Joined: 16 Jan 2018
Posts: 106 | TRs | Pics
I had big dreams of getting out for an overnight last weekend, but after a busy week with the family visiting and all the hot weather I needed to take Saturday off. Since I hadn't made it up to the Baker last summer, I thought I'd take advantage of the continued clear weather to do a hike in that area on Sunday. I had planned to do the Scott Paul loop but last minute remembered this great report from BrushBuffalo for Rainbow Ridge. 4 years ago I hiked to Coleman Pinnacle and wanted a better view of the Park Cliffs and icefall and Rainbow Ridge would fit the bill. I hoped that despite the heat there would be some water up on the ridge.
After plodding through the highly potholed road towards Baker Hot Spring, I headed uphill to the unofficial Rainbow Ridge TH. It seems like the road condition has improved, there was no brush encroaching and I didn't notice any areas that were about to wash out. Near the top of the road are three different spots one could car camp, all with partial views. Despite the large number of campers lower down, no one was in these spots.
I parked at the large clear landing SE of where the trail actually starts. It is still possible to drive right to the start of the trail but that portion of the road is still brushy, and looks like a smaller spur off the road to the NW.
Parking at the landing. Actual trail starts up brushier spur below Baker
Perhaps the reason no one was camped up here were the mosquitos, which descended with a vengeance as I stepped out of the truck. Since it was already 10 AM it wasn't exactly cool, and so I was moving quickly to get to the ridge before it got too warm. I had a bit of trouble finding the start of the trail; I had to walk up the spur and then when the trail turned uphill I should have stayed to the left under some branches, rather than right on what looks like a better trail.
Stay left here
The trail is just as rooty and muddy as noted in previous reports, but deadfall has mostly been cleared and the route is not brushy. While the trail is fairly steep, this is a quick way to the alpine, even more so when my stops were short lest I be overwhelmed by insects. In a half hour I broke into the meadows at the ridge top, where there were still some snow patches and the bugs were slightly less bad. Great views across the valley to Shuksan and west along the ridge towards Baker.
Baker from the ridge top
From here the way along the ridge was mostly rolling, with occasional splits in the trail and areas one could camp (including at the top off a knoll at 4620 ft). The ridge drops off quite steeply down to roaring Rainbow Creek to the north, with more gentle slopes to the south. I reached Point 4825 just after 11 AM; this is the first spot with a view down to Avalanche Gorge and upper Rainbow Creek. This is another nice spot to camp, though there is not much of a view of Baker from right at the top. I spent some time relaxing here as there was a bit of a breeze and a great view to the outwash far below, along with the various old moraines of the Rainbow Glacier. It seemed to be getting hot enough that the mosquitos were giving up.
Outwash in upper Rainbow Creek. Looks brushy!
Rainbow Glacier and the Portals
Scenic but unnecessary fire ring on Point 4825
From here the trail is somewhat less distinct, and drops for a distance to a lower portion of the ridge. Along the way I got good views of the spires of Lava Divide and the creek far below. Beyond Point 4825 there are more snow patches and melt ponds; despite the warm weather it looks like there will be snow up there for a few more weeks.
Pinnacles of Lava Divide with Park Glacier behind
Huckleberry on the edge
Further along the ridge
Goal is the ridge peak directly below Baker summit
There were larger patches of snow to cross as I ascended the ridge, and a section that might be trickier earlier season where the trail goes right below a steep snow patch on the north side. Around 12:15 I approached the cliff along the ridge.
Upper Rainbow Creek across to Coleman Pinnacle
Approaching the cliff. Route climbs left of the lower snowpatch then crosses below the upper cliffs to the snowpatch at upper right.
There is now an obvious trail climbing up to the cliff from the col below it. I followed it up, crossed to the left of a small stream, and then crossed back over and climbed basically straight up to the right of the stream. This involved a few bush belays; on the way back down I found an easier route that traverses steep heather below the cliff before dropping down. I saw some goat fur near the top of the climb so I knew I was on route. Near the very top I found a small meltwater fall that was great for a water refill.
Part way up the cliff. Better to stay left, right back towards stream is steeper.
Once to the top of the cliff the trail ends but there are multiple ways up towards the split of Lava Divide and Rainbow Ridge. There is a knoll just NE of Point 5533 that would make an excellent campsite, with views in every direction.
