I know I haven’t updated in a while, but I hiked this last Wednesday, 11/12/2014. From the desert of Utah to the freezing snow of the Cascades!
- Distance: 7.5 miles round trip
- Elevation: 2200ft gain (5450 highest point)
- Weather: high 20’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30
- Did I Trip: Yes.. slipped on ice
So I consider this my first real snow hike. Silver Peak a few weeks ago was fresh snow, nothing compacted, nothing icy since it was the first snow of the season. Park Butte started out on a dirt trail that was already half covered in ice once you reached the forest, and it was freezing. I didn’t have a puffy layer yet, but at least I had microspikes and poles. I wanted to test out my new boots though ($5 at the REI garage sale, score!) so I left the microspikes in my bag until I needed them. I hadn’t used my own poles yet either, so those were put through some trials as well.
There were a few other cars in the parking lot, so I figured there had to be some hikers ahead of me. Park Butte is pretty popular, even on a weekday. I didn’t run into anyone until about halfway up the hike in the meadow. Once you break out of the forest, you’re in a meadow (or a snow field at this time of year) with Baker smack dab in front of you. I almost didn’t believe it was Baker at first since it was so close. Anyway, one of the first hikers I ran into briefly convinced me that there were cougar prints (dog prints) since he was such a good tracker. He was pointing out fresh tracks and who he thought had made them and I was standing there just happy I could recognize fresh prints. Looking at Baker from the meadow felt like you could just walk up to it, it was so close and blended in with the snow.
There was a navy(?) helicopter doing rescue drills for several hours! On one hand, that meant it was noisy, but on the other, it was pretty cool watching it hover, people rappelling down, climbing back up, and whatever they were doing. Sometimes it disappeared to the other side of Baker, but you could still hear it. When I first saw it, someone was dropping down on a rope, and I thought they were making a legitimate rescue. Turned out it was just drills, but still neat to watch. Just a helicopter doing copter things.
Another thing once you’re at the meadow: you catch a glimpse of the lookout for the first time. Don’t worry, it’s still a mile or so away. So don’t get too excited, because you still have to hike quite a bit to get there. But the views get better and better as you go.
Here’s the trail (this is on the way back down techically, unless you turn around on your way up) heading along a slope with Glacier Peak in the background. Baker might be the star of this hike, but there are plenty of other peaks to check out as well. Panoramas don’t do it justice because Baker is massive and makes everything else look tiny.
When I was a few minutes from the lookout, three hikers were on their way down bundled up in puffy jackets. Why!? I was overheated climbing up there, how could they possibly need the puffy layer? Well, when I stepped onto the deck of the lookout, I got it. Blasts of wind in my face. God dammit, I couldn’t feel my fingers after a minute. But I knew I had to suffer through taking a few photos, so I sucked it up and snapped some shots, including the selfie to the right. You know what’s stupid? I didn’t go in the lookout. I repeat: I did not go into the lookout. Why? I don’t have a good reason. I regretted it ten minutes later when I left.
Looking west from the lookout, it’s hard to believe there’s a huge mountain behind you. Just a valley with neat shadows and mostly green trees, and some smaller peaks. This side was out of the wind, thank god. On the way back down I ran into the guy who was good at tracking, who asked if I had passed three hikers. He hadn’t seen them yet, but he had seen their tracks! I could never tell if there were three versus two or four. We saw them a few minutes later. They had hiked off to the side of the trail to get some views (or use the bathroom, who knows).
After maybe an hour of hiking, I realized I was freezing. Fingers, mostly, but I was chilled. That’s frozen pine sap on the right. Ice also freezes into really cool grass-like crystals, which I had never seen before.
Turns out they’re all over every frozen trail here, so nothing too exciting. I’m still wondering how they form. Besides the neat ice, the hike back down was boring and tedious, and I was eager to get back to the car. Oh, and like usual, I had forgotten to put out my parking pass. And not only that, but I had passed a ranger on the way up as well. I almost asked him what the fine was for not putting it up. So I started to hurry, which meant lots of slipping on the ice patches. But I didn’t want to take the ten minutes to put on microspikes, so I kept on moving. Finally got back to the parking lot after only three and a half hours of hiking, which was surprising. But I haven’t had a shower feel that good in a long time.
Edit: You can see Shuksan! I think it’s the tiny peak jutting out just over the right ridge of Baker in the following picture: