Larrabee and Ecola State Parks

This year I decided to celebrate Canada Day by… leaving Canada. It felt a bit ironic to go to America for Canada Day, but I’m not really into celebrating the holiday with what’s going on with residential schools and indigenous groups asking us to recognize it as a day of mourning instead. So I was happy to forgo any celebrations, though I made sure to get out of America before Independence Day because I’m also not into celebrating what’s going on with reproductive rights in the states. So politically, not a great weekend for either country.

But it was a good weekend to hightail it down to Oregon instead! I’ve only been to Oregon once in 2014 when I went on a road trip from Vancouver to San Francisco. We blew through Oregon pretty quickly though and just spent one day in Portland and one day at Crater Lake. I’ve been wanting to re-visit Portland ever since and finally made the time for it 8 years later (what is time?!). Crossing the border can be very slow on long weekends, so we decided to cross after work on Thursday to get ahead of the Friday morning rush. This turned out to be a great decision and it only took us about 5 minutes to cross.

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Brandon was driving and Lien had booked us some campsites for the weekend. It was a last minute plan, so there wasn’t a whole lot available, but he did manage to score us what turned out to be a pretty amazing site! We drove through Bellingham and then exited the I-5 to drive down along the coast to Larrabee State Park. It made for a really nice scenic coastal drive and Larrabee Park has amazing views of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands. We got there just in time to set up our tents and then we walked down to the coast to watch the sunset! It was a totally clear day and the water was really calm. I enjoyed a hot chocolate as we watched the sun light the sky up orange.

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We hit the sack after that because we wanted to get an early start the next morning. We had the car all packed up and ready to go again at 8am and had a lot of driving to get to Oregon. We had decided to wait another day before going to Portland and were heading down to Cannon Beach instead. Unfortunately traffic wasn’t great on the drive down and we crawled through Tacoma. Cannon Beach definitely added a few more hours of driving onto our day, so we hoped it was worth it.

We stopped for lunch after crossing into Oregon and then continued on to Ecola State Park. Between the traffic and the food stops, the drive ended up taking longer than we’d hoped (stretching 5 hours of driving into almost 8 hours) and we arrived at Ecola State Park at 4pm. Ecola State Park is just north of Cannon Beach and has several other beaches and trails that you can explore. We didn’t have the time for any substantial hiking, but we decided it was worth checking out some of the other beaches.

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First we hit up Indian Beach and watched people trying to surf. We walked the length of the beach and did a little exploring before driving back to Ecola viewpoint. The beach is mostly sandy with some rocks and the water was really cold, but you can see a ton of sea stacks at the end of the beach. You can’t access any of the beaches from Ecola point, but it has a beautiful view of Crescent and Cannon Beach. It’s about 2km to hike down to Crescent Beach, so we decided to go for it.

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The trail is advertised as for experienced hikers only, it wasn’t too challenging, but it does have a fair bit of washout and mud along the trail, which you have to walk through or around. It’s a pretty steep descent along switchbacks at the end to get to the beach, so be prepared for a climb on the return. The hike took us about 35 minutes and the whole time I was considering whether it was really worth it or if we should have just went straight to Cannon Beach. When we finally got to Crescent Beach though, it was an easy answer, it was definitely worth it!

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It was around 6pm and we had the entire kilometer long beach to ourselves! It was an overcast day, but the sun did its best to try and peak out while we were there. There’s a big cluster of sea stacks at the end of the beach and because the tide was on its way out, we got a beautiful reflection of the stacks in the water. We walked the entire length of the beach, running in and out of the cold water. No one showed up the entire time we were there and I found several sand dollars buried in the sand. Fortunately, the return trip was easier than anticipated and we headed down towards Cannon Beach when we got back to the car.

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Cannon Beach is pretty popular, but since it was Canada Day and Americans were still working, our timing was good and it wasn’t busy at all. A few of Brandon’s friends met us at the beach in the evening and we had a seafood dinner on the patio at Mo’s overlooking the beach! We didn’t end up doing that much exploring along Cannon Beach, but we did go for a nice post-supper walk before heading to our campsite.

