A March trip to Washington's Mt. Baker lets you sample springtime (and a little winter, too)
You're in Seattle when suddenly there's a burst of sun and bluesky. Quick! What to do when the Northwest's inclement weathersuddenly clears? Mt. Baker makes an ideal escape when you're dyingto get outdoors, but don't have time to venture too far from thecity.
Two and a half hours north of Seattle, the gleaming crest of Mt.Baker rises like a 10,778-foot beacon. At least that's the way myhusband and I feel early one Friday evening in March as we drive upI-5 and turn east onto the Mt. Baker Highway. Also known as State542, it follows the North Fork of the Nooksack River, passing bothtree and horse farms and, finally, moss-cloaked stands of fir,cedar, and hemlock. Less than 30 miles from the rocky shores ofPuget Sound, we're surrounded by lofty North Cascades NationalPark's peaks, with Mt. Baker's ice-white mantle framed over thedashboard. Dinner at Milano's in the small town of Glacier makesthe ultimate sea-to-ski-slopes meal. We tuck into salmon with acitrus-fennel sauce, and linguine with heaps of succulent clamsharvested from Taylor Shellfish Farms, just down the road in SamishBay.
The next day we awake to sweeping views up the Nooksack Valleyand across to Mt. Baker from our room at the Inn at Mt. Baker, awood-shingled B&B. Over breakfast we ponder the many ways tospend the day, soon realizing why Mt. Baker is so great in March:You can choose which season you're in the mood for. We can diveright into spring with a hike around Nooksack Falls, or trade ourhiking boots for ski boots to catch some end- of-season fun at theMt. Baker Ski Area.
We decide to do both. First we walk along boulders to WellsCreek and Nooksack Falls, which we can hear before we see: twopowerful strands of the Nooksack plunging 100 feet off a sheer rockface before crashing in a mess of spray below. A bit farther up thehighway, the road turns south, crosses Bagley Creek, and climbs 3more miles to the base of the Mt. Baker Ski Area. While there stillmight be 200 inches of snow at the base of Mt. Baker in March, thelift lines are shorter and the days are longer at this time ofyear. Long enough that we're able to catch a few runs, even afterour hiking adventure.