Forum Index > Trip Reports > A North Cascades Traverse: Watson - Berdeen - Blum (Aug 29 - Sept 2, 2019)
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platypus
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PostMon Oct 14, 2019 10:55 pm 
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This is my first trip report ever. I’m doing this write-up to give back to this fantastic online community, without which we wouldn’t have been able to do this trip. I did a lot of research for this hike by lurking trip reports on this forum and I also received a ton of incredible advice from user DIYSteve (thanks so much again Steve; I owe you many a beer). This report may be too long or wordy for some folks – for that I apologize – but to us this was an adventure of a lifetime and I wanted to do it justice by telling the full story.

Long story short

We did a five-day traverse in the North Cascades from Watson Lakes to Baker River, finding our way to Diobsud, Green, Berdeen, and Blum Lakes on the way. We made it through with memories of alpine beauty and intense friendship, but also with bruised egos and fewer working limbs than when we set out. We won’t be forgetting this one any time soon.

Fiona, Deb, Matt, and me
Fiona, Deb, Matt, and me

Background

Two years ago, I went on a short overnight hike with my girlfriend and two friends to the very popular Hidden Lake Lookout in North Cascades National Park. I brought a fishing rod in hopes of catching my first trout in the alpine. I was embarrassingly unsuccessful, and upon returning home I found out that Hidden Lake is classified as “fishless” by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. After being mocked mercilessly by my (wonderful) friends for this, I discovered that there are some lakes in Washington classified as “overabundant”. These tend to be lakes that had been stocked decades prior, that had suitable and sufficient habitat to support large fish populations, and that had little to no fishing pressure. It sounded perfect for a terrible fisher like myself!

After Googling each of these lakes, one of them stood out to me: Berdeen Lake. There was almost no information about it online, but what little there was consisted of trip reports, often on this forum, that described a hidden gem of incredible beauty. The lake also posed what seemed like a fun challenge since it’s very difficult to access. By this point I was hooked for more than just the fish.

To my knowledge, there are five documented routes in or out of Berdeen Lake. There’s the Mt Hagan Col approach via the Blum Access Route (TRs: 1,2,3), there’s Fred Beckey’s Berdeen Lake Route via Porkbelly Ridge (4,5), there’s the Bacon Peak route via Watson Lakes (3,6,7,8), there’s Steve’s Ipsoot Lake Route (9), and there’s Matt’s Ipsoot Saddle descent (10). As Steve notes: “there are no easy routes to Berdeen Lake”. That first year we only had four free days to do the trip, so for time’s sake we planned to go in and out via the much-maligned (but ‘quicker’) Blum Access Route at the end of September. In the end, the first North Cascades snow of 2017 came that weekend and we were forced to put off our trip until at least the following year.

We weren’t able to organize the trip in 2018 due to incompatible schedules, but we were determined to make it work in 2019. We all took off five days spanning the end of August and early September. We also elected to take DIYSteve’s advice of doing an A-to-B traverse instead of breaking our spirits by trekking the Blum Access Route twice. It was decided: we’d traverse from Watson Lake to Baker River, access Berdeen via Bacon Peak, and hit up a series of other alpine lakes along the way.

Day 0

The day before we started hiking, I drove down from Vancouver, BC to Sedro-Woolley to pick up permits while the other three were working. In the end it was totally unnecessary to go a day early – apparently very few people ever camp overnight in these cross-country zones – but after two years of planning we weren’t willing to miss out due to lack of permits. The trip down also allowed me to borrow a couple extra bear barrels and to do a quick hike to Barclay Lake with the doggo before leaving him in the care of friends for five days. All went smoothly.

Day 1 – Watson and Anderson Lakes Trailhead to Upper Diobsud (5.5 miles / ↑ 3,100 ft  / ↓ 3,000 ft)

We left Vancouver, BC at 6am in two separate cars. After a minor hiccup at the border, we made it to the Baker River Trailhead around 10am. We dropped off a car, did some gear sorting and bag packing, then headed off to the Watson and Anderson Lakes Trailhead. All the roads were in great condition. Once at the trailhead, we ate an early lunch (pictured below) and headed out at noon. Spirits were high – this was finally happening!

