In the last year I’ve added to my to do list a few hikes in the Mount Baker area. Having spent a bit of time in the backcountry of Mt. Baker in the winter, I wanted to start exploring the area more during the summer. You can check my trail reports on Heliotrope Ridge and Skyline Divide from last year (outstanding trails!) too! This time we went all the way up to the Artist Point parking lot (2WD accessible via the main Mt Baker road!) and hiked the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail.
With the terrible snow conditions this year, this trail has been snow free since June. This is very unusual, as many sections of this ridge typically remain under snow year-round – which makes it a harder trail to access for most hikers. The trailhead warning gives this note of caution:
Steep slopes, snow and poor visibility are common hazards on this ridge hike. Snow and poor weather conditions often create whiteout conditions along the trail. All hikers should carry a compass and appropriate maps… trail is rocky and difficult to follow even in good weather. Expect to encounter snowfields… year-round. Only experienced hikers should attempt to cross snowfields. The trail follows a high steep ridge and a fall could result in serious injury.
We had very interesting weather – one side of the mountain was completely covered in clouds and fog, which made the ridge traverses pretty interesting/whiteout. The other side of the mountain was completely clear with a blue sky… so we had half of the view half of the hike (see pictures!).
From the trailhead, follow the Chain Lakes Loop Trail West towards Mt. Baker. After about 1 mile you will reach a junction with a pole showing the direction towards Ptarmigan Ridge. Most of the ridge/traverses are along very steep slopes with rock falls and I would suggest just making your way through it without stopping for too long. We couldn’t see all the way down on our way in, but it cleared up a bit on the way back (so we could see the actual potential danger of falling aha!).
The trail is great in the sense that its crossed various landscapes and isn’t too technical (with low elevation gain!). You will start in alpine, crossing some small forest/trees sections, and hiking into black soil and volcanic rocks, to moss and red volcanic rock, facing glaciers and snowfields. There are a few camping spots along the trail, but there are some restrictions indicated at the trailhead (for example, you need to camp a minimum of 1 mile away from the Chain Lakes Loop junction).
The trail gets very windy in the last hour of so as you are quite exposed on the ridge. I would recommend some good wind gear (puffy will be your best friend during your lunch break!).
If you have time and energy, you can also hike up the Coleman Pinnacle towards the end of the trail. We didn’t because of the fog, although we hiked the extra mile at the end to get as close as possible to the glacier and Baker.