This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.
Boasting record-breaking snowpack, the North Cascades are a playground for alpinists, skiers, and winter misfits of all levels. Situated between "The Magnificent Pair"—Mount Shuksan, at 9,131 feet, and Mount Baker at 10,781—Artist's Point offers unrivaled touring access. This region is infamous for wet, dark weather, but when it breaks bluebird, an air of celebration buzzes along the skin track.
While the surrounding terrain looks daunting (and it is), the tour up from Heather Meadows is straightforward and can be achieved by anyone with the proper gear, knowledge and foresight. The benefit of this tour is that the terminus is always within sight, you can set your own path to the summit. The main route, however, is well defined, winding through conifer glades and vast snowfields. More direct summit bids can be had for those with the lung capacity. However you plan to tackle it, block out a whole day, because you never know how long it will take for the sun to come out again.
- From I-5, head east on State Route 542 or, as the locals call it, the Mount Baker Highway.
- Stop at the Wake n'Bakery in the town of Glacier for a latte and a breakfast burrito.
- At milepost 52, acknowledge Mount Baker Ski Area, and the fact that you will not be riding lifts today.
- State Route 542 ends at milepost 55, in Heather Meadows, with a very tall, very abrupt wall of snow. Keep right, and park in the lot at the base of Mount Herman.
Backcountry travel on snow, regardless of time of year, is dangerous. Take special precautions that you and your team have the proper equipment and knowledge of backcountry travel and subsequent rescue. This tour will lead you out of cell phone range. Consult NOAA and NWAC before attempting.
- At the trailhead (south and east of the pit toilets), veer right onto National Forest land.
- Skirt the ski area boundary.
- About a half-mile in, stay to left of the visitor center (closed in winter), a charming chateau that should, for all reasonable purposes, serve fondue and brandy in the winter months. Have a sip of water and appreciate the backdrop Table Mountain offers.
- Next comes the only serious climb, slanting left, then right and up. It follows an orange fence. Skin tracks switchback, or the more daring pound at a strenuous angle. Both lead to the same destination.
- Here the track leaves the ski area boundary. To the right is the snout of Table Mountain, to the left the great vale of Swift Creek.
- From this vantage, you can see Artist's Point. It is a small pinnacle to the left at the end of the ridge. The snow-covered road is the easiest approach, but faster (and more strenuous) alternatives will be apparent.
- Cresting the ridge, the first glimpse of Mount Baker comes into view. Since a full day has been blocked out, have some water and food and bask in Baker's beauty. Maybe pick out a few other future tours out Ptarmigan Ridge.
- Go left. Follow the ridgeline. Where it fails to continue, turn right and climb the hundred yards or so to Artist's Point. Snap some photos and enjoy the silence, a bite to eat and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
WHAT TO BRING
Expect to be out for a full day, so pack enough food for one, possibly two meals. Bring plenty of water. The Pacific Northwest weather is fickle—a warm, sunny day can turn ominous very fast, so layer accordingly. Be aware of changing snow conditions, watch for rollerballs on south-facing aspects, and always be monitoring snowpack conditions.
- Touring setup, avalanche beacon, shovel, probe, and the knowledge of how to use them
- Layers: Waterproof shell, gloves, hats—insulating gear is light, bring it!
- Enough food. Enough Water.
- First-aid kit
- A Sierra Nevada Pale Ale apiece for you and your crew