Welcoming the White

Snow and safety in the North Cascades



WHAT: “Avalanche Awareness” with the American Alpine Institute; whether you ski, snowshoe, snowboard or snowmobile in the backcountry, recognition of avalanche danger is an essential and potentially lifesaving skill
WHEN: 6pm Tues., Dec. 16
WHERE: REI Bellingham 400 36th St. 
COST: Entry is free; register in advance
INFO: 647-8955 or http://www.rei.com

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

As winter snows fall in the mountains, a great softening occurs. The sharp and angular peaks are frosted with white and the rough-and-tumble highlands are rendered whipping-cream smooth.

If you think this is an invitation to explore, you are correct.

Our own beloved Mt. Baker Highway will whisk you from the soggy-gray saltwater lowlands to soul-stirring scenes of winter beauty in a thrice. It is certainly our good fortune to have such ready access to a sublime winter wonderland so close at hand. 

Splendid explorations abound, conveying you—with scant effort—to silent forests and sweeping snow-sculpted meadows. Go for the afternoon. Go for a week.

Here are just a few choice excursions available from the Mt. Baker Highway:

Artist Point: The supreme overnight destination around Mt. Baker. Easy access and views that will knock your gaiters off. A jaunt with low avalanche risk—avoid the last switchback below Huntoon Point (which has slid) by heading directly up the steep ridge. There are tremendous camps on Kulshan Ridge. Table Mountain and Ptarmigan Ridge are high-risk avalanche areas. 

White Salmon Road (#3075): A short, easy route with great views of Shuksan. The White Salmon Road is unique in that it offers a descent on the way in (remember: what goes down must come up). Relatively high elevation means lots of snow. No avalanche issues.

Hannegan Pass Road (#32): The first three miles offer fine views of Shuksan and the Nooksack River and possible camps—after that it’s avalanche city.

Twin Lakes Road (#3065): A steady uphill for four miles with possibilities for camps. Beyond four miles, the avalanche danger is high. 

Wells Creek Road (#33): This road is gated beyond Nooksack Falls, so unless the snow level is very low, you might have to walk awhile before strapping on the snowshoes or skis. There is avalanche danger after three miles. Great scenery and a good chance for solitude. 

Glacier Creek Road (#39): Drive to snowline and then climb the road. Although popular with snowmobilers, the road grants access to Heliotrope Ridge (no snowmobiles allowed) and grand views of Baker. This one is best early or late in the season (when you can drive farther up the road before strapping on the snowshoes) and midweek (when the snowmobile crowd is diminished).

Deadhorse Road (#37): A beautiful route along the Nooksack with lots of great camps. The road climbs for 13 miles to the Skyline Divide trail. Great for early or late season trips when you can drive much of the way before encountering snow.

Canyon Creek Road (#31): Drive to the snowline and then snowshoe to the Damfino Lakes trailhead. This is snowmobile central, so avoid it like the plague on weekends in midwinter.

Considerations: 1. Dress for Success: Think dry and warm—layers of fleece and wool and Gore-Tex. Carry the 10 essentials. Always check avalanche conditions before setting out (http://www.www.nwac.us). 2. Avoid Dying: If you don’t have any gear or knowledge of snow conditions, stay out of potential avalanche areas. Seriously. 3. Be Righteous: If you’re snowshoeing, please don’t walk in ski tracks. It’s extremely poor form and seriously bad karma.

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