A snowshoeing we will go
Tuesday morning found Cohort 9 at the Bagelry in Bellingham getting provisions for an all-day snowshoeing adventure to Artists Point from the Heather Meadows lot of Mount Baker Ski Area.
Blue skies and copious sunshine beckoned overhead as we headed up Koma Kulshan Highway. On our way to the ski resort, we stopped to stretch our legs and investigate some remnant old-growth Douglas-fir trees. Even as we crossed the North Fork Nooksack River, snow was scarce, leaving us concerned about possibly being over-equipped. All of our fears, however, were laid to rest several miles further up the slope as we met head-high snowdrifts along the road. Megan was able to successfully drive in the snow for the first time, quite a milestone for this native Floridian.
(Title) The group snowshoeing toward Artists Point, Photo by Kelsi Franzen (Above) Cohort 9 “C9” rocks the old growth, Photo by Kelsi Franzen
Arriving at the trailhead’s parking area, we strapped on our packs and snowshoes and headed up. The first part of our route was easy to travel, having been groomed by the ski area. Observant eyes soon spotted some tracks in the fresh powder alongside our path. Further inquiry and discussion led us to believe that they had been left by a fox, perhaps in the early morning.
Fox tracks in the powder, Photo by Kelsi Franzen
Shortly thereafter, Corey stopped the group to discuss and interpret the landscape features around the group, including two prominent cornices on a ridge top and potential avalanche slopes, some of which were marked with risk-taking skiersâ€™ tracks. These cornices were deposited on the leeward side of the ridge and were ominously overhanging.
Wind-laden classic cornices, Photo by Kelsi Franzen
As we reached the top of the ridge we were greeted by 360 degrees of breathtaking landscape scenery, including Mount Shuksan to the east and Mount Baker to the southwest. Fortunately, the spectacular weather held, enabling us to take a leisurely lunch break on one of the ridgeâ€™s high points. During lunch, Corey interpreted some of the unique visible geology of the area. This included the lava-topped Table Mountain and its â€œwild, crazy columnar jointsâ€ of andesite, stemming from a Mount Baker flow 300,000 years ago. Current theory holds that this lava flow, after settling into low points, solidified rapidly forming the joints. Erosion was more effective at the edges of the flow and thus the flat, table-like plateau was left, leaving what is referred to as a topographic inversion.
Witness wind’s work in white – cloud & snow formations, Mt. Baker in background, Photo by Erin Fowler
C9 at Artists Point with Table Mountain in background – Back Row (L to R): Justin, Megan, Corey, Rebecca, Erin, Martine, Mike & Kelsi, Front Row (L to R): Paul, Brandi, Photo by Tanya Anderson
Lunchtime also provided us with an amusing encounter with some local wildlife. Several gray jays accosted us as we enjoyed our snacks, with one brave jay landing on ski poles and even pooping on upright snowshoes!
The poop-ertrator, the gray jay, Photo by Kelsi Franzen
Brandi Stewart (left) and Rebecca Ryan (right) show off their sun-shiny smiles, Photo by Tanya Anderson
Naturalistsâ€™ jobs are never done. Just before departure, we noticed some distinctive patterns in the tops of the trees along the neighboring ridges. Tops of these trees were all wind-trained, extending to the northeast. This is a product of growing in windy environs with winds predominantly coming from the southwest.
Wind-trained trees, Photo by Erin Fowler
Clouds did start to gather as the cohort all giddily romped down the blissfully soft slopes. At the end of the day, all cohort members felt an aching in their legs, balanced by aching in their cheeks from smiling and laughing all day long. Bonds between cohort members grew as did further connections to place.