Volcano Adventure Part I

The Goal: Visit as many of the Cascade volcanoes this summer as possible.
This Mission: Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier

Barely a week after returning from the North Cascades trip I packed up the car for another adventure. A goal for the summer is to visit as many of the Cascade volcanoes as I can. I initially headed out to hit the four major peaks in Washington on this trip, but got sucked into the beauty of the Baker-Snoqualmie N.F and only made it to two. Having never been to either Baker or Rainier the idea was to try to get a general feel for a couple different sides of each mountain and just wander.

A fully packed BooCoupe ready to roll.

I packed a tent, but this trip was for lazy camping, and I slept in the car  for half the trip. I have perfected the back of the car sleeping situation and the amount of gear I need to take after last summers adventures. I headed out and drove up to Twin Lakes Trailhead in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie N.F.  Twin Lakes is about 7 miles up up up from the Mt. Baker highway, directly east of Bellingham, WA about 3 miles as the crow flies south of the Canadian border. The last couple miles absolutely require a high clearance vehicle, but I’ve been on much worse roads too.

The top of the road with Winchester Mountain looming.

There were 4 people camping and fly fishing on the lakes when I arrived, but we were widely spread out around the two lakes. The first night was a peaceful, majestic night in the clouds. There are level pads to camp on, and a few picnic tables scattered around the lakeshore, but I slept in the car.

Camp pads and picnic tables at Twin Lakes.

The wildflowers are pretty much gone round our parts, but the elevation and higher latitude meant there were a few bursts of color around. Didn’t spot any critters, but they do say that black bears frequent the area and to keep any food/smelly things stored properly.

Lupine still in flower.

After a fitful night of sleep I set my goal of the morning to climb Winchester Mountain to the decommissioned fire lookout at the top. It’s about a 3.5 mile roundtrip with 1300 feet of climbing with the peak sitting at 6521 feet. The temp was perfect, the sky was looking friendly, and I set off!

Winchester Mountain.
The actual trailhead lies about .25 miles from the sign at the top of the road, between the two lakes.
On the Winchester Mountain trail.
View of Twin Lakes from Winchester Mountain.

I had to stop frequently to catch my breath, but with panoramic views from every angle that was fine. The trail was a series of fairly long switchbacks with a couple challenging and/or steep sections, but the views… huff puff huff.

The view from one of the more challenging sections where you climb over a saddle.
Twin Lakes from above the saddle.
The trail turned North and I caught a golden ground squirrel eating berries on this section.

The bottom half of the trail was lined with huckleberry and wild blueberries. There were a few blueberries left to scavenge, but they’d been pretty picked over by critters and people. Super tasty treats for the hike up/down. Climb Kiri climb!

Tiny bit of snow left in a cirque near the top.
The view north. Can you see Canada? That peak in the middle back is the American Border peak.

Finally reached the top. Walked all around and took pictures from every angle. There were 3 guys up at the top, and I had passed a group of 4 others coming up, busier than I expected for the adventure road it takes to get to the trailhead.

A view to the East from the peak of Winchester Mountain.

The fire lookout was built in 1935, and is kept open to the public by the Mt. Baker hiking club. It is well stocked and you can spend the night, just hoist the flag to signal it’s occupied. I was just there for a visit, but there are a couple cots, desk, stove, sleeping bag, maps, guest register, a lightning stool, and a bottle of whisky amongst other things. And did I mention the views…


Winchester Mountain lookout.

I spent a good 45 minutes alone on the top enjoying the views on each side of the lookout. The North Cascades are spectacular from every angle.

You can swim and/or fish in the lakes after your hike.

I ate a quick lunch at the picnic tables along the late and deliberated staying another night at the lakes, but decided I wanted to see more of the area and set my sights on Artist Point at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway.

Columnar basalt from flows near the Mt. Baker ski area.
Artist point with the thrust fault block Mt. Shuksan in the distance.

Artist Point is straight off the road, and has easy graded trails for excellent views of Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. That meant it was packed, and pretty hot up there. It sits above the Mt. Baker ski area (have to go skiing here some day!). There are tons of trails off the highway in various places, so there are lots of people, and lots of amenities (flush toilets!).

The clouds refused to clear the summit of Mt. Baker!
Almost clear summit… but not quite.
Another view of Mt. Shuksan. Beautiful!

I drove down from Artist Point, checking in at a couple campsites in the area, but couldn’t find any open spaces. I picked a gravel road and ended up at the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead and shot some awesome video of snow melt from the glaciers, but didn’t capture any good photos. I was going to spend the night at a climbers bivy above the trailhead, but decided to start heading south. Mt. Baker I’ll be back! I finished the day in North Cascades and spent the night at the Newhalem campground.

