After the Smoke Cleared: A Fire of Color

After the Smoke Cleared: A Fire of Color

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 14, 2017
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Fall


Yellow Aster Butte and the Border Peaks
Yellow Aster Butte is calling!!

It has been a terrible August for air quality in the Pacific Northwest. Throughout August and September, smoke from both British Columbia and later from the Cascade Crest severely hampered hiking and climbing plans in the Pacific Northwest. If you read my last trip report and saw the pictures you will know the frustration that was happening with many of the August and September trips in Washington State. Luckily the weather has started to turn, the rain has started to fall and the fires have started to dwindle. I decided to setup a trip up to Yellow Aster Butte to gamble if the air was clear and potentially to see if there was any fall color yet. I line up my hiking friends Ezra, Chitra and her husband and we decided to head up to Yellow Aster Butte.

Heading Up

We got a later start for this trip to Yellow Aster Butte and we were at the trailhead around 12 noon. Upon arrival at the pullout we were greeted with tons of cars. Yellow Aster Butte has some popularity but not nearly as much as what we saw to today.

Because of our midday start the sun was at its strongest and we were all warm at the start. The trail started out at a good moderate to steep pace. It soon went in and out of forest in the beginning and stayed at a moderate pitch all of the way to where the Yellow Aster Butte and the Tomyhoi Trail split. Once we got to the split the trail went to the left. It should be noted that at that point we started getting into Yellow Aster Butte's legendary blueberry bushes. This trail is loaded with delicious berries. Our pace dramatically slowed because of the incredible berries. Every step we took was at one time every berry we ate. The first of the fall colors had started on Yellow Aster Butte and on this sunny day they were downright stunning.

Looking up at Yellow Aster Butte
Looking up at Yellow Aster Butte
More fall colors
More fall colors!

The trail rose for the 2 miles at a alternating grades as it passed by first a tarn then rose up to a whole set of stunning lakes which were just west of the summit ridge. As we got more loaded with berries we started to run low on time. I soon introduced a turn around time because two of us did not have a headlamp. We went quicker up the final steep path to the false summit and though the last rise was steep we all made to the false summit in great shape.

Chitra on the trail up
Chitra nearing the final summit ridge!

The Final Summit Ridge

The true summit of Yellow Aster Butte
Looking at the true summit from the false summit

Once on the final summit ridge we looked across to the true summit only to find another hiker struggling with the final leg. She went severely off the main route and from a distance it looked downright scary the way she took. All of us collected our breaths and headed onto the final narrow ridge to the summit. Once off the steep false summit, the ridgewalk really was not that narrow and was absolutely stunning to cross In every direction we were greeted with excellent views of the North Cascades. There were some small mini scrambles but nothing that was too hard on this peak. We hit the final section that was the true summit of Yellow Aster Butte. One could either take the very exposed trail/bootpath to the summit or take a Class 2 unexposed variation to the summit. Ezra took the bootpath and the rest of us took the unexposed Class 2 scramble to the true summit.

True summit views!!!!
Looking at the true Looking toward Shuksan and Baker

I would say we were greeted on top with excellent views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan and hundreds of other peaks but to be honest we had many of those views starting from the mid-point of this legendary hike. Out of Green Mountain, Hannegan Peak and this mountain I would say that this mountain had arguably the best views of the summer with both of those peaks in a very close tie. All of us sat on the summit, took in the views and enjoyed this special peak. We took our time on this trip heading up and it was 3:45 when we made the summit. The views up were so incredible and those berries were so delicious. But because of our time limits, we could only spend 20 minutes on the true summit before heading down from this legendary place.

Group breaking with Shuksan in the background
Our group on the ridge between the false and true summits

Heading Down To Beat the Dark

Baker in the background
Mount Baker from the false summit

Traversing down the ridge was stunning. The light got a little lower and Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan got more stunning with every ten minutes. Unfortunately for all the good camera pictures this creates in also is a warning sign that the sunset is closing in fast. The blueberries were like sirens, stopping us with there delicious taste and intoxicating smells. The second stop to false summit created even better light on the stunning fall colors in the region.

Fall is in season
Stunning fall colors!!!
More fall colors
Ledge just before the false summit!!!

Shuksan as the light was dimming!!!
Goat Peak
Goat Peak as the light was dimming!!!

Though we wanted to go fast, the views just kept getting better. One thing was my right foot was giving some issues going down. Between the berries and the views I was for much of trip downhill the faster one. We really noticed the impact of the sundown when we hit forest. With every minute light on the trail got dimmer and dimmer. Close to the trailhead we all broke out our light devices, two of them being cell phones. Luckily by the time it got really dark we got to the car, thankfully.


This September was really a "No Pain, No Gain" kind of month. We had to suffer through some horribly smoky days but then by mid-month the smoky day converted over to sunny late summer early fall day when Washington State is at its best. Luckily I was out on one of its best day and was able to enjoy the stunning countryside of the Pacific Northwest. My crew on this day was excellent. They varied from experience to youthful and excited. We all really worked well together. The berries were amazing and the views were stunning. This was easily one of my best days in the mountains in a long time.


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MarkDidier - Oct 1, 2017 10:23 am - Voted 10/10

Just an amazing...

...and beautiful hike! This was my first ever hike in the North Cascades and I remember it fondly. It is definitely nonstop sensory overload! Looking forward to making it back to the Mount Baker area again. Thanks for sharing...

Viewing: 1-1 of 1



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