A very normal lunch at the trailhead
A very normal lunch at the trailhead
Berdeen Lake here we come!
Berdeen Lake here we come!

The first stretch of the journey followed the trail to Watson Lakes. This section was as straightforward as expected, with wide, flat trails and boardwalks through forest and meadows. It was nice to start on easy terrain to help us get our legs under us and get used to the weight of our packs.

After 1.5 miles we turned off the main trail to a climber’s tread heading south near the “Indefinite Boundary” on the topo map. Steve recommended this route instead of following the trail around the north side of Watson Lakes and then slogging up towards Mount Watson. We were happy for Steve’s advice here because this ended up being a much more well-worn path than expected – it took us all the way to the NW slopes of Mt Watson before petering out. Excellent views of Watson Lakes and Anderson Butte were had along the way.

Overlooking Watson Lakes
Overlooking Watson Lakes
Boardwalks and good trail for the first 1.5 miles
Boardwalks and good trail for the first 1.5 miles

Once the trail disappeared, we traversed the rocky northern slopes of Mt Watson. Routefinding here was easy over the undulating terrain and we were treated to fantastic views of Bacon Peak the whole way, which made us appreciate the scale of our task the following day. We also passed some lovely little streams and waterfalls from the meltwater of the Watson Glacier.

Traversing the slopes of Mt Watson with views of tomorrow's route up Bacon Peak
Traversing the slopes of Mt Watson with views of tomorrow's route up Bacon Peak
Runoff from the Watson Glacier
Runoff from the Watson Glacier

The final stretch from under the glacier to the obvious saddle just W of Pt. 5580 took some time, with bigger boulders and tired knees slowing us down, but it was mostly uneventful. We made it to the saddle by 5pm, and even though we couldn’t see the Upper Diobsud Lakes from here we knew they were close. The descent down from the saddle, however, wasn’t the pleasant downhill jaunt we were expecting. I’m not sure if we should have headed east into the obvious gully earlier than we did or if sliding through steeply-sloping brush on your butt is the beta here, but it was a more engaging end to the day than expected.

Our GPS track may have looked like the path of a drunk mountain goat, but we reached the northernmost Diobsud Lake around 6:30pm and made an excellent camp on the heather while watching a fat black bear chow down on blueberries across the water. We all went for a swim and then stuffed our faces with squash curry – the first of many delicious meals the other three dehydrated specially for the trip. A fantastic first day.

Day 2 – Upper Diobsud to Bacon Laken via Bacon Peak (4.8 miles / ↑ 3,800 ft  / ↓ 3,400 ft)

We woke up to wet tents and low-lying clouds. It had rained overnight, but we’d expected that from the forecast. While we packed up our tents and made breakfast above the lake, the mist and fog gradually worsened. Luckily, we’d had a good chance to study the first part of our route for the day, since we knew we were going to be trekking up a different saddle from yesterday’s – this one sat directly across from our camp, to the NNW of the lake (behind the three goofs in the second photo below).

Morning rituals at Upper Diobsud Lake
Morning rituals at Upper Diobsud Lake
Coffee makes everyone happy...
Coffee makes everyone happy...
... even when the clouds roll in
... even when the clouds roll in

Our intended route over Bacon Peak was different than those previously reported, but again recommended to us by Steve. Given our group’s lack of glacier-travelling prowess and our strong desire to avoid the miserable sidehilling to the southern ramp of Bacon Peak (3,8,11), we decided not to hit the peak itself. Instead, we planned to take the ‘easier’ route up over the saddle across the lake from our camp and into the basin on the other side. From there, we would work our way up ENE to the small snowfield, then move N up the steep slopes until we were NW of the peak, before finally working our way up and over the ridge.

We left camp around 8:30am – later than we’d wanted, but we weren’t too fussed since it was our first morning and we weren’t in a routine yet (plus, it was raining). The first part of the day went about as expected, but was definitely the most difficult terrain we’d dealt with so far. The bushwhacking up to the saddle was thick but manageable and the routefinding was easy. We each probably took on about ten extra pounds of rain water by the time we were fifty feet into the brush, but that was to be expected and after a while we were so wet it was comical.

