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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Trailblazers: Heliotrope Ridge

Photo by Scott Wilson

Photo by Scott Wilson

The ongoing drought in Washington paired with a low snow year means the glaciers that cling to Mt. Baker have been in a dismal state. The Heliotrope Ridge Trail is an excellent way to get up close and personal with the Coleman Glacier and listen to it pop and crack as it recedes.

Hiking up through the hemlock and cedar the trail follows a mild grade, occasionally switching back and often peaking out over many waterfalls and rivers. One section of the trail traverses directly beneath a waterfall and mist falls on any hikers who pass by.

During my hike the Forest Service was currently rebuilding several of the wooden bridges across some of the muddier sections of trail and looks to be close to completion soon.

At about the two-mile mark the trees begin to thin out and more sky becomes visible. Once you pass the small campsite you’ve only got half a mile to go, but some of the more challenging rivers to cross.

All of the rivers are fed by snowmelt and naturally hover just above freezing temperature. The largest of the torrents is too wide and fast to leap across, so find a spot with good footing and ditch your boots. It isn’t uncommon to find a few hikers on either side, sizing up the leap or drying their wet feet.

Only minutes after the largest river the views open up and Koma Kulshan,  towers overhead. Follow one of the footpaths to the overlook and stare out at the Coleman Glacier.

Photo by Scott Wilson

The final overlook over the glacier sits atop something called a moraine, which are banks of debris on either side of a glacier that form as they move down a mountain. Careful with your footing here, the ledge looks like it has collapsed in the past.

Looking out across the heather meadows that lay opposite the glacier you might spot climbers heading up to climb the mountain, lugging heavy packs and ice axes.

The hike down is equally as beautiful, but you might want to hang around and watch the fog roll around the valleys below, nobody would blame you.


Directions: Drive East on the Mt. Baker Highway for 34 miles until you reach the little hamlet of Glacier. After passing the Ranger Station turn right onto Glacier Creek Road and continue for 8 miles of damaged road. Stay left at the only junction in order to find the trailhead.


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