You can’t get much more alpine than this!
The Deming Glacier flows south off of Mt. Baker, bending around beneath the steep cliffs of the Black Buttes before flowing out into the Middle Fork Nooksack River. It’s the most dramatic example of glaciation in Washington’s North Cascades that I know of. I’m always impressed when I get up on the side of Mt. Baker to look down on the Deming.
Saturday I got there pretty much by accident. I started out to scout a route into the Twin Sisters range, but there was a “road closed” sign blocking my way. Since I was already on the south side of Baker I decided to head up to Schreiber’s Meadows and hike the Scott Paul trail on Baker’s south flank. I’d never hiked it, but heard the views were great and I knew it would take me to the edge of the glaciers.
I was on the trail by 8:30 am and hiked quickly up through the old-growth forest, a nice stand of mostly hemlock and silver fir. The trail gains elevation steadily and within a couple of hours I’d reached 5100′ and broke out of the woods into subalpine terrain. The flowers started to get good and I stopped to start photographing with my little pocket Canon S70 camera.
Before long I was at the edge of a rib of loose rock coming straight down from Baker — a small lateral moraine. I headed up, picking my way to avoid stepping on the delicate alpine foliage. There were lupines, partridgefoot, pink heather, white heather, mountain arnica, and pearly everlasting scattered sparsely along the way. At some point I started seeing Tolmey’s saxifrage, which became one of the most common plants all day.
At the base of a snowfield I spied three little fuzzy balls running across the snow and then I spotted the mother ptarmigan supervising from nearby. I gave them wide berth and continued up. There were little tarns with deep blue ice. The rock rib got very narrow. I scrambled up some sketchy cliffs.
At about noon I was around 6000′ and took a break on some polished rock, enjoying lunch and a little sunbathing. I could look across to Railroad Grade and see miniature climbers making their way up. At that point I decided I wanted to go over there, partly to get the view in the photo and partly because the trail would be easier going on the way down.
There was only one problem — the Easton glacier was between me and the grade. I looked at the glacier and decided that the flatter part probably wouldn’t be too crevassed and could be crossed safely with care. I was right, although I was a bit nervous making my way around the ends of the crevasses.
From the top of Railroad Grade I continued up and over to the edge of the lateral moraine overlooking the Deming. It was on this moraine that I found the Davidson’s penstemon, Penstemon davidsonii. It was in full peak bloom and quite prolific. I also spied bright red dots on a cliff, which turned out to be cliff paintbrush, Castilleja rupicola.
Around 3 pm I decided I needed to head down, but I could have stayed much longer enjoying the flowers and the view.
It was liberating to hike with just a pocket camera and no tripod. The S70 does very well with wide-angle closeups, so that’s what I shot a lot of. But like many little cameras, the autofocus sometimes had trouble deciding to focus on my main subject and several nice compositions had the background sharp instead of what I wanted. It was so sunny and bright that I really couldn’t see the display on the back of the camera very well.
About 6:45 I got back to the trailhead, having hiked 12-15 miles.