"}
Outdoors

A Harbinger of Summer

Climbing Sauk Mountain

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

At last, after several years in a row of late-lingering snowpack in the North Cascades, it looks like we might just catch a break.

An average snow year, followed by a so far unusually warm and dry spring, are the ingredients that make for an early—and long—hiking season. Keep your fingers crossed, but this could be a banner year for wandering among the peaks.

A good place to start is Sauk Mountain. This strategically placed minor summit rears up above the Skagit River and has what it takes to satiate your early-season hiking jones. It’s south facing, so the snow melts quickly once the sun comes out. Although it’s only 5,300 feet high, it rises higher than the surrounding ridges, affording stunning vistas—starting at the trailhead parking lot. 

If snow blocks passage upslope, you will still get lots of jump-for-joy beautiful views out over the glorious country of the upper Skagit.  And it’s easy, only 4.2 miles roundtrip and 1,190 feet elevation gain to the summit, perfect for shaking off the cobwebs and reintroducing winter-wobbly knees to the concept of elevation gain. If you have eyes for the top, bring an ice axe. It might come in handy.

Here’s a funny thing about the snow on Sauk: The switchbacks melt out sooner than the trailhead, so sometimes when access to the parking lot is blocked by snow, the trail to the ridge is nearly snow-free. This might necessitate a short walk on the road to the trailhead, but hey, big deal.

From the parking lot the trail negotiates a short stretch of trees and immediately emerges out onto the open slope that leads upward to the summit. The aforementioned switchbacks make the climb gentle and the views (already splendid) get better with every step.

Depending on the snow, you may be able to zigzag your way all the way to the top, traversing lush, luxurious greenery. If you do encounter snow, take pause. If you don’t have an ice axe—and the requisite knowledge to wield it—turn back. There are many places on this slope where a slide would be extremely unpleasant, and the emergency room is no place to spend a spring afternoon.

If this is the case, just find a comfortable place to sit back and watch the clouds fondle the North Cascades. Sometimes it is good to be “becalmed” in the mountains. Take time to gaze and think. Most of us don’t have enough of that.

If, by chance, the snow is gone, the switchbacks will carry you to the ridge crest and you’ll find yourself a supplicant beneath the sky-crowding volcano called Baker by us newcomers. Koma Kulshan. The Great White Watcher. Turn the tables and watch it.

The crest will undoubtedly be covered with snow in early season but the terrain here is more forgiving, so traversing the ridge is generally not a problem. The last bit to the summit requires crossing a steeply pitched snowfield. Again, the consequences of a slip could be severe indeed, so those without ice axes should think twice (or perhaps three times).

And for God’s sake, don’t tag the summit and run. Linger and enjoy the spectacle. Life is short. Turn off your phone. Listen to the wind.

Zoots Banner
More Outdoors...
Fun in the Sun
Picnic at Point Whitehorn

“Now this is my kind of trail,” the Lady of the House fawned as we breezed across the first of many elevated walkways that help mediate the established access route from the parking area to the beach at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve. 

“Glad to hear it,” I said, struggling to…

more »
Bike & Build
Pedaling for a purpose

A few days before summer became official, recent Western Washington University graduate Sean Petersmark dipped his bike’s rear tire in the Atlantic Ocean in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

By the time he dips “Simba’s” front tire in the Pacific Ocean at Bellingham’s Marine Park on Thurs.,…

more »
Filthy Fun
The dirty days of summer

When I spent summers on Lummi Island as a kid, getting dirty was part of the equation. Blackberry picking by the side of the road often turned into full-scale food fights that resulted in me, my siblings and other assorted youth being covered toe-to-head with pulpy stains—so much so that…

more »
Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books
Tomorrow
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

First Thursday Art Walk

5:00pm|Downtown Mount Vernon

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

5:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Park

Memory to Memoir

5:30pm|Village Books

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Friday
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

It takes an island

12:01am

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Party in the park

10:03am

Final Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

5:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Oak Harbor Music Festival

5:00pm|Oak Harbor

Beach and Barbecues

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

First Friday Dinner Theater

6:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Anacortes Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Anacortes

Bellingham Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Recent Tragic Events

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wine, Music and a Movie

10:30pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

see our complete calendar »

Artifacts Wine Bar Swinomish 2016 Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books Andrew Subin Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Zoots Side Bar