Updated: Jul 22, 2019
Our gaze was fixed on the five feet of visibility in front of the car. Fog thicker than Hemingway's beard encompassed the road up to Artist Point. We strained our eyes to make out anything but instead heard the occasional car horn coming around the sharp bends that lead up to the main parking lot. Before we even realized it we were in the parking area looking for a spot. It was fairly empty now but it would certainly fill up. The weather's best efforts couldn't keep the excitement down between these two half-sisters. Fog or no fog they were ready to set out on this adventure.
A nearly empty parking lot at Artist Point
Megan (left) & Morgan (right) at the beginning of the trip
Conversation filled the otherwise cold and sharp air with a warmth that carried us along. Shouts of "Isn't this great!" and "I love this!" rang out amidst the wall of gray that encapsulated us. The first mile of this fog-ridden trail traverses narrowly below Table Mountain, hugging the side until it splits at the Chain Lakes junction. Beware of your ankles on this trail as it turns into a miniature boulder field in sections. The trail descended, carrying us down into what we would later see was a beautiful and colorful valley when we came back the next day. Colorless cairns guided us along where social trails and other boot-paths split off to dead-ends.
Morgan & Megan crossing some run-off
After a quick lunch break consisting of quesadillas and PBJs, we were back on the trail. The weather alternated between light rain and sleet, biting wind or no wind. We were either too warm plodding along and had to strip layers or we had to stop and put more on - the story of the first day.
The shrill sound of marmots and pikas called out from their tiny versions of a Flintstones home up on the rocks above. As we came up from the valley and ascended to a ridgeline, we followed the trail, or what we thought was the trail. After a few minutes we consulted our maps and gps to discover we had gone the opposite way. I believe it was Yvon Chouinard who said that: "It's not an adventure unless something goes wrong." Thankfully, we realized our mistake quickly and got back on the right path.
Morgan after jumping from a snowfield to the path
The ridgeline pretty much carried us along from here on out. At any moment you might find Megan distracted and picking some of the delicious wild blueberries found along the trail. We pressed on crossing talus slopes and snowfields along the way. Ferns sprouted out of the volcanic rock in start contrast to it's surroundings. Wet sedge brushed against our boots and water resistant pants leaving dew droplets to shake off.
Where the Black and White Fern Grows
At this point we were getting a little tired (to say the least) of the constantly shifting weather pattern that seemed to hang over us. Our goal was to stay at Camp Kiser, or near it, but the persistent fog made it near impossible to see anything in front of us, let alone a campsite that should have been just off the trail. After some off-trail searching and staring into the fog like idiots in hopes of a small break, we decided to setup camp at the base of a snowfield below a prominent peak.
The first order of business was the making of a home for the night - a shelter for the bi-polar weather we were experiencing. Megan and Morgan had a fun time setting up their tent. You know it's been awhile since you've camped when you're questioning which way the aluminum tent poles are suppose to bend. The ladies had a fun time nonetheless.
Lava pancakes anyone?
While Megan and Morgan rested, I decided to explore the peak and snowfield above us. Ancient lava rocks, rough and weather tested, sat stacked up like pancakes below the peak. The snowfield around the base of the peak was hollowed out from melting, leaving a nice 30 foot drop to the not-so-careful explorer in the fog.
The hiss of gas and flick of the lighter. These are two sounds that I think every camper loves to hear. It means that very soon you will have warm food in your belly. No matter how bad it may be, it will taste great because you are here now, in this amazing place enjoying it. You can forget about all the aches and pains of the day and just savor that freeze dried rice teriyaki you brought along.
With the fog, the daylight never seems to change. A constant dull light is everywhere. It wasn't until around 8pm, after hours of good conversation we really noticed a change in the light. While I was laying my tent Megan started to read aloud from her book, kind of as a joke. She asked If she should continue and 3 chapters later we were all engrossed in the story. As the night set in, marmots and pikas shrieked occasionally making us aware of their presence. The full moon peeked out briefly around 2 am illuminating part of the barren landscape. But as we all went to sleep (or tried), we had one hope - for a clear day tomorrow.
Megan, meet Mount Baker
After getting about 3 hours of sleep I awoke at 7am to a crusty tent, frozen from the nights previous rain. Something else was different. There was a strange orange glow back-lighting my tent. I unzipped my tent flap and there was Mount Baker - it was like being hit in the face. It was so close I could almost touch it. I awoke the ladies and said "there's something you might want to see out here".
Megan (left) and Morgan (right) check out their surroundings
Wake-up juice (aka coffee)
Megan & Morgan on the trail
The alpenglow slowly faded out as it crept it's way up Mount Baker. Deep shadows of peaks slowly receded against the ever-rising sun on the landscape. Besides the scenery, breakfast and coffee were the things that got us going on the trail.
We decided to go check out the East Portal about a mile away from camp. The Portals are a kind of gateway to the northeast climbing route of Mount Baker. If you view them at the right angle there is a kind of dip in between, a portal into a world of deep snow and even deeper crevasses.
Megan & Morgan nearing the East Portal (below Baker to the left)
The trail over brought us ever closer to Mount Baker, or, if you prefer the Native American name - Koma Kulshan. At nearly 11,000' it has climbing routes from the fairly non-technical Coleman-Deming route to the challenging north ridge. But we weren't here for that today, ascending the East Portal was enough of an adventure for these two.
Campsite on the East Portal
The temperature started to rise and thawed out the crystallized grass along the way. Jaw-dropping views from protected campsites littered the East Portal. We were a bit jealous of the campsites although ours was pretty epic too. We climbed up behind the east portal in search of a great spot for a break and some posed shots.
Mount Shuksan in the distance
Morgan & The Mountain
Megan poses against Mount Baker
Megan stands on a precipice looking out at the valley deep below
Megan descends the East Portal with Mt. Shuksan in the background
Mount Shuksan rising above the clouds
Hiking back below the East Portal
One of the things we missed on the way in were the vibrant colors of the flora. They really popped out along the trail in hues of red, green and yellow. As predicted earlier, we started seeing people on the way back. One person here, another there, then ten, twenty, thirty people. The closer we got to the first mile of the trail more packed it got. After nearly 10.5 miles roundtrip, we arrived at the car. Megan collapsed on the ground while Morgan and I just stared at her smiling.
Heading back from a destination always bring with it a bit of sadness and anticipation. Sadness because the trip is coming to an end but anticipation because a hot shower and a calorie packed delicious pizza awaits for you at Chair 9 in Glacier. If you're in the area be sure to stop at this joint which is a staple for after hike food.
Megan & Morgan at the end of the trip
How would you like to have every part of your epic trip photographed? I am currently offering a limited number of Overnight and Day Adventure Sessions for 2019. Be sure to e-mail or call me for more information if you're interested and stay tuned for an update on my site with more details. I hope to see you out there!
Technical stuff: All photos shot with a Nikon D750, 50mm, 85mm and 17-35mm lenses
How to get there: Check out the Washington Trail Association's guide to Ptarmigan Ridge
*Disclaimer: I am not endorsed by any of the companies that may be seen in this journal entry with exception of any Flowfold products seen.
All Photos Copyright Jefferson Morriss 2018
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