Mount Baker has this power. It’s the ultimate focal point at the very edge of our country. You can’t not notice it—and it’s that way from two countries. You can see Baker almost better from Canada than you can from Bellingham.
In human cultures, volcanoes can be thought of as spiritual because they’re super-powerful. You don’t do anything to a mountain, except look at it and climb on it. It’s like, here is this giant obstacle—we have to go interact with it. It’s human nature.
Baker was that, to me. That giant obstacle. This new place. It was a scary thing I had never done and it shaped the course of my life. And I found I wasn’t alone in that.
When you’re on the mountain, surrounded by mountains, you can probably see 10 other peaks. You get this sense of individuality and collectivity at the same time: This place is ours. It’s funny to exhibit ownership but in the same sense, that’s what facilitates deeper love. When you take ownership of something, you take care of it.
It’s really cool how we now have 90,000 people who have taken ownership of Mount Baker. We look at it every day. It’s timeless, it’s constant.
Baker is like a playground for people from the northwest who like the outdoors. You don’t even have to have a destination, you can just head up that highway and you’ll find someplace where you can get out of the car and head out on the trail system.
Here are a few places I loved to visit when I was a student at Western—and still do. One of the best things about living in Bellingham is that some of these are after-work trips.
Standing on Mount Herman, between Shuksan and Baker, gives you a sense of the sheer magnitude of your surroundings. Human lives are such a blip on the story of geology—we get a blink of an eye. You’re in a place that potentially millions of people have seen but never have stood on.
Three friends and I summited Mount Herman right around graduation in 2011. The snowfall had been amazing that particular winter. But in the mountains, beauty and terror are equal. You perceive the world to be so beautiful but you’re also so small and insignificant—because it can kill you. You are insignificant to its own existence.
We parked at the Heather Meadows top parking lot and summited with our snowboards, plodding along. It took us two or three hours to summit maybe 6,000 feet. Standing on the summit, it was just howling. Baker was massive. I had never seen it so unfiltered. It is right in your face.
We had decided on our routes and went down the hill one at a time. After my buddy Jake went, I took a heel-side turn and stopped. A slab broke and everything below me slid in a huge, wide sheet of dry snow. Probably about 10 inches deep, but that’s enough to really sweep you away. We watched it rumble down and Jake was down there. We were yelling for him to look back up. He saw it, and took two big strokes to get out of the way. It ran by him and fizzled.
I had been having so much fun, totally lost in this moment, and boom, we could have killed Jake. Just because you’re having a good time, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Help is not close. You or your friends are going to be your best chance of survival if something goes wrong. You have to take it seriously.
It’s probably one of my favorite places. It’s on a tributary of the Nooksack, a succession of five waterfalls, each of different sizes. There are a bunch of mountain bike trails and some really nice camp spots out there, too.
I went out once doing a bunch of photos with some pro kayakers. They had heard that waterfall had been run once, but it’s kind of janky, not a clean run. You have to have a crazy amount of technical ability—they analyzed every droplet of water. One guy still tumbled all the way down and landed upside down in the pool.
Canyon Lake Community Forest
Canyon Lake is surrounded by snow-capped peaks and there’s fishing, little hikes, a couple of little camp sites. If the gate off of Canyon Lake Road is closed, it’s a 5.7 mile hike in.
We were up there once and these dudes were paragliding and one crashed into a tree. He climbed down and he was like, “Yeah, lost my wind,” all in his Kevlar jumpsuit.
Out there you meet all these interesting, eccentric people who interact with the landscape in a way that fits them, on their own terms. You have to be strong. If you’re waiting for the weather, you can’t do anything. You’re bringing your own good time with you.
The North Twin of the Twin Sisters is kind of an intense hike in the Sisters Range. You’ll need crampons if you want to summit. You don’t need ropes, but it’s steep and a really true scramble. I was tired. And if you fell, it would be bad. We rode our bikes past the gate one summer night after work, about two or three miles uphill. I was dehydrated, cramping up so bad, looking for snow to fill our water bottles. We had already ridden our bikes two or three hours before trying to summit this stupid mountain.
But when you’re on top of that peak, it’s real. It’s a mountain. You look at these places from the city and they look so impossible to do. How could anybody stand up there? Every time I see it now, I think about that trip. You realize it takes two feet. It takes plodding along until you’re there.
When we hauled out of there that night, Baker was huge and glowing. The stars were out and we were riding bikes by headlamp. But the road was full of these huge, hockey pucksized toads. The road was still really warm and there were hundreds of them. We never would have seen any of that if we hadn’t gone out there.
Middle Fork of the Nooksack River
On the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River is the diversion dam, where the city of Bellingham diverts water into Lake Whatcom for the city’s water supply. It’s a nice walk down from the gate, on a graded road. Down there, you can see where the river goes into a narrow canyon.
Canyon Creek is really pretty, five minutes past Glacier. Every time we’ve been there, we’ve had plenty of space. You can swim in the pools and just wade or fish, have a good campfire and get home in a little over an hour.
Baker River and Baker Lake
I think the Baker Lake dam is rad. You can drive over it and there’s a little spillway. Every once in a while, when that thing is going, it’s like a cannon of water shooting straight out.
And there’s great views of the mountain around there. You don’t realize how close it is until it’s right there. You’d be surprised at how well a mountain that size can hide.
The Baker River area has prime camping. Right at the mouth, it’s all sand later in the summer. The river braids through, all turquoise. It’s this brilliant, milky blue, glacial till. That river is ice cold—you can’t even stand in it. And Baker Lake is so warm—it’s one of the warmest I’ve ever swum in.