The Great Western Road Trip, Part 4: Mount Baker
I’m always hesitant to get in touch with friends when I’m headed on a road trip to their town. If it’s not my very best friend, I feel awkward foisting our general junkshow onto their normal daily lives. I’m convinced they’ll be busy. I don’t want them to have to go out of their ways to accommodate us or feel like they need to take care of us. I don’t want to bother anyone. So I sneakily let them know last minute, figuring if they happen to be free, and bored, then maybe we can see them. Then, when people come visit our town and let us know last minute, or say, we were there but we didn’t want to bother you, I’m always like, tell us sooner! Bother us please!
Before this trip, something snapped and I vowed to be different. Maybe I realized that a junkshow with advanced warning is preferable to a surprise junkshow (“Hey, we just happened to be on your doorstep! And we have a dog and a baby and my parents with us! But if you’re busy, no worries at all!”) Maybe because this was such a big trip to so many places, and maybe because I’ve realized over the years how nice it is to have that human connection (even if it’s a bit awkward sometimes), I tried to do my best to get in touch with people that I knew everywhere we went. I still didn’t always give them much warning (the whole trip was fairly last minute anyways). But I tried to send a little email or text just to say hi, we are headed your way! And what a difference it made.
People went out of their way to offer places to stay or cook us meals. They skied with us for whatever time they could spare, showed us secret stashes, or just came to wherever we were to give us a hug and meet Betty. My brother defrosted a turkey (because he’s Ralph and of course he has a random turkey in his freezer) and he and his girlfriend Liz made an entire turkey dinner for us and some of our friends. Our friend Nikki in Colorado, home alone with two young kids on the evening we were passing through, made us dinner and fresh banana bread. It was one of the most relaxing fun moments of the trip, seeing Betty get to play with her two young boys and absorb her kindness during a particularly hectic stretch of the trip. Not that I’m complaining—we chose the trip, we chose the route, we chose the driving. But parts of a trip like this are exhausting. And moments like the dinner at Nikki’s and the turkey Tuesday with Ralph and Liz were what made all the tough parts worth it.
The Mt. Baker section of our trip really felt like it encompassed a lot of that road trip magic. For starters, on a whim I contacted a friend I knew was living in Glacier, asking if she knew of anyone who wanted to rent out their place to our motley crew. Yes, she replied immediately, she can give you a good deal on her cabin, which turned out to be a cute little place in the mossy woods of Glacier. Other friends, Anne and Sam, whom we didn’t know too well yet at the time, went out of their way to take care of us when I wrote to ask if they wanted to ski. Not only did they ski with us, take photos, show us around, teach us about the best french fries (Raven Lodge), introduce us to their ripping patroller friends and help us get early-ups, but they became good friends. The sneaker powder day with them at Baker was just a bonus.
If you’re lucky enough to be on a trip to Mount Baker, then you already at least have a clue what you’re doing. This place is at the end of the road, very remote, and it truly feels wild and on the edge of the mountainous unknown. It’s so far north that in January, the sunrise seems to last until midday when the sunset begins. The weather is unpredictable—you just have to get in the car and trust that you’re going to find something good. My favorite run to do laps on here is Gabl’s, right under the chairlift on Chair 5. Airs, hits, knobs, and fun rollovers are enough to get me over my dislike of skiing right under the chair. I just tell myself it’s not like I know anyone way up here anyways. Of course I do, and the locals are very hardcore so I always expect some heckling but I just try to use it as an opportunity to work on my focus. When I mean hardcore, I mean that they are very keen on shredding, and they love Baker. They are generally quite friendly, I’ve found, especially once you get past the initial heckles and have a conversation. Respect begets respect, and there is nowhere this is more apparent than Baker. There are lots of hikes to do, staring you in the face, (ahem, Shuksan Arm), but even if you’re leaving from the top of the lift, anything past the rope here is all very much the backcountry and needs to be respected as such. Baker is all about going the extra mile, whether with the locals or the place itself, and enjoying what happens naturally.
Getting there: It’s about an hour and a half from Bellingham, WA, which is 1:45 north of Seattle.
Where to stay: Rent a place in quaint little Glacier, WA, if you can--there are tons of vacation rentals and a few hotels. Otherwise, Bellingham has a plethora of options and is an actual town.
Food, Drink, & other Notables: The Raven’s Hut on the mountain has really good french fries, something to keep in mind if you get hungry between laps. Get pizza (or get married!) at The North Fork Brewery (and wedding chapel!) in Deming, WA, on the way to or from Baker. Bellingham has some amazing food and breweries--Aslan Brewery, Kulshan Brewing, and Boundary Bay come to mind, and I personally love the huge potato burritos at Casa Que Pasa. The ice cream at Mallard’s is legendary. The Co-op is an incredible place to get sandwiches and stock up on groceries—it’s one of my top 7 grocery stores, and I’m kind of obsessed with good grocery stores. In Glacier: the Wake N Bakery is your spot for coffee and baked goods, and Milano’s Italian Restaurant has awesome lasagne or pasta, reasonably priced, friendly, and tasty.
The legendary bun-crack rainbow, only visible in the Mt. Baker vortex. Photo: Anne Cleary