The NW descent from the saddle to the boulderfield on the SW slope of Bacon Peak was steep, brushy, difficult, and slow. Matt and I scouted ahead a couple times and debated which route to take. We tried to keep as much elevation as we could rather than descending into the thick brush of the basin below, and it ended up being the right decision as we emerged into the talus by sidehilling through a pretty open forest. At this point we were very happy to have some open ground ahead of us.

Out in the open! Ready to hike up Bacon
Out in the open! Ready to hike up Bacon

After a short break we started the trek up Bacon Peak, psyched to gain 2700’ in 1.7 miles. The ascent was steep, but most of it was fairly easy going. The boulderfield was surprisingly stable and had some nice grassy sections along the edges that sped up progress. At 5150’ we turned sharply north and began the trek up the main steep section of the day. Luckily, most of this slope was heather, grass, and blueberry bushes, punctuated by a few jaunts across small boulders or scree.

The steep southwestern slope of Bacon Peak
The steep southwestern slope of Bacon Peak
Happy to be on out on the heather with all the blueberries
Happy to be on out on the heather with all the blueberries

At 5700’ we made our first mistake. Instead of continuing N up and over a small basin until 5900’ and then jogging NE to the east-trending ridge, Matt and I decided to aim directly NW towards the ridge. What followed was a steep 600’ scramble on all fours over loose rock and sand. Needless to say the two of us weren’t very popular when the ladies reached the ridge and saw the route we could have taken over the heather. At this point it was just after 2pm, so we dropped packs and had a much-needed lunch break.

After lunch, we made the short trek to our day’s highpoint, about 0.4 miles N of Bacon Peak. The views from the top of Bacon were stunning. There was a beautiful glacier in a crater-like depression to our NW, and to the E we got our first views of Berdeen Lake in the distance, which was exhilarating. But that was tomorrow’s destination; today we just needed to descend from Bacon towards the beautiful Green Lake and the affectionately-named “Bacon Laken” – a small but striking lake that serves as the reservoir for the meltwater of Bacon Glacier and the main source of Bacon Falls.

Beautiful glacier on top of Bacon
Beautiful glacier on top of Bacon
Our first look at Berdeen Lake in the distance (from the top of Bacon)
Our first look at Berdeen Lake in the distance (from the top of Bacon)

Now seems like a good time to mention some important points about our group. Pros: we’re all young-ish people with moderate-to-strong technical rock-climbing skills and good overall fitness (the other three had all completed trail ultramarathons in the past six months). Cons: we have very little experience on glacier terrain, none of us have ever done a fully off-trail backpacking trip, and each of our bodies are being held together with duct tape, beer, and a little bit of hope. Fiona and I were both nursing compressed ankles, Deb may or may not even have a kneecap at this point, and Matt runs so much he puts himself to sleep on a bed of ibuprofen and voltaren every night.

Pre-existing injuries aside, we were legitimately nervous about the initial snow crossings on top of Bacon. Crampons and ice axes are not our strong suit. But in the end it was easy travel on gently sloping snowfields – we just took it slowly. The spectacular scenery continued unabated and the sun started to poke through the clouds.

Finding our way down from the top of Bacon towards Green Lake
Finding our way down from the top of Bacon towards Green Lake
Crampon time!
Crampon time!

It wasn’t until 4:30pm that we exited the snow for good. From there, we descended the slabs towards Bacon Laken and Green Lake. We had to backtrack once during the descent, but other than that it was pretty relaxed. By the time we hit the ridge above Bacon Laken, fatigue had set in and we decided to camp there instead of continuing on to Green Lake. We slowly made our way down to our night’s destination, appreciating the breathtaking vistas from above one last time.

There aren’t many options for camping around Bacon Laken, but we managed to find a place to pitch our tents on the lakeside around 7pm. We were super happy with our choice to camp here – it’s a beautiful spot, with the lake draining over the edge of a cliff like an infinity pool. We stuffed our bellies, crawled into tents, and drifted off to sleep, blissfully ignorant of the trials to come.

