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Brushbuffalo
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 11:43 am 
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The Heliotrope Ridge Trail (aka Mount Baker Trail or Kulshan Trail) is one of the most popular trails in the Mount Baker area, and with good reason. It climbs to the northwest flank of Mount Baker, reaching alpine meadows with fabulous views of Baker's north face. It may be the easiest trail that gets you up close to an active glacier in  the U.S. outside of Alaska.  Even on a cloudy day  such as when I hiked it on October 3, it offers stunning views of the Coleman and Roosevelt Glaciers.

This was another field check for a chapter in Dave Tucker's book on geology by road and trail in Mount Baker area, or words to that effect, due sometime in 2017.

Below are a few comments about some of the geologic features encountered.

At the crossing of Kulshan Creek about 1.5 miles in, the first volcanic rocks along the trail are in the creek at the ford.  The creek flows over a very young, post- Pleistocene glacial Mount Baker lava, the andesite of Glacier Creek that erupted from Carmelo Crater at Mount Baker's summit.. It is best exposed just below the crossing. This is the youngest lava from the Mount Baker cone reached by any trail. The rock is a scrap of an intracanyon lava flow, which entered and flowed down Glacier Creek at least as low as 2000 feet  at ‘The Palisades’ (shown on the Groat Mountain 7.5-minute topo map). Here, a branch of the flow extended down the steep drainage of Kulshan Creek.Volcanologist Wes Hildreth estimates that 90% of the intracanyon lava has been eroded. The remainder of the flow at the Palisades is 180 feet thick  and beautifully columnar- bushwhacking and fording is required to reach it, but it is a worthwhile cross country geology adventure. The lava probably once extended much farther down Glacier Creek, perhaps as far as the Nooksack valley, 3 miles  below the lowest remnant. The canyon-filling portion of the flow low down in Glacier Creek has not been glaciated. Most of the fractured lava was removed by Glacier Creek as it re-established itself after the valley was plugged by the thick lava. A K-Ar determination from the lava in Kulshan Creek below the trail crossing gave an age of 14 ± 9 thousand years. The imprecision is unfortunate, but is due to the scarcity of 40 Ar in the sample; this is itself an indication of relative youthfulness . The composition of this lava is identical with the highest and therefore youngest lava at the top of the Roman Wall just below the summit of Mount Baker, strong evidence that this andesite is one of the last lavas erupted from the volcano.
At the crossing of Kulshan Creek about 1.5 miles in, the first volcanic rocks along the trail are in the creek at the ford.  The creek flows over a very young, post- Pleistocene glacial Mount Baker lava, the andesite of Glacier Creek that erupted from Carmelo Crater at Mount Baker's summit.. It is best exposed just below the crossing. This is the youngest lava from the Mount Baker cone reached by any trail. The rock is a scrap of an intracanyon lava flow, which entered and flowed down Glacier Creek at least as low as 2000 feet  at ‘The Palisades’ (shown on the Groat Mountain 7.5-minute topo map). Here, a branch of the flow extended down the steep drainage of Kulshan Creek.Volcanologist Wes Hildreth estimates that 90% of the intracanyon lava has been eroded. The remainder of the flow at the Palisades is 180 feet thick  and beautifully columnar- bushwhacking and fording is required to reach it, but it is a worthwhile cross country geology adventure. The lava probably once extended much farther down Glacier Creek, perhaps as far as the Nooksack valley, 3 miles  below the lowest remnant. The canyon-filling portion of the flow low down in Glacier Creek has not been glaciated. Most of the fractured lava was removed by Glacier Creek as it re-established itself after the valley was plugged by the thick lava. A K-Ar determination from the lava in Kulshan Creek below the trail crossing gave an age of 14 ± 9 thousand years. The imprecision is unfortunate, but is due to the scarcity of 40 Ar in the sample; this is itself an indication of relative youthfulness . The composition of this lava is identical with the highest and therefore youngest lava at the top of the Roman Wall just below the summit of Mount Baker, strong evidence that this andesite is one of the last lavas erupted from the volcano.
Another view of the flow at the stream crossing.
Another view of the flow at the stream crossing.
Looking up Kulshan Creek. Most of this rock is sedimentary, the lava having been eroded completely.
Looking up Kulshan Creek. Most of this rock is sedimentary, the lava having been eroded completely.
View down Kulshan Creek.  This shows the lava flow, much less eroded than upstream.
View down Kulshan Creek.  This shows the lava flow, much less eroded than upstream.
