Skyline Divide (Sep 3-4, 2017)

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skyline_divide_coverConditions: backpack
Gear: overnight gear
Map: USGS Bearpaw Mountain, USGA Mount Baker
Area: Mt Baker
Reference: 100 Hikes in Washington's North Cascades National Park Region
Stats: 9.38mi, 2973' gain (round trip)

It's been an incredible hot, dry, and smoky summer. Dani and I both wanted to get out for an overnight but temps were going to be in the 90's so we wanted to take that into account. There were several large fires burning in the state as well and the winds have been carrying the smoke into western WA. Where do we go? We both tossed out several ideas. We both considered Buck Creek Pass but the long hot hike in turned us both off. We ended up setting out sights on Skyline Divide. It has been several years since either of us had been there some it seemed idea, cooler temps, relatively smoke free, and an easier approach sealed the deal.

We arrived at the trailhead (4327') about 8:45am and were surprised to find it not choke with cars on a holiday weekend. We found a good spot to park and sorted our gear. I had filled up a 96oz bladder of water the night before and threw it into the car. We debated whether we should take it. In the end we decided to pack it and it was one of the best decisions we made. Late season the divide is snow free and there are no close water sources. This bit of water made the trip a breeze...though it wasn't fun taking a turn hauling it uphill.

We hiked uphill in the cooler forest and we were both glad for an earlier start. At about 1.9 miles (5819') the trail reached the ridge/divide and we got our first view of Baker and one of the last lingering patches of wildflowers. We continued hiking up the divide looking for a good site to set up our tents. I recalled a place a friend and I had camped several years prior...I was looking for that spot. We finally found it at about 2.8 miles (6004'). It was a nice wide established spot in the trees (shade) and right off the trail. Sweet!

We set up our tents, dumped a bunch of gear/weight out of our packs, and continued our hike up the divide toward Chowder Ridge. I honestly just can't handle the heat these days so we took it slow with several shorts stops for shade under the few trees we could find. At the far end of the divide there isn't much shade. We reached a high point on the divide that offered good view of Baker, Hadley Peak, and Chowder Ridge and called it quits. We could have continued on further but I didn't want to loose the and gain back any more elevation... So we dropped our packs and took a nice long break (4.77mi, 6507').

We eventually returned back to camp (6.6mi). Dani enjoyed a bit of time reading while I rested in the shade watching the Diamond Creek Fire explode in the Pasaytens off in the distance. We had dinner taking in the view and the sunset on Baker. The reds, oranges, and pinks in the sunset over Bellingham were incredible!

It was a quiet and warm nights (temps right around 60F). In the morning we made some breakfast and watched the sunrise. Then it was time to pack up and head out. Lots of hikers heading in as we headed down early. The drive down the FS road a bit of a pain...I really wish drivers would just slow down on the narrow FS roads. Twice cars heading up were travelling way too fast and Dani had to hit the brakes to avoid collisions. The other drivers seemed clueless... We were back at the trailhead (9.38mi) at about 8:40am.
Skyline Divide Slideshow

(click on map to view a larger version)

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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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