Winter Heather Meadows Recreation Area

Winter Heather Meadows Recreation Area

Table Mountain North Cascades Washington Winter Heather Meadows Recreation AreaTable Mountain Heather Meadows Recreation Area 56528

Every winter for nearly twenty years I’ve made at least one visit to Heather Meadows Recreation Area. I come here for a variety of reasons, such as being close to home and one of the few places in the North Cascades with relatively easy access to subalpine and alpine terrain. Also because the scenery is some of the best in the state and the ever changing patterns of snow and light make for unique winter photography opportunities.

On this first trip of the 2015-2016 winter season I came mainly to begin getting in shape and acclimated for upcoming ski-photo tours. Last year was a near bust as far as snowpack is concerned, but so far this year winter storms have pounded the mountains resulting in a pretty impressive base. As of this writing the Mount Baker Ski Area reports 146″ in the upper runs, with more storms lined up waiting to dump more snow. The first break in the weather I’ll head back up for a few days of winter camping and photography.

Backcountry skiers North Cascades Washington Winter Heather Meadows Recreation AreaBackcountry skiers heading up to Artist Point 56540

Mount Baker North Cascades Winter Heather Meadows Recreation AreaMount Baker from Artists Point 56535

Nooksack River North Cascades Washington Winter Heather Meadows Recreation AreaNooksack River back down in the valley 56544





North Cascades Winter

North Cascades Winter

Table Mountain North Cascades WinterTable Mountain North Cascades #1644b

This image of Table Mountain was made near the Mount Baker Ski Area during the record snowfall winter of 1998-99. That epic winter the ski area received a whopping 1140″ of snow. I couldn’t find out what the actual base was but it was enough to have people specially hired to dig out the lifts! It should be noted that this total is from November 1, 1998 to May 12, 1999.

If these statistics aren’t impressive enough you should also be aware that Mount Baker itself, the namesake volcano topping out at 10,778′ situated a few miles away, would receive many times the amount of snow than the ski area, which sits at about 4500′. No wonder it is perhaps the snowiest glacier cloaked peak in the lower 48 states.

Today however is a different story, the record year of 1999 is a distant memory. Last winter Northwest ski areas barely managed to keep open for a partial season due to unusually warm temperatures and little snow.

Since we are still in the grip of that same El Niño weather pattern the forecasts don’t look much better for this winter. But lets be optimistic, it’s only the second week in November and the mountains are already receiving snow from fall storms, albeit in higher elevations and still a little warmer than normal.

In the meantime I’m going to start scheduling some winter photo trips and getting my skis and other gear in shape!

Mount Baker North Cascades WinterMount Baker in winter #47031





Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope Ridge

Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope Ridge

Mount Baker North Cascades_54421 Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope RidgeMount Baker North Cascades_54421

Summer is nearly over, and now that we’re in that exciting pause before the coming fall season I have some time to catch up on a few posts I’ve been too busy to work on. If you’ve been following my updates here and in my New Images Portfolio you’ll know that most of the height of  summer was spent close to home, specifically the Mount Baker Wilderness of the North Cascades. Fortunately for me this wilderness is only an hour or two drive from my home, practically in my backyard. During the month of August I photographed the following areas accessed via the Mount Baker Highway:

  • Church Mountain
  • Skyline Divide
  • Hannegan Peak
  • Heliotrope Ridge
  • Heather Meadows Recreation Area


During the last week of August I was hoping to visit one more spot that might offer good displays of wildflowers and almost forgot about Heliotrope Ridge. It has been around twelve years since my last visit and twenty or so since I taught a weekend photography workshop there through the North Cascades Institute. Heliotrope Ridge trail is extremely popular due to the easy and close access to views of the sprawling Coleman Glacier on the slopes of Mount Baker, and also because it is the start to one of the main climbing routes to the summit of Baker. Since I’ve been there before I knew that the best wildflower meadows were up high near the climbers camps near the edge of the glaciers and snowfields, and also that I would have the place to myself if I went during the week. Sure enough during my three nights on the ridge I saw only one other person wandering around, and the few climbing parties that set up camp stuck to the glaciers with eyes on the summit.

The wildflowers of Heliotrope Ridge were markedly different from those on the hikes to Skyline Divide and Hannegan Peak. There I came across fields mainly of valerian, lupine, corn lilies, and heather, but on Heliotrope there was a greater variety of flowers with an emphasis on yellow arnicas. Also since this area is so close to Mount Baker it receives much more snow, therefore the plants had just escaped the confines of winter and began blooming in late August while other subalpine ridges in the area were already well past peak and had gone to seed.

Another thing to do aside from gawking at the views and wildflowers is to wander cross country, there are no trails at this point. Going west along increasingly barren slopes of mixed volcanic rock and crumbly slate there are numerous rushing snowmelt streams. If you are prepared for steep snowfield/glacier travel then continue higher up to the actual crest of Heliotrope Ridge. Here the ridge consists of a wild display volcanic cinders jagged blocks of andesite and lava bombs, looking like it just cooled yesterday. Even better though is the view from the ridge of seldom seen Thunder Glacier and basin below Colfax and Lincoln Peaks, this is truly a wild and lonesome area of Mount Baker!

Coleman Glacier Heliotrope Ridge Wildflowers 54533 Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope RidgeColeman Glacier, Heliotrope Ridge Wildflowers #54533

Mount Baker climber camp on Heliotrope Ridge #54432 Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope RidgeMount Baker climber camp on Heliotrope Ridge #54432

Coleman Glacier climber camp Mount Baker #54518 Mount Baker Wilderness Heliotrope RidgeColeman Glacier, climber camp Mount Baker #54518

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