We have had a fantastic September here in the Pacific Northwest. The warm, clear days were definite incentive to get out to the mountains a couple more times. September is one of my favourite months for hiking. I often visit the local areas that I avoid during the peak of summer. The trails are quieter, the air is cooler, and there aren’t any bugs!
The weather this past month was so fantastic that I managed to convince my hubby to join me for a couple overnights. Our first overnight was on the Chain Lakes Loop at Mount Baker.
Hike Name: Chain Lakes Loop
Date: Friday September 15 – Saturday September 16
Location: Mt. Baker Wilderness
Approx. drive time: 2.5 hours
Distance: 11 mi. / 18 km
Max. elevation: 5700 ft / 1737 m
Nights on trail: 1
The trailhead for the Chain Lakes Loop is just past the Mount Baker Ski Area at the end of SR 542. There are three different parking lots to start from: high at Artist Point, middle at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center and low at the Bagley Lakes Trailhead. We decided to start at the lower trailhead. It’s the largest and quietest parking lot, and adds about a mile to the total loop mileage.
We hit the trail around 10:30, under perfectly clear sunny skies. The first section of trail crosses the outlet of Lower Bagley Lake and follows along the west side of the lake, at the foot of Mount Herman. It allowed for a nice gradual climb to warm up our legs.
About a mile along we crossed the junction towards Heather Meadows, and hiked alongside Upper Bagley Lake. By this point we had noticed the incredible abundance of blueberries and were slowly munching our way along the trail. Dan also took a few minutes to get some closeups of the wonderfully colourful wildflowers that were putting on a late-season show.
Next up was a long switchbacking climb up to Herman Saddle. Thankfully the views of Mount Shuksan only get better, offering good excuses to stop and catch our breath. Cresting Herman Saddle we got our picture-perfect view of Mount Baker. We reached the saddle just after noon and took a well-deserved break for lunch. The only problem was trying to decide which way to look: left to Mount Shuksan, or right to Mount Baker!
After lunch we dropped down to Iceberg Lake, crossing a moraine between Iceberg and Hayes Lake. There were already quite a few tents set up around Hayes Lake and lots of day hikers in the area. I was glad that we were bound for the quieter area of Mazama Lake.
Our campground for the night was at Mazama Lake, below the west point of Table Mountain. The lake itself is pretty small, but there’s a nice creek coming from Iceberg Lake. The ridge where the campsites are was more forested than I’d anticipated, preventing a view of Mount Baker. We explored all our options and then finally settled on a site towards the far end of the lake. We enjoyed a couple hours of quiet R&R in our hammock: Reading, chatting, and watching the slow progress of a mountain goat high on the edge of Table Mountain.
Later in the afternoon we decided to venture up the trail a bit to take in views of Mount Baker and also to pick blueberries.
The next morning we woke up to smoky skies. We broke camp and then headed up and around the shoulder of Table Mountain. We crossed the junction for Ptarmigan Ridge and took a few minutes break to enjoy the views. The trail stayed high and exposed before passing through a small forest and out to Artist Point.
At Artist Point we took the Table Mountain trail, climbing 700 feet to gain the plateau. We wandered a ways back along Table Mountain, and even ventured off trail a bit to get views back to Herman Saddle and Upper Bagley Lake. I even spotted a few hikers working their way up the trail across the valley from us.
To finish out our loop, we dropped back to Artist Point and then descended the thousand feet down to the Bagley Lakes Trailhead. We were back to the car by about 11, just as the parking lot and trails were really starting to get busy.
I was really glad to have gotten my pack on once again. Spending a night out in the wilderness was a welcome break from the business of September!