heliotrope ridge snowshoe
12/12/2020

2020 has been a tough one. Not only for me, but for everyone. Our comedian's are joking about it and the news floods in every day of how much worse it has gotten. The one solace that I have managed to find is the outdoors.

As 2020 goes, a few weeks ago I injured both of my knees attempting a very tough north ridge route. Stuck inside listening to a physical therapist can make an outdoors person go insane. I was needing outside, badly....

first light from parking spot looking up road from parking area

Finally getting back to a point where I can walk and move without needing to stretch or ice I committed to getting out for the weekend. Heliotrope ridge felt like an excellent place to shoot for. The hike leads to several main climbing routes up Mount Baker and possesses exceptional views of the Coleman glacier. On top of that it has some access issues this time of year so I was hoping that would limit the number of people.

Through the last mile or so the road up has a good layer of ice and snow on it right now. With 4 wheel drive I was able to make within 1/4 mile of the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead. That last quarter mile was a simple walk as it winds around a few corners and up to the beginning Heliotrope Ridge Trail.

Once into the woods I felt surprise that the Heliotrope ridge trail was deficient of snow. In fact everything not covered by trees was bare ground and rendered my snowshoes quite useless. While this left me in a state of mild dismay, I removed them and pressed on. After a short while the snow became continuous and the snowshoes went back on.

heliotrope ridge snowshoe trailhead sign first bridge heliotrope ridge wooded section of heliotrope ridge

Soon after the snow became continuous, the day brightened up. I had left the parking spot at around 6:45 in the morning and the sun was finally starting to crest the surrounding hills. As it danced across the visible parts of North Cascades I stared in awe and joy. For the first time in a month I was hiking without pain in my knees. It is moments like this where I realize how much my happiness in life rely's on my hobby.

first light of day first view of sunlight heliotrope ridge snowshoe
panorama of sunrise heliotrope ridge snowshoe

For the most part following the heliotrope ridge trail is easy going. The trail was well packed from previous hikers (at least on this day) making for a good mindless walk.  The one spot that seemed it could pose serious risk is the crossing of Kulshan creek. There is no bridge and if the water level rises when the day warms then getting back over it could also be difficult. If you were you come up here after a snow storm then knowing some navigation techniques may be useful. Without a stamped down trail I could have walked in the wrong direction.

Until you exit the trees there is not much to look at since the thick forest obstructs much of the view.

kulshan creek ford section kulshan creek crossing first view out of trees

The first views out of the trees are exactly what my eyes have been needing for the past few weeks. The first thing you will notice is Mount Baker towering above your head. Off to the left you can see the North Cascades stretching all the way into Canada. With the sun rising and slowly spreading light the entire picture felt magical. It is moments like this that made me fall in love with the North Cascades back in college, and it is a love that persits to this day. I cannot get enough of it no matter how often I step foot inside their bounds.

As you take in the views continue to snowshoe up towards the Coleman glacier overview. That is the real treat of the snowshoeing up Heliotrope Ridge.

mount baker from heliotrope ridge trail View North at Sunrise

Once you make it to the viewpoint you will see what so many come here. If you are a climber like me the glacier is going to look enticing. On this particular day the only other people around were a few ice climbers. They did not seem to want to have a conversation, but I took the opportunity to watch them for a bit. I dreamt of getting back out there once my knees are healed and let a little jealousy brew inside.

mount baker sunrise panorama heliotrope ridge
mount baker and deming glacier icefall mount baker heliotrope ridge snowshoe

As I had hoped coming early limited the amount of people. On my way back down I ran into many groups heading up and I was glad that I got the overlook of Coleman glacier to myself. The snowshoe of Heliotrope Ridge is an excellent day out. It is doable for most (if you can make it to the trailhead) and is a worthy destination for a winter day.