The gorgeous descent to Bacon Laken (near) and Green Lake (far)
The gorgeous descent to Bacon Laken (near) and Green Lake (far)
Looking back up towards the route down from Bacon Peak
Looking back up towards the route down from Bacon Peak
Settling in at Bacon Laken
Settling in at Bacon Laken
Food is always priority #1
Food is always priority #1

Day 3 – Bacon Laken to Berdeen via Nert (6.2 miles / ↑ 3,300 ft  / ↓ 3,100 ft)

After a good night’s rest and our morning oatmeal, we began our descent down the NNW-trending gully from Bacon Laken. We decided not to go down to Green Lake, instead saving the 350’ of elevation loss and appreciating the lake’s beauty from above. We descended to 4500’ and began sidehilling up the eastern slopes of Countdown Butte (as dubbed by Steve: 9). Matt did a great job routefinding here and despite the bushwacking we made excellent time up this slope and the subsequent butte on the NW end of Green Lake. We followed a goat path for part of this stretch and were surprised to find a couple recent holes from hiking poles along the way.

The views on this stretch back towards Bacon Laken were straight out of Rivendell (as Deb pointed out), with Bacon Falls draining from the infinity pool outlet of Bacon Laken down to the emerald water of Green Lake, all backdropped by Bacon Glacier above. It was difficult not to look behind us.

Sidehilling around Green Lake
Sidehilling around Green Lake
Looking back towards our route down from Bacon Peak as we pass Green Lake
Looking back towards our route down from Bacon Peak as we pass Green Lake

The landscape on top of the butte was very reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. The fog cover that rolled in briefly helped reinforced the feeling. We dumped our packs to have a snack and take some photos. Matt’s sunglasses, whose polarization had rubbed off the previous day, stole the show.

Socked in while moving from Green Lake to Nert Lake
Socked in while moving from Green Lake to Nert Lake
Still smiling on the way to Nert Lake
Still smiling on the way to Nert Lake
Bunch of gumbies
Bunch of gumbies

Ready to move on, we donned our packs and set off. Amazingly, despite the open terrain and lack of fatigue, this was where misfortune struck. Within moments I’d stepped on a hidden rock underneath the heather. My ankle rolled and I heard and felt a ‘pop’ as I sprained a ligament in my right ankle (not the one I’d compressed prior to the trip).

While I was grimacing (read: screaming) on the ground, the others sprung into action. Within a minute I had 800mg of ibuprofen in me, along with a jacket around my shoulders and water in hand. Matt wrapped a tensor bandage around my ankle before putting it back in my boot. While I rested and elevated the injury, the others divided half of the weight of my pack among them, bringing it down from 40ish pounds to probably 20. Without the others’ calm and measured response, I’m not sure things would have gone so well. They were amazing.

After 15 mins, there wasn’t much to do except move on. Our next stretch was a pretty open descent to Nert Lake. I put a ton of weight on my hiking poles and started limping downhill. Honestly, there’s something to ‘walking it off’. By the time I was 2/3 way down to Nert Lake, I was favouring my ankle a lot less. Obviously I was nowhere near 100%, but better than I ever would have expected – I’ve injured that ankle in the same way several times before and each time been on crutches for at least a couple days.

Nert Lake was much more eye-catching than expected. We were very surprised to find a well-worn trail around the SE side of the lake, along with a firepit (a shame as fires are not allowed) and a rusted container the size of a propane tank. Not sure what that was about! Nert Lake (like Lower Blum) had apparently been poisoned a few years back to kill off its fish and allow the native salamander populations to recover. We didn’t see any salamanders, but it might be too soon to see recovery yet.

Nert Lake was surprisingly pretty
Nert Lake was surprisingly pretty

From Nert Lake, we trekked NNW through the forest towards Upper Nert, gaining 900’ of elevation in less than a mile. My ankle wasn’t super happy with this stretch, but it definitely could have been worse. The brush wasn’t as bad as it had looked from below and we followed a faint but real tread for part of the ascent, much to our surprise. We emerged into the boulders around Upper Nert Lake at 1:30 pm, ready for some lunch. The lake was full of salamanders (much to Fiona’s nerdy delight) and the stark southern slopes of Mt Hagan the lake were beautiful.

