Summer! Darkness finally falls around 10:00 pm in our far corner of the Pacific Northwest near the Canadian border, and this year we’ve been swimming in the lakes since April – none of our usual gray drizzle until the 4th of July. So the day after the Solstice, we headed to the nearby mountains—Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan—to take advantage of the unusually hot and dry conditions. (Climate change, anyone? We try not to worry too much about our drought conditions and hope we can remain “The Evergreen State.”) We had very little snow pack this winter, so the alpine trails have opened up about two months earlier than usual.
We’d been gazing at the beckoning mountains, chafing at the bit to get hiking again after Thor’s back surgery and Sara’s torn ankle tendon, and we finally snapped. So, rationalizing that we weren’t really stretching the doctors’ orders, we decided to drive to Artist Point and have a little stroll and a picnic. The “stroll” along the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on the skirts of Mt. Baker felt pretty good—no flareups of pain—so we thought, “Why not just drop into the first of the Chain Lakes, it’s not that much farther….” So off we went, Bear-dog leading the way.
It was a bit startling to see how little snow remained on the peaks, especially the slightly lower Mt. Shuksan. We couldn’t help recalling our Death March hike on this loop one year in early September, when Artist Point was still under snowpack, and there was so much snow on the trail that we couldn’t find the return loop and had to bushwhack our way back. This year, it was almost a walk in the park.
Amazingly, for this very popular trail, we encountered few other hikers. One couple did round a bend in the trail where our big black dog was sniffing around in the huckleberry bushes. The hikers came up short with, “Oh, it’s a bear!” Yes, I’ve seen bears up close and personal in our mountains, but not that day.
One of our favorite picnic spots, where a snowmelt stream spills into the first of the mountain lakes, was all ours that day. We relaxed beside the lake and took a brisk dip, while Bear cooled off in the stream and enjoyed the lovely wildflowers. (He’s not a swimmer, yet…) We kept feeling caught in a time-warp, the foliage and blooms looking more like late August than late June.
And the next day, we had no “overdoing it” pains—so our summer hiking season is officially launched! For anyone visiting our area, this is a great year to try some hikes, and Ptarmigan Ridge to Chain Lakes is an easy start: From Bellingham, WA (north of Seattle), it’s about an hour and a half of scenic drive to Artist Point parking.
Follow the sign to Ptarmigan Ridge trail, and at the fork, head right, downhill to the lakes. Just about an hour to the first of three lovely alpine lakes, with plenty of serene spots for lunch and a cooling dip. Happy trails to you!
Sara’s newest from Book View Cafe was just released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction.