Trailblazers: Yellow Aster Butte Trail
This hike was certainly a lesson in how little you can bring and still make it down, and why it is you shouldn’t make a habit of it.
The Yellow Aster Butte trail rises 3.6 miles into the North Cascades alpine, bringing hikers to an excellent viewpoint and provides many more options for continuing the trip.
For this hike we anticipated clear skies like the ones Washington has been enjoying for the past few weeks and came dressed for warm weather. Instead we got some much-needed rain, which fell without pause for the entire day.
From the trailhead the path leads up into the forest, gradually switch backing through swaths of blueberry, which are almost entirely ripe now. The lichen known as old man’s beard hung in dripping tassels and fog rolled between the trees.
At 1.5 miles into the hike the trail breaks out of the trees and traverses a slope of wildflowers. Here a fork in the trail leads to Tomyhoi Lake to the right, and your final destination of Yellow Aster Butte to the left.
It was just after this junction that a large feline made its presence known just off trail with a low growl. This prompted a quick retreat, and we ended up walking the same section with a few other hikers in order to appear larger as a group. We didn’t end up seeing the source of the noise, but it sure got the heart pumping!
After 2 miles from the junction the trail comes to an overlook that offers views of Tomyhoi Lake, Mt. Larrabee and many other points of interest. This may be the end of the hike for many, but those with more time and energy can continue further.
From this point you can access many more incredible areas. If you drop down and to the west there is a collection of alpine lakes called tarns that dot a large meadow. Heading north would take you to the boot pack leading up to Tomyhoi Peak, and to the east continues the trail the summit of Yellow Aster Butte.
If you choose to continue from the viewpoint onto the summit of Yellow Aster know that it isn’t for the faint of heart. Large cliffs skirt the trail and using your hands to scramble up the slope is often required.
All of this technical scrambling was compounded by the wind and hail that began to fall as we gained elevation and at more than a few places a slip wouldn’t have ended pretty.
Atop the 6241-foot summit block there’s scant space to stand, but the commanding views will glue your feet in places for at least a few minutes. Below you to the north are sheer cliffs that drop a few hundred feet, so watch it coming back down.
The hike down was pretty miserable. The wind had kicked up and turned an already cold rain into something more akin to a doctor’s numbing agent. Our feet squelched in our boots, fists couldn’t close and constant movement was essential to staying warm.
Surely we could have avoided all this with the correct clothing. Waterproof pants, gaiters to go over boots, warm gloves and even waterproof over gloves. But often the outdoors has other plans and as a hiker sometimes you’ve got to roll with the punches.
Directions: Head East on the Mt. Baker Highway, passing through the town of Glacier. 12 miles after town will be the DOT snowplow garages, and a dirt road heading up into the hills. Drive 4.5 miles until you reach the Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead parking.