Ptarmigan Ridge Trail
[Mt Baker, Sep 3, 2022]
For my first full day at Mt Baker, I wanted to do the longer of the two trails on my list – Ptarmigan Ridge. It gets you ridiculously close to Mt Baker. However, it’s almost 12 miles roundtrip and the elevation gain is almost 2,500 ft. In other words, it’s not an easy trail!
The trail began at the same spot, Artist Point, as yesterday’s little hike to Huntoon Point. I signed the register at the start. No sooner was I back on the trail and great views of Mt Baker and the valley to my left opened up. Fog was covering up the valley but the trail in front of me was clear, with gorgeous wildflowers still blooming, bees collecting nectar and not a soul in sight. I must have spent at least 15 minutes just those first few feet. This is the most jaw-dropping view I’ve seen on the first quarter-mile of a hike!
As I continued, Mt Shuksan appeared behind me, so now I had to keep turning around, too!
After about a mile, I reached the junction with Chain Lakes Trail – my goal for tomorrow – then dropped a few feet into the next portion of the trail.
I then climbed back up again and encountered my first snow patch on the trail. The climb here kicked my butt a little. When I turned around I could see where I came from and realized how far I’d already gone.
I passed an even area with a couple of campers still tucked in, then continued on. I had views of Mt Baker pretty much the entire way and kept stopping to take photos. This trail rivals many national park trails, and you know I don’t say this lightly. The pictures speak for themselves.
I encountered another snow patch, then saw Goat Lake in the distance. I decided not to take the detour to it, which turned out to be a great decision.
As I got closer to Mt Baker, I saw more and more snow. I don’t know if any of these patches quality as glaciers, but the lines they sure were pretty.
The last little bit of the trail, close to Camp Kaiser, became rocky and narrow. Just before Camp Kaiser I encountered a steep slope and my third snow patch, and I could no longer tell where the trail was. The slope looked precarious, the snow patch had no end in sight and I was by myself, so I decided against going further.
I was also keeping an eye on some clouds that appeared in the distance. I was 1,000 ft higher now than when I started, and the clouds were way below me at the trailhead, so I knew it wasn’t a good sign they had come up this high. I did not want to be stuck on a snowy slope in low visibility by myself. So I sat down and had some food before heading back down.
About 10 minutes after I started descending, I got completely socked in and visibility dropped to probably less than 20 ft. And it stayed that way pretty much for the whole way down.
I encountered quite a few people now who were going up, and I felt sorry that they couldn’t enjoy the gorgeous views I just saw. Getting up early and starting the trail before 7 am definitely paid off for me!
This was the only part that was sort of clear. It was the part where I dropped a hundred feet or so before my first snow patch, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead.
The most jarring was the last portion back on that ridge that took me forever to traverse at the start. With visibility low, I did not stop once and made it back to my car in no time.
After some rest and relaxation in my AirBnB, I went to Chair 9 Pizza and Bar, pretty much the only other restaurant near me in Deming. I loved how few choices I had out here – no need to research restaurants!