Destination: Welcome Pass and Point 5933 (high point on ridge east of Welcome Pass, west of Yellow Aster Lakes)
Snowshoe Faction: Matt, cartman, Richard B, Lynn G
Ski Faction: Dicey, Yana, Mtn Man
Welcome Pass sits on High Divide, an alpine ridge that runs east-west for miles of wide-open views of the terrain north of Baker & Shuksan. On a clear winter day, it provides multiple options for spectacular scenic roaming. Last time I went to Welcome Pass, everything was hidden in clouds. Todayís trip was scenic in every direction, from the wind-sculpted snow underfoot to the white-plastered peaks all around.
Edit: Another bonus feature of this route is that it includes Sadieís Point. Midway between the pass and Point 5933 is Point 5743. Unbeknownst to me, Iíve seen a photo of that point many times before, because itís the location of Sadieís Driverís avatar photo of Sadie. Itís an honor to now have visited a point associated with such an esteemed mountain traveler as Sadie.
Welcome Pass Area Map
Sadie at Sadie's Point
Two methods of travel comprised our party. One group wore snowshoes, and hoped to explore eastward to Point 5933, the high point on the ridge, overlooking Yellow Aster Lakes. The other group wore skis, and hoped to traverse the ridge westward to Excelsior Peak and down the Excelsior trail. One group was blessed; the other was cursed. (Literally, some of them were cursing rather forcefully by the time they reached the pass.)
We parked on the Mt. Baker highway at the turnoff for Road 3060 (2000 ft) and hiked up the road three-quarters of a mile to the summer trailhead (2500). The trail continues to follow an old road to about 3000 ft, then switchbacks steeply uphill. At 2850 feet, it crosses a stream gully that can channel avalanches in worse weather, but it is a very short crossing. Otherwise the trail stays in forest all the way to the pass.
We followed recent tracks for a while, but they ended at the creek. On the trail uphill, we had 9-12 inches of fresh snow with a hard crust underneath. We were able to find the trail most of the way to the pass, and most of the time the hidden crust was trampled somewhat flat by previous travelers. Sometimes it wasnít, which made for slippery side-hilling on the steep slope. It was too crusty for the skis to hold an edge, so the skiers had to boot all the way up, which made for a slower and very tiring ascent.
Avalanche debris at 2850 creek crossing
We snowshoers arrived at Welcome Pass, 5300 ft, at 12:30pm. We hiked eastward a couple hundred more feet to sit in the sun, enjoy the view, eat some lunch, and wait for the hapless skiers.
The views to surrounding peaks were great, but the snow underfoot was an even greater revelation. The ridge crest was scoured into fantastic patterns of ripples, curls, waves, terraces & striations of snow. The wind had carved the snow like waves breaking over the crest -- rippling curves of sastrugi climbing the windward side, breaking into a wild confusion of shapes at the crest, and flying outward in cornices projecting from the lee side. Small bunches of trees stood with the snow curved around their base and plastered onto their branches like islands wracked by a frozen surf.
Sastrugi above pass
Richard & Lynn at lunch spot
Sastrugi & Shuksan
Our snowshoes vocally announced variations in the snow texture Ė the soft whisper of fresh powder, the noisy crackle and crunch of windcrust, the warning squeak of windslab. (And no nasty whomping or whooshing sounds.) Surprisinglly, there were no snowmobile tracks today; I hated to even disturb the pristine surface with our snowshoe tracks, but not enough to keep from going on.
Northeast of Welcome Pass, itís about 1.5 miles to Point 5933.
The ridge first climbs to a high flat stretch at circa 5700 leading to Point 5743, Sadieís Point. The ridge then drops to a small gap at 5550 with a steep couple hundred feet climbing up the far side.
Then it runs another flattish stretch circa 5900 up to the 5933 high point.
After waiting till Dicey came into view, the snowshoers headed onward to the 5700 stretch.
Eric heading up to Point 5700
Richard & Lynn on 5700 with Baker
Eric heading toward the 5550 gap
Along the way, I admired the sculpted creations of the wind.
Cornices between 5700 and Welcome Pass
Wind sculptures & Point 5854
Crust waves & Damfino Peak
We had great views of surrounding peaks while traversing to the far end of the 5700 stretch.
Tomyhoi & the route ahead while traversing 5700 to Sadieís Point
Shuksan while traversing 5700
Baker while traversing 5700
Long-legged shadow traversing 5700. Sadieís Point is at upper left.
Richard & Lynn elected to stop there, while cartman and I dropped down to the 5550 gap and climbed up the steeper slope on the far side, which was blown almost bare.