It was at this point that we realized that my fancy (and heavy) camera that we’d been lugging around had somehow drained both its batteries in record time, so it was now nothing more than expensive brick for us to carry. Obviously, we were pretty bummed not to have my camera for Berdeen and the rest of the trip, but luckily both the ladies had charged cell phones. Consequently, all the photos after this were taken by Deb and Fiona on their phones.

After lunch, we were ready to make our final push to Berdeen Lake. We knew that the route from Upper Nert to Berdeen can go either high or low. We’d initially planned on taking the low route down to a meadow between Lower Berdeen and the main lake, before climbing up a steep gully and following the main lake all the way to the camping at the NW end (7,8). Given my ankle and our desire to get to our campsite with some time to fish and hang out, we made a spontaneous decision to try the high route along the southern slopes of the Hagan massif (2).

We were very happy with this decision in the end. The route was fairly easy and from our vantage point we could see the elevation loss and gain we would have had to do if we’d taken the other route. The views back to Green Lake were still gorgeous and we had an awesome interaction with an inquisitive but nervous black bear, looking very chubby after the summer. We traversed these open slopes at 5500’-5600’ for a mile or so before hitting an obvious SW-trending ridge down to the S end of Berdeen. From here we saw our first close-up views of Berdeen. It was a great moment, finally seeing our goal so close.

(Cell phone photos from now on) - Looking back at Green Lake and Bacon Peak
(Cell phone photos from now on) - Looking back at Green Lake and Bacon Peak
Our first close-up look at Berdeen Lake
Our first close-up look at Berdeen Lake

After some deliberation we took the ridgeline down to 5150’, just 150’ above the lake. This went surprisingly well, with the open forest giving us low-lying brush and heather to tread on. Once we got all the way down, we were happy to have planned the next part of our route on the topo beforehand. We ascended NNW up a shallow gully, which took us away from the lake and what might have been the more obvious shoreline route.

From the top of the gully, it was a leisurely walk parallel to the lake on comparatively flat ground for half a mile (minus one scary moment when a boulder flipped over onto Deb’s leg, but she was okay). By this point, Deb and Fiona’s knees were hurting quite badly from all the descending with the extra weight they’d taken off me, so everyone was stoked when we hit the final descent down to the NW end of Berdeen. By 5pm we’d reached our destination.

We’d finally made it! We shared some hugs and set up our tents on the heather bench above the water in a setting that would be hard to beat anywhere (tents on left side of photo below). We’d seen fish jumping during our descent, so we set up our fishing rods and had an excellent evening of fishing, eating, and friendship. The cutthroat in the lake were ravenous and delicious. Honestly, it would have been hard to keep them off the line. We pan-fried several up in oil and lemon-pepper seasoning we’d brought just for the occasion. All in all, Berdeen Lake was everything we could have asked for. Our only regret was that we couldn’t stay for longer.

Putting up our tents on the edge of Berdeen Lake
Putting up our tents on the edge of Berdeen Lake
Casting on Berdeen
Casting on Berdeen
Deb caught a fish!
Deb caught a fish!
Cutties for dinner
Cutties for dinner

Day 4 – Berdeen to Upper Blum via Hagan Col (3.7 miles / ↑ 2,400 ft  / ↓ 1,800 ft)

The next morning, I woke up before the others and decided to warm up my ankle by bringing the bear canisters back to camp. In classic fashion, I again rolled my (at this point very loose) ankle on a stone underneath the heather. This time there were two pops from my ligaments. The others were unimpressed when they woke up to me yelling my butt off and had to walk across a creek to help me yet again.

I’d been planning on taking back some of my weight today from the other three, particularly in light of the girls’ knee pains and Deb’s toe blisters on top of her blisters (?!). That plan was clearly out the window for now though and I felt awful about it.

Today was our biggest question mark day of the trip. We knew our route – trekking north from our campsite past Upper Berdeen Lake, then hooking around E as we moved up the eastern approach to the Mt Hagan col – but we had concerns about our lack of glacier experience and questions over the late-season ice conditions. Despite these trepidations, we knew this would be our shortest day in terms of distance, so we took our time getting ready and enjoyed our last views of Berdeen. We left camp around 10:15am, once my ibuprofen had started working its magic.

