10 Apr Baker Lake
On a beautiful spring day, with fragrant new life and color bursting out of blossoming trees, plants, and shrubs and a warm ground turning deep green with mottled patches of yellows and purples, the speckled palette of the season in the Northwest, it was the perfect day for a drive. I looked through my recent purchase of the book Wild Roads Washington by Seabury Blair. It’s billed as 80 scenic drives to camping, hiking and adventures and its wrapped tidily in Kindle format with directions, photos and a synopsis of what our destination for the day was to offer. This book is a great resource for daytrippers looking to discover some of Washington’s natural treasures hidden off the main highways.
Baker Lake was to be our goal this day. In the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Baker Lake is a nine mile long reservoir in a narrow valley on the southeastern flank of Mount Baker. It is a popular destination for camping, fishing, picnicking, hiking and backpacking.
I really didn’t know what I was expecting on this trip. It’s hard to picture what nature has in store with her stunning landscapes springing forth around every bend or rise in the oncoming road. She never repeats herself here in the west which is the most amazing thought that occurs to me. The western style is so very distinctive. So different from the east. At certain times you know with a profound recognition that you are in the west, it just takes hold of you. The sky is different here. It’s massive with a horizon stretching across what seems a limitless expanse. And the sky’s blue on the best days is a striking contrast to the greens, browns, blacks, grays and oranges found below the heavens. Two different worlds. And if you are lucky you will also get snowcapped mountains that rise up boldly in such command that they steal your breath away and cause your pulse to quicken. They are so incomprehensibly large and uninhabitable and seem sometimes I think sentient.
The Northern Cascades contain some of these giants and two are on prominent display during this trip: the otherworldly Mount Baker seen from the southeastern exposure and Mount Shuskan, ever present to the north as you make your way up the valley floor to your eventual destination, likely one of the many campgrounds or trailheads that dot this 26 mile paved and gravel Baker Lake road.
There were two places along the road where we just had to stop and pullover to recover from the shock of seeing these two majestic peaks. Because we had a good winter they are covered in a beautiful mantle of snow and ice, making it seem as though they are pulling the rays of the sun directly down onto their surfaces. They literally glow. The other aspect that astounds is how straight up they rise. Because the base elevation of the valley floor at Baker Lake is around 700 feet you are seeing roughly 10,000 feet of vertical right in front of you. It shocks the senses. But in a wondrous awe filling way.
And then there are the rivers, full and alive with the beginning torrents of spring melt cascading down their boulder-strewn beds, rushing to feed the world below with the life-giving force they carry. Within the woods that line the river we saw remnants of old growth forest including some truly remarkable 500-year-old Douglas Firs.
The lake itself is memorable because there is no development along most of it and at least while we were there, no boating either. It seemed as though you were seeing this place the way it always existed throughout time with no trace of human impact. Of course this is fiction because the lake came about in 1959 when dams were constructed for hydro power. The 13-mile-long reservoir is the result. But if this was a mistake as some believe it’s nonetheless a beautiful one to behold and it brings a lot of recreational value to the area.
We drove to the end of the road which is just beyond the lake and runs beside the Baker River. There is a trailhead here that forks about a mile from the parking area where you can continue to hike along the river or cross a suspension bridge to a 14-mile trail that follow the eastern shore of the lake with great views of Mount Baker along the way.