Heather Meadows / Lake Ann

July 27 - 28, 2006

Dave Svilar

Warning: If you find wandering, irrelevant stories boring, then scroll down to the photos at the bottom of the page.

After a three day outing with Brenna and Mason (coming soon) to Easy Ridge I opted for a night at Heather Meadows.  Otherwise known as the Mt Baker Ski Area, Heather Meadows provides lazy motor vehiclists the only North Cascades opportunity to get above treeline.  The true riches of the North Cascades only unveil themselves to those willing to hike, bushwhack, and climb.  However, this small alpine playground situated between hulking, ice-clad Mt Baker and picturesque Mt Shuksan allows drivers on Highway 542 to tread along Washington's most scenic 5 miles of pavement for a couple of months each year.  Besides allowing alpine access to well-fed, gas guzzling Americans, Heather Meadows contains a dense network of trails, all of which begin above treeline! 

My love-affair with this area began as a misguided undergraduate almost 10 years ago at Western Washington University in Bellingham.  Somewhere along the way I had convinced myself that majoring in chemistry would be my best academic move.  Soon I found myself studying nights and weekends attempting to wrap the shallow confines of my brain around quantum mechanics and the Schrodinger Equation.  The drudgery was not limited to studying.  An obvious correlation developed between the level of chemistry course and classroom demographics.  This disturbing trend was as follows: the higher the number chemistry course (ex: Chem 461) the lower the number of females, particularly types that could pass as slightly attractive.  Ground zero was signaled when, during a long lecture on thermodynamics, I found my eyes wandering the room when they settled on Chuck.  I wondered to myself if things could get so horribly bad that I would find Chuck attractive.  I was afraid the answer would be "yes" if action wasn't taken soon. 

Through twisted logic I decided that the answer to my problems was to begin academic chemistry research.  But where and with whom?  Tracing DNA strands through computer simulations?  Multi-step inorganic synthesis of chelated ligands?  Feeling guilty that topics this fascinating didn't seem worthy of keeping me up nights I hung my head in despair.  Like the dawn of day after a cruel night I received a tip about a real-life chemistry professor who was (40 years ago) an avid climber.  How had I not heard of this man, Dr Wilson?  The staff of self-important chemistry professors had attempted to keep climbing professor Wilson under wraps by banishing him to the basement of a neighboring concrete bunker.

"An outdoor enthusiast are you?" asked the diminutive, white haired old man.  "I have just the research project for you."  Under the guise of the Glacier Studies Project I would spend the next two years gaining college credit for frequent forays to Heather Meadows to collect snow samples.  I quickly learned to love chemistry as I would snowshoe to various areas near Table Mountain, Artist Point, and even onto the Shuksan Arm to collect my samples.  Sometimes I would even bring pretty non-Chemistry girls along who I could make dizzy with a stiff snowshoeing pace and my knowledge of solid phase micro-extraction.  When it came time to probe Dr Wilson about the finer points of chemistry field technique his response was always predictable.  "Listen son.  We can talk about chemistry anytime, but let's instead use this time for me to tell you about my first ascent of the Eiger while I was supposed to be doing a post-doc in Switzerland."  And so it went, the defense of my research in front of the entire Chemistry faculty was a bit rough, but my time spent "researching" at Heather Meadows was priceless.  To this day I give large credit to Dr Wilson and Heather Meadows for turning me into what I am today - an unemployed 30 year old - and thus saving my life.

In the time following college I had only been back to the area twice, once on a memorable trip with the Redhead to climb the North Face of Shuksan.  With nowhere to go and certainly nothing tying me down, I made my way up the twisting road toward the meadows with the intent of capturing a wicked sunset on my new D200.  Broken clouds abounded which could ultimately lead to a spectacular or equally dull sunset.  Luckily, the former prevailed.  Trophy hunting photographers lined up, as usual no more than 100 feet from the parking lot.  I hiked up to Table Mountain with the intent of what photographers call pre-visualizing their photograph, wasn't satisfied and ran quickly over to Artist Point and struck gold.  Along the trail was a partially melted out tarn that provided a beautiful, partial reflection of Shuksan.  I bounced around the area like a sugar charged 8th grader looking for the best combination of foreground and tarn reflection at one point partially falling into the melt water.

I slept alone in the parking lot in the back of the Toyota without being hassled by other tourists or rangers.  I awoke in the middle of the night to a moonless sky.  Mt Baker was out one window and Shuksan out the other both silhouetted by a sky aglow with countless stars.  The next morning, before going back to meet old friends in Bellingham, I ran out to Lake Ann and beyond to Shuksan's lower Curtis Glacier where the Fisher Chimneys route starts to get interesting.  I carried my camera thinking I would take a few pictures of myself running.  I quickly realized how lame that was and focused on enjoying the run instead.  It was good to be back.

It was difficult to decide on which direction to point the camera.  Mt Baker to the west in and out of the clouds or...
... Mt Shuksan to the east with the melting out tarn to provide a reflection.
Not a bad spot to park for the night.  Ptarmigan Ridge and Baker in the background.
The few miles of driving through Heather Meadows are the most spectacular in all of Washington.
Running at my turn around point at the Curtis Glacier.  Advice: don't take pictures of yourself running.
Only a small portion of Lake Ann had melted out.  Shuksan and its tumbling glaciers loom in the background.
Despite the abuse of my girlfriend I occasionally redeem myself with cute, romantic notes.
A couple of final photos from the exquisite sunset.

 - written August 2006

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