Following Tracks

My touring partner, Ian, and I found ourselves looking out across Ptarmagin Ridge toward our distant objective, Coleman Pinnacle.  The only noise was that of the wind coursing through the wings of a passing raven.  The sun shone down on our faces, lighting up the snow and landscape beyond.  I turned to Ian and asked where we were going.  He simply replied “Narnia,” and we continued along the skin track toward the jagged peak in the distance.

We left Bellingham, WA, around 6am that morning intending to summit and ski Ruth Mountain, located in the northwest corner of North Cascades National Park.  As we turned onto Hannegan Pass Road, it quickly became apparent that we would be unable to continue with our journey as we were faced with two feet of snow on the road, and an additional five miles to drive before reaching the trailhead.  We turned the car around, and instead of returning to Bellingham defeated we quickly hatched a plan to venture out from Mount Baker Ski Resort and explore the terrain around Coleman Pinnacle.  The Pinnacle rests west of the resort along Ptarmigan Ridge that connects to the east face of Mount Baker and is a remanent from an age old caldera that helped shape the surrounding landscape.

Traveling toward our objective, Coleman Pinnacle, with Mount Baker in the Background. Photo by Ian Burge

We reached our destination after a few hours of skinning across Ptarmigan Ridge, to find ourselves looking out across a landscape that had been untouched (or skied) by humans in the past few days. With Mount Baker as our backdrop, we surveyed the landscape one last time before creating our own tracks down the north side of Coleman Pinnacle into the Wells Creek drainage below.

The author creating her own tracks down the north face of Coleman Pinnacle. Photo by Ian Burge

I began snowboarding almost eight years ago after being introduced to the sport by a friend in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  I remember going to my first ski/snowboard movie by Warren Miller with segments dedicated to adventures in the mountains of Alaska, Northern B.C. and Washington. The mountains in the movie towered over the valleys below with cliff faces shrouded by glaciers while skiers gracefully and rhythmically traveled down their rugged faces.  I immediately felt a pull to explore the places like those I saw in the movies and experience a different perspective of wilderness.  I left the Green Mountains of Vermont behind for the rugged mountains of the North Cascades. My journeys in the winter are now defined by “long walks in the woods” while talking to my friends about Usnea, columnar basalt, animal tracks, botany and other aspects of the natural world.  On this day, I stopped immediately while riding down the slope, dropping to my knees in complete disbelief at what was in front of me.

We weren’t alone…
IMG_1810There are many uses for a snow-saw, including measuring wolverine tracks: 23cm!

I couldn’t believe it.  Still can’t believe it.  We had found wolverine tracks.  Fresh wolverine tracks.  Almost here an hour ago wolverine tracks.  In 2006, the Forest Service began live-trapping wolverines and placing radio collars on them to better understand the size of the current wolverine population in the North Cascades and the size of their home ranges.  Since that time, they have captured thirteen wolverines, and had a confirmed sighting of a wolverine near Sauk Mountain, making it the westernmost verifiable record of a wolverine in the last 15 years.  To say that wolverines are elusive is an understatement of how rare it is to find traces of one, let alone actually see one out in the wild.
Ian skied up to me and thought I had lost it.  I was desperately searching through my ski pack to find anything that had a unit of measure on it so that I could accurately measure the size of the print in order to take photos to send to the Forest Service.  After I finished taking pictures, I sat back down and took the moment in.  My eyes traveled up from where I was sitting, following the direct path of the wolverine’s tracks as it shot straight up from the valley floor, trending westward toward the glaciers of Mount Baker before cresting the ridge line and moving out of sight.  To the left, I could only see two other sets of tracks—those Ian and I had made skiing off the pinnacle.

Looking back toward Coleman Pinnacle and our tracks from the day
Photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Stephanie Bennett is the Graduate Program Coordinator at North Cascade’s Institute and an alumni of the Graduate M.Ed program offered through NCI and Western Washington University.  In her spare time, Stephanie can be found out in the middle of nowhere talking about how she needs to buy a jammy pack.  Her favorite ski movies are G.N.A.R and All I Can and she enjoys long walks on the beach, cookies and snowboarding.


  1. Leslie Franzen

    Thanks for sharing – this is so exciting and what a beautiful day you had.

  2. Tanya Anderson

    I am jealous. Amazing story. And today in the news, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana don’t think the wolverine needs protection.

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