On December 19, 2013 I dropped Mikayla off at school and then scuttled my way to Maple Falls where I met 11 other Mount Baker Club members for a 'short notice' snowshoe trek to Huntoon Point.
Huntoon Point is easily accessible in the summertime via a short one mile easy hike from Artist Point (which is located at the very end of the Mount Baker Highway #542).
A visit to Huntoon Point in winter is a completely different trip.
The Mount Baker Highway is closed at Heather Meadows (the upper lodge of the Mt. Baker Ski Area) so you'll need snowshoes or ski's to get there.
The winter route is about 3.5 miles round trip and between 1,000 and 1,300 feet of elevation gain. The route follows the ski area boundary (snowshoes and sledding are not allowed in the ski area) beyond Austin Pass up to a spot just below the Lake Ann trail head.
From this point it is easy to notice that the paved road heads off the left, providing a gradual elevation gain, but many fail to recognize the increased risk of avalanches along this route. Steep slopes above the road often become wind loaded and are subject to sun exposure - great ingredients for an avalanche potluck.
The alternative route is to proceed straight ahead, ascending a steep slope nicknamed 'cardiac hill', or 'a$$burn hill' by others. It's a steep slope and it's not easy but it's generally the safer option between the two routes.
In the 10 years that I've been snow shoeing up here, it wasn't until today's outing that I've ever taken the road route (and that was on the return trek). On the way to Huntoon I took the 'Cardiac Hill' route while the rest of the party took the road route both directions.
There weren't any avalanches during our trek as the conditions weren't too risky, thank goodness.
However... while in my solo ascent of Cardiac Hill, there were four back country skier's in front of me who began pelting me with insults and everyone's favorite four letter words because I was following their tracks up the hill.
Generally speaking, snowshoer's are supposed to try and avoid tromping in ski tracks because they claim it make their skiing too hard or dangerous or something. Generally speaking, I try to follow that rule.
However, Cardiac Hill is steep and it's not really feasible to head 'straight up' the hill. It's easier to traverse from one side to the other and switchback your way up. Like I have been doing for 10 years and like snowshoers and skiers have probably been doing for many years before that. Today, I did the same thing.
For some reason, the skiers today felt they owned this track and wanted me off of it. I tried to stay off it as much as I could to appease them, but those efforts often caused slabs of snow to sluff off and cover their tracks entirely so I really doubt that was what they wanted either.
Up at the top of the hill I caught up to one of the skiers and he explained they they hoped to ski down the Bagley Basin bowl and then climb back up Cardiac Hill for a second run. Doing so would be a lot easier if they could just retrace their tracks up Cardiac Hill and having snowshoers track on top of it would make that more difficult.
I explained that in all the years of my ascents up the hill it has always been a shared track and if there was room for a second route up Cardiac Hill I gladly would have made it or taken it. Unfortunately, there is only room for one route up. So be it. Sure, I could have taken the road... but so could the skiers. "Buck up, Buttercup".
This was the second time I've had skiers bully me. The first time was way back in 2008 at Lk. Keechelus.
Anyway, on the way back down I followed the rest of the MBC group, taking my chances on the road route. I noted skiers and snowshoers ascending Cardiac Hill on our return. Just like they always do.
Winter weather up here can, and does, change frequently and quickly, and the route passes through a number of areas which can pose an avalanche risk in some scenarios. Please don't attempt this trip alone and please be prepared with proper avalanche rescue/survival gear and back country knowledge.
Here is the route map for today's antics.
Happy Hiking (or snowshoeing)!