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Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1803 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
PostMon Aug 16, 2004 10:21 am 
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My friend & I went to the south side of Mt Baker to do the Park Butte and Railroad Grade trails on Saturday, Aug 14th.

We arrived at the TH and started our journey at about 10:00am, and it was already notably warm, and as always, there were a lot of visitors.

As we ventured through the lower meadows and came to the river (Rocky River... not sure of the name) it was moving very fast.  With the storms from last winter it has changed course... in doing so it wiped out the supports for the summer bridge and there were about 10 WTA people (volunteers I presume) on site and in the process of erecting a temporary river crossing method.  Rather that wait for them to finish their project we hiked up the river and found a potential crossing point.  It was a wobbly downed tree that when I tried to balance on it with my pack found it was bouncy as heck and we opted to not attempt that crossing.

So, we went back down river, past the WTA team and found a much more sturdy log crossing about a 1/4 mile further along.  We crossed safely and resumed our hike up the switchbacks.

Since starting the hike we had a few glimpses of a distant helicopter with a water bucket flying overhead and didn't think too much of it, but from the switchbacks we saw it come in very close and watched it drop down to fill it's bucket from a nearby lake (name not known, maybe Blue lake or Elbow lake?) and then take off and circle around the nearest ridge.  We looked skyward and noticed what looked like a few light, white clouds in the sky and that was it.  No cause for concern.

We proceeded up the switchbacks to the upper meadows where we saw that there were now two helicopters with buckets and noticed a plume (sp?) of smoke rising from the ridge to the west of us.  We kept an eye on them and as the day progressed, the smoke turned from a whispy white to a darker shade of light grey with a yellowish-orange hue. (see one of the pictures attached).

When we came to the junction of Park Butte trail and Railroad grade trail, we opted to skip out on Park Butte as the trail heads directly around that ridge in the direction of the helicopters and smoke.  Up to Railroad grade we went, taking pictures the whole way.

We reached the ridge and marveled at the valley and the river below.  We ascended a ways and realized that, since we had our pictures (see attached) and that we weren't likely to reach the glacier anytime soon, we might have a better experience backtracking and taking the Scott Paul Trail.

At the junction with Scott Paul trail we met a Forest Ranger who was stationed at a 'secret ranger camp' somewhere above us.  She said the fire had been burning for about two weeks (started by lightening) but just recently flared up significantly.  She wasn't worried about it and assured us that there was no immediate danger.  Whew!  She also informed us the WTA crew had finished a bridge by laying some logs across the river and hanging a guide string to hold on to for stability.  We never saw it though as the Scott Paul trail returns us directly to the parking lot.

After reapplying the sunscreen we dropped down the valley along the Scott Paul trail and we crossed the river on the very wobbly suspension bridge, marveling at the massive amounts and the high speed of the river 15 feet below us.  Once we made it up the opposite side of the valley we came across two groups of four people with accents, inquiring if they were on the Scott Paul trail and 'is this the direction to the parking lot?'.  We told them they were still at least 3 miles from the end, but let them know most of the remainder of the trail would be flat or downhill.  They were each carrying a water bottle... that's it.  I'm not sure how hot it was, but I think they tackled a much longer trail than they expected.

Ten minutes later we came across another small group of people with accents, same gear (nothing but water) and same questions.

Fifteen minutes later we came across a final group of about 10, with accents, water and the same questions.  We paused to chat with them and took group pictures for them on five different cameras.  Turns out they were all from Russia, but residing in Bellingham... temporarily I believe.  They were all younger (relatively speaking)... college age I guess.

We finally returned to the vehicle at just after 5:00pm after depleting our water in the last two miles.  Glad we brought extra bottles with us, and left some additional bottles in the car.

We stopped in Sedro Woolley for some great pizza at Rhodes (a greek restaurant on Hwy 20 between Les Schwab tires and the railroad trestle).  If you go there on a Friday night you might get to watch the belly dancers.

>>Edit:  Adding a flickr pic.
Railroad Grade on Mt Baker
Railroad Grade on Mt Baker

"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
My Trip List

Across the upper meadow, see the trail at the top of the grass, following the ridge.
 1.JPG (46 KB)
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Mt Baker from Railroad Grade
 2.JPG (52 KB)
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View of the trail along Railroad Grade ridge top
 3.JPG (48 KB)
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The fire and helicopter
 4.JPG (19 KB)
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