The first 0.8 miles from camp were dead easy – the terrain around Upper Berdeen is completely flat and the initial incline on the moraine below the Hagan glacier is gradual. From the satellite imagery we’d looked at before the trip, we’d thought that this boulderfield continued past the lower extent of the glacier for a while, forcing the glacier to fork around it. Instead, we found these boulders were in fact perched loosely on top of the melting glacier beneath, while being flanked by crevasses and undercut by running water and melt holes. Needless to say, we were very careful moving through this section until we hit the end of this peninsula of boulders (seen in the fourth and fifth photos below) and set out on the glacier itself.

Last moments at Berdeen Lake
Last moments at Berdeen Lake
Looking N from Berdeen towards the start of today's trek up Mt Hagan
Looking N from Berdeen towards the start of today's trek up Mt Hagan
Walking on the flats by Upper Berdeen Lake
Walking on the flats by Upper Berdeen Lake
Looking up towards the Mt Hagan col
Looking up towards the Mt Hagan col
The start of our glacier travel for the day
The start of our glacier travel for the day

After a short trip on the glacier, we hit rock again and ascended towards a ridge below a second glacier section and, ultimately, the col (all seen in the fourth photo above). The glacier here was steeper than we’d expected – maybe 40 degrees or so. Being more comfortable on rock than ice, we decided that I’d do a quick jaunt up on the climber’s right of the glacier in order to see if that would be a more comfortable route for us. This was a massive mistake. I quickly climbed the chossy slab, but made a rookie error and soon realized that it would be difficult to down-climb back to where I started. Uh oh.

I tried to re-join the glacier further up, but the ice was too steep at that point for me to traverse with only one axe. The others decided to gain the col via the glacier and see from there if the rest of my rock route looked do-able. Matt made it to the col without much event and yelled to me that it looked fine, which was good because I didn’t have much choice in the matter since returning the way I came was no longer an option. I gained the big ledge above and to the right of the col (in the first photo below) and after seeing what was in store for me, I waited for Fiona (both more experienced with climbing and with my stupidity than Matt) to reach the col so she could shout beta to me.

Last section before the col
Last section before the col
Matt en route to the col
Matt en route to the col

However, the wait was a bit longer than expected as Fiona was having an epic of her own. Her strap-on crampons, which had seemed to fit perfectly up until now, had allowed one of her boots to slip through the front of the strap while she was on the steepest part of the glacier. After a long struggle, she made it to the top and helped talk me through my traverse down to the col. I won’t go into even more detail, but having to do legitimate 5.8 moves (aka something most climbers would want to do with a rope on) on a vertical chosspile with a bum ankle, hiking boots, and a backpack… I can say without hyperbole that I’ve never been so scared in my entire life. Many tears and hugs were shared when we all made it to the col together around 2:45pm. Long story short – don’t take the rock route to Mt Hagan col, and be at least 80% smarter than I am.

After calming ourselves down, reflecting on lessons learned, and crushing a late lunch, we began the much easier second half of our day. We descended E to 6000’ via the rubble next to the glacier, then turned NNW and began the easy traverse over the talus slopes towards the obvious green notch, which would be our entrance to Blum Lakes. After getting over the stress and fear from earlier in the day, morale was super high during this stretch. We hit the top of the green notch at 6:30pm and spent half an hour picking blueberries for dessert that night.

Looking back at the col as we descent the W slope of Mt Hagan
Looking back at the col as we descent the W slope of Mt Hagan
The view from the green notch back towards Mt Hagan
The view from the green notch back towards Mt Hagan
The green notch, which marked our entry to Upper Blum Lakes
The green notch, which marked our entry to Upper Blum Lakes

As we descended towards Upper Blum Lakes, we quickly realized we’d underestimated how gorgeous this spot would be. I don’t think previous trip reports do this spot justice – the flat slabs around the upper lakes lead to steep cliffs that overlook the lower lakes, and when you look to the west you’re treated to a sunset over Mt Baker. We all agreed this was one of the most beautiful spots of our entire trip, and it was made even better by how unexpected it was.