5550 Gap and steeper slope to 5900
Looking back at Sadieís Point (Point 5743)
Sastrugi above the gap
The route to 5933 (Tomyhoi & Yellow Aster to its left, Winchester to its right)
Midway along the final stretch was an especially deep-carved wind channel alongside a rock outcrop. Itís inner wall was carved in scores of layers like a miniature canyon. Looking at the photos of the wind channel afterward, my son says he can see a lion with its mane or a bird with its wings in the shapes.
Looking ahead to the wind channel & summit
The wind channel
Preparing to hike through
Daniel sees a bird in this one (its beak is at left center, with its wings spreading out rightward)
Then we reached the summit, with its shadow falling ahead of us in a giant triangular point resting on Yellow Aster Lakes. The other peaks ranging across the horizon beyond.
Summit Shadow pointing to Yellow Aster Lakes & Butte. Horizon is Canadian Border, American Border & Larrabee)
Yellow Aster Lakes
Canadian & American Border Peaks
I insisted on staying long enough to enjoy my summit soup and tea before departing at 3pm to head back down.
Matt near the summit
Eric taking a break
Summit soup & Eric departing
Heading back down, I got to discover all the sights of the ridge from the reverse view, with the late afternoon light make some of the features stand out even more.
Eric heading down
Funny round formation near the summit
Back through the wind gallery
Wind gallery closeup
Sastrugi & shadows 1
Sastrugi & shadows 2
Looking back, our tracks traced a compelling line curving upward to the summit.
Looking back at the wind gallery
Looking back from the 5900 side of the gap
Looking back from the 5700 side of the gap
A few additional peaks were lit up as well.
Church Mountain out to the west
Damfino Peak to the north
Baker with a thin cap glowing on its summit.
The cornices above the pass stood out in the evening light.
On the final slope down to the pass, we found a few tracks where the skiers had made a brief run.
Corniced Ridge leading down to the pass
Cornice Layer Cake
Then it was down to the trailhead. Higher up, evening light made the tree trunks glow golden. For about halfway down, the fresh powder over firm crust made for an especially easy descent, soft on top for cushioning but firm enough to slide on. One of the skiers had managed to cut turns through the steep trees almost all the way down. As I hiked the last stretch on the darkening road, the full moon rose above the trees.
Dropping into golden buring trees
Descending through the trees
Late light on Sefrit
Late light on Shuksan & the Nooksack valley
Blurry Moonrise Photo
Stats: 10 miles, 9 hours. 3400 gain to Welcome Pass, 4000 net gain to Point 5933, 4800 cumulative gain.
Road 3060 is at approximately milepost 45.8 on the north side of Highway 542 (the mile markers are posted). There is a plowed-out parking area on the opposite (south) side of the highway, with space for about five cars. Drive time 2:30 hours from Lynnwood.
The trail is in mature forest and safe from avalanche hazard almost all the way.
At 2850, there is a brief crossing of a creek that can channel slides from high above, but it can be crossed quickly.
In the final 500 vertical feet, there are a few open glades that should be avoided if avalanche danger were high.
On the ridge itself, winds usually blow from the south, so the north edge of the ridge is usually corniced and can have heavy snow buildup. The south edge of the crest usually is wind-scoured and safer.
Iíll probably be returning to this area for at least a couple more trips. Let me know if youíre interested in any of them.
Welcome-Excelsior Traverse - In March or April, when days are longer, Iíd like to do a one-day traverse from Welcome Pass to Excelsior and down the Excelsior trail.
Yellow Aster Ė Church Traverse - Some year in fall, when the high meadows are colorful, Iíd like to spend a few days doing the complete traverse from the Yellow Aster trail to the Church Mountain trail, with various side scrambles along the way.
-------------- ďAs beacons mountains burned at evening.Ē J.R.R. Tolkien
Very nice report and photos. Glad you had great weather for your return trip. Welcome Pass and points east is one of the best snowshoe trips I have done in the last few years. So much to see and photograph.
With my skill level I can't even imagine skiing down through all those trees. Yowza! Also nice to see Richard and Lynn in another trip report. You should try getting them to post reports over here.
Great pics Matt, thanks for letting me tag along! I had a great time out there, regardless of the post hole growing pains
I typed up the PNW nOOb skier's perspective as another vantage point.
Location: Welcome Pass (Baker backcountry)
Weather: Bluebird skies, slight wind, 20-30F
Vert: 3600ft not sure
The players: Tazz (communications), Dicey (levitation expert), Yana (snowshoe savior),
Snoeshoers: Matt, Eric, Lynn, Richard
It all started with a spectacular day at Alpental on 1/20. They had an unexpected 14" of soft, fluffy powder, atypical for the area as it's usually cement. While waiting in immense lift lines, I thought to myself that I really need a backcountry trip on Monday, these lines are killing me. After many laps involving countless face shots, I call it a day and head back to Seattle.
