Distance from Vancouver: 2h45 plus border time
7hrs, 18.0 km round-trip
Elevation gain: roughly 530m
On day 5 of my Mt. Baker trip, the last but not the least, we packed up our camp at Silver Fir and drove back up to Artist Point to hike Ptarmigan Ridge. I have hiked this trail last year, although we didn’t get much of a view of Baker due to the fog. This time however, we couldn’t have asked for a better weather to be on the trail – we had a clear, blue sky most of the day and the best views of Mt. Baker I never had. This was definitely the highlight of the trip and makes me feel so grateful to live that close to such beauty!
The trails starts at Artist Point and follows the same common trail that we took to head to Chain Lakes earlier that week. After about 1 mile on the traverse on the back of Table Mountain, we reached a junction with Ptarmigan Ridge Trail (to the left). From there the trails goes around and eventually drops about 60m in the valley before heading slowly back up as you walk towards Coleman Pinnacle and Baker in the background.
The entire trail is quite rocky, but it isn’t challenging in terms of terrain. You’ll also pass some steep areas with tons of blueberry bushes (make sure to taste them, it’s quite a nice area to be berry picking). At some point the trail does almost a 180 degrees turn in direction (first with Shuksann on your left hand side, and then on your right hand side while going up and towards Coleman Pinnacle). From there you will start seeing some lakes on the left high in the mountains (Goat Lake), as well as some nice open areas for camping (with exquisite views of Baker).
There are a few patches of snow left (usually year-round) so use caution and common sense when crossing them. Eventually you will go up and around the Coleman Pinnacle (6.4km from the trailhead), and at its base you will see a few nice flat areas where a tent would fit very well (note to self for next time). From there, keep following the trail towards Mt. Baker and up to the ridge.
Once on the ridge, the wind can get quite strong – but the views are just hard to describe. On your left, you can see Shuksan, Glacier Peak, the Coleman Pinnacle behind you… on your right, you can see all the way to the Skyline Divide ridge, a large glacier… and right in front of you, a clear view of Mt. Baker rising straight up in the sky.
The official trails end at a plateau on the ridge where there are a few campsites (obvious with the flat ground surrounded by rocks, about 7.25km from the trailhead).
We kept going for another 1.75km or so up on the scrambled, loose rock trail (harder to find and follow) as we wanted to get as close as possible to Baker as we could. This portion is called the East Peak (or Portals East). Depending on the snow conditions the trail might have to go through a snow patch, so use caution when decided to follow this section. If you are not comfortable it is better to just stop and head back the way you came. We took our time and scrambled a bit until we reached almost the very end – obviously marked by the presence of… sheer drops and a precipice on both sides. But… what a view. We could even see Mt. Rainier that day (Seattle).
We came back the way we arrived and wrapped-up on a beautiful time (yet again) at Mt. Baker. There are still many trails that I want to explore and will definitely be back… sooner than later, I hope!