Back to Shuksan
Hazy view towards Whitehorse. Dust is from something happening in Boulder Creek.
From Shuksan to Hagan
Baker from the campsite knoll. Final summit is the bushy cliff at left.
Blum to Bacon, Eldorado area behind. Marten Lake and the road to the TH are also visible
Upon reaching the top of Point 5533 there was a benchmark indicating the highest point. However there are actually two summits and the farther one blocks the best view of Baker. There is a rough trail over to it but it involves a bit of a brushy scramble to get there.
View over to the other summit. Brushy traverse required along the south slope to the left.
Despite the last little annoyance, I was over to the other summit around 1 PM, with the expected excellent view down into the valley of upper Park Creek and the impressive icefall perched over the Park Cliffs. There isn't a single spot at the summit to see both directions, but I did stay in the sun for a while hoping to see some ice cascade down the cliffs. The many waterfalls descending from one portion of the glacier to the other created a persistent roar. I imagine historically when the Park Glacier was larger the icefall over Park Cliffs was even more fantastic.
Fortunately there was some shade on the other side of the NW peak so I was able to stay in the area for an hour and a half.
Shuksan and the campsite subpeak
The main attraction
Cliffs, ice, and waterfalls
Park Glacier terminus
Lava Divide, attempting to dry my shirt
Old moraines in upper Park Creek, also looks brushy!
Some big waterfalls, and an avalanche portion of the lower Park Glacier
Besides great views of the Park Cliffs, I got expansive views of the North Cascades and Glacier Peak Wilderness. Haze was a problem to the south and theoretically on a clear day one could see as far as Rainier. The Pickets look quite formidable from this vantage, likely surprising no one.
Hazy Whitehorse and Three Fingers
Sloan and area peaks, Monte Cristo Peak in right background
American Border and Larrabee poking over the ridge
Many ridges to the Pickets
Cliffs of the Northern Pickets
Terror, Degenhardt, and the Southern Pickets
Green and blue
Glacier far away
Shuksan and the upper Curtis Glacier
After an hour and a half it was time to head back. Of course five minutes into the brushy bypass between the peaks I heard a big crash behind me as a chunk of ice broke and fell down the cliffs. When I got back to the main peak I looked over and could see where the ice had fallen down. Bad timing!
View from Point 5533 into the park
The road to Eldorado
Snow patch and a Portal
On my way back down to to the cliff scramble I found a nice waterfall which was a great spot to sit under the frigid snowmelt and cool off. I dunked my shirt too. Who needs an alpine lake!
Top of the small waterfall
Bottom and sploosh zone
Upon reaching the scramble I missed the first place to drop down and went too far left down the meadows. You should not have to descend very far below the upper cliffs before traversing.
Just above the traverse/scramble
More views across Baker Lake
Ridges between Rainbow and Shuksan
The rest of the return journey was nice, with good afternoon views to the east. At times I was on trails that petered out, most of the time it is best to go up and over rather than trying to go around. I actually missed the trail dropping off the ridge and found another good campsite, before cutting through the woods to rejoin the trail farther down, just before 4 PM. At this point the mosquitos were back and thicker than ever.
Candelabra tree and Baker
Summit pyramid of Shuksan, and the three tongues of the Upper Curtis Glacier
Last meltpond along the ridge
I pretty much ran back down the wooded portion of the trail to escape the mosquitos. Back at the TH I met a couple in an old van who planned to camp and then hike up the ridge the next day. They were the only folks I saw all day. My only other stop on the way home was the Panorama Point day use area for a quick swim; be sure to put out your pass even if only staying for 5 min though, the camp host is very prompt in checking!
Nice car camp right at the TH
Crossing frothing Park Creek along the access road
Overall an excellent hike even on a hot day. The fact that this trail does not appear on most maps, along with the rough potholed road in, must keep people away because this is one of the better effort/reward trails in this area. The trail is on WTA so it certainly isn't a secret. It definitely would make a great easy overnight, or morning/evening hike for better photo opportunities from the car camp at the top of the road.
kw, Foist, RichP, Bernardo, contour5, raising3hikers, reststep, Bramble_Scramble, Lightning_bug