While cooking up a mean pork tenderloin for Tazz and I Sunday night, she gets a call from her friend Dicey. Looks like I'm invited on a 15 mile backcountry trip! I answer back a little apprehensive, "15 miles is a lot for this NJ boy, my lungs may not be able to take that." Eventually, I get talked into it and go into backcountry packing mode.
I get up at the arse crack-o-moon, head out the door at 5am and pick people up. After a long drive to Baker, we hit the trail at 9am sharp. It's chilly out, but the skinning warms us up. We're traveling with fellow NWHikers on snowshoes (Matt, Eric, Lynn and Richard)
A happy Yana skinning up on the teles:
The skinning starts to get steeper, eventually the trail goes over the 20~25deg skinning limit:
We take the skis off and start to boot pack. The trail wasn't bad the first 1-2 hours, then it started to get softer and my heavy arse started to post hole every few steps. I don't know if you've ever post holed up a trail, but it's about 10Xs as much work as just walking on the trail. Eventually, I was postholing every step and moving extremely slow. In comes Yana, the snowshoe savior. She offers a few times during my 30 minute post hole torture session. I finally give in, realizing that I'm going to be holding her up, potentially missing a summit bid. I've learned that snowshoes are essential in these parts, chalk it up to bc nOOb inexperience.
So in the next hour, the snow softens up and we make it to the pass. The views were amazing!
A happy (and insightful) Yana on the pass:
Baker (complements of Dicey's gallery)
Due to our slow slog up the hill (I'll take the blame on that one) We decide on a secondary objective of hitting a false peak on the ridge. Our objective:
The cornice to the left is just hudge. That's right, not huge, HUDGE!
Another shot with a snoeshoe track and skinning track:
We finally get to the peak where Dicey was taking a nap (not really, it was pretty cold up there).
The opposing ridge to the right of Yana was our primary objective, but it would have taken too long and we would have ran out of sunlight.
We snap a few more pics of the surround North Cascades before decending:
The proverbial boot shot:
Dicey starts to ski down:
Mtn Man skiing down:
Yana makes her way down:
Mtn Man attempts to ski variable snow in the trees (soft to crust to ice):
We made our way down in record time :wink: , 2 hours. I kept my skis on for about 2/3rds for the time, finally had to take them off when it just got to tight and icy.
A tired, happy Mtn Man:
Brian takes a rest
Crossing an avi field, VERY QUICKLY!
Brian and avi debris
The sun starts to set on Shuksan:
We got back to the car just as the sun was setting around 430pm, perfect timing. Granted, we had the torches in the packs, but really didn't want to resort to that.
Albeit the shredded heels, sore muscles, ripped jacket......this was one hell of a great introduction to the Baker backcountry. Big props to Yana and Dicey for putting up with my EC nOOb arse out there!
Note to self: BUY SNOWSHOES and AT boot work on heels!!!
Tremendous sastrugi, Did you make Yana carry everything in her pack skiing down?†
I made her carry a gas grill up there so we could have lunch, she should be called "Sherpa Yana"
I actually offered to carry her "shoes" down, but she wanted to use them on the steeps. Yana's pack seems to be bigger than she is I carried all of my own stuff except for snowshoes, my pack is just compact and cinched down when I'm wearing everything from it. Cuts down on getting stuck in branches while skiing in the trees.
The skiing down wasn't too bad, had a few icy spots here and there. I was skiing rather conservative, did a bunch of hip checks when things got a little dicey (pun intended). I've skied a whole lot steeper and icier on the EC before. I tried not to slough onto the bootpack while keeping Dicey and Yana in sight. Due to terrain features, I did mess the bootpack up a few times, sorry
I've heard mostly negative reviews about the trekkers. They're heavy, cumbersome, don't have a good range of motion, too elevated from ski, etc. It's a good intro to bc, but you don't want to go very far in them.
You can get crampon attachments for tele and AT binders though. I may look into that.
As for shoers beating us to the ridge, we had our chai break halfway up the trail
I've been up there before under the same conditions, with dicey, Jeff R., and Mesahchie Mark. When we were up there, we got to experience the winds that create such beautiful sculpted snow scapes, but wasn't fortunate enough to see the complexities in creation that you've captured in your images. Mother Earth's blanket of white was surely woven for your pleasure on this special day.
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