Monday, June 10, 2013

Heather Meadows Snowshoe Loop 04-20-2013

Years ago I heard rumors of a snowshoe loop near the Mount Baker Ski Area, but it was virtually impossible to find any actual person that has any actual knowledge of the specific route  -- and harder still to find anyone who had actually done the loop.

Those of you who may have ended up on this web page in search of more info on the Heather Meadows Snowshoe Loop at the Mount Baker Ski area really need to connect up with the good folks of the Mount Baker Club (MBC).  They host year round outdoor activities in the area and they'll often head out Hwy 542 for a day on the Loop.

After years of false starts (or early stops), on April 20, 2013, I was fortunate to connect up with the MBC in Maple Falls for an overcast day of snowshoeing the Heather Meadows Loop.

While the scenery was masked during much of the day, Hermod Bakke (aka 'Herm') was a great trip leader.  He's full of great stories from years in the area and made a pleasant outing even more memorable.

We toured the loop in a clockwise direction, wisely starting at the low point in the loop.  My other 'attempts' always started at the high point of the loop, and were initiated after already burning calories via a visit to Artist or Huntoon Point.

Parking was next to a wide area that had been plowed out on one of the Hwy 542 corners (small yellow dot on the map), long before reaching the Firs chalet.  We backtracked a short distance downhill along Hwy 542 to the yellow 'S curves' traffic sign where we strapped snowshoes on our feet and began an ascent on softening snow.

Be aware that snowshoeing is not allowed in the Mount Baker Ski Area boundary when the resort is open.  Accordingly, use good judgement when route finding.  There are a number of areas where the route is right along the boundary line, and a number of steep slopes do exist nearby.  An unexpected fall could put you into a tree well or require you to find your way back up on your own.  Run-outs are short, but there are some steep areas... just be aware and "savy to the avy" conditions.

We followed Herm upwards, posing for photos here and there.  We passed an electrical cabin of some kind... generators & cell phone communication center I believe before finally reaching the ski area boundary.

Our route took us down a steep ski hill and back up the other side to the upper Heather Meadows Lodge (closed on that day). 

We took a shortcut across the Hwy to the transportation garages before heading over by the explosives shed, the Mountaineers Lodge and then the Firs Chalet.

My favorite photo of the day includes a few of the MBC outing participants approaching the explosives shed with classic 'moody' North Cascade imagery in the background.

Just beyond the Firs Chalet the route descended a steep slope which could pose an avalanche risk in some conditions.  I have no idea if there is a history of Avalanches along this section, but it seems plausible that small slides must occur here through the winter.

Before you know it, you are back to your vehicle and searching for a way to climb down from the snowplowed banks to street level.

Round Trip was just 2.5 miles and about 500 feet of elevation gain.

All in all, this was a nice snowshoe loop.  The route itself is not marked and since it gets minimal use, the first 3/4 mile and the last 1/2 mile may not be obvious if you aren't following someone else's tracks.  The good news is that it's pretty easy to always know which direction to go if you needed to reach Hwy 542.  The bad news is that in late season there are a number of creeks that the route crosses, so be aware of potentially weak snow bridges that may drop you into a pond or a rushing creek.  Always snowshoe with a buddy.

Stay tuned for another trip report next week to tell you my exciting tale from yesterday's Diablo Lake Trail hike.

Happy Hiking!


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