At about 4500', just as the trail switchbacks to the right, you may see two layers of volcanic ash. Black or dark gray sandy 6500-year-old BA ash lies below the surface, and directly beneath it is a inch think layer of white, slightly gritty OP ash that erupted just before BA. The BA is quite localized, indicating a short-lived eruption with fairly constant wind direction from the west.
At about 4500', just as the trail switchbacks to the right, you may see two layers of volcanic ash. Black or dark gray sandy 6500-year-old BA ash lies below the surface, and directly beneath it is a inch think layer of white, slightly gritty OP ash that erupted just before BA. The BA is quite localized, indicating a short-lived eruption with fairly constant wind direction from the west.
At about 4760', this flat spot next to the trail is the site of the former Kulshan Cabin, a two story log building. It was a popular overnight "high hut" (although 6000' below the top, I used it a few times in the 1960s and '70s) for summit climbs until it deteriorated to the point of being deemed a hazard.  As I recall the story, in the late 1970s or '80s  the decision makers in the USFS demanded that the owners (WWU, actually WWSC until 1977) either repair the rotting foundation logs or tear it down. There was no money or incentive for repairs, so RIP (Rot In Pieces   :embarassedlaugh: ), Kulshan Cabin.
At about 4760', this flat spot next to the trail is the site of the former Kulshan Cabin, a two story log building. It was a popular overnight "high hut" (although 6000' below the top, I used it a few times in the 1960s and '70s) for summit climbs until it deteriorated to the point of being deemed a hazard.  As I recall the story, in the late 1970s or '80s  the decision makers in the USFS demanded that the owners (WWU, actually WWSC until 1977) either repair the rotting foundation logs or tear it down. There was no money or incentive for repairs, so RIP (Rot In Pieces   embarassedlaugh.gif ), Kulshan Cabin.
Reach a fork at 2 miles. Turn right to ascend the steep, rocky climbers trail up the Hogback, an undated moraine left behind when this flank of Baker was draped by a much larger glacier. The Hogback route has great views, with a bonus of abundant wildflowers in season, and allows you to touch glacial ice at the western margin of the Coleman Glacier ( I assume  the vast majority of this readership knows not to venture onto a glacier without knowledge and equipment, but here the ice and snow blend together very subtly, especially until midsummer, so caution is still advised).  Continue straight at the signed junction to reach Survey Rock in 0.4 mile more. Several creeks must be crossed, which tend to run rambunctiously in summer snowmelt.  Expect to get your feet wet if hiking before late summer!
Reach a fork at 2 miles. Turn right to ascend the steep, rocky climbers trail up the Hogback, an undated moraine left behind when this flank of Baker was draped by a much larger glacier. The Hogback route has great views, with a bonus of abundant wildflowers in season, and allows you to touch glacial ice at the western margin of the Coleman Glacier ( I assume  the vast majority of this readership knows not to venture onto a glacier without knowledge and equipment, but here the ice and snow blend together very subtly, especially until midsummer, so caution is still advised).  Continue straight at the signed junction to reach Survey Rock in 0.4 mile more. Several creeks must be crossed, which tend to run rambunctiously in summer snowmelt.  Expect to get your feet wet if hiking before late summer!
Standing on the left lateral moraine of the Coleman Glacier, look across to the converging Roosevelt Glacier and Bastille Ridge.
Standing on the left lateral moraine of the Coleman Glacier, look across to the converging Roosevelt Glacier and Bastille Ridge.
The lateral moraine is extremely steep and unstable on the inner side. This is typical of young lateral moraines.
The lateral moraine is extremely steep and unstable on the inner side. This is typical of young lateral moraines.
It is severely undercut at the upper lip. Watch your step! Although in this shot the ice looks to be just a  few feet below, it is at least 100 feet nearly straight down, as shown better in the previous  picture. A fall down this would leave one resembling a hunk of ground beef.  :eek:
It is severely undercut at the upper lip. Watch your step! Although in this shot the ice looks to be just a  few feet below, it is at least 100 feet nearly straight down, as shown better in the previous  picture. A fall down this would leave one resembling a hunk of ground beef.  eek.gif
Remnants of trees that were overridden by an advancing Coleman Glacier are evident in the morainal debris.  Dendrochronology has been done to determine a maximum age for this part of the moraine, indicating deposition during a glacial advance in the 1500s.
Remnants of trees that were overridden by an advancing Coleman Glacier are evident in the morainal debris.  Dendrochronology has been done to determine a maximum age for this part of the moraine, indicating deposition during a glacial advance in the 1500s.
