Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sumas Mountain 04-14-2012

After surviving a completely unremarkable Friday the 13th, Saturday the 14th proved to be quite an adventure - in a good way.  The day was spent with two local geologists on a personalized tour of Sumas Mountain.

Don't be fooled by its looks.  Sumas Mountain may not provide the same kind of eye candy that taller and more majestic peaks may offer, but it holds plenty of secrets and unique surprises; if you know where to look.  If you don't know where to look then you'll probably still have a decent time - provided you are expecting some serious elevation gain.  One notable section of our route gained more than 2,000 vertical feet in about a one and a half miles of traveling.  Uff da.

The unofficial official trail head is at a dead end road north-ish of Everson and Nooksack.  It looks like this:

What you really can't see in the above picture are three important items:
1)  The black dog that lives at the house just to the left of this image.  In his (her?) younger years, the friendly dog was rumored to follow people up the mountain.  These days, rumor has it that age is taking its toll and it's less likely you'll have an impromptu canine following you.

2)  The fence posts with upside down boots on top of them.  As you'll soon find out, they could come in really handy in just a few minutes.

3)  See the hiker in blue?  That is right about where the mud starts.  It's almost impossible to make your way up the trail without being in ankle deep mud at least once on both feet.  You'll wish you had checked those trailhead boots to see if they had your size for a loaner.  Luckily, the mud is only an issue for a few hundered yards or so.

Continue up the trail.  If I recall, we came to a fork in the trail and we stayed to the right.  You can go left... then let me know where you ended up.

Shortly thereafter we came upon the bottom side of a clear cut.

Followed by another junction.  If you are all excited about seeing 'the cabin' you can follow the sign to the left.  We stayed to the right at this point (but when we came back down it was from the cabin and this is the junction where we connected back to the main trail).

I recommend you save the cabin for the trip back down.  Go right.  It's nice.

Somewhere along here we crossed a creek.  There was half a sign, it appeared to say "Rankin Creek".  Doug & Dave noticed an erratic at the creek crossing point (no, I am not the erratic) and noted how the walls of the canyon had been virtually scrubbed clean by a large flood a few years ago. 

Continuing onward, we came across what I first mistook for a tombstone, from a distance.  This is the infamous Sumas Safe:

The door of the save is 'stuck' in the open position.  It's the same basic size and shape of a classic cemetary tombstone.  At the angle of approach, and not knowing it was attached to rock, it appeared to me as a tombstone.

Clearly it is not.

Reportedly, this was a safe that was constructed by the minors who staked a claim here with hopes of becoming rich.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any gold or precious metals here... so they decided to 'dust' the walls of the mines with gold by firing it out of a shotgun and onto the mine walls.

When they lured investors to come visit the mine (with the intention of convincing them to invest money), the investor's would see the amount of gold just waiting to be mined and thus be convinced that extreme wealth was sure to be theirs!

The safe is about the only thing remaining in the area to remind us of these gold rush days.  "Way back when" there used to be a hotel and a mill up here too.

By and by we came across Mine Shaft #1.  It's across the creek.

It's flooded.  We didn't bother to enter.

Back on the trail we came across a number of signed junctions.  Some indicated they might lead the way to a viewpoint of the Swift Creek "slow" landslide.  We didn't follow that route today and there is a chance that the trail may enter through private property... but I'm not certain on that issue.

The landslide area itself is probably on private property and I've heard that the main access to the landslide crosses private property, but I have no idea if the trail to the viewpoint crosses any of those boundaries or not.  Proceed at your own risk I guess.

Another of these trails 'should' lead you to mine shafts #2 and #3 - at least that's what I interpreted from the treasure map (not to scale) that we would later find in the cabin.

Ultimately, we took a left fork which angled us along the top side of the previously pictured clear cut.

At the far end of the clearcut is yet another junction.  To the left (into the clearcut) will take you to the cabin and to the right (uphill) will lead you toward the summit and Lost Lake beyond the summit (on the back side of the mountain).

