The mood of a Pacific Northwest winter is defined by monochromatic clouds and a never-ending somber grayness. The dampness that muffles sound also softens the edges of the scenery. There seems little depth to the view as layers of fog and mist create a two dimensional portrait of the world. Shadows hardly exist.
But luckily, the Mt. Baker Highway offers escape from the murky lowlands, a scenic thoroughfare that leads the sun-starved supplicant upward towards the gleaming alpine.
Follow it through farmlands and into majestic forests lining the surging waters of the Nooksack River, finally corkscrewing up to the sinewy ridgelines and the end of the road. Pulling into the upper parking lot beyond Picture Lake, find yourself among other puffy jacket-clad disciples on this pilgrimage to the Mecca of mountain scenery as they pull skis, snowshoes, and packs from their vehicles, their breath forming clouds of condensation in the crisp, cold air.
With the necessary safety equipment (avalanche beacons, shovels, probes, and perhaps personal rescue devices), begin climbing. With each step, smiles broaden and the views out over the winter wonderland expand. Proceed upward, following the summer road which is now buried under feet of snow. The adage, “In winter every mile is two”, is readily apparent as the trail ascends upward through inches—or feet—of fresh powder. Finally one reaches the level area which is the upper parking lot at the true end of the road and the glorious view towards Mt. Baker is matched by the opposing view of Mt. Shuksan. To have just one of these monarch peaks to stare at would be reward enough, but to have both, along with countless distant summits, is nirvana.
Turning left, one can follow the ridge towards Huntoon Point, also known as Artist Point. In this area something truly magical often happens as the blustery winds plaster the wind-stunted trees, creating fantastically weird tree hoodoos. Sometimes, not a hint of green needles is revealed under the thick flocking of snow. Under an azure blue sky, this visually-rich scene is the antithesis of the muted lowland environment left behind a few hours ago. Wandering along this ridge is akin to strolling through a modern sculpture garden, with each corner and curve causing one to pause, reflect, and simply exhale. The low angle of the winter sun creates deliciously long shadows that extend forever over the crystalline snow. A more perfect winter scene is difficult to imagine.
The distance traveled from the car is relatively short but the visual rewards are rich indeed. Savor the ephemeral moments. The memory of winter light and vivid beauty will warm your soul in the chill grey months ahead.
“Looking at life as always an adventure” sums up Bob Kandiko’s philosophy. Retired after 33 years as a middle school science teacher, he now has endless time to plan and execute trips with his life companion, Karen Neubauer and friends. His latest embraced quote, “Remember to stop so you take the time to stop to remember.”