One thing is for sure. Although still one of the larger glaciers in the 48,  the Coleman Glacier is a mere vestige of its former mass. It is striking when standing on the moraine just how far below the present surface of the ice is.....at least  100 feet  below!
One thing is for sure. Although still one of the larger glaciers in the 48,  the Coleman Glacier is a mere vestige of its former mass. It is striking when standing on the moraine just how far below the present surface of the ice is.....at least  100 feet  below!
This view is to the west, showing the Hogback moraine and lower Heliotrope Ridge. Consider that even though you seem to be on the volcano, all of the bedrock you see here is non-volcanic. This shows that Mount Baker was formed by eruptions onto pre-existing topography that was anything but a flat plain, as stereotypical textbook images often imply.
This view is to the west, showing the Hogback moraine and lower Heliotrope Ridge. Consider that even though you seem to be on the volcano, all of the bedrock you see here is non-volcanic. This shows that Mount Baker was formed by eruptions onto pre-existing topography that was anything but a flat plain, as stereotypical textbook images often imply.
All of  the bedrock encountered on this hike, with exceptions at Kulshan Creek and Survey Rock, is sedimentary rock  of the Nooksack Terrane: conglomerate, sandstone, and shale. Once deposited in a submarine fan flanking a volcanic island arc between 170- 120 million years ago, it is much older than any of the volcanic rocks of the Baker volcanic field. Here you can see a  light-colored dike crosscutting  the older sedimentary rock.  This dike is associated with magma  from one of the volcanoes in this area, but not necessarily Mount Baker. edit: Turns out that this dike apparently hasn't been noted before or described in the technical literature. Always more work to do (geochem, petrology, dating).
All of  the bedrock encountered on this hike, with exceptions at Kulshan Creek and Survey Rock, is sedimentary rock  of the Nooksack Terrane: conglomerate, sandstone, and shale. Once deposited in a submarine fan flanking a volcanic island arc between 170- 120 million years ago, it is much older than any of the volcanic rocks of the Baker volcanic field. Here you can see a  light-colored dike crosscutting  the older sedimentary rock.  This dike is associated with magma  from one of the volcanoes in this area, but not necessarily Mount Baker. edit: Turns out that this dike apparently hasn't been noted before or described in the technical literature. Always more work to do (geochem, petrology, dating).
Seracs! Oh yeah!
Seracs! Oh yeah!
Looking southeast across the Coleman to the Roosevelt Glacier and The Bastille, which is a remnant of yet another pre-Mount Baker volcano. The Bastille volcano (flows dated at 322,000 yrs.) is about the same age as the Black Buttes volcano but is chemically distinct and its flows dip TOWARD the Black Buttes, so it was a distinct structure. There may have briefly been two simultaneously active volcanoes in the Baker volcanic field.
Looking southeast across the Coleman to the Roosevelt Glacier and The Bastille, which is a remnant of yet another pre-Mount Baker volcano. The Bastille volcano (flows dated at 322,000 yrs.) is about the same age as the Black Buttes volcano but is chemically distinct and its flows dip TOWARD the Black Buttes, so it was a distinct structure. There may have briefly been two simultaneously active volcanoes in the Baker volcanic field.
Survey Rock is a knob of Glacier Creek andesite, the same flow or series of flows  that you saw at Kulshan Creek.  The resistant knob is an easy class 2 on the south,  or solid but exposed class 3 on the north....
Survey Rock is a knob of Glacier Creek andesite, the same flow or series of flows  that you saw at Kulshan Creek.  The resistant knob is an easy class 2 on the south,  or solid but exposed class 3 on the north....
....and offers a commanding  360 degree view.  Perfect lunch spot!
....and offers a commanding  360 degree view.  Perfect lunch spot!
You can scramble even higher for better views, as did this couple and their pooch. Zoomed. They were actually about 1/4 mile away. Look closely on the previous picture and you can see the big boulder on the dark ridge crest in upper right center...prominent in the zoomed image, tiny from afar( odd how that works, isn't it😉:)
You can scramble even higher for better views, as did this couple and their pooch. Zoomed. They were actually about 1/4 mile away. Look closely on the previous picture and you can see the big boulder on the dark ridge crest in upper right center...prominent in the zoomed image, tiny from afar( odd how that works, isn't it😉)
Here you can see polyhedrons, which are the ends of contraction columns in the andesite, now smoothed and polished by the ancestral Coleman Glacier.
Here you can see polyhedrons, which are the ends of contraction columns in the andesite, now smoothed and polished by the ancestral Coleman Glacier.
Polished bedrock  and  striations.....
Polished bedrock  and  striations.....
....show clear evidence of Survey Rock having been overridden by ice.
