12 race, play, experience
race, play, experience 13
The timing is clearly auspicious.
A warm summer weekend. Clear skies
in the forecast. A full moon.
All the signs suggest an expedition to The Portals, the
great stone gates marking the northeast climbing route on Mount
Baker. Reached by hiking the length of Ptarmigan Ridge, The Portals
have always marked a sort of a transition zone for me, separating the
sweet and familiar world of gentle alpine meadows, gurgling brooks and
sweetly scented flower gardens from the raw and powerful drama of ice
and shattered rock; the realm of the Mountain King, where the wind
sings lonely and forgotten songs. They rise like medieval towers above
the glaciers at the far end of the sinuous ridge, past the end of the trail,
past the climber’s camp at Camp Kiser. They demarcate the world of
green grasses and swaying lupine from the eternal realm of rock and ice.
The environs of Ptarmigan Ridge are famously swarming with raptur-
ous hikers soaking in the glorious views of swirling mountain peaks,
but The Portals mark the transition to a lonely, largely unseen world of
glacial tumult, a realm of raw geology and profound power.
Being properly attuned to the aforementioned “signs,” we have little
choice but to heed their siren call. And so it is that the five of us depart
after extensive backpack logistics on the living room floor, an appoint-
ment to be kept with the splendid peaks of the North Cascades. We’re
off for Artist Point, Ptarmigan Ridge and, with hope, the great Portals
The parking lot at Artist Point is predictably crowded with pilgrims
as we shoulder our bulging backpacks and head down the Chain Lakes/
Ptarmigan Ridge trail above the wild erosional chaos of Swift Creek.
We lose most of the crowd at the Chain Lakes junction and descend
into the austere basin that marks the headwaters of Wells Creek before
ascending rocky slopes to Ptarmigan Ridge proper.
We stop for lunch on a wind-swept outcropping before proceeding