With the sun out and the mountains clear of snow I was bound and determined to check a couple more local hikes off of my list. Over the course of five days I tackled three summit hikes – Mount Frosty, Mount Seymour, and Yellow Aster Butte.
Yellow Aster Butte, Mount Baker Wilderness, WA
Date: October 16 Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,550′
Ask nearly anyone in the northwest corner of Washington about Yellow Aster Butte and you’ll hear about how incredible, beautiful, and amazing the trail is. They won’t be able to tell you any specifics but their eyes will brighten and they’ll gush with emotions.
It seemed that everyone but me had visited this trail. With another day of amazing fall weather predicted, I decided to it check off my list and find out exactly what was so amazing about it.
I left home just as the sun was rising. It was a cold frosty morning and I had brought lots of warm layers for my hike. It took about two hours to reach the trailhead, first heading east on the Mount Baker Highway and then spending about 30 minutes switchbacking up a dirt road. The trailhead had very limited parking, all of which is on the side of the narrow road as it climbs a switchback. Thankfully there were only a few cars already parked.
My car thermometer had held steady at the freezing level while driving through the Nooksack River valley. I was incredibly surprised to reach the trailhead (1600 feet higher than the valley) and have the temperature be 10 degrees warmer!
I got myself organized and started up the switchbacks. The first mile switchbacked steadily up a wide open slope. I warmed up very quickly in the sunshine.
It was actually a relief to reach the forest at top of that first slope. The trail kept climbing steadily as it curved over a ridge and opened up to views of large cirque.
The cirque was filled with colour – red blueberry bushes, yellow grasses, and green fir trees. I also had a view of the southeast slope of the butte. I love when I can see where I’m headed!
The trail circled through the cirque on a constant uphill grade. I was treated to some great views of Mount Baker as I turned south.
It was so beautiful out. The views got better and better as I reached the southern shoulder of the butte.
I took a short break at a junction to enjoy the view of the basin to the north. The basin was barren, rocky, and full of small ponds and lakes. It was gorgeous!
It was time for the steep climb up to the summit. The butte was mostly just grass and rocks with a trail cut straight up along the southern slope. It didn’t take too long to reach the top but it did take some effort. I had to remind myself that I was well over 6,000 feet which is high for this low-lander!
It was only 10:30 in the morning when I reached the summit. Way too early to turn around and go back! I had a look over my map and decided to follow the trail into the lakes basin and up the slopes towards Tomyhoi Peak.
It was a straight-forward trail to follow, climbing higher and higher up the slope towards the peak.
I reached a secondary summit of the mountain around 12:30. Ahead of me was a steep descent and climb through a saddle. I was still about a mile from the summit and a thousand feet to the summit. I decided that this spot was my final destination. Tomyhoi Peak would have to wait until the next season.
I enjoyed a long lunch and took in the 360 views. Eventually it was time to head back down. I wanted to be back to the car with enough time to get me home for dinner.
It seemed to get even warmer as I descended. There wasn’t a trace of a breeze and I was definitely wishing I’d worn a t-shirt instead of a long sleeve for my base layer.
Once again it was a relief to reach the tree line. It wasn’t long after that I was switchbacking down the open slope, cars in sight at the bottom.
Now I understand why Yellow Aster Butte is such a popular hike. Even though it’s steep, it’s incredibly rewarding. You spend a very limited amount of time in the trees and are then treated to incredible views. There are multiple options for exploration once past the first few miles and you’re surrounded by high mountain peaks the entire time.