The BC day Bank Holiday came during my mid season break which gave me a chance to take a break from triathlon training. I don’t get as many opportunities to do other things as I would like wanted to make the most of it.
The plan was a weekend wilderness camping in Mt Baker National Park, Washington, with Kayla, Marianna and Andrea. They were my housemates when I first moved here and so are my oldest friends in Canada!
This was my first hike-in camping trip since I moved so was excited to tick that off. Despite being in the States Mt Baker is only 2 hours away from Vancouver so it’s as easy to get to as Whistler.
We planned to leave super early to avoid traffic but got a bit delayed so there was a queue at Sumas, the border crossing. We had to go through extra security checks as I needed a visa on entry.
Our border guard had no sense of humour and appeared absolutely dead pan with his questions. Everything seemed to be going well until I struggled with the finger printing, mixing up my hands! I then had a photo and a retina scan. He told me I had to come closer for the scan, closer again, closer, closer. It took till my nose was touching his computer to tell me it wasn’t a retina scan!! Turns out he did have a sense of humour and to be fair he completely got me .Not the stereotypical US border agent!
While this was going on our car had been searched. Our apples, which despite saying they were from the USA, got confiscated as they were apparently from Chile! No Apples for us.
We roughly knew our plan but checked in at the ranger station to get confirmation, local tips and our parking permits. The rangers were great and helped us settle on Yellow Aster Butte Trail followed by Lake Ann Trail. I had brought my fishing kit, promising the girls fresh fish, but the opportunities were limited so it got left in the car.
We drove 7km up a bumpy logging track to the start of the Yellow Aster trail. One of the main advantages of hiking in this area is you can start high, therefore end high without having to do silly amounts of elevation. At the trail head we split the gear and food for 1 1/2 days. This had to be done quickly as the flies were awful and bitey! Time for a quick photo and off we set.
The trail starts with steep switchbacks through the trees. This is where we got all our elevation as once you get above the tree line the trail levels out. It was already very hot so the cover was much appreciated on the hard climb.
As we came out of the tree line a beautiful meadow opened up in front of us as the trail curved around the mountain. We continued while looking for a lunch spot and it wasn’t long before we found the most perfect spot looking down the valley towards Mt Baker.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an official picnic spot so we were very much in the way and lunch had to pause every time people came past! Extra evasive action had to be taken every time a dog came past.
Kayla had very kindly organised the food for the trip and lunch consisted of wraps, cheese, salami, carrot and hummus. A great start to what would turn out to be a weekend of surprisingly extravagant food for a camping trip!
We continued through the meadow with the end goal being a ridgeline, with a number of lakes, where most people camp. The rangers had told us we could camp anywhere and on our way up found a good looking spot slightly out the way. The perfect place to pitch our tents.
Once everything was set up we returned to the trail to continue up to the ridge and lakes. We left our camping gear but had to take all the food in case a bear decided to pinch it!
Once we hit the ridge line we decided to summit the mountain before heading down for a swim. The summit involved a steep climb that really tested the legs but we actually hadn’t done that much distance and all the climbing had been in the morning.
The views from the summit were spectacular so we took our time as we were in no rush before heading down for a swim as it had become a rather sweaty day!
Marianna and I decided to take the most direct route to the lake rather than the trail. This was a fun idea but not the most sensible. It was steep, wet, snowy and rocky but we made it to the bottom safely despite a couple of little slips.
The swim was much needed as it was absolutely roasting! The water was crystal clear but absolutely freezing making it a quick dip. Although if you stood completely still the water slowly warmed up. The only problem with this was you then couldn’t move or again it was freezing.
It didn’t take long to warm up on the hike back down as it was still warm but in the shade it was already cooling down.
Back at the tents it was time to cook dinner: Asian style salad to start, Pesto pasta with salami and veggies, then to finish cheese and biscuits with chutney.
And what a view we had at dinner.
As we enjoyed the spectacular sunset view of Mt Baker it started to get cold, so it was soon time for bed. Before that I hung our food and rubbish in the trees. I’m not convinced by how effective this is as I can’t get it that high so a bear would definitely be able to reach it. I guess its good to put it away from the camp though.
I was so glad we didn’t camp on the ridge as there were so many people there whereas we had this paradise to ourselves.
The girls shared one tent and I had my own. I think my camping kit might be a little out of date, everybody had an inflatable mattress but I was on a 1cm foam thing. It wasn’t the best night sleep but I couldn’t complain. The girls did as apparently Marianna and I snore, I was even in a different tent. Ooops!
We were up at the crack of dawn for a beautiful sunrise.
There isn’t a huge amount to do in the morning camping so we had breakfast and set off. I’m not a huge porridge fan but I can’t argue it’s super easy to make and with some berries I almost liked it (since that first tasting it has actually grown on me a lot).
