Well we were in for a nice surprise when we arrived at the trailhead at Gold Run Pass which seemed to be about twice as far along the road as we had expected it to be. Turns out, the trail description in Don't Waste Your Time in the North Cascades is a wee bit out of date. We had been prepared for "relentlessly steep" and "more of a route than a trail" but what we actually got was a marvelously graded gentle climb up into the alpine.
It was stinking hot this weekend so we tried for an early start, arriving at the trailhead around 9am. There were already a lot of cars parked and loads of names in the trailhead register so we were a little nervous about crowds.
After a short climb through the trees, you get the first of many many views to come. After the first switchback, you head back into the trees where 4 more long switchbacks gently raise you up into the alpine. Took us about an hour and a half in serious heat with full overnight packs on. The trail branches off to Tomyhoi Lake but we continued on towards Yellow Aster Butte.
The next stretch of trail climbs gently up around the sides of the valley through meadows of beautiful wildflowers with butterflies to keep you company. It's hard to keep putting one foot in front of the other because the views are so spectacular. Baker, Goat, Shuksan... the views just get better and better.
We stopped for lunch beside a small stream & doused ourselves with cool water. The temperature was rising and with such nice views it was hard to get motivated to keep going. But after a long leisurely break we were off again for the final stretch.
After crossing a couple of patches of snow, the trail turned towards our final destination. We met a park ranger on the way. The poor woman was wearing a thick cotton shirt & long pants. They tell hikers not to wear cotton but these poor park rangers have to wear the hottest nastiest looking cotton uniforms imaginable. Go figure. One final stretch through colorful meadows. The trail to Yellow Aster Butte is on the right but we descended the only truly steep section of trail down to the tarns.
Much to our delight, there was plenty of room and we found a primo spot to camp. I was operating on about 3 hours sleep from the night before so I crashed for a nap in the sunshine. Marian had ants in her pants so after a failed attempt at a nap she puttered around & set up the tent before finally kicking my ass & pointing me in the direction of Tomyhoi.
We set off for Tomyhoi around 4pm. The trail is obvious & at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the views are magnificent. Unfortunately a forest fire was brewing between Baker & Shuksan which quickly messed up the views in that direction. The trail does a LOT of up and down but it's fun & interesting.
Unfortunately we had left the route description back at the campsite so we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants. When we reached the snowfield, we traversed almost to the end before hopping back onto the rock & looking for a route up to the summit. Marian started climbing which looked to me like a fairly tricky bit and I didn't know how she was going to downclimb it if it didn't work out but she quickly answered that question by falling back down the 20 feet she had climbed.
Much to my surprise, she hadn't seriously injured herself. There was a lot of blood but I had expected much worse. I patched her up as quickly as I could so we could get out of the bad spot we were in. The summit was no longer an option so we headed back to camp so we could properly attend to her injuries. She had some serious road/rock rash all down her right thigh. Her knee was split open with a deep cut & so was her finger. After depleting the contents of my first aid kit, it was time for dinner & bed.
I fully expected Marian to be too sore to do much in the morning but she was much better. Thank god for Vioxx! So we packed up and headed for Yellow Aster Butte. We stashed our packs in some trees along the way and continued on with daypacks. Like the Tomyhoi trail, Yellow Aster also does the up & down thing but it's not nearly as bad as it looks and we were on the summit much more quickly than we had expected.
The forest fire had made a real mess of our views of Shuksan & Baker but the views to the North were beautiful. American & Canadian Border Peaks & Tomyhoi were prominent with many other minor peaks & ridges complimenting the view. Looking down on the tarns, they looked like sparkling jewels scattered among the rocks.
We took our time enjoying our lunch before heading back down to our packs. Marian headed down while I lagged behind trying to take pictures of all the flowers. My knees were grateful for the gentle grade on the way down and we were back at the car by 3:00.
This trip could be done as a day trip but I wouldn't recommend it unless you only want to do Yellow Aster Butte. There's just too much to explore. We could easily have spent another day.
Don't forget to pick up a parking pass at the Glacier Ranger Station on your way.
Directions from Canada
From the Sumas Border crossing, turn left and go east on Halverstick Road. Turn right on to Sumas Road and right again on to Reese Hill Road which becomes Kendall Road and joins up with the Mt. Baker Hwy. Stop in Glacier for your parking pass and then continue along the Mt. Baker Highway 542 for 12.0 miles to Forest Service Road #3065 (Twin Lakes Road). The road is located on the left hand side of the highway just beyond the Department of Transportation's Shuksan maintenance facility. Turn left on Twin Lakes Road and continue approximately 4.5 miles to the Tomyhoi Lake/Yellow Aster Butte Trailhead.
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