Trailblazers: backpacking Chain Lakes Loop
As the clouds move across an ever graying sky, one lonely car snakes its way through the Mt. Baker National Forrest. With three loaded packs in the back and three happy campers in the car, it was a picture perfect way to start a backpacking trip.
On this week’s edition of the hiking blog, I head into the Mt. Baker National Forrest to take on the Chain Lakes loop trail, a trail I’ve been looking forward to for months, with two of my roommates, Matt Leist and Owen Powers. With over eight miles of hiking roundtrip and just over 1700 feet of elevation gain, this hike is easy and fun for all skill levels.
The Chain Lakes loop trail is located along the Mt. Baker highway, just two turnouts past the entrance to the Mt. Baker ski area. This loop trail can be hiked two different ways. The first takes you from the Artist Point parking lot, counter-clockwise around the entire loop. This gives you the advantage of hiking up Herman Saddle, one of the highest points of the trip, with fresh legs. This was the direction we decided to take. Another option is to take a relatively unmarked trail clockwise around the loop, but this requires you to hike the saddle on tired legs.
As we crested the saddle, we took in our first amazing view of Mazama Dome, Table Mountain and Iceberg Lake. We were thrilled by the sheer magnitude of the area we had immersed ourselves in. While descending down the backside of Herman Saddle, we found a nice overlook for a refueling stop of water and trail mix.
Because this trail is only eight miles long, it can be broken up int either a long day hike or a shorter overnight hike. The decision was made to camp overnight at Mazama Lake, which gave us an amazing view of Iceberg and Hayes Lake.
As the sun set, the rain moved in, dumping buckets as we tried to find a reasonable tent site and cook food. After about two hours of continual showers, we called it a night and climbed into the tent. Around midnight, I woke up to total silence. As I poked my head outside, I was absolutely shocked. I saw the Milky Way above and countless numbers of stars that had come out in full force between downpours, giving us our own private viewing of the darkened night sky.
As the sun rose on the second day, we fought through the rain and cold, continuing down the trail to the main junction. In order to continue along the Chain Lakes loop trail, you must stay to the left and head back toward Artist Point. From the junction, the trail loses close to 300 feet of elevation over 2.4 miles. This is the final stretch back to the main parking lot.
Although this was one of the more wet hikes I’ve done in quite some time, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick overnight hike, or a hearty day hike. With stunning scenery as far as the eye can see and plenty of trail to keep your legs happy, the Chain Lakes loop will not disappoint.