August 2015 with Rosemary & Paul C, Donna, Ron, Bill N, Bengul & Murat, Nellie, Sabina, Mandy.
Our initial plan for this day was to hike to Skyline Divide. However, when we inquired at the ranger station in Glacier, the report on road conditions was not optimistic, and one driver was reluctant to try it with her 2wd car. Also, the air was thick with smoke from forest fires in the region, which would have limited the views. So we made the decision to take the mostly paved road to hike Heliotrope Ridge instead.
Both hikes start in a similar fashion, with a moderately steep climb through forest to meadows. But while the Skyline Divide trail leads to an open exposed ridge, the Heliotrope Ridge trail opens up into a large alpine basin dominated by the Coleman Glacier with the summit of Mount Baker above it.
Because of three significant unbridged creek crossings, the runoff from melting snowfields and glaciers makes this a hike that is generally best left until late in the season. Despite the drought we experienced this summer, the glaciers continued to melt thanks to hot weather, and the creeks were in full force. Two of the creeks are manageable (though the second needs caution) but the third one is open, exposed and steep. You need to cross the third one to get to the closeup view of the glacier; the alternative is to take the “climbers’ route” up a steep ridge known as the Hogsback. This leads to a higher rocky basin and to Heliotrope Ridge itself, the most straightforward route to the summit of Mount Baker.
The majority of the group crossed the third creek and headed for the glacier viewpoint, while three of us stayed back and picked our way up the left bank of the creek, then back across the meadows to a lunch spot on the upper part of the Hogsback. A few of the creek crossers managed to cross back over higher up to meet us for the hike back down the Hogsback. The creek crossings were challenging, but it was refreshing to see all that water in a hot and dry summer, and it was only there that we saw any flowers blooming (mostly mimulus and epilobiums).
Heliotrope is another name for Sitka valerian, which is common in our mountains but was finished by the time we were up there.