Forum Index > Trip Reports > Church Mt / Bearpaw Mt high country: Whistler Lake, Kidney Lakes - 7/21/19
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TellimaChris
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Location: Bellingham, Washington
TellimaChris
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PostMon Jul 22, 2019 10:09 pm 
North of Mt Baker, between Church Mt and Bearpaw Mt there lies an extensive swath of alpine country thatís largely inaccessible and seldom visited. Kidney Lakes, on the west end of this high country, can be seen from the viewpoint at the end of the Church Mt Trail, 600í down at the bottom of a steep cirque with a less-than-obvious easy way down. Iíve long admired their striking blue-green waters from above, and today would be the day I would try to get down to the lakes in person. And I decided on a very roundabout route to get there, incorporating a nice loop through some beautiful alpine country along the way. I started climbing 2.5 miles up the Church Mt Trail and left it a short distance before reaching the meadows, heading straight up the hillside through the forest. The 650í up to the ridge was patchy meadow and forest, and I tried to keep to the trees whenever possible as the hill was steep and it was helpful to have branches and trunks to grab onto. At the top, the headwaters of Canyon Creek spread out before me, and I got a view of the band of cliffs to the north that protected access to the high country beyond. I noticed a nice little notch in the cliffs where it looked like I could climb right up to the crest on increasingly steep meadows. I wasnít sure what the other side looked like and whether Iíd be able to make it down, but I seem to remember having been to Whistler Lake a number of years ago that it was not overly cliffy. I descended into the basin and sidehilled around the west side and began climbing up the hillside toward the notch. It was steep enough to require all fours, especially near the top where the angle increased, and I had the thought that I would hate to have to slide back down if I couldnít easily make it over the other side. When I made it to the top I could see Whistler Lake below and the barren and rocky high country beyond, with still significant snowfields this late in the season in a low snow year. The descent was steep and loose near the top but fairly easy, and once closer to the lake the terrain became flatter, though hummocky and mostly snow covered. I traversed west toward Church Mt alternating between snow and rock.
Cliff bands guarding high country beyond.  Route taken in red.
Cliff bands guarding high country beyond. Route taken in red.
Approaching the notch from below
Approaching the notch from below
Mt Baker and cliffs near the notch
Mt Baker and cliffs near the notch
Whistler Lake
Whistler Lake
Church/Bearpaw high country as viewed from notch in crest
Church/Bearpaw high country as viewed from notch in crest
Pt 6209 at center, Church at right.  Route taken in red.
Pt 6209 at center, Church at right. Route taken in red.
As I approached the base of Pt 6209, a lovely spire perched high above the plateau, I had to drop down to the north to avoid some cliffs. After an ugly sidehill and a loose ascent on scree I came to the top of a little plateau with Kidney Lakes visible below. I descended down into the Kidney Lakes basin, and was at once struck with the beauty of the place. There were two small lakes in a lovely alpine setting, one lake blue and the other a glacial turquoise green. There were very few trees to be found and high cliffs framed the basin to the south as the blocky knob of Church Mt towered above. Despite being a pair of beautiful lakes begging to be camped at, ones that were admired by perhaps dozens of people every weekend from the trail terminus above, there was no sign of human presence at Kidney Lakes. And as I scouted out routes up the basin walls to get back to the Church Mt Trail, I began to see why. There were simply no easy routes. I briefly considered ascending towards Pt 6209, it looked like simply steep meadows most of the way, but with a particular unpleasant looking and potentially cliffy sidehill below the peak. I opted to head straight up toward the trail viewpoint. It looked to be steep scree most of the way with some cliffs toward the top that I was hoping to find a scramble route up. I made my way up the basin through a surreal landscape of rivulets, moss, and wildflowers. The scree slopes were difficult going.. 2 steps up one step down kind of terrain. I made a number of forays on a few portions of the headwall, and settled on a pretty much direct ascend to the viewpoint, where I could see people relaxing in the afternoon sun from below. It was class 2 or so and the rock a bit loose, but it was relatively straightforward (from below at least). I ate a snack and soaked up the panoramic views from the high point. On the way down I scrambled a bit east on the ridge and found a slightly easier-looking way down to Kidney Lakes, about 100 yards east of the viewpoint. But it still looked steep and loose.. like I said there is no really easy way down. Which is fine I suppose, it keeps the lakes pristine.
Pt 6209 from Kidney Lakes.  This spire should really have a name.
Pt 6209 from Kidney Lakes. This spire should really have a name.
Kidney Lake with Church Mt looming overhead
Kidney Lake with Church Mt looming overhead
Lake at the edge of the world
Lake at the edge of the world
Moss and coltsfoot in the Kidney Lakes basin
Moss and coltsfoot in the Kidney Lakes basin
Crazy beautiful moss formation
Crazy beautiful moss formation
Panorama from Kidney Lakes basin.  Route taken in red.
Panorama from Kidney Lakes basin. Route taken in red.
Kidney Lakes from the Church Mt Trail end viewpoint
Kidney Lakes from the Church Mt Trail end viewpoint
Then a long 2500í descent on sore feet through some gorgeous wildflower meadows. 12 miles altogether, about half off trail and 2/3 above treeline.
12 miles and 4900' elevation gain in 8 hours
12 miles and 4900' elevation gain in 8 hours

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fourteen410
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fourteen410
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PostMon Jul 22, 2019 11:10 pm 
Awesome. I've always wondered about access to those lakes. Appreciate the report.

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Brushbuffalo
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Location: there earlier, here now, somewhere later... Bellingham in between
Brushbuffalo
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PostTue Jul 23, 2019 7:57 am 
What an elegant loop! I bet you're right. Of the probably tens of thousands who have viewed Kidney Lakes from the lookout site, probably only a few dozen have ventured there. It will probably not become popular due to the inobvious entry to the plateau.

Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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RichP
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PostTue Jul 23, 2019 8:25 am 
Great looking area and interesting route.

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