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piika 09-11-2008 06:37 PM

Railroad Grade/ Park Butte: Sept. 5-7, 2008
The promise of a September sunny weekend lured Marc and I into bumping up a planned Mt. Baker trip. We left Burnaby on Friday evening and due to border line-ups and the condition of one of the roads in (the #12 off the baker lake road is having its culverts replaced and was a bit soft in places) we arrived at the trailhead not too long before dark. Since the trail was new to us, we decided to camp at one of the hiker one-night-only spots beside the parking lot that come free with your parking pass.

Fog greeted us the next morning as we hit the trail. After the meandering first mile, we hit Rocky Creek. The trail webpage warned against the crossing, as there is no bridge, but when we reached the crossing the creek was low and we easily got across. As the trail continued up some switchbacks we were still in a cloud but glad for the coolness the mist offered us. We passed the Scott Paul turnoff then came up to the Railroad Grade/Park Butte Fork. As the visibility was pretty much nil, we decided to jaunt up the big stone steps towards Railroad Grade to spend the night. The maps I looked at turned out to be somewhat inaccurate in scale and we were surprised to see the camp just beyond the steps.

The "crux" day one:
Stairs to nothingness:

We set the Nighthaven up and looked around as the clouds and fog drifted in and out. “I'm sure you can get a good view of Baker, right here,” I assured Marc, but there were no views to be found. A passing ranger confirmed that the mountain was indeed close by and soon we did see a small glimpse of the towering peaks. Thus placated we took a nap, deciding to try our luck with the weather in the afternoon.

At 3'oclock we wandered out of the campground and up the Railroad Grade. The trail is along the top of the Eaton glacier's old lateral moraine, which provides a landscape of contrasts. On one side are meadows and wildflowers, on the other - a wide desolate floodplain. The whistling of marmots was prevalent as we hiked up the grade and we shortly had an encounter with one that was extremely friendly. As we passed high camp, the view opened up more and more till we could actually see all of Baker! Further on we stopped for a snack break and then made our way back to our camp.
A shy Mt. Baker, and the Friendly Marmot of Railroad Grade:

By the time we arrived back at our tent, the mist rolled back in and stayed that way for us until just before sunset. Late that night as we lay snug in our bags the wind picked up ferociously and had me jumping out of the tent to retrieve some gear that had blown away. The howling winds lasted all night and we were both happy to find that our Nighthaven tarp tent stood up so well to the onslaught.

Sunday morning saw us waking up to a beautiful day with clear views all around. Woo Hoo! We packed up, bounded down the steps, and hung a right towards Park Butte. The trail dropped down into the meadows and we got an awesome view of Baker and the Black Buttes, before climbing past some old rock falls, where I chatted amicably with my fellow Piikas (Eeek?-Eeek!). Sadly, though, they are horribly camera shy and just would not pose for a picture!

This trail is muti-use and, as such, is graded nicely to allow for horses. A swing to the left around an outcropping took us to the famously-picturesque tarns and up around the back. Soon we were at the steps of the Park Butte lookout itself. I was surprised to see it full of furniture and equipment, books and games- there was even a bed with linens! Apparently an outdoor club lovingly maintains it and it is open to overnight guests first-come-first-served, with enough room for four to sleep pretty comfortably. Other cool things about this place is that it sits atop a rocky outcrop, has windows all around it and is surrounded on all sides by a deck. In a few minutes it started to fill up with looky-loos, so we headed down past the conga line to the tarn area to grab lunch and snap some more pics.

Having filled our stomachs and memory card, we happily sauntered down the trail. Wow- this trail really is super popular! We passed many types of hikers on the way down, through the meadows and back down the switchbacks. Around three o'clock we arrived back at the creek crossing. What a difference from the day before! A day of sun had brought torrents of brown meltwater down Rocky Creek. Our old ford was impassable, so we had to wander upstream where the creek broke into thirds to make our way safely across. Before long we were back at the trailhead (you can even see Baker from here - who knew?!) where we had candidates vying for our parking spot in the overfilled parking lot. Next it was out to the #20 and a stop at the Birdsview Brewery for a yummy Porter.

The crux, day 2!
It's a cairn, it's an Innukshuk, it's a...castle?

KARVITK 09-11-2008 06:40 PM

Very nice, and thank you for posting. I have not spent enough time in the area, time to head that way. Really like those Mt. Baker shots as viewed from the south, they are very cool.


Pete 09-11-2008 09:19 PM

Cool trip, What a shot of that Marmot.

Rented Mule 09-11-2008 09:20 PM

Way to brave the elements and be rewarded with a perfect Sunday morning.
World class destination, for sure. Nice pictures! You guys look like you had fun!

Stoked 09-12-2008 05:19 AM

The Skagit Alpine Club maintains the lookout, I think. They also maintain the Easy Pass trail on the Highway 20 scenic corridor.

Blucruisin 09-12-2008 07:27 AM

Nice report and pics. Railroad Grade is an awesome Baker hike. Looks like you didn't go further up to see the Demming Glacier. If you go back you may want to as it is truly amazing.


shaggy 09-12-2008 08:23 AM

Awesome, one of my favorite hikes.
I'll be heading down there one weekend soon, but most likely just a dayhike.

Q 09-12-2008 09:37 AM

That looks like a great spot! Nice pics.

piika 09-12-2008 04:47 PM

Hey Blucruisin, we were thinking of you guys last Saturday, hoping you were getting better visibility than us on the other side of the mountain!
Nope, didn't get to see the Demming Glacier, as it got fogged in again real quick. Two hikers a few minutes behind us actually got lost in the mist for a bit when trying to make their way back down the Grade.

Blucruisin 09-12-2008 05:57 PM

Scary to be lost in fog up there! Great minds think alike as Skyhawk and I were thinking about you and Marc too. :)


David and Karen 09-14-2008 06:54 AM

I spent Thursday night down there, had the tarn all to myself for sunrise/sunset! :D

Shaggy, if you go, give it about 2-3 weeks. The foliage is just turning and those meadows are going to light up like a Christmas tree! I did find lots of good huckleberry picking though.;)

shaggy 09-14-2008 08:41 AM


quote:Originally posted by David and Karen

I spent Thursday night down there, had the tarn all to myself for sunrise/sunset! :D

Shaggy, if you go, give it about 2-3 weeks. The foliage is just turning and those meadows are going to light up like a Christmas tree! I did find lots of good huckleberry picking though.;)
Thanks for the heads up... It's going to be at least that before I think I'll be able to make it anyway.

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