Navigating the snowy trail around the semi frozen lakes in the Mount Baker National forest with changing wallpaper like views of surrounding snow covered mountains on every step surely felt like a winter hike in the middle of July.
In the continued effort of showing beautiful places in Washington to my brother in law – Amit, we chose to drive to Artist Point area. The road till the view point was not open yet so there was some hiking involved. Since it’s 2.5 hours of 1 way drive, I didn’t want to just do that short hike and browsed all trails for nearby hikes. Chain lakes loop trail looked interesting but with snow on the trail, few hikers had recommended snow gear. We packed our snow boots, microspikes, poles and extra socks but I was still not sure whether we would do the loop. We left Seattle a little late and it was around 11.30 AM by the time we reached the Heather Meadows visitor center. The chain lakes loop could be started from the visitor center and it goes around multiple lakes and also the artist point. There was considerable amount of snow in the area – I could see a partially frozen lake right from where we had parked. I also scanned few people on the chain lakes trail but wasn’t sure if they were attempting to do the full loop.
After discussing multiple options we chose to do the loop in anti-clockwise direction (so that we reach the steep sections of the trail early on) and were ready to turn around if we came across any treacherous sections.
We started the hike to reach the partially frozen Upper Bagley lake which was already quite scenic. After crossing a cute small rock bridge, we got on to the main loop trail and I kept asking people if they had attempted the full loop so that I understand the conditions. Everyone said No except 1 girl – she had taken the clockwise direction almost completing the loop and gave a positive outlook on conditions. That was the moment when I thought that we could actually complete the loop and was excited. We passed the lake and started gaining quite a lot of elevation. It was a clear summer day and the uncovered trail exposed us to the Sun which got uncomfortable as we proceeded. The number of hikers we encountered reduced but there were some who overtook us. Shuksan kept growing in size as we reached higher and it looked just magnificent with its wide snow dressed rocky body.
I have always admired the mountain and due to its broadness, I tagged it as a Family mountain (compared to other lone wolf volcanic peaks in Washington). We crossed multiple sections of snow patches and they were relatively safer to navigate. I was expecting to see Baker as well once we had reached the highest point and there it was with a surprise. The iceberg lake – semi frozen as well – made an appearance too and it looked spectacular with its blue waters. We were at an elevation of 5.5k feet and had panoramic views of Shuksan, Baker, few lakes and mountains – all majorly in snow. It was hard to believe that we were in middle of summer and yet experience so much snow.
We then started our descent to Iceberg lake and it was bit tricky for Divya and Amit to hike down the steep snowy sections. The footsteps were helpful but were in multiple places and I had to use all trails to ensure that we were on track. The time was ticking fast, it was already 3.30 PM and we were hungry. We found a lunch spot overlooking Hayes lake (situated beside Iceberg lake) surrounded with greenery. While having lunch, we saw 2 people taking a dip in the lake and I guess it was quite refreshing for them. After lunch, another breathtaking view awaited yes which I thought was a bit unusual for Washington. One vertical face of table top mountain was visible with a small waterfall resembling the scenes from Yosemite in California. I think Washington has less vertical rock faces and I was delighted with the sight.
Mazama lake was the last of the chain lakes and the area around here resembled the Enchantments area. I was just amused at the variety of landscapes we were experiencing for a relatively short hike. The Sun lit us for most of the rest of the hike and to make it worse, we had carried less than 3 litres of water between 3 of us which fell short.
Treasuring the remaining water, we marched on to reach the Ptarmigan ridge junction to see the Mt Shuksan again. The next stretch involved crossing the steep sections on table top mountain to reach Artist point and there were multiple snow crossings. This was the section which I thought was the most tricky to cross as any miss-foot would send us sliding down and maybe hit some rocks. Gladly, we all made it without any stories.
It was quite some time since we had seen another soul and I wanted to complete the hike safely in time. Mt Baker and surrounding snow covered peaks were behind us the entire stretch and the scenes here resembled the high altitude Himalayan peaks and Divya was so excited witnessing them.
Finally we made it to Artist point and I was quite relieved to see few other people enjoying the snow there. That meant that we had left the sketchy sections of the trail behind us. There was still so much snow around and only the roof of restroom was visible. I didn’t even know that it existed since I had always visited Artist point during winters. Also, the yearly ritual of visiting Artist point was fulfilled but without fresh soft snow this time. From there on, we followed tracks and other people to descend. The road was exposed at some sections but we took some shortcuts and reached the parking lot. I was quite happy for not only completing the loop safely but also for witnessing some of the most beautiful landscapes in Washington. We hadn’t hiked much this winter owing to Covid, so this kind of made up for it. We stopped at Picture lake and that doubled the beauty of Shuksan.
I had never visited this place in summer and it looks quite enchanting as in the winter. This is truly a special place in Washington.