The hike back out was a lot easier given it was entirely downhill. Part 1 completed successfully.
Part 2 was to hike the Lake Ann Trail off the back of Mt Baker (the Yellow Aster Trail had been in a different part of the national park). Before we started we popped to the ranger station to check the reports, refill our water and get rid of our rubbish.
Once this was done we drove up to Mt Baker ski resort and the road then continues up the mountain, it’s closed in the Winter. There were so many cyclists on the road and it became clear it’s a serious cycle route. The switch backs from the resort up to the summit are quite something and I will be back on the bike. The border to summit back to border would be quite the day ride. Definitely one for 2020.
We parked at the trail head and due to the altitude the start of the hike was a steep downhill before again emerging in to a meadow. It was a bank holiday in Canada but not the US so there were a lot more people heading out than in which was a good sign. The meadow then slowly turned in to woodland. At this point it felt up flat/uphill but when we emerged from the trees it was very clear it had been downhill!
We passed the time with riddles. I find riddles incredibly frustrating as they are never logical and usually rely on word play. However, they are good for passing time as I never get them!
We tried to stop in the trees for lunch but within a couple of minutes the flies were so bad we decided to push on and try another spot. When we emerged from the trees there was a small stream and once you crossed it the climbing started. This seemed a better spot for lunch. There were definitely still a lot of flies but if you kept moving around they were bearable. We had come up with a scoring for fly kills: 1 point for a fly, 3 for a mosquito, 10 for a horse fly. We were racking up the points!
Lunch was the same as the day before. Wraps with cheese and salami and finishing off the carrots and hummus.
With lunch done we resumed our trek with quite a large mountain looming over us and the route to the top wasn’t exactly obvious. The trail quickly began to climb and then we came to a boulder field. We were all sweating before we hit the boulder field but this was just the beginning.
Crossing the boulder field was like an oven. The sun was so strong and there wasn’t a breath of wind. There was no shelter and we had to just continue to climb. Luckily we survived the oven and the trail returned to meadow for the final assent to the lake.
As we emerged over the top of the final ridge we were rewarded with the most beautiful view overlooking Lake Ann.
There were already quite a few tents set up so we set off round the lake to find our spot. There was a big debate around which was the best spot left but we finally agreed. Tents up and then on to a much needed post hike swim.
Getting in was a bit of a slow process as it was freezing but eventually I was brave (I was last). I was getting slight triathlon withdrawal so decided I should do a couple of lengths of the lake. From quite early on I thought this was probably a bad idea as I went numb, but I’m not one to give up so swam on. It felt a lot longer than the 500m my watch recorded.
The swim chilled me to my core so post swim I put all my layers on and would have loved a campfire but there was a fire ban in place. So when Kayla suggested going back in to get some photos I was hesitant but Kayla can get some great shots so was keen.
We returned to the camp and bumped in to two climbers who had come down from the mountain. It turned out there had been an accident and a small girl had been badly injured and had been airlifted out. In hindsight we realised we had seen her dad and brother hiking out at breakneck speed. Hopefully she was OK but a reminder that accidents can happen. There was a discussion as to whether it was responsible to take a 7yr old girl up what is a difficult climb but without the details its hard to judge as both parents were mountain guides.
For dinner we moved round the lake slightly and found a nice spot by the lake looking down the valley.
Again it was a 3 course gourmet dinner with a beautiful sunset. A poppy seed salad to start, followed by chicken korma, slightly melted dark chocolate coated blueberries to finish.
As soon as the sun set it got cold quickly so we retreated to the tents but there was a plan to get up at 2am to look at the stars and Kayla had her camera set up for night photography. This was so worth it as it was the most beautiful, if chilly, evening and Kayla nailed the photo!! (Please note my tent doing an excellent modeling job)
The morning brought us another beautiful sunrise and with it porridge for breakfast. For the final time we packed the tents and gear before heading out.
The hike back was much easier and quicker than the way out even though it felt it should have been similar as we started and finished at similar altitude. Before heading home we drove to the summit overlooking Mt Baker for lunch. This was less gourmet and more just finishing any food we had left!
It was then time to return to Vancouver. I had forgotten my work permit as I had been stressing about going to the US and forgot about coming back. Luckily the agent just asked me and Andrea (Norwegian) what visas we were on and took our words for it. So much easier!
When we finally got home I was absolutely exhausted but what a trip and so much fun with the girls. Hopefully there will be many more like this one and I will definitely be returning to Mt Baker on both two skis and two wheels.
2 thoughts on “Wilderness camping in Mt Baker National Park”
A terrific report. A real sharing of your experience, and your love of nature. Thank you.
Thank you. Hopefully my writing continues to improve and when I get some time I want to review my early posts.
It is hard to fully express the size and beauty of the wilderness out here but hopefully the photos helped a little!