Time for another mountain hike with Thor and Bear dog. As I’ve mentioned before, this year in the Pacific Northwest is presenting us with some weather patterns I’ve never seen before, and I was born and raised here. We’re in a bad drought, with extreme forest fire danger, but this week the heat wave eased and the hiking wasn’t nearly as hot and sweaty as the last few weeks. Upside: No mosquitos or biting flies! Downside: By the time we’d climbed the 4 miles to the rocky and glacier-clad flanks of Mt. Shuksan, cold clouds and drizzle had closed in, and the anticipated swim was not happening. But used to rapid weather changes in this neck of the woods, we did have our fleece and rain gear, so no harm.
Lake Ann is a favorite destination of locals and visitors, with easy access to the trailhead via the Mt. Baker Highway from Bellingham, WA, about an hour and a half drive. The trail dips into a serene forested valley in the wilderness area of the Cascade Mountains close to Canada, then climbs over rocky talus slopes to the foot of the glacier on Mt. Shuksan and the lovely alpine lake nestled close.
This was Bear’s first time on this hike, stepping into the pawprints of our beloved Golden Retriever Worf (see photo at the top from an earlier year). Bear seemed to be guided by Worf’s spirit as he bounded along the trail, taking many side loops to sniff and explore, and lying in Worf’s favorite pools along the way to cool off. What’s different when hiking with Bear is that the other hikers we encounter almost always exclaim, “We thought he was a bear!” We’d bought a bright red pack harness so he could carry his own water and appear more obviously a domestic canine, but it didn’t fit correctly and had to be returned. We will be sure to get the right one before hunting season—actually sooner, to spare more hikers a heart attack. He does look like a small bear as he sniffs around in the huckleberry bushes and pops his head out to greet new people.
The trail follows easy switchbacks downhill through fir forest and huckleberries—the berries early this year and delicious, providing snacks on the go. Dropping into the valley, it winds along what is generally a burbling stream that fills some lush green meadow pools. This year was the first time I’ve seen the streambed completely dry, and only a few of the pools still holding water, the wildflowers and grasses already withering. But farther along, a larger creek was still running, and Bear took the opportunity for a nice cooling soak and drink before we started the dry climb up steep talus slopes of boulders and rough rock. I’d thought my torn ankle tendon from the spring was pretty well healed, but the unstable footing made me glad I’d worn my brace. Adding it to my knee brace from a long-ago skiing injury, plus hiking poles, I’m slowly becoming the bionic woman—but hey, whatever it takes to get up into the mountains!
We have a favorite perch by the lake, on rounded boulders where we can usually dive in. This time, as the cold clouds lowered, Bear was the only brave one, wading and investigating the shoreline. While we ate lunch, he finally settled in for a nap, cozy in his thick fur while we poor humans shivered in our fleece and rain jackets. After all, we weren’t that far from the 9100-foot peak, and the mountains don’t mess around when they get in a gloomy mood.
Directions: From Bellingham, drive east on WA 542, the Mt. Baker Highway, past the ski area, and almost to the top at Artist Point. About a mile before the end of the road, you’ll see the small parking area for the Lake Ann trailhead
on the left. You’ll need a day or season parking pass, which you can buy at the ranger station just past the settlement of Glacier, or from a kiosk at the (closed for the season) ski area. Enjoy your ramble!
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