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Unfortunately we couldn’t find a site on the beach, so we had booked one an hour away at L.L. Stub Memorial Park. It was a pain to have to drive there late on Friday night, but it saved us an hour on our drive into Portland the following day. It took us a while to find the site in the dark because Lien had accidentally booked a full service site, so we ended up setting up our 2 tiny tents surrounded by huge RV’s that were clearly spending the entire summer at the park. The one nice thing though was that this park at least had free showers! Something we couldn’t say about Larrabee State Park.

Artist Point Snow Camping

Well it’s that time of year again! Time for my annual snow camping trip with Carolyn and Brandon! It’s a new hobby for us, so we’ve been trying to get out at least once a year to work on our snow camp skills. Carolyn broke her ankle back in July last year and it’s been a really long time healing, so this was our first time out together since last Spring. We have a few snow camps on our bucket list, but we wanted a shorter one for her first snowshoe since breaking her ankle, so we decided to try Artist Point in Washington. It has a fair bit of elevation gain, but it’s not very long – only 6km round trip.

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Our first discovery though was that camping across the border sucks. I made a few trips down to Washington this year with Lien for day hikes, but when you’re trying to pack for an overnight trip, it’s a big hassle. We had to leave snacks like jerky, dried mango, cheese, and trail mix behind, and modify our normal camp dinner. Brandon makes a mouth watering backcountry thai curry chicken that we eat on almost every adventure, but we couldn’t bring the chicken or veggies across, so we opted for my dehydrated vegetarian chili and macaroni instead. The chili is fine, it’s just not quite as rewarding as thai curry chicken (okay A LOT less rewarding).

So crossing the border was definitely a pain, but I have to admit, we’ll probably keep on doing it because there are some really great hikes in the Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The actual border crossing was quick because we crossed in Abby at the Sumas Crossing and drove to Mount Baker from there. I snowshoed to Artist Point last year, which was what inspired me to try snow camping there this year. In the summer you can drive most of the way up to Artist Point, but the road and parking lots aren’t plowed in the winter. There’s a ton of open space at the top for the parking lots, which is why I thought it would be a great place to snow camp!

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We started hiking up sometime around noon. The last time I’d hiked up there it was a bluebird day and there was a million other people on the trail, but it was a bit overcast when we went, so there was definitely less people around, which was nice. The area had also received a massive dump of snow the night before (60 cms!), so the entire area was covered with a fresh blanket of shimmering powder. It was definitely a snowshoe day (as opposed to spikes). We had nice views hiking up, though the occasional clouds moved through, sometimes obscuring our view of the mountains, but not our visibility.

That changed a bit when we reached the top. You come up a pretty steep slope before getting to a large flatish base area where the parking lot(s) are located in the summer. The area attracts a lot of backcountry skiers and from there some hike up to Artist Point (another ~15-20mins), while others continue on to table mountain or down into the bowl going back towards the (base) parking lot. We didn’t want to camp right on Artist Point because it’s pretty exposed, but planned to find a somewhat sheltered spot around the parking area. Once we crested the last slope though, the fog moved in and it became harder to see where we were going. Plus in the winter it’s really hard to tell what is actually the parking lot. We wanted somewhere sheltered, but also with a good view. We ended up picking a spot looking out towards Table Mountain and Mount Baker that had a few banks sheltering it on either side.

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Fortunately the fog moved out again and our visibility improved a lot while we were setting up camp. We always dig out tent hole too small, so Carolyn outlined a truly massive site for us to shovel out this time. It was clearly too big, but for some reason none of us argued with her and just got to work shoveling! It took quite a while because there had been so much snow the night before and we had to dig down about a metre before we could finally start stomping it down and compacting the snow. Eventually we got enough space for the tent and realized we’d kind of over-shoveled a bit if we still wanted a snow wall to provide some shelter for the tent, so we built up a snow counter on the last side and made a pretty slapdash kitchen that actually ended up being pretty good.

The later it got, the fewer people around, but one giant group showed up in the middle of the afternoon – it must have had 40 people! We think it was an avalanche safety course because there seemed to be one guide and they started digging some shelters themselves. It was obvious from their packs they weren’t staying overnight, so we kept joking they should come dig out our hole for us since they weren’t going to use theirs anyways!