This trail that head up hill to the right is the start of the 1.5 mile hike that ascends 2,000 feet.  Take a few minutes to hydrate and nourish here because you'll probably need it.

We eventually encountered snow.  Quite a lot of it.  Even more of it where it had been wind deposited into five feet deep drifts.  Beware of holes under the snow as you cross through the slash.

For the most part, if you can't find the actual trail (due to snow), just head upward.

There is a huge glacial cirque up here that really limits your options in directions available for travel.  In some places the trail passes right next to a drop off of a few hundred feet (or more), so watch the pets, the kids and yourself.

Here is a view of the high point and the rather short communication tower.  We didn't cross over to the actual high point, but instead opted to coninue along the cirque crest and down the opposite side of the mountain toward Lost Lake.

Many parts of this trail are steep.  Many parts of this trail are really steep.  Many parts of this trail are incredilbly steep.  Hang in there.

We continued down the backside until we were about a hundred feet above "Lost Pond".  It was going to be another 30 minutes of travel to reach Lost Lake.  Knowing that it was going to be snow the entire way, knowing the lake would be frozen, knowing fog would prevent any views and knowing that there is another steep ascent required before we could descend to the car we decided that a simple view of Lost Pond was adequate as a destination for today.

With that, we turned around and began climbing.  Again.

On the way back down we noticed this ammunition box hanging off the cliff into the cirque.

We snagged it and opened it to discover its soaking wet contents included a summit register and geocache treasures.  Plus some moldy raisins.

Our descent eventually returned us to the Cabin vs. Lost Lake junction and we continued on toward the Cabin.

Doug explained that someone has taken the effort to remodel the cabin.  It has a new roof and a new stove.  Reportedly someone stole the old stove.  The new one is cemented in place.

The cabin has wall to wall carpeting (over a dirt floor) and ladder access to two lofts... currently stocked with a variety of sleeping bags and comforters.

Also, you'll enjoy looking at the not-to-scale map on the interior wall of the cabin.

After a short rest at the cabin and exploring the area, we followed the trail down through the clearcut and back to the main trail... and the mud slog back to the car.

8 miles and 3,600 feet of elevation gain.  Round Trip.

On the way back to civilization, we stopped at a bridge over Swift Creek.  Dave & Doug explained how all this silt was transported down here from the Swift Creek Slow Landslide.  Government Agencies have been dredging the creek and piling up all the silt on the banks.

In the picture below I've attempted to highlight the landslide area and the banks of silt.

It's not labeled in the picture, but that whole hill in the background of the photo is Sumas Mountain.  You can see the snowy clearcuts at the top which are the same clearcuts in the above summit pictures.  I think the cabin is right about where the orangish "T" in "The" is located.  Maybe a little bit above it and to the left.  Just guessing.

Sumas Mountain is located in northern Whatcom County and is the first big 'bump' you'll notice as you head east.  It's a lower elevation mountain surrounded by little towns.  Sumas to the north, Kendall to the east, Deming to the south and Everson/Nooksack to the west.

Parking at the trail head is limited to about three or four cars, but no parking passes are required.

I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to Doug McKeever and Dave Tucker for showing me around this great area.  Your wealth of local knowledge and geological insights made this a spectacular day and well worth the effort!  They each have their own internet presence where you can learn all sorts of stuff from geology to ultra-marathons to weather symbols.. and more.  Doug's WCC site is here and Dave's NW Geology blog is here.  Dave also posted a geology field trip report right here.

Happy Hiking!



  1. If your in it for the hike this is the way to go but if your a little older and cant walk that far you can go up from the Mt Baker Hwy just past the North Fork brewery after a 25 minute drive its 6 minutes to the lake

    1. It's also called Sumas Mt why the change I don't know I've been 5 imn from the mountain all my life and its always been called Paradice Mt the road sigh markings even still say P-1000 from the southpass side as you turn off the South Pass rd onto the Paradice Valley rd just before the Frost rd and there is acess trail to the lake from there also maybe haf hour hike but please peple pack out your trash I pack out a 50 pound sack of garbage every time I go in there