We set up tents right on the slab next to the cliffside lake and settled in for a beautiful evening. We made a makeshift blueberry crumble on the stove using some leftover oatmeal and trail mix plus the berries we’d picked at the notch, all while laughing about how we’d eaten so much this trip that we’d probably managed to gain weight.

The slabs around Upper Blum Lakes
The slabs around Upper Blum Lakes
A perfect camp spot
A perfect camp spot

Day 5 – Upper Blum to Baker River Trailhead (4.8 miles / ↑ 900 ft  / ↓ 5,700 ft)

It was a bittersweet morning. We were excited to have almost completed the journey we’d planned, but it’s hard to want to leave these mountains. We milked the views of the sunrise hitting Mt Baker as we packed up our bags for our last day.

Morning views from Upper Blum
Morning views from Upper Blum
Coffee with Mt Baker in the background
Coffee with Mt Baker in the background

Ahead of us today was the semi-infamous Blum Access Route, an old fisherman’s tread known for its steepness, heavy brush, and the ease at which you can get off-route. The difficult part of the route was the descent down a ridgeline from 5000’ all the way to Baker River at 800’.

We left camp at 8:30am and descended the obvious gully to the closer of the two Lower Blum Lakes. We then skipped over to the other lower lake and bushwhacked up into the forest above it. The forest opened up pretty quickly and we moved eastwards until we hit a big talus slope. From here we traversed at 5100’ through the forest until we hit the ridgeline, which we hit around 10:15am. All in all, this was a straightforward stretch and it went more quickly than expected.

Descending to Lower Blum
Descending to Lower Blum
Last day goofiness
Last day goofiness
Traversing above Lower Blum Lakes
Traversing above Lower Blum Lakes
Back into the forest
Back into the forest
Talus field before the descent on the Blum Access Route
Talus field before the descent on the Blum Access Route

Steve told me before the trip that “the key to the Blum access route is to find the tread and stick to it, even if that requires dropping packs and reconning”. We took this to heart during our descent and were rewarded for it. The tread was much more obvious than expected – definitely a full-on trail in some places – and although it disappeared in sections we were always able to find it again with a bit of searching. I can definitely see how getting off route could add hours to the descent though. The brush and drop-offs away from the trail are nasty.

Despite the surprisingly good path, we still took it slow because the steepness was taking its toll on everyone’s knees and my ankle. Luckily, I’d been able to take back 10 or 15 lbs from the others, which helped them out a bit. We didn’t take many photos during the descent because there were no views to speak of and because our hands were always busy anyway.

The most eventful moment of the descent happened when Matt and I put our bags down on a rare flat spot to stop for lunch, only to realize we’d dropped them onto a mud-wasp nest. I didn’t realize why Matt was sprinting back up the trail (sans bag) until it was too late. Ouch.

A common sight on the Blum Access Route
A common sight on the Blum Access Route

We made it down to the Baker River Trail just before 3pm and were back at our car by 3:15pm, where we saw another person for the first time in five days. We were ecstatic and proud… and very dirty. We went for a dip in the freezing cold river before going to get the other car from the original trailhead.

Both our cars had visits from mice at the trailheads because we’d left some food inside that we’d decided not to bring with us, so beware. We made it back to Vancouver around 10pm, which was about as good as we could have hoped. And the border guard didn’t even comment on our smell!

Made it down all in one piece!
Made it down all in one piece!

Closing

According to our GPS, we hiked 25 miles and gained 13,500 ft of elevation while losing 17,000 ft. This was about on par with our expectation before the trip. It’s honestly hard to believe that’s all the distance we did. We found that the terrain, brush, and routefinding just took a toll on our bodies and drove fatigue more than the distance and elevation change ever could by itself.

We all agreed this was the most intense (and intensely beautiful) hike we’ve ever been on. We decided that we probably wouldn’t be doing anything quite like this again for a long while, but I have a feeling that sentiment will be out the window by the time next summer rolls around! This part of the world is truly special and for five days we felt like we had it to ourselves. The misfortunes and distress we went through only emphasized the joy and contentment we felt at other moments.

