My August of checking hikes off my wish list (and 100 Classic Hikes in Washington’s list!) continues!
After the snow seemed to delay every bit of hiking and backpacking I wanted to do, I’m trying to squeeze every ounce of hiking in that I can this August! My friend Marissa from Postcards to Seattle has lately been into fire lookouts, so she and my pup Schooner and I loaded up for Park Butte, off Highway 20 just before Concrete.
The forest service road is not the best for this hike, but Marissa luckily had an SUV. I won’t say it would be impossible in a sedan, but if you have the option for a higher clearance vehicle, I’d take that. This trailhead serves multiple trails, including the one to basecamp for those summitting Baker, so assume the parking lot will be full, especially if, like us, you go on a Sunday morning before any overnighters have left.
There is pit toilets and signage here. The Baker area has a requirement to pack out all solid waste–no burying! There were some blue bags (also known as WAG bags) for packing out solid waste available at the trailhead, but especially if staying overnight, I’d grab one, just in case. We set off, hard to tell who of the three of us was more excited. We stayed left at the fork with the Scott Paul trail, and crossed a nice bridge over what WTA tells me is Sulphur Creek. The trail was gradual here, and even shady at times, which was nice.
I had brought 1.7L of water for my pup, as well as a cooling neckerchief, but I was a little worried about him overheating, even with the morning hour still keeping us relatively cool. Luckily, after about a mile we came to the far larger Rocky Creek, gushing over a boulder field. There is one skinny metal ladder bridge that gets removed seasonally in the fall (and added back in the spring) to cross the water, after one little crossing that got our boots (and paws) wet. If the ladder bridge is not placed yet, keep an eye out for cairns to guide you across. The water really was rushing here, and I ended up having to carry my pup across most of it, either due to the water or he didn’t like the ladder. With this being a popular hike, there can definitely be bottlenecks here, so pack your patience, especially if allowing a group of exhausted peakbaggers to cross first.
From here, it definitely gets steeper. However, the views of Mount Baker, also known as Koma Kulshan, also got more thrilling. We crossed the Scott Paul trail and the Railroad Grade trail (to the summit) and kept on going up. The trail got more exposed, so a little oasis-like spring, covered in pink mountainheath, broadleaf lupine, and Sika valerian, as well as a yellow flower Seek couldn’t quite identify, was a welcome treat. Or course, my (always leashed) pup had to splash in the spring to cool off! While marveling over the flowers and mountain (and the cuteness of my dog), we did notice that we were visited by many a winged insect. We had brought spray and bug nets, but as long as we were moving, the bugs in this almost lowland area weren’t too bad.
We continued in this exposed, flat area, until the real climbing began. Luckily, we could see the lookout from here, but the terrain got nice and gravel-ly, and we saw one downhill hiker nearly take a spill, which made toting my poles all the way without using them yet a little more palatable. The trail continue up, but even as we climed, the lookout seemed higher and further away. We stopped climbing for a bit, and marveled at the view, including the many little pools of water, or tarns, around us. The largest one is named Pocket Lake.
We knew we had just a little more climbing to go. We briefly dipped almost behind a mountain, before skirting back, one more push, and there the lookout was! There was a big step before the lookout stairs, but luckily some chivalrous men there helped boost my pup up. The square-shaped lookout offers 360* views. We marveled at not just Baker (which was stunning), but all around us–the tarns, the meadows, the various other mountains (according to WTA, Black Buttes and Twin Sisters). From here, getting to the summit of Baker seemed easily attainable! (It’s not). We moved to the shadier side of the lookout and enjoyed our snacks, keeping our eyes out for some bold chipmunks willing to venture close even with a dog eyeing them.
Marissa poked around the lookout a bit. You can sleep at this lookout, but it is first-come, first-served (with crew getting priority), and it is incredibly popular. Were we looking to backpack, we would have had the place to ourselves. If hoping to get the lookout and you get beaten, there is no camping in the delicate areas near the tarns, it’s back to Railroad Grade or the Bell Pass trails you must go.
We tore ourselves away right as another group joined, giving them some privacy at the top, like we’d enjoyed. Downhill, we both were very happy to have our poles. Marissa was not enjoying the bugs, so she turned up the speed and busted downhill. The pup was a little less eager to move, so we ambled on, with one brief stop to splash in a stream and cool off for him. The trail down was hot, and I was wishing I had reapplied sunscreen, especially on my ears. There were more and more people on trail, both ascending and descending, and I dreaded the bottleneck at the Rocky Creek crossing. The water was far higher, which made sense, but ironically, this water smelled strongly of Sulphur, making me think they had gotten the names wrong and should name this one Sulphur Creek!
The remaining mile flew by, and before we knew it, we were back at the car. The window to do this hike is very small, and even then, stunning, clear views like we had are not guaranteed. Even with bug bites, aching muscles, and sunburns, we counted ourselves very lucky, and were very content with our Sunday hike here.
Distance: WTA said 7.5, but I clocked 8.0 round-trip.
Elevation: WTA said 2200, I measured 2067 on Gaia. Is steeper at some points than others, and I was happy to have poles for parts on the way down.
Parking: NW Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Interagency pass.
Bathrooms: There were two pit toilets at the trailhead, but after that, all solid waste must be packed out–NOT BURIED.
Food Storage if Backpacking: Safe storage recommended.
Fires: No fires at this elevation allowed.
Best Beer Bet: We stopped at the always reliable Birdsview Brewing on the way back.