....show clear evidence of Survey Rock having been overridden by ice.
Looking across the valley of Glacier Creek, a sizeable patch of lighter-colored material stands out,  referred to as the Chromatic Moraine.  It looks like it is sun-lit, but not so much. The yellow band is hydrothermally-altered, sulphur-rich tephra, called YP tephra. It erupted from Sherman Crater, not the summit crater of Baker, in 1843. How did it get to this opposite side of Mount Baker? Kevin Scott and USGS colleagues believe it was blasted out of Sherman Crater as a damp mass during phreatic, or steam-rich, eruption(s), blew over the summit of Baker, and plopped down on the glacier surface. It was carried down the glacier in conveyor-belt fashion and eventually plastered against the moraine. Note that it is not a layer [i:ad231954ba]within[/i:ad231954ba] but is inset [i:ad231954ba]against[/i:ad231954ba] the moraine. The deposit is nowhere as thick as it appears. The apparent thickness is because the distinctively colored ash washes down the moraine walls as  a thin veneer.
Looking across the valley of Glacier Creek, a sizeable patch of lighter-colored material stands out,  referred to as the Chromatic Moraine.  It looks like it is sun-lit, but not so much. The yellow band is hydrothermally-altered, sulphur-rich tephra, called YP tephra. It erupted from Sherman Crater, not the summit crater of Baker, in 1843. How did it get to this opposite side of Mount Baker? Kevin Scott and USGS colleagues believe it was blasted out of Sherman Crater as a damp mass during phreatic, or steam-rich, eruption(s), blew over the summit of Baker, and plopped down on the glacier surface. It was carried down the glacier in conveyor-belt fashion and eventually plastered against the moraine. Note that it is not a layer within but is inset against the moraine. The deposit is nowhere as thick as it appears. The apparent thickness is because the distinctively colored ash washes down the moraine walls as  a thin veneer.
The big moraine on the opposite side is the twin of the one you are standing on. Bastille Ridge beyond.
The big moraine on the opposite side is the twin of the one you are standing on. Bastille Ridge beyond.
On the way back before the signed junction, you can find a climbers path that leads uphill toward the  west. It is actually less steep and loose than the much more popular trail up the Hogback!  This view shows the location of Survey Rock next to the lateral moraine of the Coleman. Worth noting is that the lower Roosevelt Glacier, shown in the distance, flowed as an icefall over the cliff at left until the mid or late 1980s.
On the way back before the signed junction, you can find a climbers path that leads uphill toward the  west. It is actually less steep and loose than the much more popular trail up the Hogback!  This view shows the location of Survey Rock next to the lateral moraine of the Coleman. Worth noting is that the lower Roosevelt Glacier, shown in the distance, flowed as an icefall over the cliff at left until the mid or late 1980s.
From mid-July through August this area is renowned for its floral display. Despite apparently being sampled by a critter (deer?), this Lewis monkeyflower is stubbornly hanging on until the last!
From mid-July through August this area is renowned for its floral display. Despite apparently being sampled by a critter (deer?), this Lewis monkeyflower is stubbornly hanging on until the last!
Glacially-smoothed Nooksack rock. Upper part of the Hogback in background.
Glacially-smoothed Nooksack rock. Upper part of the Hogback in background.
Mystery! Why would someone fasten a metal band in a boulder in the middle of the stream?  :confused: This is the stream shown in the previous image, with the main trail off to the left. Edit: Tempus Puget has a plausible hypothesis...see post below.
Mystery! Why would someone fasten a metal band in a boulder in the middle of the stream?  confused.gif This is the stream shown in the previous image, with the main trail off to the left. Edit: Tempus Puget has a plausible hypothesis...see post below.
Hogback, an older lateral moraine, looking up toward the western portion of the Coleman Glacier where the Coleman - Deming  climbing route begins. Fog rolling in.
Hogback, an older lateral moraine, looking up toward the western portion of the Coleman Glacier where the Coleman - Deming  climbing route begins. Fog rolling in.
Looking the other direction  at the top of  the Hogback, looking NE toward lower Coleman Glacier and Survey Rock.
Looking the other direction  at the top of  the Hogback, looking NE toward lower Coleman Glacier and Survey Rock.
Placid Grandy Lake on the way home. This lake was formed due to a  landslide that blocked Grandy Creek.  I wonder if any researcher has used dendrochronology on  standing drowned trees to determine when the lake formed.
Placid Grandy Lake on the way home. This lake was formed due to a  landslide that blocked Grandy Creek.  I wonder if any researcher has used dendrochronology on  standing drowned trees to determine when the lake formed.
A touch of fall color.
A touch of fall color.