The next morning I drove down to Mt. Rainier – final destination Mowich Lake. Unexpectedly I happened to drive by the enormous Oso Landslide along the way. Wow – very scary site. There’s a small place to park to observe the landslide along the side of the road and a huge log memorial at the toe of the slide, but I didn’t stop.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned how much I loathe Seattle traffic, so I’ll not explain that clusterpoop on the drive south. The drive was otherwise uneventful and the weather had turned beastly hot overnight. Finally reaching Mowich Lake I never expected finding a parking lot full at the end of  17 miles of gravel road. Fortunately there were only 2 people camping at the Mowich Lake campground when I arrived, even though the parking lots and trails were packed. I quickly set up my tent, and set out for a hike. The campground is free, but the tent pads are practically on top of one another so don’t expect it to be too quiet!

I headed up the Tolmie Peak Lookout trail (7.5 miles r/t) but was exhausted by the time I climbed up to Eunice Lake, and didn’t climb the last .9 mile to the top of that ridge from the left in the picture below to the fire lookout. 5 miles was plenty! The view up there is supposed to be amazing, so I’ll have to go back.

Eunice Lake, Mt. Rainier.
Glacial scour along the edges of Eunice Lake.

After relaxing on Eunice lake for a bit I headed back down to my tent on Mowich Lake and to make some dinner. By the time I returned there were 3 other groups of campers at the campground including a very whiny teenager – joy!

Mowich Lake.

It was pretty noisy in the campground overnight, but I managed to sleep okay, until the guys next to me broke camp at 6:30 in the morning with loud “effing this, effing that”  after proudly pounding red bulls and other general puffoonary. I made sure I gave them the evil death glare on the way to the toilet, but was kinda of thankful they woke me up early. I set off for the first come first serve White River campground within Mt. Rainier N.P. on the other side of the mountain – 50 miles away after breaking camp.

I arrived at the White River camp by 11 and quickly found a quiet bower of a campsite. I set up my tent and hammock and proceeded to have a rest day. I read in the hammock for the afternoon watching chipmunks making circles around my site, which had a small stream flowing through it. Also found a frog hopping across the access plank. Very relaxing.


Bridge across White River.

Towards sunset I walked down to the day use area where many climbers also park to head up the White River valley for summit attempts. The Wonderland trail crosses the White River here, and there are wood bridges to aid in crossing. The river level was very low, but the water was flowing briskly and very coldly!

Caught a couple watching the sun set behind Mt. Rainier.

The campground filled overnight – and they allowed fires! Bummer that I didn’t have any s’more making materials. This was the first campground I’ve camped at this summer that actually allowed fires. This wildfire season has been brutal. I hit the sack early, and read for a while. Some children in the campground decided it would be cool to play hide and seek around my tent! Fun times. I managed to finally get to sleep pretty earlyish for another early start in the morning.

Mt. Rainier from Burroughs Mountain Trail.

The weather was calling for 90s so I planned to get up to the trailhead at 9 the next morning. I planned to loop hike Burroughs Mountain I and Sunrise rim trail, most of which was at an elevation > 6000 ft and totally exposed. I broke camp and drove up to the Sunrise Visitor Center arriving just at 9, and started the hike up to Burroughs mountain 1. The climb up  was a definite huffer and puffer for everyone except one trail gazelle couple who were running it!

Rainer from the top of Burroughs Mountain I. You can see the trail up to Burroughs Mt. II in the distance.
Sunrise Rim Trail.

I sat at the top of Burroughs I to catch my breath and have a granola bar and some water. My stomach had lingering upset from the night before and I was feeling groggy and dehydrated. The views were incredible. The trails were fairly crowded and there were a lot of rangers hiking around probably because of the extreme heat they were expecting.

One tricky section on the Sunrise rim trail had lots of helicoptering crickets  flying around and amazing views of the glaciers on the mountain. Halfway down the back half of the loop I was starting to feel really terrible. I had a can of coke that I had smartly packed in my bag to calm my tummy. I sat for a while at an overlook and enjoyed the views of the mountain. A couple ladies in front of me had set up their hammock there and were enjoying a swing with a view. At this point I was very thankful I started so early, it was getting really hot.

View of the west side of Mt. Rainier with the glacier fed White River Valley below.

Passed a ton of people on the trail back to the visitor center. Super busy trail, but with the views of the mountain that’s hardly surprising. Once back at the plot I filled my water bottles and downed two more pints of water – tummy was not feeling good at all. Hit the road and headed south for home.

Heading back to the Sunrise Visitor Center. Finally some shade!

I took the southern route 123 through the park – an absolutely beautiful drive, then head back to I-5 through Packwood and Randle. All in all a fantastic first introduction to Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, 4 nights under the stars, and ~15 miles of hiking. I’m absolutely bonkers for all things North Cascades and Mt. Baker region. I’m not done with Mt. Rainier yet either, but it is so much busier – definitely a place I would rather backpack.

There is one major volcanic edifice in that area that I have not visited yet, and that’s Glacier Peak. If anyone wants to go backpacking up there, lemme know! (it’s not accessible by vehicle)

I’m working on an AFG2WT video companion to this post, but it’s going to be a couple weeks till that is ready. Stay tuned for that and a blog post on Volcano Adventure Part 2, as well as a couple other trip reports.

Happy adventuring all, get outside!