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The temperature was around -5 degrees, which in my opinion is perfect for snow camping because you don’t want the snow to be wet at all. It continued to snow on and off as we were setting up our shelter, but the wind kept down and we didn’t have any problems. I love snow camping, but it is definitely a lot more work. It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time we finished the shelter and we decided we wanted to start melting snow for water right away since it takes forever and it gets dark early. It did take a long time, but fortunately the snow was all very clean and it tasted a lot better to drink than the snow on some of our previous trips. We started dinner before dark, but it was definitely dark by the time we finished and started cleaning up.

We puttered around camp for a bit with our headlamps, cleaning up and sharing Carolyn’s flask. Eventually we climbed into the tent because we always look forward to getting into our sleeping bags on a cold winter night. By the time we were all geared up and ready for bed, Carolyn asked me to check the time and I turned on my phone to see 7:30pm staring back at me! I couldn’t believe it! We all knew the sun sets early, but we had a good laugh at ourselves all set up and ready for bed that early! At Elfin Lakes I’d set up and done some star photography, which kept us up a bit later, but the clouds were moving around a lot and it wasn’t really a great night for star photos, though we did catch a great view of Orion at one point.

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We read for a little bit, but it’s cold with your hands and arms out of your sleeping back, so it was probably still only 8:30pm when we turned off the lights and went to bed. Carolyn was thrilled about it because she loves to go to bed early without anyone making fun of her for it! As usual, it was a fair bit of work to keep warm overnight, but we all managed it and it was 7:30am before we finally got up.

It was a big change from the previous night when we crawled out of the tent. It was a gorgeous bluebird day with the sun shining down on us! We wanted to make first tracks up to Artist Point, so we grabbed some snacks and postponed breakfast to hike up to the point. It was definitely a good way to warm up! We were all sweating by the time we reached the top and we stayed up there for a while taking photos and goofing around in the snow. The landscape looked much the same as the last time I’d snowshoed up there, which was also a bluebird day, but the big difference was that we were the only people on the mountain.

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The point gives a great view of Mount Shuksan, but the Baker side stole my attention on this trip because there were a ton of clouds sitting in the valley around it and it felt really cool to be up above the clouds. While we were up there we noticed the fog was starting to creep up the valley on both sides and we decided to trek back to the campsite for breakfast. By the time we got back the fog had totally moved in and within 30 minutes you couldn’t see any of the view any more! I felt bad for all the day hikers and skiers coming up later, but lucky that we got to enjoy the nice weather before the clouds moved it. It wasn’t snowing, but visibility was pretty bad and I can see how it would be easy to get lost in those conditions. So it was a good reminder of how fast things can change in the backcountry.

Otherwise it was a pretty uneventful climb down. Snowshoes definitely aren’t as fun going downhill, so we had a few stumbles on the way down, but no more injured ankles! I think we can definitely call this trip another success!

Snowshoeing Artist Point

The weather has finally started improving over the last few weeks, so I’ve been getting ready to start posting more about Spring and Summer hikes, but I have one last winter-related post to share. After our ski trip to Apex and our snow camping adventure at Keyhole hot spring, I decided it was time to pack away my skis and snowshoes for the season. However, the weather was so nice in mid-march that my friend Lien convinced me to get the snowshoes out for one last spring snowshoe adventure.

Apparently Lien’s exhausted everything within 2 hours driving distance of Vancouver, so he’s started exploring south of the border to get his mountain fix. We’d both seen a few posts throughout the winter of people snowshoeing at Artist Point, near the Mount Baker ski resort, and it looked like it had the most picturesque views, so we decided to check in out. We did our first Washington State hike a few months earlier (before the snow), in late October, and had a blast, so we were optimistic about Artist Point. My sister Emily moved to Vancouver in January of this year, so she decided to join us for the adventure.

You never know how long it’s going to take crossing the border, but we crossed in Abbotsford, so it didn’t take long at all. Artist Point is located right at the Mount Baker ski lodge, so it was about a 2 hour drive in total from my house in New Westminster. Like I said, we’ve only just started exploring the North Cascades region over the past few months, but it is incredibly gorgeous and I expect we’ll be spending more time there in the future!