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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Tempus Puget
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 5:11 pm 
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The metal band looks to be perfect for securing a brewski, assuming that the water level was just a few inches higher.

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Who can leap the world's ties
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Brushbuffalo
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 5:19 pm 
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Tempus Puget, I bet that's it, all right. It was in a stream bed a little off the main camping area so it would not be as likely to be "taste tested" by another thirsty climber. drink.gif
I might have to utilize this contraption on my next Baker climb suuure.gif

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Tempus Puget
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 5:23 pm 
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BTW, the text and images are great! I was just thinking about Kulshan Cabin the other day. I guess I shouldn't be surprised at its demise. I spent a chilly night there in November 1966.

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HitTheTrail
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 6:58 pm 
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up.gif  for the geologic info.
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raising3hikers
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 7:16 pm 
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mt baker is one of my favorites, thanks for sharing more in depth details about the mtn! up.gif  up.gif

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contour5
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PostSat Oct 29, 2016 9:18 pm 
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Another excellent post, BB! Thanks for sharing the knowledge!
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puzzlr
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PostSun Oct 30, 2016 12:02 am 
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Re Glacier incorporating tree. We've all seen lava flows taking over a forest in Hawaii, but I don't recall ever seeing a photo of a glacier plowing through a forest. Maybe we live in the wrong era for that, as most have been receding for our entire lives.

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Brushbuffalo
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PostSun Oct 30, 2016 7:18 am 
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puzzlr wrote:
I don't recall ever seeing a photo of a glacier plowing through a forest.

It happens, puzzlr. In fact the Roosevelt Glacier was moving over Sitka alder trees as its decades-long advance crescendoed in the 1970s. These trees weren't exactly old growth but they were still being covered by advancing glacial ice. I have some old 35 mm slides of it somewhere. Yes, it's hard to believe the way that glacier's terminus has receded several hundred yards since.

Trees, even centuries- old big ones, live on a thin layer of debris that is covering stagnant ice on some glaciers in coastal Alaska, but that is quite different than being bulldozed and "eaten" hungry.gif  by ice.

puzzlr wrote:
Maybe we live in the wrong era for that, as most have been receding for our entire lives.

True enough if one was born in the 1980s or later. Before that, from about the 1940s to the late '70s or early '80s, many  glaciers in the North Cascades were advancing or at least holding their own.

Although some are gone entirely  ( Lewis Glacier by Corteo Peak, for example),  remaining glaciers  will undoubtedly advance again, but when and by how much, no one knows with certainty.  I hope we don't lose too much more ice mass if for no other practical reason than for them to maintain their vital function in maintaining  steadier river flow in summer.

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gb
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PostSun Oct 30, 2016 5:28 pm 
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Brushbuffalo wrote:
puzzlr wrote:
I don't recall ever seeing a photo of a glacier plowing through a forest.

It happens, puzzlr. In fact the Roosevelt Glacier was moving over Sitka alder trees as its decades-long advance crescendoed in the 1970s. These trees weren't exactly old growth but they were still being covered by advancing glacial ice. I have some old 35 mm slides of it somewhere. Yes it's hard to believe the way that glacier has receded several hundred yards since.

Thanks again for the geology notes. In 1993 I did a trip into the Hooker Icefields in the Canadian Rockies, coming out down the Scott Glacier. Turn of the century images of the glacier show it, of course, much farther down valley at that time. But well below even that older terminus, I came across some ground up alder, now desiccated. That alder must have been overridden somewhere back in the 1400's to 1500's not long after the beginning of the Little Ice Age. In the dry, cool climate of the Canadian Rockies on well drained ground rock the alder apparently does not rot, but merely desiccates.
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PostMon Oct 31, 2016 3:37 pm 
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Tempus Puget wrote:
The metal band looks to be perfect for securing a brewski, assuming that the water level was just a few inches higher.

I like the idea, but a little Googling suggests that this could also be a remnant of some of the Nooksack Tribe's studies of glacial melt flows. If you look at this link, the study is described. There's even a photo of some stream flow monitoring equipment secured in a manner that looks awful similar to the OP's photo:

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PostMon Oct 31, 2016 4:29 pm 
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Thanks for the ideas, Tempus Puget and hbb. A holder for a stream  gage is more probable than the beer cooler IMO.   The latter is more intriguing but my picture of the mystery band looks just like the picture hbb shows with the anchored metal band in use. Both pictures show a white zip-tie that appears to be used as a tightener.

That is a tough researcher, standing in ice-cold water with no tall boots. I would be crybaby.gif in pain!

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PostTue Nov 01, 2016 7:11 pm 
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Thanks for the great  information, I learned a lot!  up.gif

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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Geologic notes for Heliotrope Ridge trail, Mt. Baker
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