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend visiting this part of the Cascades. If your trip is anything like ours was, you’ll be in for an adventure that you won’t soon forget.
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Fatrick
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 5:25 am 
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Great report and photos! Thanks for sharing. Nothing better than a summer traverse with close friends that pushes you all to new limits!
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RAW-dad
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 7:12 am 
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Nice TR! up.gif  up.gif  up.gif
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fourteen410
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 7:15 am 
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Well that was quite the first trip report! Well done, looks like an amazing trip.
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Ravenridge22
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 9:47 am 
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Thanks for sharing, excellent report!
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HermitThrush
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 10:30 am 
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Kids, don't try this at home.....unless you really can, like these guys. Wow. Fantastic trip report.
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iron
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getting old
PostTue Oct 15, 2019 12:01 pm 
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good to see a lot of smiles.
what camera were you using?

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man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?

--- moe sizlack
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Tom
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 1:10 pm 
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Well done.  I was thinking the same, lots of smiles.  Although that seems be a common affliction in these environs. smile.gif
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markweth
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 1:46 pm 
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Awesome trip report, looks like a memorable trip for sure. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful photos.
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Dayhike Mike
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 3:39 pm 
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Nice work! Great report. Love the write up and the photos. I’m glad you guys had such good weather. It’s quite the route, eh? wink.gif

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"There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences." -P.J. O'Rourke
"Ignorance is natural. Stupidity takes commitment." -Solomon Short
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Backpacker Joe
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 4:18 pm 
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Wonderful report and pictures.  Thanks for posting.  The only recommendation Id offer is to have rafts with you so you could raft those wonderful lakes.

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"If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide."

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Jeff
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PostTue Oct 15, 2019 4:50 pm 
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Do you have any suggestions for how to approach this if you only have one car? Out and back from Anderson Lakes TH to Blum Lakes? Or is it better from the Baker TH to Anderson Lake and back?
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DIYSteve
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PostWed Oct 16, 2019 6:06 am 
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Wow, great first TR and pics of a fine adventure in my favorite corner of the park.

platypus wrote:
(thanks so much again Steve; I owe you many a beer)

Hell yes, you do  wink.gif  Glad I could help out.

Be careful: High routing can be habit-forming
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platypus
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PostWed Oct 16, 2019 8:07 am 
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Thank you everyone for the kind words! Honestly, this TR was a minor labour of love – it was so much fun to go through the photos and remember our adventure while writing this out.

iron wrote:
what camera were you using?

A Nikon D750! Way too heavy for a trip like this haha. Then just an iphone after the camera died halfway through.

Dayhike Mike wrote:
It’s quite the route, eh?

Heck yes it is! Also, thanks so much for your 2007 TR, Mike (along with Schmidt Altitude). There's a reason I linked it in the TR – I referred to it maaany a time in the lead up to this trip smile.gif .

Jeff wrote:
Do you have any suggestions for how to approach this if you only have one car? Out and back from Anderson Lakes TH to Blum Lakes? Or is it better from the Baker TH to Anderson Lake and back?

Hm. That's a good question. Users like DIYSteve might have more insight, having been there more than once. Personally, I wouldn't want to go over the Mt Hagan col from the other direction (W to E) and have to descend the glacier that we had trouble going up. But if you're comfortable on that kind of terrain I'm sure it would be a breeze. Going down the Blum Access Route was also a lot easier than expected for us, but wow that would be a slog going up it. So if I was going to do an out and back, I'd probably put in at the Anderson TH, just go to Berdeen, then come back from there (going over Bacon Peak a different way on the return trip, for fun). But I'd highly recommend some sort of traverse if you could swing it!

DIYSteve wrote:
Hell yes, you do  wink.gif  Glad I could help out.
Be careful: High routing can be habit-forming

It might be a while until I make it down your way (early next summer?) but I swear on the forum gods it will happen! And yes, I can already feel the itch to get back. Uh oh.
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cascadetraverser
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PostWed Oct 16, 2019 6:50 pm 
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Nice trip and well done!  It is a beautiful area...
Nice to see some posts from some old timers that I haven’t seen much from for awhile too 😀
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > A North Cascades Traverse: Watson - Berdeen - Blum (Aug 29 - Sept 2, 2019)
  Happy Birthday JVT!
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