Artist Point was a little overwhelming at first. Follow the main highway out to Baker and then continue past the first ski lodge up to the second parking lot. Again, continue through this parking lot and you’ll come to another parking lot in the recreation area (outside the paid ski hill). I say it was overwhelming because there were just so many people there! I was expecting it to be busy at the ski resort, but it was just as busy in the rec area. Artist Point is popular among both snowshoers and backcountry skiers as there’s a lot to explore in the area. I’ve never really been interested in backcountry skiing or ski touring because it seems like a lot of work and a bit intimidating. Whenever I’ve seen skiers while snowshoeing, I haven’t thought it looked any more fun than snowshoeing. But Artist Point was one trail where it was sorely tempting to take up backcountry skiing!

The trail is both straightforward and somewhat confusing. I say that because it appears that there are a ton of different trails going in every direction, but most of them end up at the same place, they just take different routes of varying difficulty to get there. The only thing to avoid is to make sure you don’t hike into the big ski bowl at the very beginning. Follow the trail up along the edge of the ski slope and you’ll be fine. It’s marked with boundary markers for the skiers at Baker and you can just follow along the side. Some skiers were skiing in the bowl, but it is higher avalanche risk in there, so if you want to explore, make sure you have your AST training and the proper gear.

Since we had neither of those things, we stuck to the marked trail. The rest of the trail is fairly low avalanche risk, but again, make sure to check the level online before you go hiking. Also, a friendly reminder to always give someone your trip plan, especially if you’re crossing the border. But I would definitely highly recommend the Artist Point Trail! I think it’s actually a great trail for beginners because it’s not very long, only about 6km in total, and the elevation gain is reasonable at about 300m. Plus the payoff for level of effort expended is unbelievable! Even the views hiking up the edge of the ski slope are great, but once you reach the top of the plateau, it’s a 360 degree panoramic view!

I thought we were looking at Baker as we were walking up because it’s where the ski resort is, but I learned on this trip that the Mount Baker ski resort isn’t actually on Mount Baker, it’s on Mount Shuksan. Logically this makes sense because Mount Baker is really too large and inhospitable an environment to have a ski resort, but I guess I never really thought about it before. Once we reached the top of the plateau, I realized we hadn’t been looking at Mount Baker on the way up because Mount Baker was actually located on the other side of the ridge. From the top of Artist Point, you can see the jagged peaks of Shuksan on one side and the flat volcanic top of Baker on the other.

We ate lunch as soon as we hit the ridge because we were pretty hungry and then we did some more exploring afterwards. When you hit the ridge, you’ll be able to see Table Mountain on the right and then another hill on the left. The hill of the left is actually Artist’s Point and this is where I’d recommend exploring. There’s a ton of great views up there and it’s a great place to start your ski back down. There were some people snowshoeing Table Mountain, but it’s a very steep ascent to the top and it has a higher risk of avalanches, so we opted to skip it. In the summer you can actually drive right up to the top of the ridge, so we may have to come back in warmer weather to explore further!

There was a crazy amount of people exploring around Artist Point, but it is a wide open area, so it never felt too crowded. It was busy, but not so crowded on the peaks that you couldn’t get nice photos. I find it’s always hard to know whether or not to wear snowshoes or spikes on heavily crowded trails, but this is one trail where I would recommend snowshoes, even with the heavily packed trail start. Emily and Lien wore snowshoes, but I decided to take the risk of wearing spikes. It made for a much more enjoyable ascent, but when it opens up at the top, snowshoes are definitely better because there’s still a lot of fresh powder up there. I managed with the spikes, but snowshoes would give you a bit more freedom.

Overall we really lucked out on this hike. It was around mid march when we did it and we got clear blue skies. It was about 10 degrees on the mountain but it felt quite hot with he sun constantly bearing down on you. There’s no shade anywhere, so bring sun protection no matter one time of year you go. There wasn’t a lick of wind when we visited, but in different conditions it could be pretty rough up on the ridge with blowing snow. I’m going to have to add it to my list of places I want to snow camp though because there is so much wide open space up there and such amazing views, it would be incredible to sleep up there and get to watch the sun set and rise over the mountains.