ranger under the green Forest Service tent in the Artist Point parking lot, we headed up into the snow field with our elevated destination directly in front of us. Now, we just had to follow Dean’s additional advice, “Stay left. I went right and that was the wrong way.” The southern face of Table Mountain loomed large in front of us as wisps of clouds hung in the still, hot air.

TableMountainApproach

As we made our way up the trail, we came upon two young ladies who were drinking meltwater off of the side of the trail. They were outfitted in their shorts and running shoes and introduced themselves by saying, “Is this OK to drink? We don’t have any water. We didn’t even know we’d be doing this today!” Al interrupted and proceeded to explain to them the relative dangers of giardia with regards to drinking water in the wilderness. “Snow worries,” he summed it up for them. “Just scrape off the top and get the good stuff”. There’s a better lesson here- Bring WATER, ALWAYS!

Our new found dynamic duo explained that they were down visiting from Langley, British Columbia for the weekend. From a Southern British Columbia perspective, they have a much more comprehensive view of the mountain and surrounding ranges.  This was demonstrated by their admiration of Mount Baker, which exceeds the appreciation that many “Hamsters” have who live within an hour’s drive of its beauty. 

TableMountainRescue

After finding solace in Al’s scientific summary of the low risks in drinking the snow melt, they decided to follow us further up the trail. We would lead the way up the steep, snow covered slopes ahead- kicking in boot steps that make for a StairMasteresque work out. As we climbed, the heat of the July sun beat down on us from above and reflected upwards off of the white mountain scape. The deep blanket of snow covering the top of the immense precipice provided many routes to traverse the top.

The top of Table Mountain was quickly reached and as we paused to refresh ourselves we collectively decided to continue the journey of exploring Table Mountain together. Our route planning would include as many low angle drops as we could find. We were practicing our boot-skiing techniques at each opportunity- or “running shoes-skiing”, as the case was for our northern neighbors).

We introduced our new friends to our practice of Hootin’ & Hollerin’ as we made our way up and down the slippery slopes. We weren’t the only ones up there for kicks. We came upon a guy (pictured below) who was doing multiple laps, “hucking” himself off a cornice and “pointing ’em” to go as fast as possible to the bottom of his run- we’d scream and yell like Seahawk Fans for his touchdowns and successful extra points- not “yardsaling”.

TableMountainSkierDrop

The sun cupped surface created small moonscape-like craters for us to slide across. We wanted to soak in the sights and get the perspectives of the variety of geologic examples of how the Cascades were formed. In addition to being a seasoned Mountain Man, Al is also a geologist and former teacher. He shared his perspective of what he sees in the mountain ranges, volcanoes, valleys and other features that have been created by the power of nature over millennium.

We admired Mount Shuksan (pictured below) and its immense hanging glacier. Complemented with the lower flank of Shuksan Arm extending across the landscape- displaying a variety of colored rocks on its’ steep slopes. From this vantage point we could look down to the Artist Point parking lot- where refreshing beverages awaited our return. Talk about incentive!

TableMountainMtShuksanView

We thought WE were prepared for the elements. Not the case. The summer sun (a record the following day) was beating down (and up) so hard that it was making it hard for our trusty guide, Al, to see. His sunglasses weren’t quite up to the task- letting in the dangerous UV rays, putting him on a path to temporary blindness. To remedy the situation, he pulled out a spare t-shirt and covered his head to help block the sun’s penetrating rays. He hiked head down, eyes closed, for a while- until he recovered.

TableMountainMtBakerView

The descent was ahead of us, but not before some more Hootin’ & Hollerin’ on the way down. The inclines we sought out got longer and steeper as we enjoyed sliding on our feet (and derrières) to make our way back. Descending the switchbacks we were afforded skybox seats to watch others climb and hurl themselves down the final steep slope. We watched from above as three guys hustled their way up slope to turn around and slide down on their imaginary sleds.

TableMountainClimb

Then, it was our turn to Hoot & Holler! We’d climb up slope, pause and catch our breath and head down slope- doing our best to link our turns. We each showed off our own style, with one thing in common- noise making. Yep, we’re screamers and proud of it!

TableMountainSkiers

As our Canadian companions descended the last slope, one reflected on how she realized that she’d been Hootin’ & Hollerin’ all the way down.  She iterated that this display of exuberance is an invigorating approach- to life and living, I inferred.

TableMountainJUMP

Table Mountain provides a panorama of views as you walk across it’s wide expanse. The snow cover that we were afforded and the new friends we made along the way were the icing on the cake of the mountain of happiness we encountered.

You might not have as much fun as we did, but you should at least try. See you OUT THERE!

For Reference:

Directions: From Glacier, travel east to the end of Mt. Baker Highway SR 542. It is approximately 24 miles from the Glacier Public Service Center to the Artist Point parking lot. The trail is accessed from the western side of the parking lot, opposite the bathrooms.

Maps:
• Green Trails: Mt. Shusksan #14
• USGS: Shuksan Arm
• USFS: Mt. Baker Ranger District and Mt. Baker Wilderness

Parking: Over 200 parking spaces, including spaces for RVs and buses.

Glossary:
Hootin’ & Hollerin’ = screaming and shouting phrases like, “YEEHAW” “Woohoo” “Make it happen, Captain” “That’s what I’m talking ’bout” and more…

hucking it= jumping off something crazy. This is not to be confused with sticking it, which is a reference to a successful landing.

pointing ’em= not turning to gain as much speed as possible for sheer thrills.

yardsaling= a bad crash that ends with your equipment splayed across the landscape

For more ideas about fun things to do in Bellingham and near Mt. Baker visit our home page.

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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.

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