My first time on the Heliotrope Ridge trail was during a summit attempt up Mt. Baker. Climbers continue beyond the normal turn around point of the trail to access base camp. I can tell you from experience that when you are carrying 40-50 lbs of mountaineering gear on your back, it is not necessarily enjoyable. Your only real hope is that it will be worth it to stand on top of the mountain the next day.
Unfortunately that was not the case for our team. The weather turned on us overnight and we had to hunker down in our tents to wait out a blizzard. Sleep deprived and disappointed from not summiting, we packed up camp in the morning and headed back.
Now that we'd gotten a little taste, our summit fever was strong, so one week later we trekked back up Heliotrope Ridge for a second chance. This time the mountain graced us with perfect weather and we got made it to the top just after sunrise. And yes, it was worth every second of no sleep and a grueling climb.
No matter how tired I am on the way up, I seem to always get a victory high after a successful summit and I just stay on cloud 9 for most of the descent. It wasn't until this second time down the trail that I was really able to appreciate just how amazing it is. I remember telling myself that I would come back here again, fully rested and without a 40 lb pack, so I could fully enjoy it. It took me a few years, but I eventually returned.
The most stunning part of this hike is the front row view of the Coleman Glacier. I don't know of any other place in the state where you can hike just a few miles in and be standing on the edge of one of nature's most powerful forces.
Glaciers absolutely mesmerize me. I can stare at them for what seems like hours, getting lost in all the cracks, crevasses, and just sheer vastness of it all.
Glaciers are essential to life on earth and the alarming rate at which they are melting is the most visible evidence of global warming today. Almost 70% of the world's freshwater is stored in glaciers and ice sheets. Slow ice melt followed by natural replenishment worked in harmony for 10,000 until human-caused global warming disrupted the cycle. Between 2003 - 2019 the global sea level rose 0.55 inches from melting ice. This may not seem like very much now, but if this pattern continues it will drastically impact all life on earth. When all the world's glaciers melt, it will raise sea level by about 20 inches. In addition to raising sea water levels, widespread loss of glaciers will likely alter climate patterns in other, complex ways.As the planet’s air conditioner, the polar ice caps impact weather and climate dynamics. For example, glaciers’ white surfaces reflect the sun’s rays, helping to keep our current climate mild. When glaciers melt, darker exposed surfaces absorb and release heat, raising temperatures.
If you have never seen a Glacier up close, then this trail should be on your bucket list. If you have any doubts about how large a threat climate change poses to life on earth, then this trail should be at the top of that list. Come find appreciation for these rivers of ice that help to regulate our entire planet's temperature. I don't want to live in a world without glaciers but, unless real changes are made very soon that will ultimately be our future reality.
There are many online resources containing useful information on global warming, climate change, and ways you can help. In light of the current events and to show support for Black Lives Matter, I feel it is important to share some information on Intersectional Environmentalism. This article on EthicalUnicorn.com highlights how racial injustices and environmentalism are connected and why it is important that change for both happens.
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Before attempting the Heliotrope Ridge trail, please visit WTA.com for more information, gear requirements, and recent trip reports.